- Turf races are a lot more fun than synthetic races, but that's also like saying that water is wet.
- Having actual championship races on Friday, I'm sorry, is awful. Some of us actually have jobs.
- Zenyatta is really f--king good.
Since I have no interest in handicapping what's ultimately a Grade 3 race at a fluky distance, let's take my wife's fail-safe approach to handicapping. Frank Zappa is a Sixties Icon, so box them. Seems reasonable enough. For the show slot, let's take Church Service, whose connections alone make him a play at 10-1.
"Picks": 1. Zappa 2. Sixties Icon 3. Church Service
I've heard of exactly three of these horses: Salute the Count, Idiot Proof and Diabolical. Let's rank them alphabetically.
"Picks": 1. Diabolical 2. Idiot Proof 3. Salute the Count
Finally, a race that holds a modicum of interest to me. Be very, VERY careful of the favorites in this race. Everyone is of the opinion that this is a walkover for Well Armed, with Albertus Maximus and the ageless Surf Cat having outside shots, all at short prices. I find none of these horses particularly appealing. Well Armed has been running well against better horses, but going longer than this, and is going to need the lead, which isn't the place to be on a synthetic, generally speaking. Both he and Surf Cat are not mile specialists or even mile winners. Albertus Maximus is probably the most useful of these three, given his bad trip last out in the Goodwood, but he'll be horribly underlaid at 3-1.
Let's instead forcus on three horses coming into the race in good shape who may offer some value. Lewis Michael has never been out of the exacta at a mile, has the right running style for a race with a fair pace, and loves synthetics. My Pal Charlie is on the improve, also likes the distance, and while he's trying synthetics for the first time and has a bad post, will be 20-1. Even more intriguing is Slew's Tiznow, who's making his fourth lifetime start here but also clearly likes the distance and the surface, and may be coming late at 30-1.
Picks: 1. Lewis Michael 2. Slew's Tiznow 3. My Pal Charlie
When in doubt, look to the Euros here. Yeah, I know, they've lost 8 of the last 10 editions of this race. I'm still saying look to the Euros. Especially this year, when we've got a monster in Goldikova coming over, who sports a fantastic record at the distance and has been running competitively against Zarkava, one of the best horses this decade.
The second best horse by a lot in this race is defending champ Kip Deville, whose last race flop should be overlooked, given that Woodbine is a track that many horses don't like. It'll take a regression from Goldikova for her to lose to him, but it's not impossible. For the show slot, the usual advice is to look for a closer that likes the distance. Shakis and Bold Chieftan seem to fit the bill here, but let's take a stab with import US Ranger, who's actually got a nice record at the distance and appears to be a late runner and should be 20-1 or so.
Picks: 1. Goldikova 2. Kip Deville 3. US Ranger
Division leader Vineyard Haven is sitting this one out, and the speedy Charitable Man is injured. Coupling that with the Pro Ride surface, and we're left with a rather odd race where everyone is oddly bunched together in terms of accomplishments. So let's look at upside by way of breeding and connections, and lean towards late runners over speedsters.
Of the California horses, the most interesting is Midshipman, who figures to improve in his second race around two turns (a consistent Bob Baffert angle, as many have noted), and is bred to enjoy the distance. His post isn't a help, but he should be able to tuck in okay behind the dueling leaders. With him should be Euro shipper Bushranger, who's a bit of a guess if he'll like a non-turf surface, but looks a lot like other European winners: well raced, from good connections, with a strong jockey, and having accomplished something in Europe. A fun wildcard here is Pioneerof the Nile, who bid and hung in the Keeneland Futurity and was a distant third. It's the kind of race you'd expect him to build off of, and his breeding (Belmont winner Empire Maker as the sire, multiple stakes winner Star of Goshen as the dam) screams that he'll like the distance. Since Mott doesn't screw around when shipping, he's here for a reason, and is our flyer at 30-1.
Picks: 1. Midshipman 2. Pioneerof the Nile 3. Bushranger
Why is this ungraded stakes in such a prominent place on the card? Because it's sponsored by Grey Goose, meaning it must be shown on ESPN. So Steve Crist says, anyway. Regardless, this race is being touted by some as wide-open, but the Yanks have to do a lot to catch up to Euro shipper Westphalia, who's run competitively in Grade 1 2yo turf races in Euro. Nobody here can match that, and he may be the best bet of the day.
For the other money spots, ignore the other Euros, who have accomplished and raced against nobody. Instead, look north to the 1-2 finishers of the Summer Stakes at Woodbine, Grand Adventure and Skipadate. I like them to swap the order of finish here and round out an anti-American triple. Stephen Colbert would not approve of this selection.
Picks: 1. Westphalia 2. Skipadate 3. Grand Adventure
This used to be the best race on the card, but with the Dirt Mile, Filly Sprint and Turf Sprint, it's down to a lowly 9 horses. Boo. Let's play process of elmination. Black Seventeen's last win defines Slop Freak, Sing Baby Sing's presence is laughable, and Fatal Bullet is in over his head. Midnight Lute is the defending champion, but look like garbage in his last, and a critical look at his record basically shows that he ran a ridiculous Forego last year and merely beat the crap that constituted last year's Sprint. Fabulous Strike is quick as all hell, but he'll probably get fried in a pace duel up front and you have to wonder if his light racing schedule this year makes him eligible to regress in this race.
That was easy. Now we're down to 4 horses. Of those left, Street Boss looks the most like the winner: good local record, closing style, loves the distance, and is in top form. In Summation should get first run on Street Boss and is as honest as they come, but has the look of an "underneath" horse. We could pick the newly hot Cost of Freedom to round out the triple, but I can't see Cali horses running 1-2-3. So let's go outside the box and pick First Defence to hit the board, who looks much more plausible if you toss his last because of the sloppy surface.
Picks: 1. Sreet Boss 2. First Defence 3. In Summation
Best race on the card by a lot. Three Euros are the main attraction here (Red Rock Canyon is a pace factor only, and nobody thinks Winchester stacks up with the best of these), with Soldier of Fortune being the most hyped from the O'Brien barn. Off a 3-month layoff, he returned to run a solid third behind Zarkava (who'd be 4-5 here) in the Arc, which some are suggesting he used as a prep for this race. Maybe. It's also reasonable to just ask whether he's as good this year as he was last year. Conduit is in fine form but is cutting back two furlongs from the St. Leger, and may actually need more ground than he'll get here. That brings us to Eagle Mountain, who returned off a layoff caused by, of all things, a broken pelvis, to win at Newmarket 3 weeks ago. When his trainer pointed him to this race, the antepost odds in Europe plummeted, a la Shirocco in 2005 (who won). This is a serious racehorse bred beautifully from top-shelf connections that's a big threat here.
How about the Americans? Grand Courturier is having a big year, but all his wins came over soft going, which he won't get here. By contrast, we haven't given Dancing Forever a hard turf in 4 months, since he won the Manhattan stakes over Out of Control. His last two were putrid, but if we attribute it to the surface he ran on rather than his talent, he's got a shot to make the triples interesting. As does Out of Control. But you can't pick everyone.
Picks: 1. Eagle Mountain 2. Soldier of Fortune 3. Dancing Forever
Curlin Curlin Curlin Curlin Curlin Curlin Curlin Curlin. Wait, I used this joke yesterday? Dammit. Okay, so Curlin's the best horse in the race, and if he takes to the surface 85% as well as he does to the dirt, he'll win easily. Anything else?
Sure, let's look at the exactas/trifectas/superfectas. Three Euros give the Classic a shot this year: the O'Brien trainer pair of Duke of Marmalade and Henrythenavigator plus the underrated John Gosden's Raven's Pass. None of them are right for this spot. The 'Duke seems over the top with his best races behind him, as does Prince Henry. Raven's Pass is a pure miler who could get 9 furlongs, but even his trainer is suspect of him at a mile and a quarter. I'm inclined to ignore these three.
It's also not to early to toss Colonel John, from this execrable three year old class, Smooth Air, who's even money to finish last in this race, Champs Elysees, who's in the wrong race, and Casino Drive, who would have to have talent beyond Skip Away to be competitive here in his fourth race. Fairbanks is intriguing as "lone speed", but the Classic rarely works that way--the trifecta spots usually go to closers.
Let's instead look to some solid older pros. There are two horses who fit the bill of "synthetic demons": Go Between and Student Council. The former was a passable grass horse until Bill Mott shipped him west, where he morphed into a latter day Kelso on the plastic stuff. More intriguing is Student Council, who's won a pair of Grade 1's in his career, including 1 over a synthetic surface, and is a fan of this distance. Both will be flying late, and I slightly prefer Student Council because he should get first jump on all the closers. And included in that bunch should be Tiago, who actually ran a nice Goodwood last out and could clunk up nicely for a share at 20-1. It's these three, and not the Euros, that will round out Curlin's coup de grace.
Picks: 1. Curlin 2. Student Council 3. Tiago 4. Go Between