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Setting the Pace

Analysis: Three strikes against Coliseum in Sham Stakes

Deciding to play a short-priced favorite is not recommended, but if considering the wager, there are a few checkpoints to examine before betting. Preferably, the horse in mind will show the best speed figures, class and running style in relation to the pace. 

In the one-mile Grade 3, $100,000 Sham Stakes on Saturday at Santa Anita Park, expected favorite Coliseum misses on all three points. Yet, the public is likely to bet him hard anyway based on how easily he won his maiden race and who saddles him, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert.

Using the TimeformUS scale, Coliseum is the third-fastest horse in this race with one 104 in his maiden win. Gunmetal Gray earned a 112 finishing second in the American Pharoah (G1), while Savagery scored a 107 when fourth in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G1).

TimeformUS penalized Coliseum for breaking his maiden on a slow pace, but even the Daily Racing Form's assigned 91 Beyer Speed Figure for the win is only one point faster than Gunmetal Gray’s American Pharoah effort. Those numbers make them roughly tied.  

While it is unfair to compare speed figures when one horse only made his career debut and the other competed in his third lifetime start, the point in making this comparison is to highlight the fact that Coliseum lacks dominance in this category as the favorite. 

As for a class analysis, Coliseum starts in a graded stakes race for the first time in the Sham, and also makes his second career start overall. He is an inexperienced horse. 

Gunmetal Gray makes his fifth career start after finishing fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and defeating eight horses, including Jerome Stakes winner Mind Control and Champagne Stakes (G1) winner Complexity, as well as Dueling, Tight Ten, Well Defined and Standard Deviation. For a Breeders' Cup race, running fifth is not bad. 

He also ran second in the American Pharoah to Game Winner, who won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.



Even though Gunmetal Gray lost by over four lengths in the American Pharoah after losing ground on the far turn, he did well to pass Rowayton late. 

Coliseum defeated stablemate Figure Eight in his maiden win. The latter horse disappointed bettors later on with a surprising last in a Los Alamitos maiden race.

At this point, Gunmetal Gray’s class is higher than Coliseum. The roles could change quickly after the Sham, but right now, Gunmetal Gray holds more class after solid efforts in two straight Grade 1s. Those races beat one maiden win over a soft field.   

As for the pace scenario and Coliseum’s early position, according to TimeformUS Pace Projector he will show some speed through a projected swift pace. He might sit in third, which is easier than dueling an expected fast leader in Savagery. But a quick pace will not only affect the leader. It will compromise the speed horses surrounding him, too.

Gunmetal Gray is expected to come from last early. If none of the other speed horses scratch, then he holds the advantage running behind a quick pace.

Yet, Coliseum will start as the favorite. He might win and back up all the hype surrounding him, but on paper he loses on speed, class and pace to Gunmetal Gray.

An upset from any other horse is not probable.  

Savagery shows some decent speed figures from TimeformUS, including two 106s and the aforementioned 107. But given his fade in the two-turn Los Alamitos Futurity, he gives the impression of an elongated sprinter. Wait for the San Vicente Stakes (G2). 

Expect Savagery to give Baffert’s other entrant, Much Better, trouble on the front end, as he shows speed early if ignoring his Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf running line.

Why did the connections run Much Better in two turf races after he broke his maiden on dirt? Interestingly, his dam, Dust and Diamonds, made 10 dirt starts out of 11 career races. If Savagery scratches, then give him more consideration on the win end.

Gray Magician won by more than nine lengths at Del Mar, but unlike Coliseum he appeared to give an all-out effort. In the end, he only earned an average 103 speed figure.

Sueno and Easy Shot complete the field. Both of them need a miracle to hit the board.

How do bettors play this race then, if trying to beat Coliseum?

In horizontal wagers such as the late pick 4, Coliseum and Gunmetal Gray deserve A status. If the B or C slots are used, then consider Gray Magician and Much Better.

The vertical strategy is trickier, as Gunmetal Gray figures as the second choice. If by some luck Gunmetal Gray drifts up to 3-1 or higher, consider him a good win bet.

Also, if Coliseum attracts bridgejumping action in the show pool, then Gunmetal Gray or Gray Magician are attractive show bet options. Coliseum could use one or two scratches to encourage this, as it normally happens in five or six-horse fields.  

If Coliseum is drawing $100,000 or more in the show pool, the 
bridgejumping scenario is probably happening. Win and show pools are separate, and some big bettors like to send it all in to show, figuring the favorite will at least finish third.

Skipping the race is an option, too. Not enough public handicappers recommend this route. Some Derby trail races only work as good handicapping tools for the next step, and maybe this is one of them.

As explained above, Coliseum falls short in a few categories that a heavy favorite is supposed to dominate, and Gunmetal Gray looks like the only reliable alternative. However, Coliseum is capable of moving forward and backing the hype, as his ceiling is still high. This leaves the race a difficult one to bet, but a fun one to watch.

 

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Meet Reinier Macatangay

My first time at the racetrack came as a 5-year-old kid at Santa Anita Park. For most of my younger life, that was the only track I attended other the occasional visit to Hollywood Park. 

Years later, after graduating California State University, Stanislaus with an English MA, I began writing for Lady and the Track. From late 2014-2016, my articles were seen on a weekly basis and covered handicapping, interviews with well-known racing personalities, fashion and more. 

The handicapping style I use concentrates on pace analysis. Some horses are compromised by the pace. Others are helped. Handicappers just starting out cannot easily see how pace affects the finish, so with this blog, I hope to help those unsure of how to apply pace into their handicapping and post-race analysis. 

On an unrelated note, I enjoy video games and attending anime or comic-book conventions. I am currently based in Kentucky, but spend a lot of time traveling between there and California.

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