12/13/2012 4:26PM

Weekend Warrior for Dec. 15, 2012: Majestic Harbor can stalk his way to a win

Tom Keyser
This fall in Kentucky, Majestic Harbor won one of three starts – with his two losses coming in some of the fastest and classiest allowances in Kentucky over the final months of the year.

This is the time of year when some horseplayers go into stakes handicapping hibernation, reasoning there aren’t many top-level races in which to bet.

Wrong. Led by two graded stakes at Betfair Hollywood Park on Saturday, with purses for the two events totaling $1 million, there’s high-quality action there, and to a lesser extent at other winter tracks, too.

So put away that holiday shopping list and pick up some past performances instead. Then let’s cash a few winners and save the shopping for later.

Tenacious Handicap

Preceding the two lucrative stakes at Betfair Hollywood Park is the Tenacious Handicap from Fair Grounds, a 1 1/16-mile dirt race that drew a field of relatively modest ability, not surprising for a purse of $75,000.

But contention runs deep, and bettors will look in a variety of directions. Hopefully that will lead to a value-based opportunity on the improving Majestic Harbor, a 5-1 outsider on the morning line.

This is a horse who lacks the stakes experience of others in the field, but don’t mistake that for not being battle-tested. He is.

This fall in Kentucky, he won one of three starts – with his two losses coming in some of the fastest and classiest allowances in Kentucky over the final months of the year.

First, on Oct. 13 at Keeneland, he was distant third behind Salto, a graded-placed colt who freaked on the Polytrack by running 1 1/16 miles there in 1:42.54, good for a 96 Beyer Speed Figure.

Then most recently on Nov. 22 at Churchill, he again caught a horse running a new top, this time finishing second behind Infrattini, who set a track record by running a mile in 1:33.31 and getting a 106 Beyer.

His runner-up performance behind Infrattini was particularly noteworthy, despite finishing 7 1/4 lengths behind. He ran quickly, earning a 92 Beyer, and did so despite being bumped at the start and rallying from the rear half of the pack.

This is a horse who has typically fared best when racing on the lead or within a couple of lengths of the leaders. And catching a field with less pace in the Tenacious, he should revert to his preferred running style.

Majestic Harbor, well drawn in post 7, should be able to secure a good position in close proximity to likely pacesetter Hurricane Ike, who more that likely will enjoy a comfortable trip setting moderate fractions.

As for Hurricane Ike, he looms a formidable adversary, holding an apparent pace advantage, but he will is likely to get bet down off that all-too-apparent angle, likely resulting in his being an underlay.

Furthermore, Hurricane Ike is a horse at his best at a mile, not 1 1/16 miles.

Should he get leg weary late, a stalking Majestic Harbor should be there to take command and outlast the closers.

The Hollywood Turf Cup

With a 40 percent chance of showers forecast for Inglewood, Calif., on Saturday, the handicapping waters of the Hollywood Turf Cup are a bit murky – at least two days out, not knowing the type of ground the runners will be catching.

[HOLLYWOOD PARK: Get PPs and watch Saturday's full card live]

On firm or good turf, the choice to win the race is 7-2 Slim Shadey, who developed into one of the better turf horses in California last year.

In addition to the races he won, the San Marcos and John Henry Turf Cup, both at Santa Anita at 1 1/4 miles on firm turf, he also ran well when the runner-up over three consecutive races in the spring and early summer. He ran second, beaten a head, in the 1 1/2-mile San Luis Rey at Santa Anita; again ran second in the Woodford Reserve at Churchill, chasing pacesetting Little Mike; and then completed his trio of runner-up finishes when running a length behind Acclamation in the Charlie Whittingham at Hollywood.

As for his last race, an eighth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Turf, it was better than it looks at quick glance on paper. Starting from post 11 and catching a race that unfolded with fast splits, he was further off the pace than usual and lost ground while wide.

Troubled trip or not, he likely wasn’t good enough to crack the top three with his best, but he likely could have finished closer with better racing luck.

Expect better fortune in the Hollywood Turf Cup, which in contrast to the Breeders’ Cup Turf is not speed-laden. Slim Shadey should be prominent early – if not on the lead, then close to the pace.

That tactical edge in style, as well as the class he displayed last year, should give him an advantage over closers Grandeur, Grassy, Bourbon Bay, and Kindergarden Kid.

CashCall Futurity

Last up is the richest race of the weekend, the $750,000 CashCall Futurity, the last Grade 1 of the year for 2-year-olds.

I went back and forth between selections in analyzing this race, finding it a rather puzzling race to handicap. Some are untested on the Cushion Track surface at Hollywood, and with others I questioned their form and the company they have kept.

In the end, I settled on East Coast invader Violence, who won the Grade 2 Nashua easily after winning a seven-furlong maiden race in fast time at Saratoga.

Although he has yet to race two turns or run on anything other than dirt, one has to be encouraged by the confidence that trainer Todd Pletcher is showing in this colt by shipping him west.

He is swinging for the fences, shooting for a Grade 1 win in a potential sire-making race. And perhaps Pletcher is emboldened by how his shippers to California fared this fall at Santa Anita.

Recall that Pletcher raced Love and Pride and Turbo Compressor at Santa Anita in late September to get preps their before the Breeders’ Cup. And though East Coast runners so often bomb when sent west, his duo didn’t. Love and Pride won the Grade 1 Zenyatta and Turbo Compressor finished second to Slim Shadey in the John Henry.

As for the Cushion Track, it is the great unknown. We don’t know how Violence will handle it.

But many observers believe it is the most dirt-like of the synthetic surfaces around the country, more so than Polytrack and Tapeta.

If Violence sticks to his 7-2 morning line, he’s worth a play, but not if he dips lower. This race is contentious, and his chances of winning are no better than 25 percent.