With the presence of the 3-year-old Shirl’s Speight, this edition of the Grade 1, $1 million Woodbine Mile on Saturday brings the question of raw talent vs. proven experience to handicappers. Shirl’s Speight has been visually impressive. But he also makes his Grade 1 debut against older horses in only his third career start.
[RELATED: War of Will leads field of eight in Woodbine Mile]
The viability of Shirl’s Speight as a betting option is addressed below, as well as the chances of other entries, including the familiar War of Will and March to the Arch.
The Woodbine Mile has a post time of 5:39 ET.
1. March to the Arch, 5/2 (Arch – Mark Casse/Patrick Husbands – 23: 7-2-3 - $698,238): He obviously likes this course with three wins in four starts, including the King Edward Stakes (G2) on Aug. 15. The long and wide stretch possibly helps this closer give his best shot. But did March to the Arch beat any horse of quality in the King Edward? Runner-up Admiralty Pier ran second in the Connaught Cup (G2) with no real excuse after Silent Poet outdueled him in the lane. If anyone remembers, both Admiralty Pier and Silent Poet competed in the Woodbine Mile last year, with Admiralty Pier a fading seventh and Silent Poet ninth after contesting each other up front. This time, March to the Arch faces better horses than Silent Poet, including his own stablemate War of Will and the talented Shirl’s Speight. With that said, March to the Arch figures to receive a nice pace with Shirl’s Speight, War of Will and Admiralty Pier all providing early speed. If March to the Arch gets the proper setup and makes his move on the turn while saving ground, he might get up at the wire. Win contender.
2. Armistice Day, 20-1 (Declaration of War – Barbara Minshall/David Moran – 14: 3-2-2 - $182,800): Making a case for this long shot is difficult. On Aug. 29, he ran third in a local 9-furlong allowance race, finishing behind Uncle Bull and Jungle Fighter in second. The latter horse was a non-threatening fifth in the Seagram Cup Stakes (G3). Against far better horses, Armistice Day requires a miraculous improvement. Toss.
3. Shirl’s Speight, 8-1 (Speightstown – Roger Attfield/ Kazushi Kimura – 2 : 2-0-0 - $86,893): This exciting son of Speightstown won his career debut in a local 7-furlong turf sprint in stunning fashion with an eight-length victory. Afterward, he went up in class and distance to capture the Marine Stakes (G3) on synthetic by “only” 2 3/4 lengths over Lucky Curlin. From a visual standpoint, he still won the race in easy fashion with only a mild hand ride to keep him focused. Prior to the race, Lucky Curlin won a local allowance race over Clayton, the third-place finisher in the recent Queen’s Plate Stakes. Shirl’s Speight’s tactical speed also possibly gives him the option to press or stalk early rather than contest the pace. Even though Shirl’s Speight lacks experience in Grade 1 races and facing older horses, this horse has the potential to become special. The way he moves in the stretch run is explosive and signals a big future ahead of him. Does he prove his talent against older horses on Saturday or later in the year? At 8-1, it is worth finding out. Even if his odds fall down to the 4-1 range, that is still an acceptable price. The pick.
4. Starship Jubilee, 4-1 (Indy Wind – Kevin Attard/Justin Stein – 37: 18-5-3 - $1,638,667): The 7-year-old mare did well to capture the Ballston Spa Stakes (G2) at Saratoga two starts ago, in addition to the Hillsborough Stakes (G2), Suwanee River Stakes (G3) and Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Turf Stakes earlier in the year. Given her age, this mare is in terrific form. However, the more recent fourth-place finish in the Diana Stakes (G1) gives a reminder she remains only a Grade 2 type. Starship Jubilee won the E. P. Taylor Stakes (G1) over this course last year, but facing males in a Grade 1 is a different task. She is not getting any younger, either, making any improvement unlikely. Off the Diana effort, she is hard to endorse. Toss.
5. Olympic Runner, 15-1 (Gio Ponti – Mark Casse/Daisuke Fukumoto – 12: 3-3-2 - $184,810): After watching trainer Mark Casse’s comments in the post draw, he gave the impression that Olympic Runner is entered in this spot because of a lack of options. When the connections are only “taking a shot” rather than entering a horse with confidence, it is not a great sign. For what it is worth, Olympic Runner ran second to the sharp Pink Lloyd in his last two starts in the Virgil Stakes (G3) and Bold Venture Stakes (G3). But Pink Lloyd is not a Grade 1-quality horse. Olympic Runner also was a non-threatening fourth in the Connaught Cup, 5 1/2 lengths behind Silent Poet and Admiralty Pier in second. That effort reveals his true class. Toss.
6. Admiralty Pier, 10-1 (English Channel – Barbara Minshall/Steven Bahen – 21: 5-3-2 - $323,708): As suggested earlier, Admiralty Pier’s class is questionable. Earlier in the year, he won the Tampa Bay Stakes (G3) in a surprising 21-1 upset over March to the Arch and future Grade 1 winner Halladay. But the victory looks like an outlier at this point after a seventh-place finish in the Challenger Stakes (G3) and two runner-up placings in the Connaught Cup Stakes (G2) and King Edward Stakes (G2) at Woodbine. In addition, he ran seventh in this race last year. Granted, the fast pace made it difficult on the speed horses. But in this spot, either Shirl’s Speight or War of Will seem likely to give him problems on the lead again. Toss.
7. Value Proposition, 6-1 (Dansili – Chad Brown/Luis Contreras – 5: 3-0-1 - $153,000): This lightly raced 4-year-old ridgling makes his third start of the year. Typically, horses peak in their second or third start off the bench. In his most recent effort, he ran a mild third in the Poker Stakes (G3) at Belmont after Social Paranoia and Seismic Wave both passed him in the lane. Prior to that race, he won a Belmont optional claimer on June 3 over Cross Border, who eventually won the Bowling Green Stakes (G2) and finished second in the Sword Dancer Invitational (G1). Similar to March to the Arch, Value Proposition wants a fast pace to help set up his late kick. He might pick off some horses in the lane for a share, but the Poker loss as the favorite is disappointing enough to not trust him on top. Use underneath.
8. War of Will, 2-1 (War Front – Mark Casse/Rafael Hernandez – 16: 5-1-2 - $1,796,069): For some racing fans, this is the star of the field, rather than Shirl’s Speight. But War of Will always felt slightly overrated. In the Shoemaker Mile (G1) at Santa Anita, he faded to fifth after chasing a fast pace. A disqualification moved him to sixth. Then in the Maker’s Mark Mile (G1) at Keeneland, he won in desperate fashion by a nose over Parlor, with Raging Bull and Without Parole in third and fourth. Raging Bull and Without Parole are quality runners, but neither of them win very often. Parlor went on to compete in the Tourist Mile Stakes at Kentucky Downs, finishing a dismal seventh as the favorite. Granted, Kentucky Downs is a strange racetrack for most American horses. War of Will now faces an exciting colt in Shirl’s Speight, as well as his own stablemate March to the Arch, who seems to love the stretch run of Woodbine. His expected value is low enough to play against him, at least in exacta wagers. If he wins and proves this analysis wrong, that is fine. Toss.
Shirl’s Speight is capable of winning this race on talent alone. While using his speed may compromise him, with War of Will and Admiralty Pier owning plenty of speed too, he does not need the lead to win. Remember that in the Marine, Shirl’s Speight gave Untitled at least a one-length advantage early on.
In this spot, Shirl’s Speight can stalk War of Will or Admiralty Pier. But if the pace does heat up, then March to the Arch figures to mow them all down for the win.
Here are the possible vertical wagers.
Exacta Box: 3,1
Both Shirl’s Speight and March to the Arch are usable in multi-race tickets too.