I'm not sure how many times I can lose while trying to oppose Ginger Punch. Suffice it to say she's beaten me more than she ought to. I'm not really interested in this race as a betting affair and if the track is a total mess I'm sure not how much it'll mean for the Breeders' Cup either. Ginger Punch ought to win, especially since Unbridled Belle has failed to build on her stellar 2008 debut. Lemon Drop Mom is genuine and likely should win one of these days but she'll likely be 3/1 and not worth it. I'm interested in seeing how Cocoa Beach handles this class but the slop is a total unknown and it inclines me against playing her. I'm just watching this one but I think the trifecta might be the same as the Personal Ensign.
Flower Bowl Invitational
Only 5 horses line up to oppose mighty Mauralakana. Her lone loss this year came to Hostess who just happens to be coming off a career best effort but the soft turf really does hinder Hostess. She has never been as good on soft going and she also happens to be 0 for 7 at Belmont. It's hard to justify backing her against the favorite. I think Jade Queen has seen better days and is up against it here. So that leaves 4 horses, in a 6 horse field. That's decisive handicapping for you! I don't really feel a great need to try and beat Mauralakana. She's the best horse and likely ought to outclass the others. Dynaforce almost beat Mauralakana but has gotten steadily worse since then. She moves up on an off course but I'd still rather have a consistent winner than a consistent loser. Communique has come into the best form of her life but I'm always wary taking older horses who suddenly got dramatically better then were laid off. Sometimes the improvement is down to the momentum of that form cycle and when things restart the horse does not immediately pick up right where they left off. That basically leaves Palmilla and depending on the price maybe I'll fool around with her. Her form is getting better and her conditioner is very good at getting improvements from his horses. Second off a layoff she might be ready for another step up and that makes her dangerous. Good enough to beat Mauralakana? Maybe. Certainly good enough to beat everyone else.
It's a great field without a real minnow but I think I'm going to resist the temptation to look at interesting ways to play this race. Fabulous Strike is a monster and if he shows up he'll beat this field by 3 lengths. Others in this field have speed but he has more speed. He's going straight to the front and that will burn out horses like Black Seventeen and First Defence. 6f on dirt is simply his best game and I'm not sure if any horse in North America is up to his standard. J Be K and Kodiak Kowboy will find older horses a lot tougher than what they're used to. Kodiak has some class so he should be staying on to the finish but he's not a 6f horse and these sprinters will simply outrun him. Rockerfeller is cheap in my opinion, he doesn't have the class. Lucky Island would be the horse I'd fear if I was in the Fabulous Strike camp. You can simply throw out his last race. At his best he's an able and agile stalker who loves Belmont and is capable of putting up a big figure. He'll be the horse trying to reel in Fabulous Strike and for the right price I just may back him to do it. I really have no idea how the public is going to bet this race but I'll likely be looking at an exacta with Fabulous Strike and Lucky Island as well as playing the best price in the win pool.
Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational
I think this field is a disappointment overall and underlines the lack of depth in this division stateside. You can bet O'Brien wishes he had a horse ready for this spot. Almost any European challenger in this race would go straight to the head of the market, especially given the terrible weather we're supposed to get. But enough commenting on who isn't here we are left with the task of choosing from those who are. I think the race is wide open because the logical favorite, Dancing Forever, has a noted preference for firm ground and this will not be to his liking at all. On firm ground he beats this field, on soft ground he is allowance caliber. Although I have him in some fantasy contests I really don't like his chances at all. The soft ground specialist is Proudinsky but he's got a few question marks as well. He is untested at this distance and he wheeling back quickly for Frankel who usually doesn't make moves like that. I this race where 9f Proudinsky might be a single but at longer distances he's vulnerable. He has run some decent efforts at 10f but he's not a bankable stayer. Grand Couturier will stay the distance and easily but his three best races have all come at Saratoga. He did run third against much tougher in this race last year so you have to include him but I just don't trust him fully. Presious Passion is the ultimate hit or miss horse. He only seems to win when the public ignores his chances. In his last 12 races he is 4 for 7 when 10/1 or more and 0 for 5 when 10/1 or less. I can imagine that a good amount of hair has been lost as a result of his exploits. I suspect the public might ignore him in this spot so he might be dangerous. He has shown an affinity for soft courses and he does like this distance if left alone. He's dangerous, but like Proudinsky, he is far from the type of horse you could take a stand with. I'll toss in another horse who I think has a shot and that is Strike a Deal. One has to believe that he is good enough to win a race like this although he's never won anything more than a listed stakes race. He has done well at Belmont and on soft courses. I'm not sure what tactics will be employed on him since he seems capable of any scenario but I suspect he'll try to stalk Presious Passion and not let him get away like he did at Monmouth.
Strike A Deal
Jockey Club Gold Cup
Racing fans seem to get really drawn into the concept of a sure thing and because of the line in the sand type pronouncements they make it biases their judgment of the race itself. Take this race for example. Curlin is supposed to win, some would say he cannot lose. Even a win in the fashion of his last victory would unsettle fans. Unless of course the horse who runs him hard is Mambo In Seattle. But let me go on record and say this. Curlin is a very good horse and he could very well lose this race and still be a very good horse. No one is invincible and this race could be a potential stumbling block for the champ. There are two things he has to be very careful of. An improving three year old, namely Mambo In Seattle. This was the time of year the Curlin experienced a real breakout and its entirely plausible that this horse could as well. And also you always have to respect the pace. Wanderin Boy is likely the lone speed and speed often holds well in the slop. It just so happens that Mambo in Seattle and Wanderin Boy are the two best horses opposing Curlin and cases can be made for both. Mambo In Seattle has never been worse than second in a route race on the dirt. This is another big step up for him but this is the time of year that 3yo's prove themselves capable. The only thing that worries me about him is that he's been on the go since April and has basically been getting better with every race. His form sequence recently culminated in a lifetime best performance that was an absolute gut wrencher. He missed last weeks Super Derby because he needed the extra week. It won't shock me if he runs well, I actually really hope he does but my money won't support him in the win pool. Wanderin Boy is the horse I prefer. I know I've tried to get him home in a few big route races over the years and it hasn't happened for me yet but there are really so many things to like. He is definitely the most brilliant horse in the race aside from Curlin. His best career race is probably good enough to severely test the champ. He is the most likely pacesetter and Timber Reserve is the only other horse with the natural speed to challenge him. Others could be taken out of their element to challenge but likely, given the 10f distance and that all eyes will be on Curlin, Wanderin Boy should have things his own way. He is an effective horse in the slop and in general speed holds on the slop and you have to love the Zito/Garcia combo. They've already taken down Big Brown with a wire to wire score at Belmont. They could do the same to Curlin with what is a much better horse. The other notable thing about Wanderin Boy is that the only horse to beat him at Belmont is Bernardini. He's better at Belmont than he is at Saratoga and at the Spa he was only about 3 lengths behind Curlin. I also see a slight negative factor with Curlin. In the Woodward most will agree that it was not a lights out kind of performance. I think he ran better than it looked but it was a more taxing effort than his first few races of this campaign. If you look at the worktab you'll notice that he was back breezing just 9 days after the race. Look around at all the big stakes this weekend. It's very rare to find a horse who was sent back to work so quickly after a race (Midshipman is another) It could be a sign that the race took nothing out of him or it could be a slight mismanagement that could cost him in the final furlong. We'll shall have to wait and see. I know for myself that Curlin need only finish third or better to prevent degrading his reputation in my eyes. I see him as the most likely winner but a bit vulnerable. If you're playing multi-race exotics you surely must use Curlin but since this is a win only selection I'll go with the value and let the chalk win without me.