Time to return to the basics. For horses who endure a fast pace up front early, cutting back in distance is a strong angle because they can let loose with little concern. One recent example is Gladiator King, who got burned in the 1 1/16-mile Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) before shortening up to win the Hutcheson Stakes (G3) weeks later.
Great Wide Open set a fast pace and faded to fourth in the Fair Grounds Handicap (G3) back in February in a sneaky-good effort. Throughout the race, he was hounded by First Premio while earning high opening TimeformUS Pace Figures of 147 and 147.
Anything above 140 is a fast pace figure on the TimeformUS scale, meaning Great Wide Open endured notable early heat in the nine-furlong race and still showed life at the end.
Great Wide Open’s final Timeform Speed Figure for the race was 123.
Note the winner, Synchrony, and third-place finisher Markitoff both returned in the Muniz Memorial Handicap (G2) and hit the board. Markitoff was particularly stubborn, nearly defeating Bricks and Mortar, who won the Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) a race prior.
Also in January, Great Wide Open set a fast pace and faded to third in the Colonel E.R. Bradley Handicap, earning even higher opening pace figures of 159 and 154.
But Great Wide Open does not necessarily need the lead. He competed in the Shadwell Turf Mile (G1) over this course last fall and stalked from the inside in third.
An out-of-form Heart to Heart set a fast pace but eventually folded all the way back to ninth by more than 12 lengths. TimeformUS marked the first three fractions in red.
Meanwhile, Great Wide Open switched outside for the stretch run and held off Qurbaan and Analyze It. Next Shares slipped through the inside and took off to win. But Great Wide Open still ran fast with a 122 on TimeformUS, and Qurbaan and Analyze It are nothing to sneeze at.
In fact, since the Sept. 1 Tourist Mile at Kentucky Downs, Great Wide Open has consistently posted 120-plus TimeformUS Speed Figures and finished no worse than fourth. Before then, he could not even hit the board at Canterbury Downs.
This version of Great Wide Open belongs with the top turf milers in the nation. Now, he cuts back to the distance after the nine-furlong Fair Grounds Handicap and off two fast-paced races. Plus, he catches an aging Heart to Heart as his main pace competition.
Great Wide Open drew outside Heart to Heart in the Maker's 46 Mile, giving him more breathing room than his pace foe. If the fractions turn out moderate, Great Wide Open is plenty capable of what would be a mild upset.
The rest of the field looks too similar to separate.
Doctor Mounty took advantage of a pace collapse in the Tropical Turf Stakes (G3) in January before finishing a mild third in the Appleton Stakes (G3) without the pace setup. It is difficult to ignore him, but nothing makes Doctor Mounty stand out, either.
Delta Prince ran an excellent race to finish third in the Pegasus Turf. He feels untrustworthy, though. Last summer, he finished fourth at 2-1 in the Woodbine Mile (G1) and second in the Fourstardave Handicap (G1) at 5-2. He might just turn in another so-so effort.
Qurbaan is a consistent closer for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. Since transferring to North America, the son of Speightstown shows one win, one second and two third-place finishes. But note that he finished behind Great Wide Open in the Shadwell Turf.
Heart to Heart deserves all the respect in the world for an incredible career and should continue running for as long as he enjoys this sport. However, he blew a comfortable lead in the Tampa Bay Stakes (G3), and two bad races in the Fourstardave Handicap and Shadwell Turf Mile closed out his 2018 campaign.
In this spot, Heart to Heart meets an in-form Great Wide Open pressing him from the outside. Bettors do not need to play horses to root for them. Heart to Heart is a pass in the wagering.
Raging Bull tackles elders for trainer Chad Brown after running against 3-year-olds in 2018. To close out his campaign, he picked up a win in the Hollywood Derby (G1). His resume also includes wins in the Saranac Stakes (G3) and Hall of Fame (G2).
He could step up his game and succeed against elders. That would only be guesswork.
If wanting to use a longshot, Hembree is the one. He tried to close into a slow pace in the Canadian Turf Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream and only managed fourth. It was an odd race where the pacesetter, Siem Riep, completely folded, but the 2-3-4 horses in the initial stages ended up 1-2-3 at the end. He is usable at a longer price.
Clyde’s Image is probably overmatched. If he must be used, then limit him underneath.
Great Wide Open still needs to put away Heart to Heart and hold off the closers. But he is the only interesting horse here in a race where they all appear roughly similar.
For horizontals, this one is difficult. Many horses are usable with Great Wide Open, including Raging Bull, Doctor Mounty, Delta Prince and Qurbaan. Consider this a spread race.
Vertically, try keying Great Wide Open in the first two slots, while using Hembree somehow underneath to make it interesting. Heart to Heart is a toss.
If Great Wide Open sticks at 6-1, then he is a potential win/place bet too. If he disappoints and runs worse than second, then it is a strike against pace analysis.