Updated on 09/15/2011 1:25PM

Handicapper's Corner


ELMONT, N.Y. - A week after Point Given's tour de force in the Belmont Stakes, 3-year-olds are again in the spotlight in New York, only this time it's on the grass. The out-of-town press is gone and the network TV trucks have long since hit the highway, which is really too bad because Saturday's $100,000 Hill Prince should make for compelling theater, and it shapes up as a terrific betting race.

In scanning the records of the Hill Prince runners, handicappers can't help but notice the half-mile and six-furlong fractions of the contenders' recent turf routes look like this:

Berchtesgaden:52.00, 1:16.40

Navesink :45.80, 1:09.40

Package Store :49.20, 1:13.60

Perfect Stranger :51.20, 1:17.00

Proud Man :50.60, 1:15.20

Reluctant Groom :47.00, 1:11.60

Sir Brian's Sword :47.20, 1:11.60

Volponi :50.60, 1:15.20

Whitmore's Conn :50.20, 1:14.80

There seems to be quite a disparity in favor of Navesink.

Navesink has won all three of his starts, and he is familiar to New York players who saw him win under a hand ride in 1:33.29 for a mile at Belmont last month. The fractions from Navesink's mile stand out when compared to the others, and if the Hill Prince were a 1 1/8-mile dirt race, then Navesink might well be a standout.

But the Hill Prince is a turf race, and the fractions we're looking at were all recorded on turf, which lessens their relevance quite considerably. Early speed may be the "universal track bias" in North American dirt racing, but it takes a backseat to the two most prominent handicapping factors on turf: class and late pace.

The slow fractions that predominate the Hill Prince past performances are noteworthy only in that they make it more difficult to gauge the late-running abilities of these up-and-coming 3-year-olds. Most of them have had limited experience thus far, and a fast finish off an exceptionally slow pace generally has to be adjusted downward. Exactly how much they need to be adjusted can be very tricky, however, and this is one of the reasons that a race like the Hill Prince can be tough to get a handle on.

Working with the available data, and using late-pace figures derived from the classified allowance pars in the recently released 2001 Pars Plus, my Quinn-style late-pace figures look like this, with the most recent race listed first:

Berchtesgaden 103 97

Navesink 102 102 104

Package Store 111

Perfect Stranger 103 107 104

Proud Man 112 X 107 114 107

Reluctant Groom 97 113

Sir Brian's Sword X 94 104

Volponi 107 102

Whitmore's Conn 100 112

Which horse figures best? It's tough to say. Berchtesgaden's 103 was accomplished on the lead through the snail-like fractions shown above. Perfect Stranger's three ratings this year were all achieved in slow-paced races. Proud Man's win in the Everglades, as well as Sir Brian's Sword's win in the Citation, both occurred at Hialeah, where fractional times are unavailable, which means no late-pace figures are available. Volponi's one turf race this season came in the Hawthorne Derby, which Kalu wired on a slow pace. Whitmore's Conn ran a 112 at Aqueduct, but did it in a losing effort against New York-bred entry-level allowance horses, on a bone-dry course that hadn't taken any rain for a month.

You can also throw the Bobby Frankel-trained European import Harrisand into the mix as an additional x-factor.

All of which makes for a wide-open race with a lot of possibilities.

And you know what? After weeks on end of having every facet of everything and everyone on the Triple Crown trial analyzed with a fine-tooth comb, that's kind of refreshing!

These are initial impressions:

Proud Man consistently runs late-pace figures good enough to figure squarely in the hunt. He has won or placed in graded stakes on four different turf courses, including consecutive decisions over recent Crown Royal American Turf winner Strategic Partner, and appears the likeliest anchor for exotic wagering purposes.

Navesink has a flashy 3-for-3 record that will attract attention, but bear in mind his lack of experience in stakes company, and that this will be his first start beyond 1 1/16 miles.

Sir Brian's Sword was no match for Proud Man when favored in last fall's Mecke Stakes at Calder, but judging from his smashing win in the Citation first time out this year, he has matured considerably for new trainer Christophe Clement.

Package Store earned a big figure for his first and only turf start, albeit in an entry-level allowance. The chart comment reads: "four or five wide entering the backstretch, angled out a bit farther on the second turn to commence a sweeping run" He has since been given over to Tom Skiffington, a turf specialist who sent out an $88 winner, Remembrance on the inner course here Thursday. To be sure, horses with one big figure are far less reliable than those who have recorded two or more, but at long odds they are sometimes worth the risk.