Saturday is one of those days that a horse simmering as a long shot in the futures markets for the Breeders’ Cup will gain some momentum, make his long-range case and lower his prices.
But summer’s winners are often autumn’s underlays, especially coming out of a dubious crop of 3-year-olds.
Rest assured that the young horse that wins Saturday’s Grade 2 Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga will find his odds shortening to win against older horses in November at Santa Anita. But even if the chalk – namely War Of Will or Tacitus – comes through over the 1⅛ miles, should either be taken seriously racing for the first time in open company this fall over 1¼ miles?
It is debatable whether the Jim Dandy winner should even be mentioned in the same breath as Maximum Security and Game Winner when it comes to their possibly meeting next month in the Travers.
But let’s stay for now with the Breeders’ Cup. A survey of three off-shore sites – Bet Online, Bovada and US Racing – and the European tracker Oddschecker shows Maximum Security and McKinzie are the best-priced co-favorites at 10-1 to win Nov. 2 in the $6 million Classic. McKinzie is actually as short as 6-1 at Bet Online and 7-1 at Bovada. Even Thunder Snow shows up at 8-1 at US Racing even though he is 0-for-4 in America.
If there is Breeders’ Cup faith to be shown in the 3-year-olds, the time is now. Belmont Stakes runner-up Tacitus is 20-1, and Preakness winner War Of Will is 25-1. It is highly unlikely that these prices will be available if either one wins the Jim Dandy on Saturday at 6:51 p.m. EDT. It is also highly unlikely that Tacitus and War Of Will will deserve shorter prices.
Because of the build-up to the Kentucky Derby, 3-year-olds get too much attention most of the year, especially since the best ones often graduate to the breeding shed rather than show up to race as 4-year-olds.
Just because we have not heard as much about McKinzie this year, does that mean he should be discounted against colts that have yet to step out of their age group? If Mike Smith had not taken him wide to finish second in the Met Mile, the conversation would be a little different, but the 3-year-olds would still be getting too much betting attention.
Let’s not forget that seven of the last 10 winners of the Breeders’ Cup Classic were older horses, including Accelerate last year. The exceptions were a Triple Crown champion American Pharoah, a freak in Arrogate and a controversial winner in Bayern, all trained by Bob Baffert.
Even if the Jim Dandy winner is eventually aimed away from the Classic and instead at the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, the same price drop is likely. At age 4, Met Mile winner Mitole is perhaps America’s best horse in training. He is favored at 4-1 at US Racing and 9-2 in Europe to win the Dirt Mile. War Of Will is 12-1 overseas and would certainly plunge if he wins Saturday – and if trainer Mark Casse showed any inclination of racing the shorter distance Nov. 2.
To coin a latter-day betting cliché, recency bias will also color the $1.25 million Grade 1 Travers, which will be run Aug. 24. At Bovada, Maximum Security is 3-1, Game Winner 7-2 and Code Of Honor 4-1 to win the 1¼-mile race at Saratoga. Tacitus is already cheaply priced at 4-1, War Of Will is 8-1, and either will drop with a win this weekend.
This is not to dismiss the Jim Dandy out of hand or, for that matter, any victory that enhances a horse’s résumé. But how much enhancement comes from a race that lacks the Kentucky Derby winner – either the disqualified Maximum Security or the anointed Country House – and the still recovering, one-time Derby favorite Omaha Beach?
Context is everything, but its taste is often masked by the flavor of the month. Never mind futures. Ask anyone who makes the annual mistake of betting heavily on the UAE Derby winner in the Kentucky Derby.
The lesson may have been best stated by sports writer Bob Padecky of the Santa Rosa (Calif.) Press-Democrat. In a 2015 story that he filed for the Press-Democrat of Santa Rosa, Calif., after the death of quarterback Ken Stabler, Padecky wrote, “History is best written after the passage of time, smoothing out the raw edges of hyperactive impulse.”
Substitute the words “the Jim Dandy” for “hyperactive impulse,” and bettors have something worthy of searing into their memories.
Racing news and opinions
Much as I would love to find value outside of Tacitus (7-5 on the morning line) and War Of Will (5-2) in the Jim Dandy, I find it hard to make a legitimate case that they will not finish one-two – or two-one. Without much pace in the race, Peter Pan winner Global Campaign (2-1) could make it interesting as the likely front-runner. But I do not see him in the same class. The same goes for Tax (8-1) and Laughing Fox (15-1). Instead, I will box the chalk on top and put Mihos (15-1) underneath on my trifecta ticket.
Value will also be elusive at Saratoga in the $350,000 Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap, a six-furlong dirt sprint Saturday at 5:44 p.m. EDT. In search of his seventh straight win for trainer Steve Asmussen, Mitole (1-1) carries the top weight of 125 pounds. Imperial Hint (3-1) is next at 123, but coming back for the first time since a third-place finish in the Dubai Golden Shaheen, he does not look like the same horse that he was much of last year. The price hunter in me looks to Firenze Fire (9-2). Constantly looking for a sweet-spot distance, he finished fifth in the Met Mile. His last two wins, though, were at six furlongs, so I will be on the nose of Firenze Fire.
By the way, the weather is supposed to be dry Saturday at Saratoga with a high of 86. Even with upstate New York humidity, that is a big relief after last weekend, when dangerous heat forced postponement of the Coaching Club American Oaks card and other races up and down the eastern seaboard. It will also help the bottom line after another day of lost handle Thursday, when a violent storm led to most of the day’s races being canceled.
There is no lack of speed in the $300,000 Grade 1 Bing Crosby sprint Saturday at 8:30 p.m. EDT at Del Mar. Only two of the seven older horses – Air Strike (4-1) and Line Judge (8-1) – figure to come from off the pace. The likely pace-setters bookend the field with Calexman (15-1) starting from the rail and Jalen Journey (6-1) from the outside. The Stanley Hough 5-year-old Recruiting Ready (2-1) may be the top choice on the morning line, but he is winless in his last three including once as a favorite. Racing for trainer John Sadler, Cistron (5-2) should get first run on the leaders if he does not try to join them out of the gate. With Víctor Espinoza on board, he is my choice to win with a little something extra on Line Judge to pick up the pieces if the speed crumbles in the stretch.
The perennially flawed “World’s Best Racehorse” rankings show Crystal Ocean in first and Enable tied for fifth. Considering two-time Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Enable beat Crystal Ocean in their only previous meeting at last year’s September Stakes, and considering Enable has won 10 in a row including seven Group 1 races, I don’t get it. So they may resettle this Saturday at 10:40 a.m. EDT when they meet in the $1.5 million Group 1 King George Stakes over 1½ miles of good-to-firm turf at Ascot, England. Three weeks after winning her 2019 debut in the Eclipse Stakes, Enable (8-13) is out to repeat in this race after winning it in 2017. (She was recovering from surgery last year.) Ridden then as now by Frankie Dettori for trainer John Gosden, that was her first time racing the boys in a group race, and it stamped her as a world beater if not a world-rankings beater. Crystal Ocean (3-1) is coming off a 1¼-mile win at Royal Ascot in the Prince of Wales’s, and he figures to be racing ahead of Enable early Saturday. The early pace will be set by as many as four rabbits, including two for the Coolmore closer Anthony Van Dyck (8-1), the Epsom Derby winner that races for the first time in open company. Defoe (14-1) comes in off back-to-back wins at this distance, including the Hardwicke at Royal Ascot, and he will be the value play – but not on top. Regardless of what those world rankings say, Enable is the best horse in training now, so I will play her cold on top with Crystal Ocean, Defoe and the ever-close Waldgeist (16-1) boxed underneath. After a wet Friday, a dry, cloudy day is forecast for Ascot on Saturday.
Best wishes to Mike Watchmaker, Matt Bernier, Jay Hovdey and Byron King, all victims of layoffs this week at the Daily Racing Form. Word is that the paper and its digital platforms are up for sale yet again, and Z Capital Partners appear to be buttressing the bottom line. They are all worthy of finding jobs in the racing media sooner than later.
Ron Flatter’s weekly racing column is posted every Friday morning at VSiN.com. It appears more frequently during coverage of big races. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod posted Friday mornings at VSiN.com/podcasts. The Jim Dandy Stakes and Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap at Saratoga and the Bing Crosby Stakes at Del Mar are the subjects of the RFRP. Reigning Del Mar training champion Peter Miller talks about the Crosby and his success with sprinters. Award-winning turf writer and publisher Tom Law of the Saratoga Special previews the Jim Dandy and Vanderbilt and discloses some of his handicapping angles this year at The Spa. The RFRP is also available via Apple, Google and Stitcher.