The Berkeley Handicap

Golden Gate Fields 11/26/2016

Race 6 $100,000

Post time: 3:15 P.M. PST

The Berkeley Handicap (Grade III)

Analysis by Michael Patricks

With the holiday season in full swing and the thrust of horseplayers having returned from a memorable Thanksgiving with their family and friends, a full plate of graded stakes races are on tap this weekend, including a feast of two-year-old races on Saturday from Churchill Downs.  While the two-year-olds are sure to take center stage, let’s not forget about the grizzled veterans that comprise the backbone of the racing industry by focusing our attention on Saturday’s Grade III Berkeley Handicap from Golden Gate Fields.

1-Southern Freedom 5/2 ML- First of three entered for Jerry Hollendorfer who has a quorum of the entrants that will face the starter.  ‘Freedom took down the crown jewel of the meet here at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds when defeating older horses on the grass in the Joseph T. Grace Handicap.  In the Grace, ‘Freedom fought back and was quite relentless after being headed by his stable mate, Outside Nashville.  After winning the Grace, ‘Freedom was relatively hapless in the Rolling Green at Golden Gate Fields, suffering a wide trip when going around the cape in a relatively small field.  ‘Dorf has freshened this guy up for his return to the tapeta at Golden Gate and this horse has run very strong numbers over the surface, including a 95 Beyer Speed Figure when getting nailed on the line by the classy filly Living the Life from southern California. It appears Southern Freedom is perhaps his best on synthetic given his lifetime mark and he’s run well off a similar freshening before.  Expect that he will sit right behind stable mate Bronze Star and look to pounce on him at just the right moment and I expect him to turn the tables on Bronze Star from the Rolling Green and escape with victory in this one; according to my rules of handicapping, he’s the selection de jure.

2-Tamarando 10/1 ML- Been working a hole in the wind locally for trainer Jeff Bonde.  He was stamped as a future star in his early career and looked to have great promise as a three-year-old, but it just hasn’t panned out for him the way he had hoped.  Tamarando has made better than $700,000 so his career has by no means been disappointing, but set against the backdrop of that fact is the reality he has won only four races in his life, and none in 2015 or 2016.  The other inescapable truth is that he’s been beaten by all three Dorf horses (at least twice over) and only able to make marginal headway into minor placings from those efforts.  His typical modus operandi is to drop anchor, seek cover and come running but several of his recent running lines are desultory at best.   His effort in the Rolling Green was commendable last time and the works whisper ready, yet others figure more enticing in terms of the pay line in this one;  should battle it out for the show dough.

3-G.G. Ryder 8/1 ML- Venerable sort returns to his preferred surface after following stable mate Bronze Star in a merry-go-round affair when last seen in Fresno’s Bull Dog Handicap, finishing a credible second.  That day, Bronze Star walked to the lead in 47.2 seconds and was able to slow things down enough to have plenty of gas in the tank to hold the smallish field at bay.  Before that, G.G. returned at Golden Gate Fields sprinting in a race he had to have needed when coming off a better than 90 day layoff, running evenly in that spot.  The third start off the layoff is typically a horse’s best effort and it would be no surprise to see this guy’s spirits enliven with the assurance that Bronze Star will blaze the way yet again, and because Southern Freedom should keep him plenty of company on the front end this time around.  It seems likely that G.G. will get overlooked in this spot with the presence of Stryker Phd luring many eyeballs in his direction.  Stryker Phd ran a ho-hum third in this spot two years ago with an 87 Beyer Speed Figure so it’s possible that one does his best work on a traditional dirt surface.  If Stryker Phd dislikes the surface, or isn’t ready to go off the sidelines, then G.G. becomes a nice value play to complete the exacta behind Southern Freedom; use him underneath.

4-Bronze Star 2/1 ML- Owned and trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, this speedster arrives in the Berkeley Handicap looking for back to back victories and four out of five overall.  As mentioned above, last time out Bronze Star walked the dog down the backstretch with leisurely half-mile and three-quarter-mile fractions and had plenty left in reserve to resist his stable mate who may have needed the race.  Bronze Star loves the dirt and has ran well on the turf too, but his synthetic record provides enough uncertainty that it’s more than fair to put him up on the stand for cross-examination given the short price you’ll see here.  No doubt he’s a hot horse who is going well, but I’m going to make him prove it to me at the short price again on Saturday that he is not simply a dirt and turf specialist.  He doesn’t figure to get away with an easy lead with Southern Freedom pushing him along up the backstretch and also believe that his stable mate will have enough of him leaving the five-sixteenths pole, when the real running begins.  When this one is put into full submission at the head of the lane, don’t blame me if you need to call out the fire department to douse the flames on your win tickets, leaving them a smoldering ruin as I stand there reminding you, “I told you so.” He had his fun last time; he’s a lousy win wager in this spot; moving on without him.

5-Stryker Phd 8/5 ML- It’s not often when you see the morning line favorite show up as the x-factor and wild-card variable in any race, let alone a graded stakes event, but that’s definitely the case here.  Stryker Phd has done most of his running on dirt up in Washington, and is most notable for his victory in the 2015 Longacres Mile.  As my racing seminar co-host Dennis Miller is one to say, “This guy closes from the parking lot.”  It will be intriguing to see how the connections approach this race in terms of tactics while coming off a 90 day layoff.  In 2014, Stryker Phd ran in this race and tried to make one long and sustained run which caused him to hang a bit in the stretch.  This horse takes to every surface, but in terms of true value (not to be confused with the hardware store) he’s a bit of a risky endeavor at such short odds– and in such a small field where he needs a solid pace to set up his stretch run.  Trainer Larry Ross is a great horseman and there is no doubt in my mind this fella will show up and give a decent account of himself in the Berkeley Handicap.  But his chances of taking down the top prize as a seven-year-old, off a layoff, on a surface he has not won on, and in a race he couldn’t win when he was a five-year-old while favored, gives me enough cause for concern.  Expecting him to be valiant but ultimately vanquished in the end; ends up playing the role of best man on the gallop out.

Consensus: 1-5-3