There is no better way to combat the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, the gray overcast of a cold winter’s day, than a little competitive handicapping. So, once again, fellow handicappers, it is time for the DRF’s Public Handicapper “Winter of Our Discontent” contest, which runs through the end of January. Sharpen your pencils or get out your red ink markers, and test your mettle with this week’s four races:
There is a lot to digest about this two-year-olds race. If I were solely superstitious (which I can be at times when all attempts at logic fail), and considering the news this past week, I’d play the Wild Again-Dixieland Band damsire trifecta here—Oconee (Congaree-Chenoa, by Wild Again), Saint Reade (Pulpit-Dixie Flag, by Dixieland Band), and Flying Brigade (Officer-Allison’s Pride, by Dixieland Band).
The logical me, however, likes the likely post-time favorite Patena who comes in off a clear 7f maiden victory and two sharp workouts; his dam Handpainted won the Ontario Debutante here at 2 so it wouldn’t be a surprise for her son to be an early stakes winner. Top money-winner Bear’s Rocket beat Oconee and Unbridle’s Dream last out, and while all three of those could likely challenge, Unbridle’s Dream (son of multiple-G3 winner Gaviola) looks to be training most forwardly. Shafted comes in off a maiden victory, and with top jock Patrick Husbands sticking with him, this Mark Casse-trainee could be a winner. He’s certainly well-bred, out of multiple-G1 winner Twist Afleet who has produced a string of stakes horses, including multiple-G2 placed Awesome Twist.
Longshot Flyer: Red Leader
Still a maiden after five starts, Red Leader has finished out of the money only once—and that was only 1 length back of the winner in the G3 Grey Stakes, and just a nose behind Stimulus Plan who closed with a rush to finish a close-up third in the G3 Delta Jackpot on Friday night. With top jock Jim McAleney aboard, he could be a surprise at a price.
My Charmer Stakes—Turfway Park
Kiss With a Twist looks obvious here, having finished out of the money on only two occasions out of eight races this year, but never farther than 4 lengths back—consistency is her middle name; absolute must-include for exotics. Plus, I love those Lemon Drop Kid girls! Absolutely Cindy defeated ten males here back in March, but hasn’t won in six attempts since albeit, at times, against G1 and G2 company. Still, Larry Melancon jumps off in favor of Bill Mott-trained Ballado’s Thunder, a mare with a history of cranking a big race second off a layoff. Only a fool doesn’t play a hot jock (at least until he stops being hot), so the rather-erratic A To The Croft with red-hot-hot Brandon Meier up can’t be ignored—she did win last out, and finished third to Maren’s Meadow (she of sponge-in-nose fame) here in the G3 Bourbonette Oaks Stakes back in March. If anyone can move her up over this track, it should be young Master Meier.
Longshot Flyer: Ballado’s Thunder
G3 Native Diver—Hollywood Park
I’m a huge Spring House fan, and happy to see him try this somewhat softer spot, as opposed to the G1 Hollywood Turf Cup—he finished third in last year’s edition, behind Sunriver and Champs Elysees. He definitely holds a major class edge over this field, and his post-G1 BC Turf works have been very good, indicating he still has a big race in him. Graham Motion ships in the lightly-raced Galantas who looks ambitiously placed considering he’s only run once this year, but Victor Espinoza has ridden him twice previously, to close-up second place finishes. Ball Four makes his first start for Todd Pletcher after winning the G3 Fayette wire-to-wire in late October; he took the same route to the G3 Native Diver in 2006, but finished fifth of sixth as the favorite in his only other Hollywood Park appearance—definitely not sold on him here.
Longshot Flyer: Racketeer
Coming back just seven days after finishing second in 6f Hollywood Turf Express Handicap—and with Chantal Sutherland—Racketeer is a big player here; he finished second to Heatseeker in this very race last year. My best upset bet.
G1 Hollywood Turf Cup—Hollywood Park
This is yet another surprisingly weak G1 race, as all-too-many have been this year. It includes three recent claimers: Church Service who was claimed for $50,000 in January, but has more than made that back for trainer Mike Mitchell; Summer Survivor who won a $5,000 claiming race at Fairplex just two races back; and Rush Rush whose last win was an $80,000 claimer at Del Mar.
Champs Elysees will be a short-odds favorite, but often disappoints. Winchester was much-the-best in the G1 Secretariat at Arlington, but enjoyed a slow pace. I’m looking at the John Sadler-trained mare Black Mamba to step up here for the big win; she is the only horse in the field to have run consistently in G1 and G2 company this year—and run well, with a record of 7-2-2-2; her only out-of-the-money finish was still only 2-1/2 lengths back of the winner. She was third in the G1 Yellow Ribbon—behind BC Filly & Mare Turf third-place finishers Wait a While and fifth-place finisher Vacare—before her most recent race, which, at 8f, was too short. Over this Hollywood turf course, she’s 2-1-1-0, with a victory in the G2 Beverly Hills Handicap in June, and lost by a neck to Costume in the G2 Buena Vista Handicap back in February. She has a string of impressive works in November and with Mike Smith up, I’m on in for the upset.
Longshot Flyer: High Heel Sneakers
For a minor piece, the other mare here could—and I mean could—lead this field wire-to-wire if Tyler Baze’s magic hands nurse her along just right.