His first post is at 6:46 pm EDT
We're back for a Thursday, and we're going to hope for better weather today than yesterday, when we were victims of rain, scratches, and even the cancellation of most of the card at Louisiana Downs. We were, as the late, great Curly Howard would say, a victim of circumstance!
But it's a new day, and there's an evening card at Churchill, plus a rare midweek stakes race at Belmont. Weather should be OK in both places, so we are handicapping for fast and firm. We've taken a look at all of them, and we've found a few plays. Let's go.
The day's lone stakes race is the $100,00 Flat Out, which goes as the 8th at Belmont Park, and goes to post at a cocktail-friendly 6:46 pm (all times here are Eastern). It's older horses going 1 3/8 miles on the main track at Big Sandy. The distance here is key: 11 furlongs is just 220 yards less than a mile and a half, and few dirt horses want to go this far: It's the same issue we'll have to negotiate in handicapping the Belmont Stakes in four weeks).
There are a couple of runners in here who look like they will be able to handle the distance: 9/5 morning-line favorite 5-Rocketry and 5/2 second choice 7-Marconi are both proven commodities in longer races: Rocketry has won races as long as a 1 3/4 miles, and Marconi is coming off a win in the 1 3/16 mile Skip Away at Gulfstream Park.
But this race to us looks like it's going to prove a handicapping axiom that is counter-intuitive, which beginners frequently have a hard time grasping, and which we hear enough the week before Belmont Stakes that it makes us want to pull out what little hair we have left. Newbies think that the longer race means that there is more time for the closers to catch the leaders, but the reality is usually the opposite: the long race means that the early pace is usually so slow that the races actually favor speed. The Belmont Stakes is 12 furlongs, and the Kentucky Derby is 10 furlongs, but the race in which speed horses have been more successful is the Belmont -- and it's not even close.
And we think the Flat Out will be an illustration of this: there are so many distance horses in here with little early speed that we think the table is set for a horse to be able to steal the race by running slow fractions on the lead. And that horse is 4-Tour de Force. This 6-year-old horse, trained by Rudy Rodriguez, stalked a legitimate pace in the Grade 3 Excelsior at Aqueduct last time, finishing a good third. He set the pace in his two starts prior to that. We think it's a mortal lock that Tour de Force gets the early lead, and we think the jockeys on the other horses will let him settle, and gallop easily on the front end. That will make him very, very tough to catch. We think he's an exceptionally good bet, and the fact that he's 6-1 is just a bonus. We will bet him to win, and we will also key him on top of a trifecta with the two favorites in the spots underneath. The bets: Belmont Park, Race 8, $30 to win on 4-Tour de Force; $5 Trifecta, 4 with 5.7 with 5,7.
The 5th at Churchill (post time: 6:56 pm) is a $50,000 claimer for fillies and mares 3 and up at 1 1/16 miles on the dirt. We like 5-Spackle: this 3-year-old filly is coming off a layoff, but has an edge in speed figures, before her break was been running well in Maiden Special races. We think she will relish the class drop into maiden claiming company. We will bet her to win. The bet: Churchill Downs, Race 5, $20 to win on 5-Spackle.
We're going to take a shot in Race 7 at Churchill, a first-level allowance for fillies and mares 3 and up, and 5 furlong sprint on the turf that goes to post at 7:54 pm. There are some runners in here, but we like the horse on the outside, 10-Libby Knows. She broke her maiden sprinting on the turf at the Fair Grounds, then tried going longer against allowance company at Keeneland, where she led for a three-quarters of a mile before fading to finish 8th. We think cutting back to a sprint could wake her up, and trainer Larry Jones has a very good 30% win rate with horses going from a route to a sprint. We think she has a big chance at a big price, and that means we will bet her to win and to place at 10-1. The bet: Churchill Downs, Race 7, $20 to win and $10 to place on 10-Libby Knows.
That's all for today. We'll be back on Saturday for a look at the national stakes action, and in coming days we'll also have an early look at some handicapping angles for the Preakness. Until then, good luck at the windows.