PH.com offers four races per week for handicapping. The idea is to simply pick winners. Contestants can play as many races as they choose and enter three horses per race in order of preference, so if your first pick scratches out, selection two becomes your contest entry. As a relative newcomer to handicapping contests, I prefer to pick all four, even though in most cases I would never follow some of the contest tracks, like a Remington or Presque Isle. The contest is strictly notional dollars, with contest players winning the notional win payout, but losing $2 for picking the wrong horse. Wins and losses accrue throughout the season.
This week's card features Races 5, 7, 8 and 10 from Gulfstream Park, or New York-New Jersey South, considering the plethora of Northeastern jockeys. My top choices, three hours before first post:
- Race 5: #1, Royal Straight, 8-1; #9, Avenging Spirit, 8-1; #8 Fiscal Stimulus, 10-1
- Race 7: #8, Cane Garden Bay, 8-1; #4, War for Gus, 12-1; #7Dual Exhaust, 5-1
- Race 8: #6, Jimmy Simms, 8-1; #10, Asphalt, 10-1; #3, Olympic Election, 20-1
- Race 10: #11, Mustang Island, 12-1; #10, Zingaree, 12-1; #9, Shimmering Forest, 4-1
I like Royal Straight in Race 5's 6-furlong sprint over the dirt if for no other reason than #2, Bank Heist, a nearly $1 million horse, will be bet down from the 3-1 M/L with the Pletcher-Velazquez connection and only has a maiden victory to his credit. In my view, Royal Straight can save ground and take advantage of the early speed. Granted, this is his first time versus winners, but this looks like a relatively weak field to me.
My initial selection #3, Grande Shores, scratched from Race 7, so I went with Cane Garden Bay, especially with Leparoux at 8-1 M/L and dropping from a Grade 2 race in late November. There's a lot of early speed here, so I'm leaning toward closers, and give the edge to Cane Garden Bay over War for Gus, who looks like an intriguing turf-to-dirt play with Desormeaux at 12-1.
Race 8 looked wide open to me. I'm guessing that Sleepless Knight will take some money and go below 4-1 on the rail and be able to save lots of ground, but I'm intrigued by the Woodbine shipper Jimmy Simms and like trainer Roger Attfield. I'm anticipating Jimmy Simms (3rd off a layoff and a versatile sort who has won over synthetics and turf) can stake to the front and hold on in a race full of late runners. I also will be keeping an eye on Asphalt at 10-1 in his 4-year-old debut, and am intrigued by 20-1 shot Olympic Election, a Brazilian horse out of the three hole who hasn't raced since February, though that was at Meydan against Midshipmen and presumably other wildly good horses. I am a fan of Brazilian horses on U.S. turf, and first time Lasix adds to the appeal.
Race 10 is a 7 1/2-furlong turf contest and Joe Bravo usually kills me (i.e. wins when I don't bet him and loses when I do), but I'm going with him on Chris Clement-trained Mustang Island at 12-1. I like the two-turn maiden-breaking performance of November 2009 at Aqueduct, and despite breaks in this horse's race pattern and a 3-month layoff, I think the added distance and stalking style will prove beneficial. I am banking on Mustang Island following Shimmering Forest and Zigaree out of the gate and then catching them in the stretch, but we'll see.