Thanksgiving Day Stakes Preview: In the Hollywood Turf Cup at Del Mar, The Pizza Man should enjoy the class drop

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>>Go to the PPs for the Hollywood Turf Cup|Post Time 2:00 PST Thursday

The Autumn Turf Festival kicks off with quite a race on Thanksgiving. The Grade 2, $250,000 Hollywood Turf Cup has a full field of 14 (with two horses on the also-eligible list), and they will be going a mile and 1/2. The field is led by The Pizza Man, Big John B, and Up With the Birds.

According to the TimeformUS Pace Projector, the early leader will be Generoso, followed by Southern Freedom and Wanstead Gardens.

The fastest TimeformUS Late Pace rating, a 128, belongs to Big John B.

Here is the field in post position order, with morning line odds in parentheses:

Class Leader (20-1): In the 15th start of his career, he finally made his turf debut. It was a promising effort, as he finished 2nd in a minor stake and earned a lifetime top speed figure of 116. Taking on more distance today and will almost certainly need a new top against these.

Up With the Birds (4-1): Five-year-old  is 4 for 15 lifetime on turf but hasn’t won a race since the middle of last year. This is not to say he has reached a plateau, however, since he, too, enters off a lifetime top speed figure—a 124 that he earned while finishing second in the Canadian International, which was run over this distance on “good” turf at Woodbine. Two starts before that, he finished fourth to The Pizza Man (beaten 2.5 lengths) in the Arlington Million. A Grade 1 winner, he draws well for this race, which will be run around three turns, and his trainer, Graham Motion, gets a 94 rating on this circuit. Up With the Birds is a strong contender if he can transfer his Woodbine form to Southern California.

Danas Best (20-1): Australian gelding has made three US starts without hitting the board. His top speed figure here is a 119. Has a sharp trainer and is proven at the distance, but will need to step forward to run with the best of these.

Quick Casablanca (30-1): Off form.

Procurement (20-1): Five-year-old just earned a lifetime top speed figure of 120 while deadheating for the win in an allowance race over 10F at Santa Anita. Yet to win a graded stake, and the distance is a question mark.

The Pizza Man (5-2):

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Amazing six-year-old is 15 for 24 lifetime on turf. He is a Grade 1 winner. He is proven at this distance. Based on consistency, he can be called the fastest horse in the field on our speed figures. He finished third in this race  a year ago. His trainer gets an outstanding 98 rating with circuit switchers. In his most recent start, in the BC Turf, he set up outside the heavy favorite, Golden Horn, far removed from the insane pace set by the rabbit. He raced wide around the far turn and then proved unable to go with Golden Horn or the splendid filly Found, but he earned a  speed figure of 123 and certainly did not disgrace himself. A glance at the PPs suggests he is a one-run closer, but that is an illusion produced by the fast paces (note pace figures color-coded in red) he has seen in his last four races. He is effective in middle distance races as well as marathons, and he is the horse to beat today.

Ganesh (8-1): Piled up wins in Argentina, proving himself on grass and at this distance in the process. Put in the very best of hands (Richard Mandella’s) in the United States, he has not yet managed a win, from five tries. But he has not run poorly. He has recorded two speed figures of 118 and hit the board in three graded stakes. The question is whether this six-year-old can generate the requisite improvement today. In his favor is the fact that many South American horses have proven to be late bloomers once shipped north. However, his ML odds seem a bit stingy given the task he is facing today.

Power Ped (20-1): No match for Big John B in the Del Mar Handicap (though he ran well) and no match for Up With the Birds in Canada. Strikes us as a gelding who always does his best and, alas, is a bit short of these on talent.

Texas Ryano (10-1): Carla Gaines-trained son of Curlin makes his first try against graded competition. Relatively lightly raced, he gives every indication that he will find the distance within his scope. Ran the race of his life in September, winning a minor stake at Santa Anita with a ferocious late run, earning a speed figure of 121. That number stamped him as a potential player at this level. Came back with a disappointing result in an optional claimer at Del Mar, finishing fifth. However, it should be said in his defense that that effort was quite a bit better than it looks on paper. The race was at a mile. It couldn’t have been the target. Texas Ryano lost considerable ground racing wide. He still earned a decent speed figure of 116. His best effort, combined with a decent trip, could get him on the board at a bit of a price.

Generoso (30-1): South American did not face the strongest competition in Brazil and showed little in his US debut. Surely he is much better than that, but we want to see more from him before supporting him in a race like this one.

Southern Freedom (20-1): Received dreamy trips at shorter distances against softer competition and ran well at nice odds for his superb trainer. Tougher assignment today and may not be able to clear off early. Moreover, even if we are willing to stipulate that he again has things in his favor, he still figures to have a devil of a time holding these off in the stretch. Having said that, it is not crazy to think he could hang around for a piece of the purse at a big price. His best numbers do fit fairly well with these.

Power Foot (20-1): Not fast enough, and does not seem headed in the right direction.

Wanstead Gardens (20-1): Making a case for him requires throwing out his last race, and then playing him to improve further off his powerful effort (speed figure of 119) in a second-level allowance two back, and then finding a way to get him a decent trip from this difficult post position. Quite a few things would need to fall into place. Too many things, we feel.

Big John B (3-1): Proven at this distance and class level and proven in spades over this turf course (over which he is 3 for 3), he has recent speed figures of 122 and 121, and he has the fastest Late Pace rating in the field. He ran nary a step in the BC Turf, run over wet turf, and his rider and trainer are swearing up and down that the condition of the course was the reason. Putting his horse where his mouth is, his trainer is putting him right back out there, and he has reportedly been training superbly for this. From this post, he can be expected to drop way back early, and he will have to hope that some pace materializes. He is certainly a contender, but we prefer The Pizza Man, who seems to be not quite so much at the mercy of circumstances.

Flamboyant [A/E] (20-1):

Bird E House [A/E] (30-1):

The Play:

We think The Pizza Man is the most likely winner. We’ll give Up With the Birds  second preference over Big John B. Our favorite horse at a price is Texas Ryano.

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