Handicapping Insights


NOVEMBER 24, 2012

by Dick Powell

As much as I like this weekend's racing, I hate when it is assumed that this is the end of the year. A year has 12 months so, in my book, even after this weekend, we still have major, important Grade 1 stakes races like the Malibu, CashCall Futurity and La Brea Stakes to be run.

There are 52 weeks in a year and the last week is every bit as important as the first. I felt that The Factor was not given his due in the Eclipse Award for sprinter after he dominated the Malibu on December 26 last year. For too many voters, they have an 11-month body of work that they consider when casting their votes and in many cases, have already made up their mind.

Until we have betting on the Eclipse Awards, it's hard for me to take them seriously. I hang around horseplayers and believe me, rare is the discussion on who is going to be Horse of the Year? Instead, it's who do you like in the next race?

That said, this weekend's action covers all the age groups, distances and surfaces so there's something for everybody.

I love Churchill Downs' "Star of Tomorrow II" juvenile showcase that will be conducted on Saturday. It's hard to believe that there's so many 2yos ready to run, but each year Racing Secretary Ben Huffman cards full fields for the day's races.

A lot of bettors complain about the pari-mutuel influence of big bettors. On Saturday at Churchill, I am not saying the big bettors won't be playing Churchill but races where many horses have not started or are doing something for the first time (first time going long, first time turf, etc.) keeps the big bettors from unloading.

Pedigrees are an important part of my handicapping and I wouldn't dream of betting a card like Churchill on Saturday without being armed with BRIS' Ultimate Past Performances. The breeding information, coupled with the trainer statistics, gives you the most accurate ability to judge the nature and nurture of each young horse.

Mark Casse has had a terrific year training and he sends out Uncaptured in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes going two turns on the main track. A winner of his first four career starts on the synthetic in Canada, he finally was beaten in the Grade 3 Grey Stakes going 1 1/16 miles after being checked and steadied.

Casse skipped the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, as he was already represented by Dynamic Sky, and sent Uncaptured to Churchill where he won the Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes going a mile in his dirt debut. After encountering traffic problems halfway through the race, Miguel Mena got him in gear and he dominated in the run to the wire, winning by more than five lengths and earning a healthy BRIS Speed rating of 99.

It was an auspicious dirt debut and now he gets a chance to prove it was no fluke and stake his claim to next year's classics. He's by the speedy Lion Heart, whose runners only have a 6.6 furlong average winning distance. However, his dam is by Arch (7.7 furlong average winning distance). His dosage index is 2.00 so there seems to be plenty of stamina to handle the longer distances.

Uncaptured scared away nobody and has 12 other juveniles facing him on Saturday. Mike Maker sends out Grade 1 stakes winner Joha. He's won on the turf and the synthetic and now makes his dirt debut as the possible lone speed. Bred for turf top and bottom, he has unusual speed and I can't see why he won't run well on the dirt. A big field should help him also.

Another dangerous contender is Dale Romans' Dewey Square. He broke his maiden by 11 lengths first time out at Hoosier Park going two turns then came back here and beat first-level allowance foes going Saturday's distance. He has trained brilliantly since his maiden win and should have no trouble getting the distance.

By Bernardini, Dewey Square is out of a stakes-winning dam by Forestry that earned $342K and won a stakes race on this main track. I wouldn't get too stressed about Dewey Square breaking his maiden at Hoosier Park. It was in the middle of September while Kentucky racing takes place at Turfway Park with their small purses. Romans shipped him up to Hoosier to take advantage of their slot-infused purses and he got exactly what he wanted out of the race.

If you are looking for a longshot to help pay for your holiday shopping, you might want to pay attention to Java's War. Trained by Ken McPeek, he began his career in a turf sprint at Churchill Downs going five furlongs and he missed by two lengths. He then came back at Ellis Park and in his two-turn debut on the turf, he overcame post 11 and a rough trip to win going away.

McPeek sent him down to Louisiana Downs for his stakes debut in the Sunday Silence Stakes and he rallied from off the pace to get up and win by a neck despite a rough start.

From there, he was thrown into the deep end of the pool and was entered in the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity going two turns on the synthetic at Keeneland. He was no match for Joha, who went gate to wire, but Java's War still made a nice move to get third and was running hard at the end of the race.

McPeek kept him home and away from the Breeders' Cup and now he makes his dirt debut going two turns on the track that he trains over every day. His BRIS Speed ratings have improved as the races became longer and he draws post 1 with Victor Lebron.

Java's War is by juvenile champion War Pass who was fast and bred for dirt top and bottom. The dam is by Rainbow Quest so the ability to handle the turf comes from her. She is a full-sister to Fiji who earned $894K and won two Grade 1 stakes so there's plenty of stamina in the gene pool here.

If Lebron can keep him out of trouble while down on the inside against a big field, I think Java's War has a big chance to pull off the upset here. Uncaptured is the horses to beat and Joha is the horse to catch.

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