Sunday Play: Take the short odds with Twilight Derby single

Sunday Play: Take the short odds with Twilight Derby single
Photo: Benoit Photo

Nine 3-year-olds are set to run nine furlongs on turf in the Grade 2, $150,000 Twilight Derby at Santa Anita on Sunday. Betting-wise, this is a tough one to find a longer price because the speedy favorite Smooth Like Strait is most likely the best horse.

Is Smooth Like Straight bettable though, even at low odds? The answer is yes because of his form and ability to withstand a fast pace.

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Smooth Like Strait enters this race off a fast-pace scenario in which he contested the pace and faded to fourth in the American Turf Stakes (G2) at Churchill Downs. Because of the fast pace, the fade is forgivable as he did plenty of work early on before the closers took advantage late.

Watch how the first three horses separate from the pack.

American Butterfly and Sugoi initially lead the field through a quick 23.04 opening quarter for the 1 1/16-mile distance.

From there, American Buttery tires on the inside, while Sugoi and Smooth Like Strait hit the front together through a half-mile in an equally taxing 46.48 half-mile. To back up the claim of a fast pace, TimeformUS shows all four fractions in red before the final time.

On the far turn, Smooth Like Strait put away Sugoi and began to face the oncoming challenge of Field Pass on the outside. But the fast early pace took a toll on both of them, as Field Pass was not far behind, and they became targets for two late closers in Fancy Liquor and Taishan.

Fancy Liquor and Taishan took over and eventually completed the exacta, while Smooth Like Strait faded to fourth. However, Smooth Like Strait’s effort is notable because he outlasted two speed horses and still had life in the stretch run.

Look at his pace foe Sugoi. He folded to sixth in the American Turf, but went on to win two strong allowance races at Churchill Downs on Sept. 24 and Keeneland only yesterday. His sharp form after the speed duel and fade gives a strong hint that Smooth Like Strait will fire as well.

Pace Makes the Race

Why? When horses go through a head-to-head or three-way speed duel, it toughens them up for any race with softer fractions. If Smooth Like Strait can finish fourth after a suicidal pace, how good will he be under a normal pace?

On paper, the pace for the Twilight Derby looks moderate.

Smooth Like Strait might face some pace adversity from Dominant Soul, who is a threat to secure the lead before Smooth Like Strait reaches it. But Dominant Soul is not in the same league, and he tends not to set fast fractions anyway. Smooth Like Strait is supposed to handle him.

Another horse with speed is Margot’s Boy. This gelding usually travels at a moderate tempo though rather than run off uncontrollably. In recent races, he has been pressing or tracking the leader rather than leading.

Smooth Like Strait should find contesting the pace with those two horses easier than Sugoi and American Butterfly. They might even let Smooth Like Strait secure the lead our of fear of a speed duel.

Distance Question

With all that said, there is a question of whether Smooth Like Strait can handle nine furlongs. In nine career starts, this colt has never went past 1 1/16 miles.

In all likelihood, the extra distance is not a huge deal. Smooth Like Strait’s second dam Beautiful Lil is an Aptitude half-sister to Dixie Dot Com, who ran second in the 2001 Pacific Classic (G1) at ten furlongs and won other route races. That is a notable sign in his bottom pedigree.

On top, Midnight Lute is not the greatest influence for longer routes. Sometimes a short-winded sire on top is offset by a stamina-oriented female side.

Plus, Smooth Like Strait get the services of top turf jockey Umberto Rispoli.

The Verdict

Smooth Like Strait’s odds might fall to roughly 8/5 or so, but that is arguably a fair deal. He is in good form with wins in the La Jolla Stakes (G3) and War Chant Stakes this year. As stated above, he is probable to receive a softer pace this time as well.

Who will finish second? Picking a value horse to use underneath is tough without seeing live betting. But if second choice Field Pass could get beaten for the runner-up spot though, the exacta and trifecta might pay decently.

If Express Train handles the turf, he is a candidate to finish second.

The Del Mar Derby (G2) runner-up Margot’s Boy figures to stay in the mix late, even if he does not win. He is another candidate for second.

Farmington Road and Kiss Today Goodbye are late closers who could pick off enough horses to hit second or third, depending on the pace.

The play is Smooth Like Strait over Express Train or Margot’s Boy. Upon live wagering, however, the horses underneath could change after monitoring the probable exacta payoffs.

Regardless of the horses in the second or third slots, it is clear Smooth Like Strait is a standout. His final odds might not seem exciting, but at even money or higher he merits the top spot in all wagers. 

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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