This is like Christmas Eve for horseplayers.
Thursday is opening day at Saratoga Race Course, and that is always one of the very best days of the entire year. But unlike kids who have to watch the minutes tick by, sans presents, waiting for Santa, we can get a taste of what will come Thursday by making a few bets Wednesday. We will do so at Thistledown in Ohio, where it will be hot and the dirt will be fast. Let's go . . .
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Thistledown Race 1 (1:40 p.m. ET)
$5,000 claiming, 5 1/2 furlongs, dirt, 3 year-olds & up
This is a conditioned claimer, for horses who have not won a race since Jan. 10. The field is therefore not exactly filled with win machines. A horse can't be coming off a win in this one, because a win would disqualify the horse from these conditions. We are therefore looking for horses who have shown strong efforts without winning a race.
The pick is the favorite, 3-Yo Berbs, who has finished second in each of his last two starts, both of which were run under very similar conditions to this one. He's got an edge in speed figures, and he's got an edge in early speed, and this illustrates one of the few things we consider axiomatic about handicapping. When a horse has run faster overall times than the rest of the field, and has done so while running faster early than anyone else in the race, then you bet the horse. We will do that here; we will bet Yo Berbs to win at 5-2.
Thistledown Race 1
$35 W on 3-Yo Berbs
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Thistledown Race 3 (2:40 p.m.)
$5,000 claiming, 1 mile 40 yards, dirt, 3 year-olds & up
We'll take a moment here to discuss horses dropping in class in claiming races. Dropping in class can be a very negative sign of trainer intent, but only when the horse has been running well at the higher level. If a horse wins a $25,000 claimer, then finishes second at $22,500, and then is dropped way down to $8,000, run for the hills − it hints that there is probably something wrong with the horse, and the trainer wants some sucker to claim it so he can get rid of it.
We mention all that because we like a class dropper here, and it's 7-Arazi Like Move, whose last race was in a $15,000 claimer, and before that was running in allowance races, and today drops to the bargain-basement $5,000 claiming level. While class droppers who have been running well should be avoided, there is nothing wrong with a drop when a horse has been foundering at the higher levels. This is the equivalent to a kid who can't get off the bench in a varsity game, and gets sent to the JV as a result. This is the case here, as Arazi Like Move has not been doing well in these tougher races − he's finished fifth in each of his last three − and it is logical that he gets entered in a softer spot here. These kinds of drops can be especially effective when they are made by competent trainers, and Jeff Radosevich, who handles the 4-year-old gelding, is as good as it gets at Thistledown. We will bet him to win at 5-2.
Thistledown Race 3
$30 W on 7-Arazi Like Move
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Thistledown Race 4 (3:10 p.m.)
Maiden Special Weight, 1 mile, dirt, Fillies & Mares 3 year-olds & up
This one looks easy to us, almost too easy, in fact. Against a weak field, 5-Mrs. Robinson stands out. Her first race was an okay fourth, but that was in a 5 1/2 furlong sprint, and now she stretches out to a distance that she should like much better. She also gets Lasix for the first time, which suggests that while trainer Robert Gorham wasn't really looking to win her last start, he is looking to win here. Gorham also does well in this spot, with a 21% win rate with horses making their second career starts. We will bet Mrs. Robinson to win at 3-1, and we will refrain from asking whether Mrs. Robinson is trying to seduce us.
Thistledown Race 4
$30 W on 5-Mrs. Robinson
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Thistledown Race 7 (4:40 p.m.)
Allowance, 5 1/2 furlongs, dirt, 3 year-olds & up
This is a very good race, especially for a midweek card in Ohio, as there are some legitimately fast runners in here. There are so many runners with early speed, in fact, that we think the race shape will favor a closer. That makes 7-Brown Buckeye a strong play here. While the other runners all seem to do best when they are on the lead, this 5-year-old gelding has run his best races when sitting just off the pace. We see three or four horses winging it on the front end, going so fast that they tire each other out, and we see Brown Buckeye picking up the pieces by passing the tiring pacesetters late. We will bet him to win at 7-2.
Thistledown Race 7
$35 W on 7-Brown Buckeye
That's it for today. We will be back Thursday for the opening day at the Spa − and what a day it will be. Until then, good luck at the windows.
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