Analysis: Plainsman can fulfill potential in Kelso Handicap

September 19, 2019 03:00pm
Analysis: Plainsman can fulfill potential in Kelso Handicap
Photo: Courtesy of the NYRA
Plainsman enters Saturday's Grade 2, $300,000 Kelso Handicap at Belmont Park as 4-year-old colt on the upswing for new trainer Shug McGaughey.

In his last seven starts, he hit the board in all seven races. Plus, he won the Discovery Handicap (G3) at Aqueduct to end his 2018 campaign and cap off a three-race win streak.

The question is whether Plainsman can move forward this year and win at a level a tad higher. Without any stars lining up against him in the Kelso -- Catholic Boy was targeting the race, but not entered -- it's quite possible.

If nothing else, Plainsman's return race at Saratoga last month indicated he is still in sharp form. After the transfer from Brad Cox to McGaughey, the Flatter colt ran a closing second to Uncontested in an optional claimer.

To point out the one negative from the race, Plainsman broke slow and initially ran last, seven lengths behind the leader Uncontested. That was unusual because Plainsman is capable of more tactical speed.

Plainsman overcame plenty of adversity coming from last. The speedball Uncontested enjoyed a comfortable lead on a speed-biased card, which TimeformUS marked in light red for dirt races on Aug. 15.

Furthermore, Uncontested opened with fractions of 22.91 and 45.11, normally moderate to slow numbers for a seven-furlong race. It is no wonder he kept running.

Plainsman closed the gap to only two lengths in the end. But with the 264-day layoff, slow start and speed-biased track all working against him, he turned in a good race. TimeformUS awarded Plainsman a solid 121 figure.

Plainsman can take the next step forward this weekend and hopefully he brings back his old tactical speed, too. He is the main selection.

The next contender to discuss is True Timber. He comes into this race with dirtied form due to to the Godolphin Mile (G2) and Pegasus World Cup (G1).

In the Godolphin Mile, True Timber finished ninth, 12 ¼ lengths behind. His Pegasus effort is worse, as he wound up seventh and 25 ¼ lengths behind. Throw out those two races, as both are outliers in handicapping.

The Pegasus World Cup is a difficult race, as it is a “special” kind of Grade 1. No one expected him to seriously challenge City of Light or Accelerate with that huge purse at stake.

As for the Godolphin Mile, some horses simply do not perform the same in Dubai after making the long ship.

Now, True Timber returns in a one-turn mile. Last December in the Cigar Mile (G1) at Aqueduct, he ran second by ¾ of a length given the same trip.

While True Timber did not face the strongest Cigar Mile field, this is not the strongest Kelso, either. But note that he did finish three lengths ahead of Pat On the Back, who is in this race. True Timber is also listed at odds than him.

If True Timber bounces back in the Kelso, few will be surprised. He fits as the second choice in this analysis.

The Kelso morning line favorite is Prince Lucky. In July, he won the local State Dinner Stakes by 1 ¾ lengths. Earlier in the year, Prince Lucky also won the Hal's Hope Stakes (G3) and Gulfstream Park Mile (G2).

But he also missed the board completely in the Westchester Stakes (G3) over the slop and the difficult Metropolitan Handicap (G1).

Regardless, one-turn races from one mile to 1 1/16 miles are clearly Prince Lucky's best game. There are some points to nitpick with his wins.

In the Hal's Hope, Prince Lucky defeated a washed up Copper Town and Quip. Quip went on to win the Oaklawn Handicap (G2) over the forever bridesmaid Lone Sailor and also finish second in the Stephen Foster Stakes (G2) to Seeking the Soul. Seeking the Soul and Quip disappointed backers though by running seventh and ninth in the Pacific Classic (G1).

The Gulfstream Park Mile looks worse, as Tale of Silence ran second. Tale of Silence went on to finish eighth in the Met Mile and third in the Saratoga optional claimer discussed above, 2 ¼ lengths behind Plainsman.

As for the State Dinner Stakes, all four other horses lost their next starts. The runner-up Candygram ran ninth by 32 ¾ lengths in the Alydar Stakes.

But the Kelso looks weak enough race that Prince Lucky could still win.

The last contender to discuss is Monongahela, the sixth-place finisher in the Whitney Stakes (G1). He finished 12 lengths back of McKinzie.

But at least Monongahela made a noticeable move on the far turn. For a few moments, he became a legitimate threat to hit the board. 

The move knocked Monongahela out, however, and he faded. 

Against softer company, Monongahela might prove successful. He won the Iselin Handicap (G3) by four lengths in June, and this race is like a Grade 3.

Pat On the Back is at the bottom end of my contenders list. While he did win the Commentator Stakes at one mile on this track in May, he got lucky when Giant Expectations broke poorly. Pat On the Back only beat him by a nose.

As noted above, he also ran a flat fifth in the Cigar Mile last year.

Plainsman could finally move forward in this spot and fulfill the potential originally seen on him as a $350,000 purchase in 2016. At 4-1 or higher, he is a solid win or place bet. As for exotics, True Timber and Monongahela are most useful underneath for value.


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