Handicapping, it’s a drug.
It changes you, man. It doesn’t matter who you are when you get your first taste. Eventually you end up like all the rest – chain-smoking parliaments in a windowless basement, watching replays of a Wednesday race at Belmont because there’s no way in hell that horse should be 12/1.
That’s what was happening to me, and I wasn’t sure I liked who I was becoming. So I stepped away, I renounced that life. Two months now I’ve been clean.
But tell me, how am I supposed to ignore the Breeders’ Cup’s sweet handicapping nectar?
I’m supposed to dive headfirst off the wagon and take a refreshing swim in the magical waters of wild gambling.
After all, daddy needs a new pair of shoes.
Juvenile Fillies: Twice I watched Sweet Reason run as a member of the Saratoga press. Twice I saw the entire corps stunned by what they’d just witnessed. I know she was just beaten by a competitor in this race, but the Leah Gyarmati trainee broke disastrously last out in the Frizette and still rallied for second. She’ll have plenty of speed to run at on Saturday; I’ll take her on top. She’s a Tiger, Secret Compass and Artemis Agrotera next. Sweet Reason – She’s a Tiger – Secret Compass
Filly and Mare Turf: In a similar situation to that of Sweet Reason, twice I watched Laughing take to the Saratoga turf as the lone speed. Twice I saw her refuse to fold down the stretch, and as such, twice I saw her win. Then she went to Belmont and did the same in the Flower Bowl. You can’t have any real confidence in her, if she wins, she’ll win a dirty, grinding race you won’t feel good about until its over, but, on paper, the race just sets up too well to ignore. Dank and Tiz Flirtatious are right there fighting her down the stretch. Laughing – Dank – Tiz Flirtatious
Filly and Mare Sprint: Two very interesting notes came out of the Gallant Bloom. First, Dance card ran a very impressive race rallying up for third. Second, and more importantly, Xavier “White Gloves of Doom” Perez rode a brutal, almost lazy race aboard Dance to Bristol, costing the filly any shot at her eighth straight win. I like Sweet Lulu to take an early lead and be a key player toward the end – a must play in exotics – with Groupie Doll and Dance Card solid options to be there at the end, but it’s Dance to Bristol for me. A smarter ride gets it done here, with the hometown Book Review next. Dance to Bristol – Book Review – Sweet Lulu
Turf Sprint: Fourteen horses in a turf sprint? What is this, Saratoga? I joke because I don’t really know what to say, here; it’s an absolute crap shoot. Over a dozen horses down the hill and around two bends? It’s a great watch, but it’s brutal on handicappers. For sentimentality’s sake, give me Mizdirection. Mizdirection – Tightend Touchdown – Caracortado
Juvenile: A lot of money will head Havana’s way, here. I understand why, what with the connections and the Grade One win, but I remain somewhat unconvinced. Bond Holder, Tap it Rich and Mexikoma are all interesting options. So too is Strong Mandate, off his wildly impressive win in the Hopeful, if he’s available at a price. Tap it Rich/Bond Holder/Havana, box it.
Turf: Very interesting race, here. Tactically, it should set up for front runners as Little Mike will likely represent the lone speed, but the field is stacked with closers who have shown the ability to win no matter what the pace. Ultimately, I’ll take Point of Entry off a bit of a layoff to stay close and get it done. The Fugue, Big Blue Kitten, and Real Solution will be coming hard at the end, though, to make it interesting. Point of Entry – Big Blue Kitten – Real Solution
Sprint: Sprints are always a battle between the race’s many speed horses vying for the early lead and the closers waiting to collect the tiring frontrunners. The former trying to get the lead without allowing the latter a pace at which to run. Saturday should be no different, with Justin Phillip and Bahamian Squall trying to run down an array of speed – specifically its class, Private Zone. It’s a task they attempted last out when Private Zone led a half mile in :48 and five furlongs in :56. They couldn’t do it then, I don’t think they do it this time. Private Zone – Justin Phillip – Bahamian Squall
Mile: Wise Dan’s not losing twice in one year, right? No. No he isn’t. Not on a dry turf, with an honest pace. Wise Dan – Silver Max – He Be Fire N Ice
Classic: Sometimes a race is just a race. Seven or eight horses step into a metal gate and run like hell until one hits the wire. Other times, though, a race is more than that. Sometimes, it’s a chess match. Saturday’s Classic is of the latter category, with its considerable speed needing to negotiate a perfect balance between pace and restraint – needing to feed their own running styles by doing what’s necessary to claim an early lead, but do so at an easy enough pace that doesn’t automatically bring the closers into play. It’s a difficult two-step they’ll look to dance, one I’m not sure they’ll be able to pull off.
Paynter, Moreno, Mucho Macho Man, Fort Larned, Palace Malice, Game on Dude, Flat Out. That’s seven horses all told, more than half the field, that will be on or near the early lead. Will they cooperate with one another and keep the pace a tempered one? Or will Moreno and prohibitive favorite Game on Dude engage into and around the first turn, with Palace Malice on their heels pressing the pace even more? The latter seems more likely to me, which is why I find myself pointing toward the closing run of Will Take Charge.
Game on Dude – a winner of his last six races and set to compete on a course he knows better than anyone else in the field – is a deserved favorite, but in only one of the weaker of those six was the pace as hot as it will be on Saturday. He’ll run huge, I’m sure, and hey may be capable, but it would take something truly spectacular to score the win from out front on this day. The race just sets up too well for a closer, and waiting at the back of this particular pack will be a piece of TNT in Will Take Charge – who we know has the ability to take advantage. He gets it done on this day. Will Take Charge – Game on Dude – Mucho Macho Man.
Author: Joe Bianchino
Joe Bianchino is a writer, producer, and radio host located in upstate New York. He is a life-long New York sport fan, Chelsea supporter, and Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon enthusiast. Follow him on Twitter @Joe_1045. Email him at Joe@noticketsports.com.