Steve Haskin's BC Analysis: Wet and Wild on the Jersey Shore

Steve Haskin's BC Analysis: Wet and Wild on the Jersey Shore
Photo: Barbara D. Livingston
Any Given Saturday at Monmouth Park.
The Breeders’ Cup World Championships and the Jersey Shore met head on this week, and judging from the weather forecast, a good portion of the shore will be washing up on Monmouth Park Friday and Saturday. The expected heavy rains will leave the 11 Breeders’ Cup races pretty much a mess and a guess.

This column is intended to ferret out live longshots, and the sloppy track should provide many of those, as the expected battles for championship honors likely will turn into a free-for-all. As tough as the races normally are to handicap, it will be compounded many times over this year, as bettors must contend with dirt, synthetic surface, grass, and most of all, slop, all rolled into one hodgepodge of handicapping.

CLASSIC – Billed as one of the strongest and deepest Classics, with any one of four winners a virtual lock for Horse of the Year honors, the race now is merely to see who the best mudder is. It’s difficult to say whether or not one horse will move way up over the wet track and have a distinct advantage over the others. All we can hope for is that the slop will not compromise any of the top contenders and we will at least have a relatively formful race.

As a major booster of Any Given Saturday all year, there is no reason to discard him now, despite the surface. It is hard to tell if his habit of running with his head held high will work to his disadvantage, and we really don’t know if his action is conducive to a track that will be extremely sloppy on Saturday. He should be better off on a sealed track, but who knows how much new rain the expected thunderstorms Saturday will dump on the track. With that said, I will remain loyal to him and still give him a good push as a potential overlay as the likely fourth, or even fifth, choice. Physically, he looks a picture. He can be high strung, and was better schooling on Thursday than he was on Wednesday. If he likes the slop, he will be tough to be beat.

The horse that could conceivably be the fourth choice behind Street Sense, Curlin, and Lawyer Ron (not necessarily in that order) is Hard Spun, due to his natural speed and proven ability over a sloppy, sealed track (even though that was last November in his second career start). Hard Spun is tough as nails and certainly can be dangerous if allowed to control the pace. But Lawyer Ron has to be breathing down his neck, and is going to be tough, especially being 2-for-2 on wet tracks. Ron, like Any Given Saturday, is thriving physically.

Street Sense and Curlin we’re all very familiar with, and they are hard to separate. But with the slop and their short prices, there is reason to try to look for a price horse. And this is a longshot column anyway.

Awesome Gem’s morning line odds of 30-1 appear to be out of whack when compared to the 12-1 on Tiago, to whom he dropped a nose decision in the Goodwood Stakes (gr. I). But he will be high odds, and if you’re looking for a horse to put in the trifectas and superfectas at a price, he should give you a big run in the stretch. Keep in mind he has finished first or second on the dirt at Del Mar, Polytrack at Del Mar, turf at Del Mar, dirt at Santa Anita, turf at Santa Anita, Cushion track at Santa Anita, and Cushion track at Hollywood. He also was a solid fourth on the turf at Hollywood in his career debut. He obviously can run on anything, and slop should not be a problem, and could even move him up. He’s a good in-the-money longshot, but not having seen him in the flesh as of this writing, it is difficult to give him out as a win bet. Would it be a surprise to see him win, especially over a sloppy track? Certainly not.

I’ve been hard-pressed to find anyone from Europe who gives George Washington a shot for a number of reasons, one of which is his erratic behavior. His race in last year’s Classic was much better than it looks on paper, considering how he was matching strides with Invasor to the quarter pole before getting squeezed and bumped by Invasor on his outside and Lawyer Ron on his inside. He got stuck on his left lead after that, losing his rhythm, and couldn’t cope with the likes of Invasor, Bernardini, and Premium Tap in the final furlong.

As we all know, he was brought back to the track after a failed attempt as a stallion, and although winless in three starts, he’s run well each time against some the best horses in Europe. He’s a much fresher horse, and should be helped by having a lead pony accompany him to the post. He’s basically a guess, but on a sloppy track, where anything can happen, he might be worth at least a saver. His sire, Danehill, is out of a mare by His Majesty, one of the top off-track influences in America, and his broodmare sire, Alysheba, won the BC Classic on a very wet track.

Diamond Stripes’ proficiency on slop is unknown, and he hasn’t been able to handle handle Lawyer Ron, so he also is a guess, even to his trainer Rick Dutrow, who says he’s basically taking a shot here.

Finally, we come to Tiago, who most people don’t believe is on the same level as the other four 3-year-olds. But it must be noted that his third-place finish in the Belmont came after a nightmarish stay in the monitoring barn, which necessitated trainer John Shireffs taking him out and grazing him for an hour to settle him down. He then had a horrible trip in the race, so that third, in which he was 5 1/2 lengths behind runner-up Curlin, should not be held against him. Since then, he ran a big race to win the Swaps Stakes (gr. II), charging through a small opening on the rail, and out-gamed the older Awesome Gem in the Goodwood coming off a 2 1/2-month layoff.

But the reason he is the longshot pick is that he appears to be the most improved horse in the field, not only on the track, but physically. He has gone from a boy to a man in the last five months. He is packing a lot of muscle and his coat looks sensational. He appears extremely sharp, and is acting like a horse who is sitting on a huge race. Pedigree-wise, his sire, Pleasant Tap, is a son of the major slop influence Pleasant Colony, who in turn is a son of the aforementioned His Majesty. And he has a strong slop pedigree on the bottom as well. On the assumption that he has done a lot of catching up to the big guns since the Triple Crown, he just could pull off the upset at a decent price. If not, watch out for him next year.

We’ll take the other races in order:

FILLY& MARE SPRINT – There should be quite a battle on the front end, with the two favorites – Dream Rush and La Traviata – right in the mix. So, the obvious thing to do is look for a longshot who can close and who should like the slop. Maryfield is coming off a win in the grade I Ballerina and would be an attractive bargain, but we don’t know how long a price she’ll be. The two to watch coming off the pace are the local horse Wild Gams and the well-traveled Miss Macy Sue, who has won five of her last six starts. Miss Macy Sue gets the slight nod, but both have a decent shot to get it done if the favorites cook each other.

JUVENILE TURF – Talk about a crap shoot, and on a soft course no less. These are mainly inexperienced 2-year-olds with no form on this kind of going, so just for the heck of it, put a bob or two on the three Euros – Achill Island, Domestic Fund, and Strike the Deal. The first two are group II-placed and have shown a liking for soft ground. Strike the Deal is group I-placed, but has not run on a soft course in seven starts.

DIRT MILE – With all the brilliance in this race, the feeling here is that a longshot who relishes the slop will have a big shot to upset the favorites. But finding him is not going to be easy, because several have the qualifications. The four who seem to be the most appealing are High Finance, Park Avenue Ball, Wanderin Boy, and Xchanger.

Xchanger, an underrated horse, has never run in the slop and is going against older horses again. Wanderin Boy relishes the slop and has the speed to be dangerous, but he has needed the lead in order to win, and will have to work to get it in this race. But he does have the class to be dangerous. High Finance is intriguing here, because you never know which High Finance is going to show up. The good one has a big shot, and the way trainer Rick Violette has been training him, the feeling is that the good one is going to show up. He has the speed to lay close and come home, and his pedigree suggests he’ll handle to slop with no problem. Park Avenue Ball is Mr. Monmouth, having won six of 10 starts here. He’s versatile in that he can be placed anywhere, and is effective from six furlongs to 1 1/8 miles. His second to Smokey Stover in the Icecapade Stakes at Monmouth was a tremendous effort, and he ran big over a sloppy, sealed track in last year’s Salvator Mile. So, the main play would be Park Avenue Ball, with decent-size saver on High Finance.

JUVENILE FILLIES – Guesses galore here, with dirt form squaring off against synthetic form. Several of the longshots that look live – A to the Croft and Grace Anatomy – both drew outside posts in the 14-horse field, which cannot help. That leaves Tasha’s Miracle as the longshot special, even though she has only run on synthetic surfaces. She came up a bit short in the Oak Leaf Stakes (gr. I) after making a wide threatening move at the head of the stretch, while stretching out from 6 1/2 furlongs to 1 1/16 miles. She should be much tighter and fitter with that race under her belt, and is coming off a solid six-furlong work in 1:12 2/5. Her broodmare sire, Relaunch, is a major slop influence. She could be extremely live in here.

JUVENILE – I really don’t have a strong feeling for anyone, although I believe Tale of Ekati is going to be a major player on next year’s Triple Crown trail. But this is about longshots, and the three that stand out are Shore Do, Slew’s Tiznow, and Z Humor. Pyro looks great physically and has a good deal of  potential, but with two of the favorites withdrawn, I feel he is going to be a bet-down horse. Slew’s Tiznow is coming off an excellent second in the Lane’s End Breeders’ Futurity (gr. I) and a sensational work at Keeneland. He is another major Triple Crown hopeful. Z Humor finished a troubled third in the Sapling (gr. III) at Monmouth and a solid third in the Champagne. But for a super longshot, Shore Do, third in the Norfolk Stakes (gr. I), is bred for the slop on both sides, has run well on turf and Cushion track, and was the second BC horse to ship to Monmouth, so he is well acclimated for sure.

FILLY & MARE TURF – With so many firm course specialists heading the race, you have to give a big shot to Europeans Passage of Time and Simply Perfect. But for a huge price, watch out for Argentina. Although she has won only two of 14 starts and those two were her first two career starts back in October 2004 and March 2005, I still have a feeling she can run a big race here over soft going. Her two victories were on a soft course, and her second in the group III Prix Penelope was over heavy ground. She has also run big in America over soft and yielding going, including a head defeat in last year’s Diana Handicap (gr. IT). She’s due. Bobby Frankel’s other filly, Precious Kitten, could be dangerous if let loose on an easy lead.

SPRINT – Another crap shoot. I would have loved Smokey Stover had he not drawn the rail, but I still feel he’s good enough and fast enough to win. He is a magnificent-looking horse, and although he’s not going to be a longshot by any means, none of the longshots stand out. One super longshot who apparently likes the slop and is improving is Forefathers, who has won in the slop at Calder and looked to be a promising colt early in the year before being sidelined. He’s up against it in here from a class standpoint, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him pick up a piece of it at a big, big price. But for win, I’ll stick with Smokey Stover and hope he breaks well and handles the slop. So, no real longshots here.

MILE – Yikes, what a mess this race is now. To be honest, I haven’t a clue what’s going to happen over this kind of course. If I had to pick a megabomb, how about Silent Name, who has the speed to be a factor? He was only beaten 4 3/4 lengths in last year’s Mile after setting the pace and has run decent enough on soft going in Europe way back. He gets Kent Desormeaux and is 30-1 on the morning line. Why not?

DISTAFF – Yes, another total guess. If you can overlook the seven strong major contenders, you can, in some way, come up with Cotillion (gr. II) winner Bear Now, who will be totally ignored again on the lead (or she can sit right off Hystericalady if she busts out of there), and the Allen Jerkens-trained Teammate, who ran a monster race in the Spinster and is coming off a super work at Belmont. She also ran well enough in the Ruffian Handicap (gr. I) to suggest this might not be the same inconsistent filly we’ve seen over the last three years. Boy, The Giant Killer could really sneak in under the radar with this one if she can handle the slop. She’s good right now and could be worth a win or place bet.

TURF – Not the deepest Turf by any means, and no real live longshots in here. The Brits love Dylan Thomas, who is on the threshold of superstardom. But he’s had a long, hard year, and is not a soft-course horse, so you never know. I would have liked English Channel to finally get that elusive Turf victory, but he is a question mark over soft going, and we are looking for longshots. Last year’s winner, Red Rocks, has not done too much in four starts this year, but he can certainly win this. Better Talk Now is coming back off an injury and hasn’t run since July 7. But he. too, could easily win this, despite the layoff. He handles soft ground very well and could be a forgotten horse, as he usually is. This horse has never received the respect he deserves, especially with what he has accomplished.

That leaves us with Shamdinan and Grand Couturier as potential upsetters. Shamdinan has not come close to reproducing his Secretariat Stakes (gr. IT) victory in his U.S. debut, but that was over a good turf course and he has run well on soft going in Europe, so maybe that will move him up. He might be a decent exotic bet type of horse, although is a question mark at 1 1/2 miles. Grand Couturier is the real intriguing horse, and might be worth a win bet based on his powerful score over English Channel in the Sword Dancer (gr. IT) at Saratoga and several other performances, such as his fast-closing third in the Man o’War (gr. IT). And he was beaten only 2 1/4 lengths by subsequent Arc de Triomphe (Fra-I) winner Rail Link in the Grand Prix de Paris (Fra-I). With Bobby Ribaudo training, this could be a nice win for the little guy.

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