Time to start facing my ‘handicapping fears’. Alright, not really fears but aversions. One race type I usually dread is graded stakes for older horses. In keeping with my resolutions and needing to broaden my potential plays in any contest (mandatory or open selections), I am facing my fears/aversions head on this year, so I will be deviating from the Brisnet Race of the Day and going with a race I would normally shrug, roll my eyes, and pass over…
Saturday 1/19 – Santa Anita Race 5 – Palos Verdes Stakes G2 – 4yo&up (one of the featured races in the Public Handicapper Contest this week)
1 Apriority (8-1) – last won a G3 effort as a 4 year old at Gulfstream after a poor start. His 2012 campaign was lackluster, but the switch to Baffert’s barn may be a reason to take notice. Late works are sharp, but inclined to pass on a horse that has already likely peaked and will be working against the track bias and a hot early pace.
2 Drill (4-1) – was a G1 winner versus 2 year olds at Del Mar and a G2 winner over this course against 3 year olds in the San Vincente last year and is the other Baffert entry. He had a rough trip last out in the Malibu versus 3 year olds and didn’t get much support in that effort either. Hard to back here without seeing any marked improvement or tests against older horses.
3 Canonize (5-1) – minor stakes winner on the dirt course here around two turns (4 of 6 lifetime at Santa Anita, however three of those efforts were over the polytrack). He seems to be a bit outclassed and likely will have a hard time overcoming the fast pace anticipated here.
4 Sahara Sky (12-1) – has cleared the N2X condition and has not shown much in his lone stakes effort. Pass.
5 Comma To The Top (3-1) – has shown some versatility over his career – routes, sprints, dirt, turf, polytrack; having won a couple of restricted stakes last year and a G3 over this course. Connections are not that strong, but the horse should make up for that (Miller wins 6% of graded stakes races he enters). He appears to be in to form and should have a relatively easy time getting loose on the lead here or rating off of a quick burst from another. I like the chances of him going wire to wire or dueling a weaker foe here.
6 Private Zone (5-2) – Grade 1 winner in Panama, yet that has not equated to victory here in the US. Solid runner up efforts in his last four stakes efforts, even against older at Hollywood Park two back. He has the need to be loose and clear on the lead which may be asking too much of him here. Look for him to challenge Comma To The Top but be short late.
7 Justin Phillip (7-2) – was forwardly placed as a 4 year old, but couldn’t win anything other than a N3X optional claimer. Appears outclassed and the pace seems a little too hot for him to handle here, but will likely be making a run late.
So here is how I see this race breaking down. At the break, 5 and 6 rush up to the lead, 6 will try to establish himself early with 5 right off the pace. By the top of the stretch, I would expect 5 to be overtaking the 6 or staring his rally with 6 fading. Look for a late run led by 1 and 7 with 3 following along. At the wire it is 5 with 7 and 1.
Likely bets: W5; Ex 5,7 with 1,3,5,7
Confidence: 3 of 5 – pace seems to set up well, class appears to be fairly well delineated
Good luck all!