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Road to Kentucky Handicapping Contest Begins


All Aboard: Week One of $30,000 Road to Kentucky Handicapping Contest – Santa Anita

Canterbury’s annual Road to Kentucky Handicapping Contest contest takes off this week on the west coast, starting with the Robert Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita. Unfortunately it only drew four combatants, but the field seems to have scared off some of the competition and will establish a temporary leader in west coast derby hopes. Baffert’s two entrants take on Doug O’Neill’s BC runner-up He’s Had Enough, but let’s take a look at the card and try to sniff out some contest plays. Keep in mind this is handicapped prior to morning line odds being made:

Race 1 – In five horse fields, more often than not I’d just take the winner and move on. Even if you score bigger odds underneath the payoffs are decimated by the favorite winning/hitting the board so unless you anticipate 1/9 on top just tip the cap and move along. Speed’s been playing well all meet and the first race isn’t overflowing with it – but 40% of the field is trained by Bob Baffert. Westrock Stables have Den’s Legacy in the Bob Lewis later in the card, whom they bought from the same sale as Spirited Touch for a lot more money. It seems they’ll make their money later in the day and are willing to let Baffert slap the bunny ears on this speedster to give Tiz the Truth a target to run at. Baffert with tandems in MSW Company are usually tough to overcome, although this meeting the barn has been a little slow to go. They are overdue to roll. Tiz the Truth and his stablemate Battled tried sprinting together at BHP to no avail, but this one’s pedigree seemed to be looking for more ground so Baffert gave him an extra furlong on January 13th. He responded well in taking a head defeat to Demonic, pronounced at least one of, if not the, leading Derby hope from John Sadler’s barn. The only other horse to try dirt (Colburn) lost to Bafferts’ Curly Top and Z Big Apple in each of his two starts. Gary Stevens retains the mount on Tiz the Truth and casts a pretty big shadow over the rest. The bullet by Misdeed the other day screams off the page, but his only route try was a disaster. A tough bunch to get past the favorite with.

Race 2 – Keep an eye on the weather, as these down-the-hill events tend to get chalky and short when it rains. They’ll keep longer races on the turf on occasion, but when this downhill chute gets rainy it’s a no-go. Assuming California has California weather again, we must seek a price. Mr. Bossy Pants should be the favorite, but his inside post is not helpful on that configuration and he had to GUT one out last time to win a photo over Drift King. The latter should take his share of betting action as well, his record on SA sod speaking for itself. He’s done very well for Mitchell but can’t seem to find that killer instinct lately… there is plenty of speed lined up to his right and left as well. We’ll stick with the outside two for a couple of prices if that’s what you’re shopping for, Stacy’s Hope and Format V. Format V. may not be much of a price given the recent claim by Vladimir Cerin, but these two are old friends and he was claimed for a reason. He can fly given pace and the right pot on that course, and it seems he’s found both here. Vlad let him go after a couple of sub-par efforts at Hollywood this summer, but claimed him back for the right price at the right time to get him back on the hill. Perhaps he’s lost a step in his age but take a glance at his turf form and see where most of the success has come. Stacy’s Hope is just a closer with nowhere else to go at the Santa Anita meeting, so he’s more of a wild card but surely more of a price. He comes from the CLOUDS and with Victor Espinoza committed to Mr. Bossy Pants, Mojica lands here. Orlando can make good use of a one run, steady closing type of horse and this is exactly what he’s riding. You won’t see him early but Hess has found something about this horse that he likes and gets him in a spot where his closing kick should be effective. He loves the distance and though his one turf start was a dud, Hollywood $62.5 Optional Claimers are a heck of a lot tougher than this spot and that course is significantly harder to close on. ‘V may get the jump on him but if you’re in this corner watch those early fractions.

Race 3 – And here comes a race for some points… maybe. There are a lot of Cal-Breds in here that could run for a lot more money in other spots, so keep those eyes open for those bred elsewhere. Some just need to run and there is no other spot, but for horses like Banged His Eye that will take a lot of money on the drop alone, consider how many other small steps down they could have taken rather than the nosedive. One that’s tried a couple of levels and has shown a little more life in the mornings lately is Excessive Pride from the Periban stable. Pedroza sees fit to take the mount and will surely get more speed out of this son of In Excess while drawing the rail again. One of the non-Cal-Breds that stands to improve is Unsinkable Sam, but the price is iffy. Conlon is quite good with new acquisitions and this one gets the blinkers after biffing the break, though it can be forgiven seeing as it was from the rail. She’s rested him quite a bit and has given him at least one work in his new equipment, and with the addition of Maldonado the game plan appears clear. Hi Chooch is another that’ll take play but has been working well for his debut against sellers – If you can stomach 7/2 or less, this is your horse. Not a ton of passing going on at this level or track, so watch scratches but speed’s a must.

Race 4 – It looks like battle of the grays, but don’t count out Den’s Legacy with his hefty experience advantage. He has more starts than the rest of the field, has danced every dance and still continues to get checks each time he breaks from the gate. None of them will be a price unless you fancy Little Jerry, but he’s got a lot of ground to make up on the competition and a four horse race shouldn’t provide the pace necessary. Flashback has been right on track since a suspected hind end issue, but is working very fast for a stretchout in ground. Baffert knows how to get them ready, so expect a short price and a big run from the gray brother to Zazu. He’s Had Enough needs some tweaks but gets the advantageous outside draw to track the pace under Gutierrez. He’s been working out so well lately too that it’s hard to see him missing a piece if not the lion’s share. Pick one of the favorites and move along. This isn’t where you’re going to make up or lose ground, as they should all be floating in the same neighborhood. Just get some points in the contest.

Race 5 – There’s good news and there’s bad news. Good new? We have a price. Bad news? She’s stuck in a post that no one wins from on this turf course. If there is one scratch give Hard Rockin Girl a looong look, but if the field stays intact she’ll have to cover an awful lot of ground. Magnificent Shirl has many good changes in her corner but stays stuck on the inside….and in this contest we’ll try to beat the favorite. Tizmetizyou has the most natural speed on paper, and though stuck towards the outside can track or lead unless someone goes bonkers first time out. There aren’t a ton of over-aggressive riders to Valdivia’s inside, and he rode this filly to a nice second place finish on the main track after a wide, wide journey in start number one. Escape Act won that day as the only filly that had started, and took them wire to wire after drawing the rail. Toss that one out and she’s a live filly to pull robbery on the front end. She’s put in two nice workouts since that last race and lost to a nice Proctor filly in her first try at seven. Price should be right but if she, Hard Rockin Girl and Magnificent Shirl end up undervalued Topic is the another possibility in a wide open race.

Race 6 – A lot of these enter off rest short or long, but this is still a salty group of sprinters any way you slice it. Italian Rules is a tough old Cal-Bred that only takes a few races a year, but seems to do his best work in optional claimers at this track. Half of his lifetime wins are SA sprints, and if nothing else he should burn off a lot of the speed drawn to his outside. Luckarack gets a nice draw at hopefully a price, so long as Maldonado can stay aboard. He’s another of the Cal-Breds that have done well at this level or slightly below, but has the ability to lay off the pace and save ground if an abundance duel on the front end. Though he’s a little light on class lately, there is something about a horse that wins that often that can’t be ignored. The price should be right considering his recent competition but wherever you play, demand a price as there are a number of live entities. Scorpion Warrior may be undervalued considering the gaudy figure he put up in breaking his maiden, but it was impressive and he draws a perfectly cozy slot.

Race 7 – There really shouldn’t be a dominant favorite in this race but I’ll usually turn towards the older horses taking on the newly turned four-year olds. Unfortunately Te Rapa draws the outside and should be a little undervalued, but four-year old Vibrato Jazz is probably in the same boat. There is some speed on the inside but if they don’t float him too wide new import Diamondsdiplomat should sit a nice stalking trip if Garcia can relax him. He may not hang on (hasn’t done much of that lately) but may provide more juicy payoffs underneath the one they’ll all have to hold off, Te Rapa. There’ll be a lot of horses moving together at the end, but the distance may get the best of a lot of them so stick with the proven commodities going this long. Whoever in your estimation will be the best price is the play.

Race 8 – The Strub includes many contenders from the San Fernando, but without a significant contribution to the pace it should be a similarly run race, or at least become more of a rider’s race. Stephenoatsee faced Guilt Trip on the east coast and passed him up off a slow pace, but was it the track or something else? He had quite the experience edge on Guilt Trip at the time and beat him well. However, his style doesn’t work well with the dirt at SA, and Leparoux will have to keep him closer than normal to contend. He does appear to be a more focused horse these days and runs well fresh. I will always take the fresh face to West Coast racing after seeing what Todd Pletcher did with his shippers – If Stephenoatsee is over 4/1 ML that is enough value. Fed Biz loves SA and should get overbet – Just about anyone else is playable in R2K!

Race 9 – Most of the Arcadia’s live entries drew very unfortunately, and depending on where the rails are some of the favorites may travel around a mile and an eighth. Several have put up their best numbers at this distance or this track, so expect a price wherever you go! Hopefully Klisz gets left alone on the toteboard, because this is a very talented animal in a good turf barn and about the only proven commodity that drew well. He can sit close or lay off, but with the rider named aboard expect him to tuck back and hope for room around the turn. I’ve made my feelings known about California turf horses, so don’t accept anything low if Vagabond Shoes is an acceptable price. He’s a grade 3 winner overseas and gets thrown right into the fray in his first US start. I hate to rely on post position so much to make my decision but the numbers just aren’t in the favor of those on the outside.

Race 10 – Take your pick. If you like speed, Time to Doubledown may be able to shrug off Eaton Hall late (everyone else has), but if you’d like someone to sweep up the dying speed (not usually me, but in this case), The Sherman barn has been doing very well with their droppers. Agents Bruce lures Aaron Gryder off a couple of others in here, and makes sense after the beatings he’s taken at higher levels. Yes, the only dirt try was a distant fourth but going five wide at the fairs is virtual death, and that’s exactly what this horse did. He’s training well across town and sits in a cozy post outside of most of the speed. Not sure what the price will be, but the horse just to his inside has a similar style and after being gelded showed increased interest in finishing. Lots of possibilities in the last, but there usually are at this level. Should you need the points, you could get them here.

We wish everyone the best of luck on the Road to Kentucky; hopefully Santa Anita starts you off on the right foot!

This blog was written by Canterbury Paddock Analyst Angela Hermann. Angela Hermann will serve as the Track Analyst for Hawthorne Racecourse in Cicero, Illinois this spring and will enter her third year in a similar capacity Canterbury Park in the summer of 2013.