Handicapper Blog

Posted by Brian Skirka on Sunday, October 09, 2011 3:17 PM

Hour by hour, day by day, and week by week.  It’s a constant countdown to the Breeders’ Cup.  Here are a couple things we learned this weekend:


Constant-professional and 2010 Breeders’ Cup Mile runner-up Gio Ponti has continued to retain his top form year after year.  He may settle for minor awards going longer against Europeans, but going a mile he’s one tough dude.  Look for the Breeders’ Cup Mile to turn out pretty similar to last year.  Gio Ponti strikes the lead at the 1/8th pole, Goldikova mows him down late.


Leading 2-year-old Union Rags turned in a beauty in the Grade 1 Champagne at Belmont yesterday.  The Michael Matz trainee really looked powerful coming home the final eighth of a mile and is clearly one of the more visually-impressive sophomores in the country heading to Churchill in less than a month.  After watching him cruise home yesterday, he’s got my vote.


Speaking of Grade 1 races for 2-year-olds, how impossible is it to handicap those types of events at Keeneland?  There are always 12 horses or more, there are always horses from all over the country, and there are always dirt, turf and synthetic horses.  I mean, with all due respect, how could you handicap the winner of yesterday’s Breeders’ Futurity?  A maiden coming off a pair of turf races at Saratoga.  I think the best handicapping strategy is to find singles elsewhere and use ALL in these types of races.


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If you happened to see me around the track this weekend, the reason for that huge smile on my face was because I found an apartment in Florida for my return to Gulfstream Park.  It’s further away from the track than I was last year (I guess it’s hard to be closer than 1.2 miles) but it’s right across the street from the beach.  Pretty excited about it.


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Unfortunately, I didn’t get to witness the Yankees being extricated from the playoffs by the Tigers the other night.  With my gut feeling all night that the Bronx Bombers were going to come back and win, I just couldn’t bear to watch past the seventh inning.  However, I was thrilled to see the following morning that I was wrong – and that A-Rod struck out to end the game.  It’s amazing how the pressure of the playoffs can have such an effect on very good players.  How bad a series did Mark Teixeira, Nick Swisher and (of course) A-Rod have?  It’s not a coincidence that the Yankees no longer win the World Series on a consistent basis.  In their hey-day it was Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams and Paul O’Neill.  Now it’s A-Rod, Tex and Swish.  The numbers say the latter three are superior players.  The first three can play for me any day – especially in October.


Brad Thomas’ Sunday Samplings  


Sunday, October 2


Race 1 – Dropdown Mystical Rhythms might have had a class edge, but her other key advantage was her versatility.  The filly can lead or follow, grind or accelerate.  The race shape here dictated the latter alternatives were required and the Jason Servis trainee delivered.

            Third-finisher Soccittomebaby’s trainer, Bruce Levine, had no exacta finishers at Monmouth Park between August 20 and October 1.  But yesterday, he had two wins (one at 9-1) with horses coming off respites of 28 and 42 days.  Soccittomebaby’s game, hard-used, and scorching-paced effort here at 13-1 off a 41-day break bodes decently for her taking a shot in the depleted, late season New Jersey-bred allowance ranks.


Race 2 – Jockey Navin Mangalee saw an opportunity to slice to the rail and save some ground going into the turn before swinging out to better footing in the stretch on rallying Miss Bar A.  The rider’s nifty move probably wasn’t necessary as the race played out, but it’s still great to see thought and initiative blended with physical skill!  Winning trainer Pat McBurney continues to exceed his overall numbers with horses cutting back in distance.

            3rd-finishing, second-off-a-layoff Celtic Blessing broke well, but then dropped back and settled into a steady grind.  The leggy filly likely would appreciate two turns, but could have trouble finding a viable spot going long.  Perhaps the addition of blinkers – and a possible drop – would keep her sufficiently in the game early sprinting to allow for a legitimate stretch shot.  Joan Milne, her low profile trainer, has two victories at the meet.  One has come stretching out, the other with blinkers on.


Race 3 – Sabercat improved on his hard-dueling maiden triumph over subsequent dominant graduate My Adonis by sitting a perfect trip just off battling leaders in the Garden State Stakes.  The Steve Asmussen trainee exhibited newly-discovered acceleration and sustained it like he has graded potential.  At the very least, the son of Haskell Invitational star Bluegrass Cat has the tactical versatility to create his own future racing experiences.


Race 4 – Dubai Gold, first race off the claim, gave conditioner Ed Coletti, Sr. his second victory in two days.

            The 12-1 runner-up Lockup was yet another horse to run well in conditioned claiming company after resting up and becoming recently eligible – in his case by 17 days.  The 8-year-old’s most recent win came at this level in March off a 97-day layoff and here he was returning with 51 days between starts.


Race 5 – Don Six’s Number is fast.  She’s very fast.  But she’s also coy because she doesn’t show everything she has and doles out her bursts in relatively small doses.  The New Jersey-bred has plenty of restricted-race purse money to make in the next year or so, but when the conditions run out has a pedigree that provides her with a follow-up plan.  That would be in turf sprints.


Race 6 – Tough Market had a condition (non-winners-of-three-lifetime) and a pedigree to improve with continued racing when she was claimed by trainer Jason Servis on September 5.  Servis now has won twice this Monmouth season with new acquisitions and three times with animals running under his name for the second time.


Race 7 – With a name like The Hunk, you had better be good.  Or at least good looking.  The 4-year-old is both.  The Jersey-bred beat open company as a 2-year-old in his debut, but then had his share of career-stunting issues and lost five races in a row.  His last two, however, have been improving, dominant romps over state-breds and The Hunk, with some strength-building rest, might be ready to return to open company – perhaps in November at Aqueduct.


Race 9 – Joe Hollywood is modest in stature, but explosive in talent.  He bottomed out this quick-paced group with a humungous second quarter – on the turn – and won with speed in reserve.  He has to prove he can withstand early pressure from a rival who has not recently competed for a claiming tag, but when he does (I think he will!) races of the highest grade will be within his limit.  Joe Hollywood acts on wet or dry dirt, turf, and probably synthetic, too, if you’re willing to cut him a break for his tough-trip Keeneland debut. 

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Brian Skirka graduated from Rutgers University in 2007 with a degree in journalism. He currently works for Monmouth Park’s marketing and publicity departments and is in his fifth year working at the track. In the past, Brian’s work has also been published on www.thebigm.com and www.ntra.com.