11/30/2012 3:21PM

Klein: Sorting out Baffert runners key to Underwood

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Michael Burns
Although Moonlit Beauty is a mare racing against males, she is the 123-pound top weight in the Sir Barton at Woodbine.

If you handicap the Grade 3, $100,000 Grade 3 Vernon O. Underwood at Hollywood on Sunday, you’ll probably like trainer Bob Baffert’s chances. But when you reach that point in your handicapping process, your work won’t be over as Baffert trains four of the seven horses entered in the six-furlong race.

Three of those four horses followed an interesting pattern in their last two starts. They earned triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures two races ago, then regressed by an average of 17 points last time while finishing sixth, seventh, and 12th.

Capital Account had been very consistent with five wins, three seconds, and two thirds from his first 10 starts. That changed last time when he regressed from a 102 Beyer to a 79, and finished 12th in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint. It concerns me that there is no obvious excuse for his poor performance, and he has had no extra time off since that race. For those looking for a reason to like him, I’m encouraged to see that he is 2 for 2 at Hollywood. He would be formidable with a rebound.

Smash edged first-level allowance rivals by a half-length while earning a 103 Beyer, the third time he had received that number from his first five races. He stepped up in class to run in the Grade 1 Malibu and finished seventh with an 84 Beyer. He has been on the sidelines for more than 11 months, but he has trained well for his comeback. Horses trained by Baffert returning from breaks of six months and longer have won 34 percent of their races, with a $2.24 return on investment. Smash likes Hollywood with three wins and a second from four local starts. Fast Bullet won his first two races last year, then took nearly a full year off. He returned in a very ambitious spot, the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint, and ran respectably while finishing sixth of 14, only 5 1/2 lengths behind the winner. Improvement is likely in his second race after the long vacation. Note that Baffert has won with 27 percent of 44 runners the second time back from layoffs of six months and longer, with a $3.30 return on investment.

Bank the Eight is the Baffert horse who ran a big race last time. He has apparently had issues in the past with his four most recent races run in May 2010, April 2011, and July and November of this year. But he was impressive while winning a $62,500 optional claiming race by 5 3/4 lengths with speed to spare last time in his first race on this track. The 106 Beyer he earned would make him very tough if he can match it as he steps up to tackle graded stakes opponents for the first time.

If Baffert is going to be denied a win in this race, the Jeff Bonde-trained Smiling Tiger has the best chance of frustrating him. Smiling Tiger rallied from seventh to finish third in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint following a four-month break. He continues to train well and should be a prime contender. He’s another horse for the course with three wins from four races at Hollywood.

Comma to the Top earned his two most recent wins in restricted stakes races. He’ll need to take a step forward to fare as well against this type.

Private Zone, a 3-year-old, had been under consideration for Saturday’s $150,000 Zia Park Derby, but trainer Doug O’Neill instead opted to stay home in California for this race. He is in good form now with a third and a second against softer company, but if he runs a big race he seems more likely to sneak into a minor exotic slot than he is to win it all.

Given the  sharp local performance by Bank the Eight following a 3 1/2-month rest, and the likelihood of a square price, I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt as my selection. I’ll bet him to win, and I’ll key him on top in the exacta over Fast Bullet, Smiling Tiger, Capital Account, and Smash.

Fifty Proof is vulnerable

The $125,000 Sir Barton is a 1 1/16-mile restricted stakes at Woodbine on Sunday.

Fifty Proof owns the best rèsumé with good form against graded stakes company, but he has been on the sidelines for more than a year and four months. Based on the long vacation, and his work tab, I’m leaning toward the idea that he might not be ready to match his best form first time back. Trainer Ian Black has won with an ordinary 15 percent of the 13 runners he has trained who were off for six months and longer. His ROI in that category is modest at $1.26.

If Fifty Proof regresses, this race should be competitive. I’ll give a slight edge to Moonlit Beauty, a mare who in her last race set the pace, then tired late to finish third going 1 1/4 miles in an open stakes with a $183,000 purse. Cutting back to 1 1/16 miles will help. She won a restricted stakes by 4 3/4 lengths at this distance in her previous start.

Courtville defeated allowance rivals in his last two starts and deserves respect in the exotics.

Bobcaygeon has been part of the winning exacta combination in seven of his eight races and finished third the other time. He’ll save ground from the inside.

I’ll bet Moonlit Beauty to win, and I’ll use her over Fifty Proof, Courtville, and Bobcaygeon in the exacta.