Photo: Eclipse Sportswire
Who can forget Calidoscopio’s heroic performance last year
in the Marathon? I hope some of the fans reading this blog had him as a winner
or on top of some well paying exotic bets. Based on both the screening criteria
and the basic handicapping evaluation of this same blog I authored last year, he
was signaled to have a huge shot to win. Call it luck. Call it a crystal ball.
Call it unbiased handicapping. But in the Breeders’ Cup most unpredictable
race, perhaps there are a few signs that are more obvious than they may appear
at first glance.
The three screening criteria I used last year as still
exceptionally valid for the 2013 edition of the Breeders' Cup Marathon. So lets see how they
pan out with this year’s field
Criteria 1: The horse should have won its most recent prep regardless of distance, track surface, or racing condition.
Criteria 2: The horse should have won 2 of its previous 3
races prior to the marathon regardless of distance, track surface, or racing
Criteria 3: The horse should have competed in a race 12
furlongs or longer in the past 5 months.
In the five previous editions of the Marathon, 4 of the 5
winners have fit at least two of these criteria, and a pair of winners
(Eldaafer-2010 and Calidoscopio-2012) have met all three. The only horse to have
broken this mold is Afleet Again (who only met Criteria 3), but as I mentioned last year, there were
still some signs that he was to flourish at the marathon distance.
Looking at this year’s group the screening criteria is as
Criteria 1: Cease, Commander, Ever Rider (ARG), and Suns Out
Criteria 2: Commander and Ever Rider (ARG)
Criteria 3: Ever Rider (ARG), Suns Out Guns Out, Indian Jones,
London Bridge, Blueskiesnrainbows, and Pool Play
Once again, the Argentinian invader meets all three of the
criteria. The only other horses to meet 2 of three are Commander and Suns Out
Guns Out. While I expect Commander to be an overlay of his morning line 6-1
odds, I expect the other two horses to go to post below their morning lines.
Looking at each horse in a more conventional way, we can
find some of the fine print that was surely missed in the screening criteria
Old Time Hockey (8-1)
He has not been in top form as of late and will be making a
switch from turf to dirt for this year’s race. His running style has him
sitting mid pack and should not prove to make a huge impact on the race, but his
post position does allow Jose Lezcano to give him a nice ground saving trip.
When you consider his performance in the Del Mar Handicap and the John Henry
Turf Classic, you have to believe his pedigree will give some influence to his
ability to stay the full 14 furlongs. I
consider him as a threat to the bottom end of trifectas and supers but no more
I like his closing running style in this field. There is a
few pace setting / pace pressing types in the race, so we may see a hotter tempo similar to last years early fractions. My question is not
in his ability as a closer, but rather his racing foundation for the marathon
distance. He’s been an entirely different animal since being claimed by David
Jacobson, but I don’t particularly like him in this spot.
Coming into this year’s race with a similar prep schedule as
last year, its hard to count him out of contention. He was looking to dictate
the pace last year until Jaycito bolted to the lead the first time down
the backstretch last year. I believe this pushed Commander out of his comfort
zone and he was never able to fully relax. The #3 hole will give him a clear
shot to the lead. The question will be if he can resist the pressure he is
likely to get from Blueskiesnrainbows, Ever Rider, and London Bridge. He is also being piloted by last year's winning jockey Aaron Gryder.
Ever Rider (ARG)
His age is 5, but being bred in the Southern Hemisphere
(September foal), he biologically just celebrated his 5th birthday
and appears to be maturing nicely. He looks like the whole package for this race.
He’s won at staying distance dirt races before under higher weight than he will
carry on Friday, and Gary Stevens is a huge plus. I do question his win in the
Classico General Belgrano because he was alone on the lead and allowed to
relax. That being said, he exploded at the top of the stretch, but was nearly
caught at the wire. Don’t expect the odds to stay that attractive for the clear
favorite of the group. Include him on top of all exotics, but I believe there
is more value to be found in the race for those looking for a good price on a
Suns Out Guns Out
His only start over 10 furlongs resulted in him fading near
the wire. Granted, that race, the Greenland Cup, was in the slop, so it may be
just as much of a toss for the racing conditions as the distance. He has the
pedigree to stay the 14 furlongs, but his one attempt at extended distance makes me
think he may not want it. His final prep race was a nice win, but finishing his
last quarter mile in :26 1/5 seconds for a 1 mile race shows he may fade down
the stretch of the Marathon.
Indian Jones (5-1)
The other son of Smarty Jones in this race looks like he
may have finally found his preferred running distance. Proving very consistent
since being claimed and transferred to the barn of Philip Aristone, this gelding could be a great under the radar pick. Rarely venturing into stakes company, he
looks to show he has what it takes to win the Marathon. It was the Greenwood
Cup that really got me stirring on this one. Coming wide into the stretch he
battled the last 3/8 of a mile against one of the most experienced staying dirt
horses in the country and former winner of the Marathon Eldaafer. Head bobbed
at the finish, he came out of that race none worse for the weary and closed
nearly 13 lengths in his most recent prep. Look for him to be running late down the
stretch at Santa Anita.
London Bridge (GB)
First time Lasix and the only European shipper for this race
make a very interesting entry. Aside from being the only European, he is also
the lone 3-year old. This means a 4lb weight break for the arduous 14 furlong
journey. He has won at 10 furlongs and 12 furlongs before, and his most recent
outing was his first test against stakes company at the distance 15 furlongs.
He likes to be near the front, which should help reduce any dirt being kicked
in his face, but the transfer from turf to dirt does not always pan out. If he
is on the front end of the race and the pace is soft, his proven stamina could
be very tough to catch down the stretch.
Another front running horse has proven he can hang tough in
the staying distances. He has also loves the dirt at Santa Anita, only
finishing off the board once in seven starts. He definitely has the class to
win this race, but the question is the endurance. I expect him to be
battling for the lead with Commander and Ever Rider, but not working the race
into suicidal fractions. The best way for him to win is to break well and try
to get an early, uncontested lead. I don’t see that happening in this field and
think he should be included in trifectas and supers, but I do not see a
scenario in which he wires this field.
Pool Play (8-1)
2013 has not been quite as kind to Pool Play as 2012.
After a close second in the Hal’s Hope, he’s been off his best form all year
long. The Marathon feels like a Hail Mary for trainer Mark Casse. However, he
did finish third in the Greenwood Cup suggesting he may want a bit more
distance. I see him going to post at a
far higher number than his 8-1 morning line.
This 6-year old son of A.P. Indy has shown wonderful form
since being transferred to the barn of Brendon Walsh. Recently finishing a well
earned third place to Fort Larned in the Homecoming Classic, he knows how to
compete against stakes company. Being another pace pressing type, he may get
caught wide around the first turn with the outside post position. I expect his
odds to be higher than his 6-1 morning line, and with his recent form, he has
as good a shot as any other horse in this race.
If all of the previous information still can’t help you land
on a pick, then there is a third handicapping strategy I would like to suggest.
Based on the post time odds, bet the bottom half of the field to win. The lowest odds of any winner of this race have been 6-1, and this year looks like it may
result in a similar fashion.
My bets will be as follows:
$5 exacta box with #4 Ever Rider and #6 Indian Jones
$10 Win/Place/Show on #6 Indian Jones
$2 Exacta #3 Commander, #4 Ever Rider, #5 Suns Out Guns Out
over #2 Cease, #3 Commander, #4 Ever Rider, #5 Suns Out Guns Out, #7 London
Bridge, #9 Pool Play #10 Worldly
Good luck and remember its a marathon not a sprint!