Analysis: Country House can upset War of Will in Risen Star

February 13, 2019 09:39am
Analysis: Country House can upset War of Will in Risen Star
Photo: Courtesy of Gulfstream Park
Considering the wild results of some recent 2019 Kentucky Derby trail races, no contest offers a certain outcome, no matter how good the favorite appears. Even if the featured horse beat most of those same rivals before, a new and talented runner usually pops up.  
Therefore, it makes sense to think twice about fully backing War of Will in the Grade 2, $400,000 Risen Star Stakes on Saturday at Fair Grounds.
The War Front colt faces one promising challenger in Country House, who is only a recent maiden winner at Gulfstream Park. But despite offering less experience, Country House gets the edge on paper over War of Will in three important categories: speed, post position and value.  
Back in December, Country House competed in an Aqueduct maiden special weight race and turned in a strong effort finishing second by half a length to Kentucky Wildcat, while earning a field-high 115 TimeformUS Speed Figure. Kentucky Wildcat backed up the race’s quality by running second to Well Defined in the Sam F. Davis (G3) last weekend. 
Meanwhile, War of Will earned a 110 in the Lecomte after posting a mild 104 in his Nov. 24 maiden win at Churchill Downs. His other four races came on turf, making a useful comparison difficult. But none of those four speed figures went past 101.
Country House regressed to a 92 in his second start when he broke his maiden at Gulfstream on Jan. 17. Even though TimeformUS factors in pace, the slow tempo still affected the final overall speed figure and made it look worse than he is capable.

To explain, when pacesetters spend the first half of a race lagging, it makes achieving a fast time difficult. In this case, Ownitifyouwantit took the field through 24.22, 49.07 and 1:14.44 opening fractions, and those numbers made a quick final time difficult.  
In contrast, quick opening fractions promote a faster speed figure because the field is already ahead of the curve by the stretch run.  
As an extreme example, the reason many handicappers dismissed the legendary Zenyatta in the two times she competed in the Breeders' Cup Classic was because of her speed figures, which seemed low compared to males. In normal races against her own gender, the field always tried to slow the pace down, making a high figure difficult. 
Subsequently, to traditionalists Zenyatta appeared too slow to win the Classic. But the constant serving of slow paces in her earlier races buried her great closing ability on paper, as the speed figures could not reflect a fast horse if the final time was not swift. 
Now, Country House is not Zenyatta, but the example reflects how speed figures are based on final time, which sometimes hides a closer's talent if the pace is slow. 
Yes, TimeformUS fixes the issue to an extent. But given the 115 Country House earned two starts ago, and Kentucky House finishing a strong second in the Sam F. Davis, it feels safe to say he can run faster than a 92. The Gulfstream figure is dismissible.
As for Country House’s post position, Post 9 is admittedly not great. The preferable post positions are always around Post 3 through 7. But Post 9 is better than War of Will’s Post 14, or 13 after the expected scratch of the Bob Baffert-trained Kingly.  
In a two-turn route, a far outside post brings up the possibility of going wide on the first turn. When the pace is moderate to fast, a wide trip will cost several lengths.  
War of Will likes to show speed in his races, as he started third in the opening quarter of his last two starts. The question is whether he owns enough speed to clear the field before the first turn from a wide position, as his pace figures appear moderately fast at best. The other jockeys could float War of Will wide if they wanted to target the favorite. 
Country House is drawn outside Owendale and Manny Wah, two speed horses who project to find themselves up front. Pace Projector thinks the latter horse will set the early fractions. Once they zoom by, it will open up space on Country House’s left side. 
As a closer, Country House does not necessarily need to clear the field. If those speed horses break cleanly, he will move slightly left and not get caught too wide early.  
Because Country House holds the speed and post advantage without starting as the favorite, he offers more value to bettors than War of Will, even if he ends up as the second choice. War of Will can win, but his expected low odds are a turnoff. 
Besides that, Country House overcame a speed bias in his two dirt races, as indicated by the light red coding on TimeformUS. On a neutral surface with a fast pace, he can hit the 115 mark again and win this race with his late kick. Use him along with War of Will. 
The third horse to consider is Hog Creek Hustle, who closed well enough for a runner-up finish in the Lecomte. He still finished a well-beaten four lengths behind, however.
Plus Que Parfait deserves another chance after a wide trip led to a fifth-place finish in the Lecomte. Remember, this horse defeated future Holy Bull Stakes (G2) winner Harvey Wallbanger in an exciting stretch duel at Keeneland to break his maiden. He also finished second by a neck to Signalman in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2).  
Mr. Money also gets a mention as the fourth-place finisher in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. His current form is somewhat of a mystery given the layoff, but according to TimeformUS, trainer Bret Calhoun wins at a 23 percent clip off a 79-133-day layoff.  
Limonite and Roiland offer underneath options for bettors as well, as they both closed nicely for third and fifth in the Kentucky Jockey Club. It is notable Roiland regressed in the Lecomte and finished seventh. Maybe the effort is forgivable as a strange clunker. 
Give Chase the Ghost consideration too, as he ran evenly in the Lecomte for sixth. Trainer Dallas Stewart is no stranger to blowing up the trifecta with longshots. 
In my opinion, the Risen Star is one of those races with a large field that only contains three or four possible winners. Do not get too caught up trying to find a bomb on top. 
The race runs through Country House and War of Will, the two A options, as those are the two horses most likely to make noise in the Derby trail. Hog Creek Hustle and Plus Que Parfait are still in the Derby picture as well, and the rest of the field should fade away. 


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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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