First post is 7:03 pm EDT.
We were not supposed to post picks today, partly because it's Monday, a day on which we are normally dark, but mostly because we were supposed to be away, enjoying a different kind of horse: we were supposed to spend the Memorial Day weekend enjoying the sand, sea, and horses, and chasing the elusive rockfish, at Assateague National Seashore. But the weather gods did not favor us: we were chased home early, by thunderstorms, heat, and an invasion of the dreaded Assateague Island black flies.
The flies were annoying enough to the humans in our group, but they were absolutely murder on our canine contingent, our three retired racing greyhounds. For the sake of our own retired racers, we packed up the car and headed home early, without even a parting token win bet on the palomino out in the marsh, who looked like a sure thing.
But our early return home has given us a chance to scope out the national racing slate today, and we are excited about a trio of stakes at Santa Anita, all of them Grade 1, and all of them run in succession. They are the Gamely, a 1 1/8 mile turf race for fillies and mares 3 and up; the Gold Cup, which is a mile and a quarter on turf for horses 3 and up'; and the Shoemaker Mile, a flat mile on the grass for horses 3 and older. These go as races 7-8-9 on the Santa Anita card, and they go to post at 7:03, 7:33, and 8:03 pm Eastern time. There will be fast dirt and firm turf for these races, so let's go.
The Gamely drew a field of eight, and the top four contenders are 4-Vasilika (8/5), 1-Rymska (5/2), 2-Ollie's Candy (4-1), and 7-Alysea's World (6-1). Each of these horses last ran in a stakes race, and partly to explain our pick in this race, and partly to illustrate how we approach these turf stakes, we are going to break down the prior races of each of these four, paying particular attention to how they finished.
Vasilika, who's trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, has won three stakes in a row, all in Southern California. Her most recent was the one-mile Royal Heroine at Santa Anita in April; she won by 2 3/4 lengths, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 95. On a firm turf course, she ran the first six furlongs in 1:09 4/5, and the final quarter mile in 23 4/5 seconds.
Rymska, a Chad Brown trainee, ships to Santa Anita from back East; her last race was a runner-up finish in the Jenny Wiley at Keeneland on April 13. She earned a 97 Beyer Speed Figure. In that 1 1/16 mile race, she ran the first six furlongs in 1:14 1/5, and she ran the final 5/16 in 28 3/5 seconds. To facilitate comparisons between horses, we will convert this 5/16 figure to its quarter-mile equivalent, which is 22 4/5 seconds.
Ollie's Candy is trained by John Sadler. She's coming off a layoff, and was last seen at Del Mar in August, finishing second in the Del Mar Oaks. She earned a 93 Beyer Speed Figure in that 1 1/8 mile race, and she ran six furlongs in 1:12 4/5, and the final 3/8 in 35 1/5 seconds, which converts to a 23 2/5 quarter-mile fraction.
Alysea's World, a Richie Baltas trianee, won the 1 1/4 mile Santa Ana stakes at Santa Anita last out. She earned a 94 Beyer that day, and did so running the first six furlongs in 1:11 4/5, and the final quarter mile in 23 4/5 seconds.
For the sake of easier comparison, we're going to put the figures for these horses in a chart:
The first thing to note about this is that speed figures make these horses tough to separate. There's just a few points separating all of them. If we're going by the Beyers here, we might as well throw a dart at the chart. But the fractional times are much more revealing. Turf races are usually won by the horse with the best late kick: this is true at all levels, but it is doubly true at the sport's highest level, in stakes races.
This is how we typically handicap turf stakes races. The last thing we do, after doping out the runners as above, is to look at prior races, to make sure that our numbers are not skewed by one unusual performance, by a a fluky race, something that because of an odd factor, like an extreme pace scenario, is unlikely to recur. We can say that in this example, this is not the case, and the numbers in the chart are an accurate representation of the abilities of the horses entered in the Gamely today and the chart clearly indicates that the standout is Rymska: not only did she earn the highest speed figure last out, she did so running a final quarter mile significantly faster than her rivals. More important, she's shown the ability to run a final quarter in 23 seconds or better: this is the benchmark for top-level stakes races, as horses usually have to run the last quarter in the neighborhood of 23 seconds to be able to win Grade 1-2 races. And she gets the rail, which virtually insures her a good trip.
The numbers are particularly revealing regarding 8/5 morning line favorite Vasilika: she is a terrible favorite, and we think she has little chance of winning this race. At 8/5, we wouldn't bet her with counterfeit money. The one horse who has an upside is Ollie's Candy. Her last race was in August, when she was a 3-year-old, and she has improved, and physically matured, while she was away from the races. We still don't think she can beat Rymska, but we do think she is a solid pick to finish second. We will use all this information to bet: we will bet Rymska to win at 5/2, and we will bet a straight Rymska-Ollie's Candy exacta. The bets: Santa Anita Park, Race 7, $40 to win on 1-Rymska, and $25 exacta, 1-Rymska with 2-Ollie's Candy.
We'll be brief with the Gold Cup: morning line favorite 5-Gift Box looks like a very likely winner at a fairly short price. We'll pass on making a win bet on this one.
The Shoemaker Mile is a tough race, with a very good field of nine. Unlike the Gamely, where crunching the numbers reveals a clearly superior animal, the Shoemaker Mile shows that the contenders are much more closely bunched. Our top pick is 2-Sharp Samuarai, who has the lethal combination of high tactical speed and a superior closing kick, but this is a much more tepid endorsement than our pick in the Gamely. But we will still bet Sharp Samurai to win. The bet: Santa Anita Park, Race 9, $20 to win on 2-Sharp Samurai.
And finally, because the fact that these three races are run in succession, and also because of how our assessments of the races panned, out, we're going to indulge in some Santa Anita Pick 3 action. Here are the horses we will put on the ticket:
Race 7 (Gamely): 1-Rymska
Race 8 (Gold Cup): 5-Gift Box, 6-Core Beliefs, 7-Vino Rosso
Race 9 (Shoemaker Mile): 1-Ohio, 2-Sharp Samurai, 5-Catapult, 8-Delta Prince
This works out to the following ticket: 1 with 5, 6, 7 with 1,2,5,8. This is 12 combinations, so we'll play a $4 ticket, for a total investment of $48. That's all for today. Good luck at the windows.