Friday, February 27, 2009

Race Preview: The Fountain of Youth

We're still a bit on the early side to do much in the way of fantasy coverage for our league, so let's return to horse racing for a few minutes. We're two months into the 3-year old season, and this Saturday presents us the Fountain of Youth stakes at Gulfstream Park. The FOY is normally a prep race for the Florida Derby, and it's filling that function once again this year.

What makes this year's FOY different is that Gulfstream smartly has made the distance a flat mile around one turn, rather than 1 1/8 miles like the last few years. This has the benefit of allowing those that ran in the 7 furlong Hutchenson stakes a few weeks ago to stretch out another furlong, allowing for a sensible progression (the Florida Derby, next on the list, is 1 1/8 miles). It also allows sprinters trying to stretch out a chance to show their stuff, because a 1-turn race should be more to their liking than a 2-turn race..

And what we've gotten this year is one of the more fascinating and intriguing groups of horses assembled for a Derby prep race since....geez, I dunno, the 2003 Wood? It bears analysis and breaking down, which we'll do right now, operating under the assumption that Take the Points will scratch to run in Santa Anita the same day. With one caveat---I am not a great Gulfstream handicapper.

Plain Ol' Too Slow

11. Bee Cee Cee. Since winning his first two starts it's been all downhill, as he's only once been within 3 lengths of the winner since then. His only real attributes are his connections (Eddie Plesa and Cornelio Velazquez), who aren't bad in Florida.

10. Rocketing Returns. Wilted when pressing the pace in the Hutchenson. Sine he appears to be unable to rate, how is he going to handle more pace here and the extra furlong?

9. Jack Spratt. Turf runner making his dirt debut, he has some dirt breeding that's intriguing. The problem is he's slow as all hell.

Early Speed Kills

8. Capt. Candyman Can. Won the Hutchenson after dueling Rocketing Returns into the grounds, but crawled home in the final furlong and looked leg-weary. He does boeast a 101 Gowanus Speed Figure in his last race, and has been competitive in route races, but looks to be fried in a quick pace here, which will also include...

7. Notonthesamepage...the wicked fast winner of the Spectacular Bid on opening day. His two attempts to go longer than 6 furlongs have been debacles, so while he'll be up front winging early (thanks to a post his trainer doesn't like) it's hard to see him keeping it up for 2 extra furlongs, 114 speed figure be damned.

6. Taqarub. Undefeated and ran a 103 in his last, but has yet to beat a decent horse. You have to question the speed figures of horses that are high thanks to than running fast early and beating grossly inferior competition; often it inflates the number beyond their true ability. If you knock 5% off all of his speed figures, suddenly he doesn't look so interesting, especially with rank sprinter Aldebaran as his sire.

The Potential Freaks

5. This One's For Phil. This horse has been the victim of diatribes by Cranky Andy Beyer and the discussion of the horse racing world, where in his first start for Dicky Dutrow of Big Brown fame, he jumped forty points on the Beyer scale. Let's put that in perspective: he went from a middling maiden winner to the fastest two year old this decade in one race. Some allege malfeasance, some allege cheating, some are befuddled. What is clear is that the horse does have talent. What isn't clear is that this is a good spot for him; he'll be closer to the pace than he was in his last, thanks to the outside post and him stretching out, and will have to win the pace battle and hold off the closers. Tough requirement.

4. Quality Road. His maiden win at Aqueduct was a pure tour de force over 6 1/2 furlongs, but his next race back wasn't so hot, as he ran an okay second to another horse we'll discuss in a moment. That said, this horse is quite quite talented. He's enormous (17 hands), still growing and learning, and may have the most raw talent of anyone in the field. The big question is whether John Velazquez can rate him off the scorching pace; his first two races were all in wire fashion, but it's quite possible Jerkens has trained him since then to relax and hold back. If he sits off the pace, he's dangerous.

The Price Plays

3. Break Water Edison. Winner of last year's Nashua Stakes at Aqueduct at a flat mile, he's a tough read. His Hutchenson was awful, as were his Champagne and Hopeful. What all three of those races have in common is he broke from the rail. Coincidence? Tough to say. But if he really just doesn't like the inside or rail post, then his other three races fit quite well, and he's bred to run a mile and is fast enough. Also, he'll be at least 20-1 off his last effort. A great play for trifectas, at a minimum.

2. Theregoesjojo. If you like Quality Road, who will be 5-1....shouldn't you like the horse that just beat him and will be triple the price? And is trained by the meet's leading trainer? And has hot jockey Desormeaux up? And shouldn't have a problem with the extra furlong? Yeah, he doesn't have the hype of Quality Road. What if he's just better?

The Pick

1. Beethoven. Currently my Derby pick, he has a solid record masked by a better-than-it-looked 4th in the Holy Bull last out, where he had a bad post (10) in a 2-turn race and couldn't overcome that and a speed-favoring bias. Here, he gets a lot of pace to run after and should be flying late under Calvin Bo-Rail. My biggest reservations is that this guy may want two turns more than a long 1-turn mile, and that his late charge will be too late. That said, he's still the most likely winner given the pace scenario.

So our prediction here is a win for Beethoven, and the play is him to win if he's 4-1 or higher, and to play him in exactas and triples with Break Water Edison, Theregoesjojo, Quality Road, and maybe a little Jack Spratt if you're looking to really shoot for the moon in the superfecta. Good luck to all.

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