Welcome to "Taking a Stand."
In this weekly column, I will be identifying a horse who is likely to be heavily bet and I believe is a vulnerable favorite. Many horseplayers are far too quick to use a weak favorite defensively while playing not to lose.
However, some of the biggest scores can come as a result of taking an aggressive stance against a horse the public will heavily support. This column is not for the faint of heart, but tremendous opportunities abound for those steely-eyed souls willing to play against the masses.
Last week we successfully faded Raging Bull in the Woodbine Mile. This Saturday all eyes will be on Philadelphia as Parx hosts its premier card of the year. However, with no shortage of analysis on the Pennsylvania Derby itself available, we will instead take a look at the deep undercard races to find our play. We’ll kick things off starting in eighth race, the Greenwood Cup Stakes (G3), where we are taking a stand against No. 3 Moretti, the 2-1 morning-line favorite.
However, dirt marathon races like the 1 1/2-mile Greenwood Cup are often of dubious quality, frequently attracting small fields of lower tier horses who are not competitive at the classic distances against better competition. I believe Moretti’s form is not as strong as it first appears and is dressed up by a combination of weak fields and favorable track conditions. First, when viewing Moretti’s recent form, it’s worth noting that he has not won a race in over a year. His last win came on Aug. 2, 2020 at Saratoga in the Birdstone Stakes. That race has not turned out to be a very productive affair, as the field of six runners to compete in that event have gone on to post a combined record of 2-for-30 since that race.
Furthermore, it can be argued that Moretti is not as fast as a 5-year-old as he was last year at 4. On Thorograph sheets and TimeFormUS speed figures, three of his four races this year are slower than what he was running last year. The lone fast race in the Suburban Stakes was likely flattered by the sloppy track, as Moretti has posted both of his career best efforts over off tracks. With sunny skies forecasted for Saturday, it is unlikely that Moretti gets the sloppy surface he relishes. Many folks will be quick to dismiss Moretti’s race in the Sword Dancer last out as it was clearly on the wrong surface. While I won’t hold that race against him, I do believe it speaks volumes about the connection’s confidence by trying him in a turf race for the first time in his career at the end of his 5-year-old season. The move projects a bit of desperation for a horse who clearly has not lived up to his $900,000 purchase price. While this is arguably one of the softer fields Moretti has faced recently, Todd Pletcher has not done particularly well when shipping to Parx, only getting two winners from fifteen starters in the last three years.
With all of that being said, Moretti is still the most likely horse to run his race and hit the board. He has hit the trifecta in nine of his last ten dirt starts. However, he is not the most likely horse to win the race, which makes him a good underneath key but a play against on top.
While Moretti will certainly be a short price in this field, another horse whom I believe will be significantly shorter than his morning line odds is No. 8 Sea Foam (8-1). With Joel Rosario aboard and the dominant fashion in which Sea Foam won his last two races, I expect this horse to take significant action at the window. However, Sea Foam took advantage of an extreme speed bias in each of his last two starts at Saratoga and will likely have to contend with pace pressure from No. 7 Sheer Flattery (6-1). Sea Foam is very usable at his morning line odds, but I expect him to go off at around half of that price. With regards to Sheer Flattery, he has run quite a few races that are fast enough to win while beating up on significantly weaker foes. This is a massive class test here, but he could be worth a second look.
No. 2 Math Wizard (5-1) is a bit of a wildcard in this event. The 2019 version of Math Wizard would be a major player today, but the wheels seem to have fallen off lately as he has not won a race in two years. He was pace compromised last time out while also making his first start in eight months, so he has a right to take a step forward from that effort. He also ran his career best race here at Parx in 2019, so it’s possible he will once again relish the surface and fire a big race. My preferred selection in this race is actually No 4. Magic Michael (9-2). Despite him being second choice on the morning line, I believe we will get higher odds at post time as both Sea Foam and Math Wizard are likely to attract support. Magic Michael is the textbook horse for course, posting six wins and one second place finish from seven starts at Parx. He isn’t a Parx one-trick-pony, however, as he also has run respectably at Delaware Park and Pimlico this year. His last race was too bad to be true, and upon deeper review one could make a strong argument that the rail was not the place to be on Aug. 21 at Monmouth Park. Nearly every dirt winner on the day spent most of the race in the outer paths, and horses who were stuck inside consistently ran below expectations. Given his strong form otherwise, I’m willing to draw a line through that race.
Two races back at Pimlico, Magic Michael was stalking a slow pace in a race that was dominated on the lead by graded stakes winner Harper’s First Ride. Each of his last two efforts are better than they appear, and it doesn’t hurt matters that Jamie Ness and Frankie Pennington are hitting at a 59% strike rate the last two months while teaming up together.
In summary, it will be interesting to see how the public bets this race, as I believe Sea Foam will be heavily backed and Magic Michael may get lost on the board. Regardless, Moretti should still be a favorite who I like to finish in the money but will not use on top of my tickets.
How to play it:
Win bet: 4
Exacta: 4 / 3
Trifecta: 4,8 / 3 / 2,4,7,8
Trifecta: 4,8 / 2,4,7,8 / 3
Superfecta: 4,8 / 2,4,5,6,7,8 / 2,4,5,6,7,8 / 3