Post Time: 12:47 PM PST
The Discovery Handicap
Analysis by Michael Patricks
After the titans of racing clashed last weekend at Santa Anita Park in the various Grade I Breeders’ Cup Races, racing’s graded stakes landscape is reduced to a trio of Grade III events nationwide, including two from Aqueduct and one from Churchill Downs. Given that one never knows just how the weather will impact turf racing at this time of year, I’ll focus my attention on The Discovery Handicap from Aqueduct, which has drawn a competitive cast of 11 players vying for the honors of being the 72nd winner of this installment. The race is named in honor of the 1935 Horse of the Year who checks in at #37 on Blood Horse’s top 100 U.S. thoroughbred champions of the 20th century. Forego (1973), Cox’s Ridge (1977), Fappiano (1980), and Dynaformer (1988) are all prior winners of this time-honored race. As the great Michael Wrona is fond of saying: Who will get the chocolates on Saturday? Let’s pop the top on this box and dig in.
1-Adulator 7/2 ML- Claiborne-bred son of Flatter is having a very useful career and has been well regarded since his first start this spring. After a disorienting debut, this guy has only gotten better with each start, and when he leaves the gate in one piece, he’s never failed to be in the exacta from his seven lifetime starts. The inside draw going two turns at Aqueduct is nothing short of ideal in my mind and Sticksstatelydude, Hot Seat and others figure to vie for early supremacy in this affair, giving him plenty of cover heading into the Ozone Park back stretch. He sports the perfect running style for success in that he is usually prominent enough to be in touch early and yet has a real penchant for wanting to hook up and duel to the wire. Love horses who aren’t afraid to fight it out and he’s certainly in that category. Adulator defeated Keen Ice on October 7th, and last time I checked that one finished third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic behind Arrogate and California Chrome last weekend. 1-for-1 at the distance and over the surface, he retains his usual pilot and arrives at Aqueduct with a nice 5-furlong bullet in the holster. Add it all up and you’ve got yourself a formidable and juicy 7/2 shot who is set to impose his will on the balance of this cast. I’ve thrown enough adulation and praise at this one’s hooves, he’s my pick.
2-Hunter O’Riley 30/1 ML- Ridgling son of Tiz Wonderful finds himself in the deep end of the pool here. He does come off a better than eight length score at Belmont over a good surface that was moved off the turf where he found himself benefitting in a much needed confidence builder. Before that effort, he had been mid pack nibbling against first level allowance runners, predominantly running on sod. His connections obviously feel that the return to dirt last time served as a more than ample wakeup call and want to capitalize on that by wheeling him back on dirt against Grade III types, and at a distance he enjoys. Beating Memories of Peter in an allowance contest is one thing, but taking on horses of the class and resume that are signed on in this one is a whole other animal. His jockey understandably defects to Adulator without a second thought and his trainer picks up a rider he’s 0-for-3 with; he’ll have to step up his game to have a say in this one and don’t think it’s in the cards for him to do so; no thanks.
3- Gift Box 3/1 ML- Have always respected this guy and regarded him as a trier who ranked just below the elite within his division. He’s been laid up since the Travers where he was trounced by Arrogate, along with the rest of his competitors who were left in that one’s wake. Gift Box shows up on Saturday as the 3/1 morning line favorite and he tends to give a decent account of himself in each start, much like Adulator. Reuniting with his preferred tyro Javier Castellano should have his backers beaming with confidence and he is certainly a logical contender in this spot. It’s interesting to note that Chad Brown did not have this guy ready to roll in the Breeders’ Cup, as was the case with Economic Model, another Chad Brown 3 year-old that ran a pedestrian third in the Bold Ruler. Perhaps The Discovery was the plan for this one all along, but I think there are enough factors to give cause for pause in backing this one with both fists as the morning line favorite at the window. Given that Adulator has been knocking heads with older horses I’m going to give him my endorsement for top honors, rather than playing the role of cut man in this one’s corner when they fight it out turning for home.
4-Sticksstatelydude 6/1 ML- Well-traveled colt should find himself prominent in the early pace picture with Hot Seat his primary nemesis on the front end. ‘Dude ran his guts out last time at Remington Park, narrowly losing to the ultra-game Texas Chrome, and there is certainly no disgrace in that. Before that, ‘Dude went favored in the Smarty Jones and after breaking sluggishly, never really got himself into the race, finishing fourth while beaten better than 11 lengths. The work tab is quite strong and this fella also returns to New York on Saturday, which is where he last won. Given that Rosario gets off the 4/1 Governor Malibu to ride the 6/1 shot here will certainly make some take a long and hard look at backing him. My feeling is that the connections will want to put him in the race early and avoid at all costs at Smarty Jones repeat. The problem with that is the new shooter mentioned, Hot Seat, should give him plenty to think about on the front end. He’ll have to run a lifetime best number while showing he can stalk and outfinish Grade III animals, and he’s 0-for-2 at the Grade III level entering this affair. Speed is always dangerous, but I think the final 1/16th of a mile will have him feeling like he’s carrying ankle weights from the heavy lifting he’ll have to do in the early part of the race; playing against.
5- Governor Malibu 4/1 ML- Long striding colt enters the starting gate without his customary pilot for the first time in six efforts, with Joel Rosario having opted for the one to his inside. Unfortunately, ‘Malibu has developed a real penchant for being the best man, with his running lines in 2015 and 2016 essentially being mirror images of each other. On the bright side is the fact that this guy usually gives a solid account of himself and he had been facing older in his last two races, while admittedly state-bred affairs. The drop back in to face straight 3 year-olds may help him do some damage, but mitigating that is his win shy nature that is impossible to get around. If you’re playing exactas and trifectas, you’d be crazy to throw him out—but, if you’re asking yourself who is going to win this highly-contested affair, it’s more likely than not you’d be taking a long walk off a short pier if you think at these odds this is your pony; demand strong value on the win end, or in the alternative you can play him in the back end of your exactas, if that’s your modus operandi.
6-Hot Seat 10/1 ML- Undefeated chestnut has been the talk all over the Bensalem, Pennsylvania back stretch with two powerhouse victories on his ledger. He hails from a very strong barn that is known for a high percentage strike rate and this guy will merit serious intrigue and consideration from the wagering public. He picks up a new rider for his first start against Grade III types, but Antonio Gallardo and Jason Servis have worked very well together in the past. Sold for $260,000 at auction, this guy was always thought to be somewhat special and he could be a new face to the Handicap division heading into 2017. As for Saturday, at this point it appears he will be quick off the blocks and try and take them as far as he can. He will face pace pressure from Sticksstatelydude, who at the very least will make him work for it. He also has a mere two races to his racing foundation while taking on nine sure-to-be-arduous furlongs on Saturday. There’s a chance he may actually be the goods, and if in fact he is, he can certainly take my money from me along with my newfound respect for his ability at this level. But I will make him prove it to me on Saturday, since at this point he appears to be a bit one-dimensional compared to others; if the only tool you have at your disposal is a hammer, then every problem you see becomes a nail… he needs more tools in his tool box for top honors, but it’s reasonable to see him sticking around for a piece of it in the end.
7-My Man Sam 8/1 ML- Quintessential grinder is yet another from the Chad Brown stable who could find his way into the mix in this one. ‘Sam was only 19/1 in the Kentucky Derby and highly regarded off his runner-up effort to Nyquist in the Blue Grass Stakes. Most notably, he was dusted off the track by Arrogate in the Travers (along with everyone else) and then most recently finished the final portion quite nicely in the Pennsylvania Derby at a big price. A rider who is familiar with him returns to the saddle to hop aboard and he does have a quick half mile bullet that he sports from his workout at Belmont last Saturday. The operative question for this guy is style: How does his style fit within the context of this race? Usually, he drops anchor and makes one run for glory. There should be a decent measure of speed up on the early gallop, so this guy could make some headway if the pace is a bit too quick early and he can steer clear of the clutter. The price will be right and that can always entice–highly playable at a decent number and he’s a must-use underneath for me.
8-Neolithic 15/1 ML- Another runner in this field who remains eligible for first level allowance types and decides to take a big swing at runners within his own division. His Gulfstream maiden victory was a solid performance, but was immediately laid up on the shelf after that. His summer campaign was respectable to be sure but he has been unable to break through with three tries and now you’re being asked to believe that today will be the day against multiple race winners, while his pilot notably defects to Adulate. The blinkers go on so he should be forwardly placed early and able to save a bit of ground into the first turn, but this guy has a tendency to get himself into a bit of trouble and that’s something he’ll have to avoid at all costs to have a say in the outcome. While I don’t think he’ll be blasted back to the Stone Age on Saturday, suffice to say he won’t be carrying any of my hard earned greenbacks; prefer others.
9-Wild About Deb 15/1 ML- Chestnut has not been disgraced in his last two efforts while trying Graded Stakes company. Deb hails from a very sharp outfit that does most of its damage at Parx, located just outside of Philadelphia. This barn can pop anywhere though and should be respected on this circuit. His usual jock Tiago Pereira decides to stay at Del Mar where he has three mounts on Saturday, including one quality chance aboard Hobbits Hero for Richard Baltas, so that one probably merits tracking as far as afternoon wagers are concerned. This guy has been dropping anchor and making one run, and with the wide post it’s difficult to envision the tactics being any different for him here. Expect both brothers riding ‘Deb and My Man Sam to commence moves at, around the same time and try and get the jump on the other. He can certainly grind along for a small share and should fatten up the exotics a touch, so I’d consider including this one in your third and fourth spot of your vertical tickets; underneath most likely his ceiling.
10-Vulcan’s Forge 20/1 ML- Nice win and lifetime number in his last race where he dismantled four other horses on way to a clear cut victory. He was 3/1 in a five horse field so that should make it clear that his performance came as a bit of surprise to the handicapping public. He’s been freshened for his stakes debut and he’s drilling steadily at Saratoga leading up to this. He’ll be wide from the gate and have a quick run into the first turn so this guy is going to have to find a way to save some ground without compromising his chances. In addition, he’ll also have to run a lifetime number back to back to have a chance at taking down his competitors in here. No doubt he will be a big number when the gates open and for good reason. He does appear to be a better horse on dirt than he was on turf so he does have that working for him. Not the impossible dream, but most certainly an unlikely winner. I’m going to make him prove to me he can run with this group, though there are worse blind stabs in the dark than Todd Pletcher coming off a win in the neighborhood of 25 or 30/1.
11-Sunny Ridge 20/1 ML- There are good 20/1 shots and bad ones…this guy strikes me as the latter. His claim to fame comes from having been beaten a neck in the mud at Delta Downs by Exaggerator and then having swum by a beleaguered Nyquist who was completely taxed and not himself in the wet of the Haskell. ‘Sunny had his doors blown off last time out in the Pennsylvania Derby when suffering from a wide draw and never got himself into the race. Now ‘Sunny draws widest of all and will have to be put into the race early on, hot off the heels of Sticksstatelydude and his stable mate Hot Seat, a place in the race that can only be characterized as the death seat, as it’s often referred to down under. His best efforts have come near the front end and it seems that ‘Sunny’s hand is forced, and since his trainer runs two here, you know he doesn’t want a speed duel to ensue between them. That puts him between a rock and the proverbial “hard place” and it will take an effort that the mighty Hercules would applaud to see this guy ultimately prevail after he covers the added ground in store for him; tossing him right out.