Apologies for being a day later than expected - work obligations tied us up. With Beholder's scratch, we have an interesting field of 9 assembled for the Classic. Let's get to it.
Hope Your Owner Got Great Seats!
9. Hard Aces. He snuck into this race by winning the nee Hollywood Gold Cup at a big price. That was his only winning effort this year, and it wasn't particularly fast. Hope they enjoy the Kentucky hospitality.
8. Effinex. Named by a guy a scorned by his "effing ex," he's had some decent efforts at 10 furlongs this year at New York tracks, but hasn't been in good form since this summer. We would ordinarily say he's vaguely interesting to close for a piece at a price, but this race is so full of good closers that we can't see him outkicking them all.
Not Buying the Hype
7. Gleneagles. Our latest effort by Aiden O'Brien to conquer the Classic, this guy is getting a fair amount of hype as a longshot play and we think we'll be around 10-1. We're not seeing it. Let's ignore the Classics held on polytrack for a minute - the only two horses that have hit the board were Giant's Causeway and Declaration of War, both of which were perfectly bred for the dirt. This guy, not so much. Think more Galileo, who was up the track.
6. Keen Ice. The only horse to beat American Pharoah this year, we will admit that this guy has improved since being a plodder during the Triple Crown trail. But we're not that interested in him here. His Travers win was pretty much the definition of being in the right place to succeed when the favorite failed, which doesn't always portend greatness - anyone remember the name of the horse that stopped Cigar's streak? We see a one-paced effort that threatens nobody.
Maybe, With a Big Step Forward
5. Smooth Roller. He's only making his 5th start, so there's at least some upside here. We call b.s. on his speed figure in his last effort - which is actually the highest last out figure - but he's bred for the distance and could be getting good at the right time. But he still hasn't faced or beaten a top-shelf horse. We think he's best used defensively.
4. Frosted. He finally broke through with a big win in the Pennsylvania Derby which may be a little better than it looks. He sat off the pace, didn't have the best of trips with traffic issues, but exploded in the stretch. We're ordinarily wary of a 3 year old that hasn't faced older horses yet in this spot, but last year, when 3yos ran 1-2-3-4-5, may have dispelled that notion. He'll probably be in the second flight of horses off American Pharoah and we can definitely see him threatening the winner, especially if one of the next three don't fire.
3. Honor Code. If this race had something resembling a pace we'd be a lot more interested, because he's clearly the most- or second-most talented horse in the race. But with Beholder's scratch there's only one or two horses that may make American Pharoah run at all. Our guess is he falls too far behind and runs well late but doesn't nearly get up in time.
2. American Pharoah. So why are we not picking him over...
1. Tonalist. ...our upset pick? First, we're unconvinced that Tonalist is going to be a mile off the pace again this race - this horse has shown tactical speed in the past and we think he'll do it again, making sure American Pharoah has some pressure, at worst, with a half mile to go. Second, we like the recency in Tonalist's run. Horses off a longer layoff have traditionally been poor bets here. But we see Smooth Roller challenging him first, then Tonalist coming with about a half mile to go and putting him away in the stretch.
Good luck to all!