Once again, a Bob Baffert-trained runner is live on the Kentucky Derby trail. Medina Spirit makes his third start in the Grade 3, $100,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G3) at Santa Anita, and he is a tough one to beat if he runs back to his most recent effort.
Sometimes bettors need to throw the white flag and just pick the best horse at short odds, which is a suitable strategy in this case. Unless something unusual happens, Medina Spirit is likely to dominate this group of slower and inconsistent 3-year-olds.
The Robert B. Lewis is carded as Race 7 on Saturday with an scheduled post time of 6:30 p.m. Eastern.
1. Medina Spirit, 1/1 (Protonico – Bob Baffert/Abel Cedillo – 2: 1-1-0 - $45,200): His runner-up effort in the Sham Stakes (G3) is hard to deny as an excellent effort. Not only did Medina Spirit only lose to Life Is Good by ¾ of a length after gaining on him in the last few strides, the final time of 1:36.63 was over three seconds faster than the 1:40.05 earned for the same distance by Tizhotndusty in a Cal-bred allowance on the undercard.
For his second-place finish, Medina Spirit posted a field-high 118 TimeformUS Speed Figure, which he only needs to repeat in order to win against this group. If he improves upon the 118, then expect a big margin of victory. From a visual standpoint, Medina Spirit does give the impression of wanting to go longer. Plus, his third dam Holy Niner is a half-sister to High Yield, the 2000 Blue Grass Stakes (G1) winner. Baffert’s name hurts the price a little bit, but that is acceptable when the talent matches the hype. Medina Spirit is playable as a single. The pick.
2. Rombauer, 30-1 (Twirling Candy – Michael McCarthy/Mike Smith – 4: 1-1-0 - $150,500): Here is a late closer who shows a runner-up finish in the American Pharoah Stakes (G1) and fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. The American Pharoah was not a particularly strong field, except for the third-place Spielberg who possibly did not turn in his best race.
Arguably, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile offers questions as well with Keepmeinmind, Dreamer’s Disease, King Fury and Sittin On Go, as all decreased their TimeformUS Speed Figure one race afterwards. In fairness, Keepmeinmind did capture the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2), but Dreamer’s Disease ran seventh in a New York-bred restricted stakes race. On paper, Rombauer gives the impression of a horse who picks up the pieces if the pace sets up without threatening to win. With that in mind, throw him in the underneath slots just in case he “clunks” late. Use underneath.
3. Parnelli, 8-1 (Quality Road – John Shirreffs/Umberto Rispoli – 5: 1-3-1 - $79,600): What happened in the Sham? After two strong efforts at Del Mar, including a narrow loss to Spielberg on Nov. 1 and 5 ¾-length maiden win on Nov. 28, Parnelli threw in a clunker and lost by 13 ¾ lengths to Life Is Good. Perhaps Life Is Good is too good, but Medina Spirit only lost by ¾ of a length and shows up in this spot as well.
When second to Spielberg at Del Mar, Parnelli posted a strong 111 TimeformUS Speed Figure, which is fast for a 2-year-old maiden race in early November. Parnelli also ran second by a neck locally on Oct. 2 to Hot Rod Charlie, but only with a 91 on TimeformUS. It is possible that Parnelli needs Del Mar in order to turn in his best race.
The lack of a Breeders’ Cup running line and distant third in the Sham might encourage the public to leave him alone at least, creating some value. He is usable underneath Medina Spirit, or upgradable to the top if that one scratches. Use underneath.
4. Hot Rod Charlie, 7/2 (Oxbow – Doug O’Neill/Joel Rosario – 5: 1-1-1 - $383,700): This Oxbow colt did run second to Essential Quality in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. However, there are questions about the quality of that field, and the 112 TimeformUS Speed Figure.
Only one race before the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Hot Rod Charlie barely held off Parnelli in a local maiden race on Oct. 2, and Parnelli shows up along with even tougher competition in Medina Spirit. Of course, Hot Rod Charlie is capable of winning the Robert B. Lewis if he runs back to the 112 speed figure or improves, but that is a big question after reviewing some of his past competition. The Breeders’ Cup running line will also decrease his value. Use underneath.
5. Roman Centurian, 30-1 (Empire Maker – Simon Callaghan/Juan Hernandex – 2: 1-0-0 - $40,020): In his career debut, Roman Centurian lost by 12 ¼ lengths to Life Is Good. But he broke his maiden by 3 ¾ lengths in his next start on Jan. 3 when stretching out to a two-turn route. With that said, he only shows a 104 TimeformUS Speed Figure for the win, which he needs to improve upon greatly in order to contend for the win. Watch him for now and see if he takes a step forward. Toss.
6. Waspirant, 20-1 (Union Rags – John Shirreffs/Ruben Gonzalez – 4: 1-0-0 - $60,300): Right now, this is a slow horse with a beautiful pedigree. After a distant fourth-place finish in the American Pharoah Stakes (G1), he was fourth again in the Sham Stakes (G3). The trouble part is that he still ran sixth lengths behind Parnelli in third, despite the fact that Parnell had almost nothing in the stretch run. On the positive side, this son of 2009 Breeders’ Cup Distaff champion Life Is Sweet might improve with distance and maturity. He needs to prove himself though. Toss.
7. Wipe the Slate, 30-1 (Nyquist – Doug O’Neill/Mario Gutierrez – 2: 1-1-0 - $48,000): After getting wiped out by Life Is Good in his career debut, Wipe the Slate broke his maiden in a local Dec. 26 maiden race by 3 ¼ lengths. He did not earn a strong speed figure with only a 104 on TimeformUS, but there is obviously room for more development. For now, he is best watched only or limited to bottom slots. This analysis will put him in the former category and study if he is usable in the future. Toss.
8. Spielberg, 7/2 (Union Rags – Bob Baffert/Flavien Prat – 6: 2-2-1 - $257,200): This is a tough horse to study. It feels like Spielberg could turn in a top effort one day and flop in the next race. He did capture the Los Alamitos Futurity (G2) last time by a nose over The Great One, who went on to break his maiden by an impressive 14 lengths with a 113 TimeformUS Speed Figure locally on Jan. 23. Plus, Spielberg broke his maiden by a neck over Parnelli at Del Mar with a 110 TimeformUS Speed Figure. Spielberg’s flat fourth in the Bob Hope Stakes (G3) is difficult to explain though, as well as the non-threatening third in the American Pharoah Stakes (G1). Perhaps he is developing slowly, which is unusual for a Bob Baffert-trained runner. His stablemate is preferred. Use underneath.
Medina Spirit is a single in multi-race wagers.
Given the amount of underneath options, it makes to sense to study the live tote board carefully before deciding on what horses to use underneath him. For example, if Spielberg is overbet in the second slot, then consider other horses.
Perhaps the better option is to play Medina Spirit to Win at even money or higher, or skip a vertical bet altogether. There are probably better races to find value.