07/04/2012 12:21PM

Jerardi: Tough to put all pieces of handicapping puzzle together

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There are races that you feel obligated to play, even if you don’t have a strong opinion about the order of finish, races like the Don LeVine Memorial at Parx Racing on June 23. The 6-5 favorite had not won a race in 14 months, but the power of Reputation Induced Phenomenon (RIP) overwhelmed the record.

Toby’s Corner won the 2011 Wood Memorial, running by overwhelming favorite Uncle Mo in the stretch. The colt got blinkers that day, along with a career-high 94 Beyer Speed Figure, and looked like a Kentucky Derby contender. Alas, a leg injury kept him out of the Derby and ended his 2011 season.

Toby’s Corner made his comeback in the General George in February at Laurel, running a solid third and getting a career-best 100 Beyer. Trainer Graham Motion, sensing his horse was in very good form and ready for more, sent him to New Orleans for the April 1 New Orleans Handicap. Unfortunately, he ran into Nates Mineshaft and finished a distant third. Still, his 95 Beyer was decent enough. Then, the horse tried the Pimlico Special, the day before the Preakness. Toby’s Corner made a nice middle move and then flattened out, finishing seventh. Ominously, his Beyer slipped to an 87.

So the trainer had to switch gears. He was probably thinking he had a live handicap horse over a distance. The results showed otherwise. Now, he would be trying a group of solid, experienced sprinters at seven furlongs. Even as those Beyers were heading the wrong way, the crowd went for the reputation.

I sensed that would happen and was ready to structure a play without Toby’s Corner. There was a problem, however. Even without the favorite and no-hope Hobbitontherocks, the other four horses looked very similar. All were capable of mid-90s Beyers. They all seemed in good form.

I don’t know this, but I am guessing the sheet players made Ponzi Scheme the second choice at 9-5. He had gotten a 97 Beyer when overwhelming a good field in the May 12 Decathlon. With the requisite six weeks off, there was no reason to think the horse would not fire again.

I framed my play around Rod’s Five Star. He had just gotten a career-best 99 Beyer, and I felt certain he would get another good trip from off the pace. Trainer Ed Lehman is one of the best at Parx. Prior to the race, he was at 32 percent on the year. With speedball Royal Currier in there, the pace seemed perfect. But Royal Currier scratched, and I missed the significance.

Instead of serious speed, there was one speed. Unfortunately, that was not so obvious until they ran the race.

Sloane Ranger was another contender coming off a career-best Beyer. He had gotten a 97 when winning a June 8 optional claimer at Monmouth. Now, I am guessing the “bouncers” ignored him as he was back racing in just 15 days. I didn’t care so much about that. I just missed the key to the race.

Sloane Ranger went right to the front, opened up a two-length lead in the stretch, and held on to win by a neck. Golddigger’s Boy, the epitome of the tough old sprinter as well as the defending LeVine champion, came running up the rail late to finish second. He had been beaten just a length by Sloane Ranger in that Monmouth race.

So, the “bouncers” ran one-two, 9-1 over 5-1, a $97.20 exacta where the favorite could be eliminated on RIP. The winner got a 96 Beyer.

My key, Rod’s Five Star, rallied late to be third, 1 1/4 lengths behind Golddigger’s Boy. If I had figured out Sloane Ranger was going to clear the field and had been a bit more aggressive, I probably hit the exacta and perhaps even the $305.80 trifecta. I didn’t. I wasn’t.

Toby’s Corner had every chance. Jeremy Rose got the colt in the clear on the turn when he moved to second. But Toby’s Corner lost ground from there and was a well-beaten fourth, nearly five lengths behind Rod’s Five Star, earning an 82 Beyer.

The well-rested Ponzi Scheme chased the speed and fell back all the way to fifth. On paper, he really was not any better than the other three contenders. So, if I had been double sharp (tossing the RIP and then tossing a horse who was more 3-1 than 9-5), I certainly cash.

This, however, is a complicated game where you can solve a big piece of the puzzle and still be left with absolutely nothing to show for it.