The Grade 3 Twin Spires Turf Sprint Stakes

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The Grade 3 Twin Spires Turf Sprint Stakes, to be run at 5F on grass, presents quite a challenge to handicappers. It is a race in which every major contender has something in his corner and a major obstacle to overcome. There’s no horse with everything pointing his way.

Let’s start by eliminating the less-likely contenders.

1) Ancil (10-1 ML) has been taking on this competition and failing. Last start, in against Marchman and Positive Side, who are both in today’s race, he finished a dismal twelfth, with no real excuse. Three starts back, he was blown away by Havelock and Stormofthecentury, both in today’s race. Sandwiched between those efforts was a win, but it was with a perfect speed trip from the rail at Tampa Bay Downs in a race with a TFUS race rating of 104, 5 points lower than that of today’s event. He does have the rail, and he might prefer 5 furlongs to 5 1/2, but he just doesn’t seem to be of the quality of today’s best entrants.

2) Undrafted (8-1) is much better-suited to a mile. Maybe 6 1/2 or 7 furlongs on the turf, but 5 furlongs? He simply lacks the speed. His figures are underwhelming against these as well, and it’s very hard to see him getting seriously involved.

7) Googleado (20-1) has never competed on the turf. His dirt and synthetic races are far below these in quality, and he’d have to be an undiscovered turf specialist in order to win this. Possible, but highly unlikely.

This leaves us with six horses. Let’s go through them.

3) Stormofthecentury (5-1). I like this horse, who has been training up to today’s race at Mountaineer for the red-hot Louis Ruberto, Jr. He battled gamely in his last effort, fighting for and eventually getting the lead in the Woodford back in October, before finally coughing it up late and getting swooped by Havelock, who was coming from dead last.

[Pace figures shown in running lines are for the race leader.]

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He has excellent early speed, a good post, comes out of a race in which he did all the work and got caught by a fresher horse with an easier trip, and he probably prefers 5 furlongs
to 5 1/2. He makes sense. His main issue is the pace. Does he try to hold the rail and
Screen Shot 2014-04-30 at 3.58.34 PMengage (the possibly faster) Sum of the Parts in a duel? This might be a difficult move because he appears to be just a step slower. Pace Projector shows Sum of the Parts clearing to the lead and Stormofthecentury sitting in behind the leader. This is an ideal trip for Stormofthecentury, but it also means that Sum of the Parts would be on a clear lead, giving him a tactical advantage. Neither scenario is perfect for Stormofthecentury, but neither dooms him. He’s a real contender here.

4) Marchman (4-1) just won the Shakertown, defeating several horses who are in this race, but he did it on the lead in relatively slow fractions, and that won’t happen here. Both Stormofthecentury and Sum of the Parts are significantly faster. Could he sit just off the lead and win this? It’s not impossible; his race two back showed him making a nice bid on the turn to take the lead in a minor stake at Fair Grounds before ceding ground late at 5 1/2 furlongs and just getting caught. But he did get an absolutely beautiful trip in his last. Today’s won’t be quite as beautiful. He’s never gone this short, either, which could work for or against him. Another possibility.

5) Scatman (12-1) is my sleeper in here. He’s easy to dismiss because he’s never earned a figure better than 92 on the turf, in two tries. But a closer look might excuse those relatively poor numbers. His first try, back on May 4, 2012, was in the Grade 2 American at 1 1/16 miles. He was up near the lead, made a bid against that good group of horses (Silver Max, an iron-tough turf speedster going long, won it) before tiring.  His other try, in February of 2013, showed him rushing up with a four-wide move and tiring in the Grade 3 Canadian at Gulfstream in a race that earned a 115 TFUS race rating.

Screen Shot 2014-04-30 at 4.01.40 PM

Both those races suggest that maybe his problem isn’t with the turf but instead with the
distance. Maybe making one run at five furlongs on the turf is just his thing? He’s been Screen Shot 2014-04-30 at 4.03.30 PMworking brilliantly on the dirt as he prepares for his first try in almost a year, and his dirt form was quite good in sprints before he took the time off. A very interesting horse to consider if he is entirely overlooked, which he almost definitely will be.

6) Positive Side (6-1) is razor-sharp right now. He never tried sprinting on the turf until two starts ago, when he was let go at 38-1 odds in the Colonel Power stakes at Fair Grounds. He raced very well, flying home for second, beating Marchman and Sum of the Parts in the process. He showed that that was no fluke when he returned in the aforementioned Shakertown, where he was dismissed at 33-1 and finished an even better second (to Marchman, who had that perfect trip).

Screen Shot 2014-04-30 at 4.05.38 PM

Now he’s shortening up to five furlongs, though, and that could present a real problem. I love closing sprinters on the turf, but this one may need that last 1/2 furlong to really assert himself. Nevertheless, he’s the clear ‘now’ horse.

8) Sum of the Parts (3-1), discussed earlier in the Stormofthecentury analysis, is Pace Projector’s pick to get the lead. Will he? If he crosses over to the rail, he loves five furlongs (just set the track record for the distance at Sam Houston) and could be tough to catch. He did set very fast fractions in his loss to Positive Side and Marchman last time. If he can set slower ones here, perhaps he can last at five furlongs. If he’s caught in a duel outside of Stormofthecentury, though, he’ll have his work cut out for him. The outside post is a real obstacle. It means his chances depend on his first couple steps out of the gate. And he won’t be a price at all.

9) Havelock (9-2) won last year’s Woodford, inhaling Stormofthecentury and a host of others in the blink of an eye from dead last. But after trying the Breeders’ Cup and falling short despite a valiant attempt, he was a disappointing seventh against Marchman and Positive Side in the Shakertown. A case can be made for him in that he needed the race and the pace was slow. Fair enough. But at the same time, at least he had 5 1/2 furlongs to work with there. His last-to-first strategy isn’t going to work at five furlongs unless there’s an absolutely torrential duel ahead of him, which doesn’t seem all that likely. If he wins, it will look beautiful, but at 7-2, he just doesn’t seem like good value given the foreseen trip.

So…what’s the takeaway? That this is as competitive a race as you’ll ever find, with the pace scenario unclear, and each horse’s proclivity for the exact distance critical. I see this as an enjoyable race to watch with friends and maybe bet a couple dollars on–preferably on longshots. It’s not a race to step out on. For the sake of argument, let’s make our play:

Small win bet on (3) Stormofthecentury

Small win bet on (5) Scatman

Very small exacta box (3)-(5)

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