4 horses to bet – and 1 to fade – in their 3-year-old debuts

January 08, 2019 04:05pm
With value as a recurring theme on this blog, it makes sense to point out various 3-year-old horses that may offer just that in their first 2019 start, and one that will not as a contrast. What promotes value? Losing is one factor. Low speed figures also keep the general public away, as do small-margin victories. Bettors prefer flashiness.

On the Derby trail especially, it is important to find value because fans are more susceptible to bias. For example, look at what happened with Coliseum and Gunmetal Gray in the Sham Stakes (G3) last weekend. The experienced horse won with a nice closing run, but bettors trusted the inexperienced horse because of the hype.

In any case, here are four under-the-radar runners to watch on the Derby Trail. To make this list, the horse must show at least one or more works since the last start.

Horses to watch/consider playing

Plus Que Parfait

While this Point of Entry ridgling started off his career with two third-place finishes, he improved in his third start at Keenland when breaking his maiden in a determined performance and earned a 103 TimeformUS Speed Figure for the nose win.

Off that race, trainer Brendan Walsh tossed Plus Que Parfait into graded stakes company in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) at Churchill, and he turned in another strong effort by running second by a neck to Signalman. Previously, Signalman finished a good third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile to Game Winner after rallying inside late. 

If Plus Que Parfait hypothetically ran in the Breeders' Cup, a similar finish is not hard to imagine. 

Plus Que Parfait earned a 108 for the runner-up finish, which is still below the top level 3-year-old horses. But considering the significant steps forward taken in those two starts, it is not unreasonable to believe he could make the next leap forward.

With two works at Fair Grounds in tow since the Kentucky Jockey Club, he is pointing next toward the Jan. 19 Lecomte (G3) and might offer value given his light speed figures.

Harvey Wallbanger

If Plus Que Parfait above horse makes this list, then it is difficult to ignore Harvey Wallbanger, who ran a bang-up second to Plus Que Parfait at Keeneland after an exciting stretch duel. Prior to that race, he also ran second to Complexity in a Saratoga maiden event.

The son of Congrats earned a 101 and 102 on the TimeformUS scale in those initial starts.

However, Harvey Wallbanger regressed in his last two 2018 races. He earned an 87 in another runner-up finish at Churchill, and then finally broke his maiden with an 89.

Despite the odd drop-off in figures, I believe there is talent inside him. Because he ran slow twice after those promising efforts against Complexity and Plus Que Parfait, he will offer some value even if only entering an allowance race. In the long run, he can become one of those closers that causes the superfecta to blow up in the bigger 3-year-old races, as he only needs to pick off tired horses with his style.

He has worked twice at Gulfstream in the last 60 days.


With the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile looking like a key race, it is hard to ignore the sixth-place finisher Dueling, who ran evenly the entire way around. As mentioned earlier, the fifth-place Gunmetal Gray recently won the Sham at Santa Anita, and the seventh-place Mind Control took the Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct. Is Dueling due for a win?

After the Breeders' Cup, Dueling took a shot at the Los Alamitos Futurity (G1), and while the winner Improbable proved the best horse, Dueling ran a promising race.

When Savagery did not corner the first turn well, he pushed out Extra Hope and Dueling, who took the worst of it and went eight-wide according to the charts. Yet, Dueling remained interested and tried to make a threatening move around the far turn.

In the end, the lost ground proved too much and he faded. The effort looks good visually, though, and he earned a 104 TimeformUS Speed Figure in the process.

Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer has said this one did suffer a recent setback. It will be a while before we see Dueling again -- perhaps not in time for the Derby trail -- but he's one to remember on his return.

Network Effect

Even though he finished a belated second in the Remsen Stakes (G2), there are a couple of notes to point out. For one, Maximus Mischief set an extremely slow pace.

The first three fractions went in 25.12, 50.67 and 1:14.60, and TimeformUS marked all those numbers in blue, indicating a crawling tempo. 

A good handicapper will not necessarily need numbers to conclude a slow pace. For another indicator, notice Jungle Warrior’s eagerness on the backside. When a closer wants to move forward prematurely, the frontrunners are likely moving too slow.

Network Effect settled in fourth, right behind the slow leading group. He lost ground on the far turn when Maximus Mischief and Tax started running for real, and then gained it back heading toward the finish line after those two horses became a bit tired late.

Earlier in his career, Network Effect broke his maiden at Saratoga and finished second to the talented Vekoma in the Nashua Stakes (G3) with a 116 TimeformUS Speed Figure.

This is a talented horse from the Chad Brown barn. With two works at the Palm Meadows Training Center since the Remsen, he should appear at Gulfstream soon.

One to play against or avoid


Admittedly, Instagrand did little wrong in his first two starts. He romped home by 10 lengths in his maiden win with a 112 TimeformUS Speed Figure and then backed it up with a 10 ¼-length win in the Best Pal Stakes (G2), earning a 109 easily.

He also beat suspect horses in those two sprint races. Once he faces talented horses on the Derby trail, it could become harder for him to appear as flashy. Plus, without any two-turn starts yet, this Into Mischief colt will look suspect in any route race he enters.

The four horses in the “good” list all showed some ability routing, and the public is not talking about them to a heavy degree. That is what makes them playable.

With Instagrand’s lofty reputation, it makes sense to either play against him when he returns, or avoid the race altogether if the contest lacks a logical alternative.


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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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