Today in Racing, April 4, 2014

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It’s opening day at Keeneland, and rain has washed the turf races onto the main track. That’s a statement which prompts dread and frustration at most tracks.  Besides the grass races coming off, it prompts visions of fields decimated by scratches splashing through a sea of sloppy goo.  Much of your handicapping goes down the drain along with the water.

Not so of course at synthetic tracks like the Polytrack currently at Keeneland.  The track doesn’t get sloppy (though we have noticed races at Ocala run over a surface labeled as “wet”), so there are generally no more scratches than usual.  And the grass races merely switch over to the main track, usually without an inordinate number of defections.  I’ve always thought that, all other things being equal (safety, in particular), just the fact that those tracks are indeed “all-weather” made the whole project worthwhile.

But hey, I know I’m in the minority as a synth fan; I know you guys love your speed.  So I hope you “I hate plastic” people are all happy when it rains on opening day next fall and you’re ripping up your handicapping notes.  I’m with this guy:

We have Horses in Focus for today’s Keeneland card, as well as the Big A (and Santa Anita to come) here.  We also have our Top Play for Aqueduct up here.  (Check back for Santa Anita this afternoon.)  Over at Bloodhorse.com now, we have previews of these stakes being run tomorrow:  The Wood, Gazelle, and Carter from Aqueduct, the Santa Anita Derby, and the Ashland from Keeneland.

There is rain in the forecast here in New York for later this afternoon and this evening; those of us dealing with dirt tracks need to be concerned about such things.  I have a wary eye on the same system that washed the Keeneland races off the grass….but should probably stick to handicapping the races.  Supposed to be sunny and windy here tomorrow, so expecting and hoping for a fast track at the Big A, at least by the time the stakes races start.

The first of those is the seven furlong, Grade 3 Bay Shore Stakes, the 8th race on the card. At one time an early stepping stone on the Derby Trail, this year’s edition has drawn quite an interesting field, including a couple from the West Coast.  Kobe’s Back (#8, 2-1), way up the track in the Rebel, drops off the Trail and cuts back to the seven furlong distance at which he staged a stirring rally to crush the San Vicente in February.  The Admiral (#7, 3-1) ships in for Baffert and also cuts back, after winning a two-turn allowance, to this distance at which he earned a TFUS speed figure of 109 that is the best career number in the field.

Here’s the Pace Projector for the Bay Shore:

Screen Shot 2014-04-04 at 10.48.04 AM

It does not predict a Fast Pace.  But I think it’s going to be hotter up front than indicated here.  The Admiral has gone wire-to-wire since re-adding blinkers two starts back. Favorite Tale (#6, 5-1) has really progressed with his early pace figures.  I might argue that he is the most likely leader after a quarter mile.

Screen Shot 2014-04-04 at 11.42.42 AM

Oliver Zip (#2, 10-1) and Coup de Grace (#4, 4-1) sure have running lines that make them look like horses who want to have the lead.  So I’m going to be interested in the closers.

Chief amongst those is the aforementioned Kobe’s Back.

Screen Shot 2014-04-04 at 11.52.31 AM

Quite the understatement when trainer John Sadler said: “He hasn’t done well in his distance races.” The San Vicente was a different story though.  Note the pace line for the leader in that race.  Started out quick, but never really slowed down; yet still, Kobe’s Back was able to blow past them all.  Even though none of those he vanquished have come back to win, several of them have returned with sharp efforts and improved figures. (Note that the figure for Kobe’s Back in the running line is adjusted down by two points in deference to the five additional pounds he is carrying here.)

Screen Shot 2014-04-04 at 11.56.21 AMSo we think Kobe’s Back should be closing strongly by the time the finish rolls around.

A couple others of interest who figure to present better value:

Financial Mogul (#3, 8-1) has the best late pace figure in the field, at 104.

Screen Shot 2014-04-04 at 12.01.59 PM

He cuts back to one turn and returns to the Big A main track.  Last time under those conditions, he ran a sharp, and very wide, second in the G2 Nashua, earning a competitive figure of 98.  As he did prior to that effort, Financial Mogul prepped for this with a sharp five furlong work over the track.

Loki’s Vengeance (#5, 15-1) unsuccessfully chased Oliver Zip last time out.  While his running style does not fit that of the closer that we’re looking for here, the steady improvement in his speed figures is too impressive to ignore.

Screen Shot 2014-04-04 at 12.34.18 PMSometimes it pays to not overthink how a race will be run, and just go with those who look good on fundamentals, and who are moving in the right direction.  Making only his fifth start, coming off a competitive figure of 98, and sent out from a barn with solid numbers all around, this colt is surely worth a spot on the tickets at his morning line odds.

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