Analysis: Pace compromises Hog Creek Hustle in stakes return

January 17, 2020 09:18am
Hog Creek Hustle and Bobby's Wicked One bring familiarity to the $100,000 Duncan F. Kenner Stakes, but after close analysis, the latter is preferred over his Grade 1-winning rival due to the expected pace scenario. The six-furlong sprint is scheduled for Saturday at Fair Grounds and only involves five horses in all with little speed showing up on paper.

With the pace in mind, the logical choice is the favorite Bobby's Wicked One. Two months ago, he won the local Thanksgiving Classic Stakes a few weeks after throwing in a clunker in the Bet On Sunshine Stakes.

What makes Bobby's Wicked One appealing is his speed, as he loves to set the pace. He led the field in four of his five career wins.

Throw out the eighth-place finish in the Bet On Sunshine, as it came after a five-month layoff and he broke poorly. In the Thanksgiving Classic, Bobby's Wicked One won by three lengths with a 129 TimeformUS Speed Figure.

Also look back to Bobby's Wicked One's runner-up effort in the Churchill Downs Stakes (G1) last May. He contested the pace with Promises Fulfilled before Mitole overtook both of them. He still earned a 130 on the Timeform scale.

Given Bobby's Wicked One ran a 129 in November and enters this race after only 51 days off, he is probably in the same shape or better.

With the pace scenario in his favor, Bobby's Wicked One is the choice in this event, which runs early on Saturday's Lecomte Stakes (G3) undercard.

An interesting question posed to handicappers is whether Malpais improved off his 3-year-old form, because he owns the speed to sit right off Bobby's Wicked One.

Malpais flashed talent early in his career when he broke his maiden as a 2-year-old by 5 ¾ lengths on this course in December 2018. The connections then threw him to the wolves in the two-turn Lecomte, and he folded in the stretch to 11th, 33 ¾ lengths behind the winner.

But when Malpais cut back to sprint distances, he improved. He ran second in a local optional claimer before winning a March 22 flight by 5 ¾ lengths again with a 105 TimeformUS Speed Figure. He then won the seven-furlong Robert Hilton Memorial at Charles Town with a 111.

Unfortunately, Malpais then faded to seventh in the Chick Lang Stakes after contesting the pace. At least he only lost by 3 ½ lengths.

If Malpais could take a step forward as a 4-year-old, he's another win candidate in the Kenner. The No. 3 post position also favors him because it will allow some breathing room right outside of Bobby's Wicked One.

As for Hog Creek Hustle, who drew the rail, he lacks early speed, and that will hurt here exiting a layoff. Also, some of his better races last year are questionable on cross-examination, such as his Woody Stephens Stakes (G1) and Allen Jerkens Stakes (G1) efforts. 

Now, Hog Creek Hustle did win the Woody Stephens. However, he also received a generous pace setup when Strike Silver cut fractions of 21.92 and 44.53. While those look like mild numbers at first glance, TimeformUS marked the fractions in red. None of the pace horses stuck around, either.

Strike Silver faded to fourth, while the horse chasing him in second, Wendell Fong, faded to fifth. Other pace horses such as Complexity and Landeskog faded to 11th and ninth, respectively.

The first three finishers in the Woody Stephens initially settled in 10th, 11th and eighth, which means the race set up for Hog Creek Hustle.

In the Allen Jerkens, a dead rail derailed the chances of the favorite Shancelot, as he unexpectedly faded late after setting mild fractions and entering the stretch with a commanding lead.

Hog Creek Hustle rallied wide along with Mind Control and Rowayton and barely missed at the wire. But the dead rail taints the effort.

While Hog Creek Hustle could win with the right pace setup, if a closer must be chosen, it makes more sense to take Do Share at a higher price.

While Do Share is getting up there in age as a 7-year-old gelding, on his best day, he could throw up a big number. Last year in the six-furlong Tom Fool Handicap (G3) at Aqueduct, Do Share won by 6 ½ lengths with a 127 TimeformUS Speed Figure. Also, he ran a credible race in the Churchill Downs Stakes by finishing fourth behind Mitole with a 119 on TimeformUS.

He ended the year with runner-up finishes in the Bet On Sunshine and an allowance optional claimer, both at Churchill Downs.

Do Share could fire on another big one, if there is a speed duel.

Pete's Play Call is also in this race and owns enough tactical speed to sit behind the leaders. On paper, he looks too slow on figures.

The final play for this race is difficult; again, it's just a five-horse field. But an interesting approach is an exacta box with Bobby's Wicked One, Malpais and Do Share, with Hog Creek Hustle thrown out for value. Also, Bobby's Wicked One over Malpais or Do Share is another option, depending on the live wagering.

For those playing horizontals, Bobby's Wicked One may work as a single. If the cost allows for more horses, then Hog Creek Hustle, Malpais and Do Share are options to think about.

Newly turned 4-year-old horses who previously competed on the Derby trail rarely get ignored by the public, though, making Hog Creek Hustle an underlay. Off since the Breeders' Cup Spring, he's still the 9-5 morning line second choice, and more often than not the public over-bets familiar horses. 


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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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