10/11/2012 4:20PM

King: Tannery offers value in Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup


Picking the most likely winner of Saturday’s Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland is kind of like trying to select the pick of the litter of an attractive group of puppies.

They all look good – just too similar. They’re talented, quick, and classy, and when they’ve met each other on the racetrack, little has separated them.

My strategy in handicapping the race is therefore not to settle for seeking the most likely winner. Instead, it is to go with a contender the public probably will look past.

Broken down to that criteria, the list of potential plays is shortened, and one filly in particular becomes the choice: Tannery.

A 10-1 outsider on the morning line, she racked up four wins in six starts this year in Ireland before being imported to the United States and finishing third in the Grade 1 Garden City at Belmont on Sept. 15.

Because she finished behind a pair of Queen Elizabeth starters in that race – victorious Samitar and runner-up Somali Lemonade – the public will view her as inferior to those rivals.

Perhaps she is, but when taking into account that she had never raced in the United States previously and that she had not raced since July 22, it seems equally plausible that she needed that experience. Consider her a move-up candidate.

Another appealing aspect to Tannery’s form is the fact that her European accomplishments might be overlooked, since she won just a single Group 3 race overseas. But she did beat the boys a couple times and clearly improved once stretched out in distance.

Further adding to her value is the fact that she doesn’t have the biggest names of those trainers and jockeys competing in the Queen Elizabeth. Trainer Alan Goldberg and jockey Elvis Trujillo both win at a good clip just short of 20 percent winners, but because they compete mostly in New Jersey, Keeneland bettors aren’t going to be as familiar with their talents.

Lastly, with a slow pace in the Queen Elizabeth expected, the race might very well turn into a test of acceleration – something that might benefit a European import. That’s how races overseas are typically run: slow early and fast late.

Add it all up, and Tannery has the look of a 6-1 chance that’s presented as a 10-1 shot. And that value makes her the bet of the race.

Hawthorne Derby: Control Tower on roll

While the fillies are headlined at Keeneland, it’s the boys running Saturday in the Grade 3 Hawthorne Derby. And although that race does not offer the top-level quality of the Queen Elizabeth, the depth of the field – there are 12 horses in the race, plus a pair of also-eligibles – makes it one of the best wagering stakes races of the weekend.

Again, looking for a contender that could slip through the wagering cracks, the choice is Control Tower, a former $25,000 claimer who has rattled off three consecutive victories.

Overlook him at your peril. This horse is at the top of his game, and on the basis of his fine speed figures, capped by a 93 Beyer Speed Figure in winning his last race Sept. 1 at Arlington, he looks to be a horse of quality. That 93 exceeds the highest career-best numbers of his 11 opponents in the body of the field, with only also-eligible The Pizza Man having run marginally faster, a 94.

My hope is that his days as a claimer will result in him sticking close to his 8-1 morning line, with the public questioning his class and the validity of his last-race figure.

For those doubting a claimer’s ability to win a graded stakes race – remember it was just last week that another former $25,000 claimer from Arlington won a stakes at an overlaid price. That was King David, who won  at 28-1 odds in the Grade 1 Jamaica at Belmont last Saturday.

King David, by way of comparison, had run only an 83 Beyer before winning the Jamaica with an 87. Viewed relative to those numbers, if Control Tower can avoid bouncing off his 93, he looks poised to win the Hawthorne Derby.