What we learned: Higher Power's Pacific Classic tough to predict

August 18, 2019 02:08pm
Where did Higher Power's effort in the Pacific Classic (G1) at Del Mar come from?

After switching from Michael Stidham to the John Sadler barn earlier this year, he finished an even fifth in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita (G1), a neck behind Mongolian Groom and 7 ¼ lengths behind the winner Vino Rosso. 

Higher Power then took a one-mile turf race at Santa Anita and finished second in the Wickerr Stakes, a one-mile local turf stakes. Those turf races made it hard to handicap him, as he only had one dirt start under Sadler.

But somehow it all added up to a 5 ¼-length win in the Pacific Classic. 

He did receive a good trip. Higher Power pressed the pacesetter Quip through moderate fractions and then opened up once Quip quit.

Draft Pick beat Mongolian Groom for second, while Tenfold ran alone in fourth.

The 2-1 favorite Seeking the Soul never tried at any point, finishing seventh by 18 ½ lengths. Pavel ran behind him in eighth, 21 ½ lengths back, while Quip faded to ninth, 29 ½ lengths behind the winner Higher Power.

But at least Quip showed life early in the race. Seeking the Soul and Pavel ran like shells of their usual selves and burned a ton of money. 

Regardless, that is horse racing. Sometimes it is a confusing mess. 

Higher Power is a horse who clearly likes 1 ¼ miles and in a softened older horse dirt division. But one of the oldest handicapping lessons is waiting for a horse to repeat an unusual performance one more time before trusting.

If he backs up his effort next time, watch out for him in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Famous siblings prove tough to trust

Even though the 2-year-old colt Fort McHenry did not start as the favorite in Saturday's opener at Saratoga, he attracted attention at 9-5 as a Tapit half-brother to California Chrome. With Todd Pletcher training and a $1.1 million price tag as well, expectations went through the roof.

There were some red flags to consider. For one, Pletcher entered him as a main track-only runner.

A more positive handicapper might think Pletcher only wanted to debut him in a route, as most 2-year-old dirt races right now are sprints. But the alternative is that Pletcher tried to find a soft spot for a slower horse.

The other red flag came in his workouts. His worst one on XBTV was on Aug. 10 in company with Candy Tycoon, who handled him easily. But he even struggled against an average horse such as Irish Front on July 20.

Watch the jockey ask Fort McHenry to keep up toward the end.

Those red flags led to Fort McHenry finishing last by 14 ¾ lengths yesterday in an off-the-turf maiden race with only five horses overall.

In horse racing, it is hard to avoid the hype and emotion of being a fan.

California Chrome is in this writer's Twitter avatar, but that does not mean I'll be betting on his siblings and future progeny. He might become a sub-par sire. Even this Chrome fan can admit it.

When it comes to wagering, push emotion aside and look at what is there.

Speaking of Candy Tycoon, he made his debut in Saratoga Race 7 for Pletcher. But despite some flashy works, a slow start cost him position.

From there, he settled in midpack and made a mild move late for third. No shame in that on debut.

Dunbar Road prevails in sloppy Alabama Stakes

Dunbar Road won the Alabama Stakes (G1) over Point of Honor, and there is not a lot to say other than the public got it right.

For those who want a stronger reason, Dunbar Road did save slightly more ground through the race. But she had to swing out wide on the far turn. 

Point of Honor needed all she had to outkick Street Band for second. 

Street Band owned a recent 112 TimeformUS Speed Figure coming into this race, but she never ran that high of a number before. In this race though, she backed up the 112 by finishing on even terms with Point of Honor.

Third choice Lady Apple quit on the far turn and finished last by 25 ¾ lengths, showing that Curlin progeny do not always handle longer distances or the slop

My choice, Ulele, did not fare much better, fading to seventh by 15 lengths after contesting the lead with Champagne Anyone.

Is it possible the heavy rain somehow hurt speed horses? A storm delayed the start of the Alabama, and closers dominated the last race.


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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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