Litfin at Large: Quick Look Back, Then a Look Ahead

Dave Litfin looks back at Breeders' Cup, handicaps upcoming stakes races.

The new tax laws dramatically reduced the number of "signer" tickets during the Breeders' Cup, and while I am happy for everyone who made a score, I am still kicking myself for not being among them.

You might think someone who worked the 100-night Presque Isle Downs meet from mid-May through early October would have at least fooled around with some token action on Ami's Mesa and Bar of Gold, who finished one-two in the $400,000 Presque Isle Masters (G2) as the favorite and second choice.

But no. After shrewdly noting Ami's Mesa had never run on dirt, and Bar of Gold was 0-for-life on fast dirt and in graded stakes after YEARS of trying, I ran a line through them both. Naturally, the only question through deep stretch was whether it was going to be 18-1 over 66-1, or the other way around. Of course it broke the best way and the exacta rocked the tote at just north of 1,000-1.

The half-full view of the whole shebang was this: After punching out enough tickets on the Breeders' Cup to fill a shoe box—none of them involving Bar of Gold or Ami's Mesa—the end result was still plus $28 by sundown Saturday. That works out to something like 10 cents per hour of handicapping time, but as the late Pat Lynch used to say in the Aqueduct press box when he cashed on a 3-5 shot, "It beats a sharp stick in the eye."

ANYWAY, the next stop is Gulfstream Park for the winter, so Team Litfin is in the midst of packing boxes, forwarding mail, and all the other joyous activities that go along with moving. So we'll be off the grid for a short while and on-again, off-again in this space for a few weeks. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, let's try to make a little shipping money with some quick hits on the trio of grade 3 stakes to be run Saturday at Aqueduct, Churchill Downs and Del Mar, plus some thoughts on three of the five $100,000 races on Ben's Cat Day at Laurel Park.

Red Smith (Aqu, race 8, 3:47 ET): This is the final graded turf stakes of the season in New York, and Chad Brown has two big chances with Money Multiplier (2) and Call Provision (10).

Money Multiplier was rank through the early stages of the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (G1T) last time out, but figures to relish getting back to three turns, where he has earned three of his four grade 1 placings.

Call Provision is perfect from three starts on turf at Aqueduct, and it's worth noting the Red Smith will be run on the original "inner" course, and not on the brand-new "outer" course. The New York-bred son of Lemon Drop Kid  is also 3-1-0 from four starts at the Red Smith's distance of 1 3/8 miles.

Hunter O'Riley (9) was less than a length behind Money Multiplier when fourth in the Sword Dancer Invitational (G1T) at Saratoga Race Course. He has been idle since, so it's significant that both of his wins this year came when fresh.

Oscar Nominated (5) usually fires, and a distant second in the Canadian International (G1T) over soft ground shouldn't be held against the Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup Stakes (G3T) winner.

A - 2, 9
B - 5, 10

Commonwealth Turf (CD, race 10, 5:36 ET): Mr. Misunderstood (6) is 6 for 6 on grass after returning in mid-summer to sweep the Prelude, Super Derby, and Jefferson Cup, and is obviously the one to beat at 4-5 on the morning line against seven rival 3-year-old turf routers.

A potential spoiler is Parlor (4). who was a bit headstrong first time over the local course when fifth in the American Turf (G2T), but then rated nicely to win his secondary allowance condition going away on the same layout in late June. After a close second in the $350,000 Dueling Grounds Derby in early September, he faced older three-other-than allowance horses at Keeneland most recently, and finished evenly behind such good runners as Trust Factor, who is a Louisiana-bred stakes winner, and Bondurant, who was beaten a neck when second as the favorite in last year's Commonwealth Turf.

A - 6
B - 4

Bob Hope (Dmr, race 5, 2:30 PT): After winning his debut impressively, Mourinho (2) was the 3-10 chalk in the Speakeasy Stakes at Santa Anita Park, but he couldn't hold a clear lead in the stretch and was worn down by Beautiful Shot (5). 

That was a tough setup for Mourinho, who was running back on short rest (15 days) and dueled through sharp fractions over a closer-favoring track; the conditions were such that the race received the maximum Closer Favorability Rating (CFR) of 100 from the figure-makers at Racing Flow.

Mourinho is taken to turn the tables, but he will have to save something late to hold off Run Away (3), whose only loss from five outings was a third in the Del Mar Futurity (G1) behind Bolt d'Oro.

A - 2
B - 3

City of Laurel (Lrl, race 6, 2:22 ET): El Areeb (2), who won the Jerome (G3) and Withers (G3) by lopsided margins early in the year, makes his first start back from surgery to repair a fractured knee suffered while training toward the Wood Memorial Presented By NYRA Bets (G2). His presence as the morning-line choice at 2-1 makes the race interesting, because seven furlongs from post 2 is a tough situation for a horse that hasn't raced in more than eight months.

Tale of Silence (1) and No Dozing (4), fourth and sixth respectively in the H. Allen Jerkens Memorial (G1) have been keeping good company, and the latter has the edge for this rematch by virtue of two wins from as many starts over the track. No Dozing also comes off a useful tightener on grass about three weeks ago, and the turf-to-dirt move has been a productive one for trainer Arnaud Delacour.

I'm also using Honor the Fleet (6), who comes off a big return score over the track; and Prince of Hempt (7), who is 3 for 3 by better than 16 lengths, yet listed at 12-1. If El Areeb beats me, so be it.

A - 4
B - 1
C - 6, 7

Safely Kept (Lrl, race 7, 2:51 ET): The plan here is to fool around with Ms Locust Point (10) at anything close to her 8-1 morning line. The daughter of Dialed In  showed enough talent early on to be dispatched as the 13-10 favorite in the Forward Gal (G2) when last seen in early February, and while we just mentioned how seven furlongs can be a tough go off the bench, I'm more inclined to accept the risk as the odds increase, particularly when the returnee has a chance to dictate the pace.

At 5-1 or better she's worth a stab unless the track is clearly playing against speed through the earlier races. The logical ones to protect with in vertical exotics are Dawn the Destroyer (4), idle since a third in the Prioress (G2) at Saratoga; Shimmering Aspen, who has won her last five local starts dating back to September 2016; and Your Love (13), a lightly raced filly coming off a second-level allowance win for Chad Brown.

A - 10, 11
B - 4, 13

James F. Lewis III (Lrl, race 8, 3:20 ET): The inclination is to use even-money favorite Kowboy Karma (6) only defensively, because he has no early speed and is cutting back to six furlongs after two races at a mile.

Granted, Kowboy Karma's last race was a decent fourth in a renewal of the Champagne (G1) that included Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) winner Good Magic, but Barry Lee (4) and A Different Style (5) appear to have some potential and they have been sprinting lately.

So has Kitchen Fire (1), who won twice from five starts at Presque Isle. He has never run on dirt, but at 15-1 on the line I am not letting him beat menot after what happened last weekend.

A - 4, 5
B - 6
C - 1