The Winter Challenge

December 17, 2016

Los Alamitos Race Course-Race 9

1& 1/16 Miles on Dirt for Three Year Olds and Upward

The Winter Challenge

Analysis by Michael Patricks

As the racing schedule gradually fades into the twilight of the calendar year, Los Alamitos Race Course has concocted a race to create a little added juice heading into the Christmas break: The Winter Challenge. It’s a 1 & 1/16th mile test over the Los Alamitos main course and it will feature California’s hero himself, California Chrome.  Nine competitors have agreed to shadow box with ‘Chrome, noting that the purse structure is shifted more favorably towards the fringe players and also-rans, thereby incentivizing the field with de facto “appearance fees” since in truth many signed on serve as nothing more than method actors in the starting gate.  With the $12,000,000 Pegasus World Cup Invitational to be run at Gulfstream on January 28th, this figures to be ‘Chrome’s last public appearance before he ships across the country for the richest horse race in the world.  Which suspects have been rounded up to spar with ‘Chrome?  Let’s meet his minions:

1-Howdy 30/1 ML – Has hit the exacta in three out of four over the strip and comes from a strong barn in Peter Eurton.  His lifetime efforts have come at Los Alamitos and in lots of ways he really figures in this spot as a strong contender for a mop-up pay day.  Admittedly, he didn’t have much last time at Santa Anita and not surprisingly Eurton backed off on him and has put four solid works into him since.  Viewing it as a positive that this one draws inside to save ground, he should be prominent in the second flight of horses, keeping his eyes on Avanti Bello and trying to get the jump on Point Piper for the minor awards.  On the downside, Sutherland has never been on him before and who knows what his racing spirit will look like when he realizes California Chrome is in a one-horse race as he gallops off into the sunset.  Since this is the quintessential vertical race, you’d be foolish to not include him in your gimmicks; course specialist appears pesky enough to grab a minor placing.

2-Wrightwood 50/1 ML – 1-for-20 and winless in the last two years, the central question surrounding him is whether he will be 99/1 on when the gates fly back.  That’s not a slap in the face to trainer Brian Koriner by any means.  By running Wrightwood in a glorified workout, he will take home $10,000 so long as he completes the course, and that by itself will supply 40 per cent of the earnings he will make in 2016! As for how he impacts the race, Wrightwood is an exceptional grinder and I’d expect his jock to take a hold, sit back, and see how many tired horses he can pass, if any.  He’s obviously not quick enough to stay in contention with the main flight of horses and putting him in this race too early will lead to an axiomatic last place finish off his dispirited running lines.  If he wins this race, it would be seen as perhaps the biggest upset in the history of horse racing.  Enough said.

3-Presidentsky 50/1 ML –Proud to say he was my best bet of the day on August 12th at Santa Rosa and benefitted tremendously when Orchestral inexplicably lugged in and hit the inside rail, thus allowing him to inherit the front and hold off the onrushing Kelly With a Twist.  Needless to say (yet, I’m obviously saying it) we’re not in Santa Rosa anymore.  He’s a professional sort who fits in the mid-level claiming ranks and was taken for $20,000 back in November, while flopping as the favorite.  Presidentsky has run well over the dirt before so this will not be too foreign for him. A closer look at him reveals that by entering him to run on Saturday he will return half of the claim price to the owners’ pockets, which likely sounds awfully good coming off a listless effort when in for $32,000 first off the claim last time.  Expect him to travel about mid-pack up the backstretch and find himself migrating to the back third when it’s all said and done; this one’s numbers just do not class up.

4-Point Piper 6/1 ML – Second choice on the morning line, Point Piper has had a productive year in the earnings department and can brag about being this year’s winner of the Longacres Mile at Emerald Downs.  Point Piper has faced some really nice stock this year and had to settle for minor awards in his other graded-stakes appearances, so this race should be a similar feeling to him on Saturday.  The one time PP faced ‘Chrome, he was a no impact sixth in the San Pasqual, chasing him around the track to no avail.  It’s reasonable to expect a similar storyline in The Winter Challenge, only difference is that beaten six lengths in this race on Saturday will likely mean he is your second place finisher.  He will be a very popular choice in the second spot of many bettors exotic tickets, especially if Avanti Bello gets tired of chasing ‘Chrome when turning for home.  In nine starts over 2016, PP has averaged about $30,000 a start, which is what the second place finisher makes by running in here.  Foreshadowing?  I think so—here’s your silver medalist.

5-Ain’t Misbehavin 20/1 ML – He was fended off by Dr. Go last time when dropping in at his previously claimed level and ran an okay second at even money.  Obviously gets thrown into the deep end of the pool and is about as ambitiously placed as it gets coming off the claim for $20,000.  But as stated before about all of these, the mere completing of the course will guarantee a $10,000 dividend for competing against ‘Chrome, so even though he seems destined to be a likely also-ran in the chart, the same cannot be said for his owner and his pocketbook.  On the bright side, at least Kent knows him very well and he should drop anchor and try and let him unwind past as many stragglers as possible.  His bagels across the board from both lifetime efforts on this surface certainly sound the alarm as far as exotics contention is concerned, and he’s going to be wishing he was running against the likes of old friends Biltmore Boogie and Senator Bob instead of California Chrome, Point Piper and Avanti Bello.  Ain’t Misbehavin ain’t taking center stage in this one.  A dream trip could cause him to round out some trifecta and superfecta tickets, however I am not persuaded that will happen; others entice more.

6-Lucky J Lane 30/1 ML – Bludgeoned last time by Avanti Bello when finishing dead last over the Santa Anita main track at 17/1. ‘Lucky has been working over the local surface and the upshot here is that his race two back over this surface was mighty courageous, stopping the clock over today’s same course and distance in 1:41. 4/5th seconds.  The bad news is that while that race may have been his most valiant effort, it’s safe to say that California Chrome can do the waltz to that same time over this track with his eyes closed.  ‘Lucky is a very nice Cal-bred and has banged out over a quarter-million in earnings from twenty three efforts, and that’s definitely to be lauded.   If Avanti Bello gets tired of chasing on the front end then this guy could mop up in your gimmicks, but coming off the lethargic effort first off the claim has me playing the wait-and-see game in terms of steadfast optimism; not overwhelmed or underwhelmed here—just plain whelmed.

7-Avanti Bello 10/1 ML – Possible pace setter, arrives off a stubborn drive to the finish where he was able to lay his body down and get top honors against second level allowance foes.  Soi Phet and Magic Mark got the best of him here in September in a stakes-bred race at 8/1 and now he will be about the same price against the most elite in his class.  Either he can choose to gun to the front and be hounded by ‘Chrome all the way up the backstretch, or he can defer to ‘Chrome and try and track down a runaway freight train.  Either way, obviously I don’t envy this one’s chances.  My distinct impression is this one will get tired of being in chase mode and could be quite softened up in the drive for Point Piper and company in the long Los Alamitos stretch.  Of all the prominent players I’m the least high on him.  I’ll be dismissing him at my own peril in an effort to make a little more money in my vertical punts; looking elsewhere.

8-Unusual Meeting 30/1 ML– Fifty per cent of his recent claim price recouped by facing the starter on Saturday.  This Unusual Heat gelding has had a largely productive career by playing the role of best man while competing on the sod.  This will be an interesting placement for his main track debut to say the least and one can envision him and his friend Presidentsky from two races back essentially working in company while heading up the backstretch.  There is nothing else really too interesting to say about this one other than I don’t see him factoring in the top half of the field.  If you can find a side bet on him going over or under six-and a-half-place, you might want to bet the over if the odds are favorable.  Wait for him to return to sod at a realistic level at Santa Anita and then make an assessment from there; he’s a non-factor withthese

9- Papacoolpapacool 20/1 ML- Second off the freshener last time turned in this one’s lifetime Beyer number and that’s something to note.  He’s made his living on the lawn but D’Amato and Baze together definitely means business and this gelding is fairly tenacious in his races, regardless of whether he ultimately takes down the top prize– exactly what I’m looking for in this spot.  His nine furlongs foundation is ideal for this distance and he will be able to spy ‘Chrome from the gate and Baze can use him as a target for as long as possible.  If Point Piper doesn’t fire for some reason then I envision ‘Papa completing your well-beaten exacta.  In the end, don’t be surprised in the least if he finds his way onto the medalist’s podium with a silver or bronze around his neck; using him in my plans for certain.

10-California Chrome 1/5 ML– The winner of the race.  Happy Holidays:  In honor of California Chrome wearing saddle cloth number 10, The Jockey Club will offer free admission to the first 10 people  on Saturday who mention this article by repeating the phrase: “Chrome or Go Home”, at their time of entry into the facility.

Consensus: 10-4-9-1