As someone who cut his racing teeth at Longacres, Playfair, Yakima Meadows and Portland Meadows, I have a deep appreciation for the “little guys” of racing — the not-yet-ready-for-prime-time tracks.
To me, the Longacres Mile was and still kinda-sorta is a great race. When Skywalker (the talented son of Relaunch, not Darth Vader) used it as a steppingstone en route to winning the 1986 Breeders’ Cup Classic over the likes of Precisionist and Turkoman, both of whom did not race in the Mile, suffice it to say I was as smug as Robert Kraft.
So, it always brings a smile to my face when I see the forgotten places of races get their 15 minutes of fame. This weekend, two such venues will be basking in the national limelight — Parx and Laurel.
On Saturday, the former has an incredible card that boasts of two $1 million races, both of which produced Breeders’ Cup champs last year, while the latter hosts the Grade II Commonwealth Cup and the Grade II Commonwealth Derby.
Below is a preview of Laurel’s big races:
The first thing we note about this race is that there is absolutely no early zip (+3 early speed ration), which tells us three things:
1) Horses with a front-running style or those with a very strong late kick are preferred.
2) Speed figures will be less useful than normal when handicapping this event, as the final time is likely to be influenced by the projected glacial pace.
1-EL JEFE GRANDE (20/1)
Abigail Adsit (say that three times fast) trainee is slow — his best Brisnet speed figure (94) doesn’t meet the race par (99) — and his class is suspect (he was entered for a $25K claiming tag earlier this year), but the son of Silver Train can definitely motor home. He earned a -1 LSR in his last start and ranks second in overall LSRs.
FAIR ODDS: 8-1
2-MR SPEAKER (8/5)
My biggest problem with this guy is his probable price. Sure, he’s one of just two Grade I winners in the field (the other is Up With the Birds) — but the bottom line is Mr Speaker is not that fast (ranked third in overall speed) or tactical (his ESRs rank sixth). What’s more, he has failed to hit the board versus graded company this year.
FAIR ODDS: 5-2
3-GOLDEN GLINT (20/1)
Fresh off of a 32-length defeat against $40,000 optional claimers on dirt, why not try a Grade II stakes event on the green? Stranger things have happened, I guess, and Golden Glint is well-bred for the turf (115 Brisnet surface rating), but that last race leaves one with more questions than answers.
FAIR ODDS: 25-1
4-CUT TO ORDER (10/1)
Since getting claimed by super trainer Jamie Ness on April 15, this four-year-old son of Ready’s Image has been on a tear, winning five straight while moving steadily up in class. He also appears to have the most early foot in the field and Ness is obviously working on getting him to relax with a stamina-building one-mile breeze on Sept. 7. The problem is Cut to Order’s LSRs are very weak, so he’s going to need a sizeable cushion turning for home.
FAIR ODDS: 6-1
5-UP WITH THE BIRDS (9/5)
After a pretty good effort in the Grade II Arlington Handicap, this H Graham Motion trainee made a strong bid, but hung in the Grade I Arlington Million. He obviously fits against these and is a logical favorite.
FAIR ODDS: 2-1
6-TALK SHOW MAN (10/1)
Comes from the clouds, but his LSRs are only so-so. Insist on a price.
FAIR ODDS: 12-1
This one is a tough call. I think the six-year-old gelding is much better suited to nine furlongs than 10, but there’s no denying his inconsistency. His race in the Manhattan on June 6 would win this, but what happened two months later in the Arlington Million — was it the layoff, the going or the class that accounted for his 25-length drubbing? Personally, I think it was a little bit of all three and I give him a big shot to rebound here.
FAIR ODDS: 3-1
This is another race without much pace. Let’s take a look at the field:
1-GO AROUND (5/2)
Nice effort in the Grade III Saranac from this improving William Mott trainee. A similar performance would likely see him in the winner’s circle.
FAIR ODDS: 7-2
2-VISION PERFECT (20/1)
After starting his career with three wins and two seconds in five starts, Vision Perfect has hit a bit of a wall since venturing into graded stakes. Still, he has some ability and shouldn’t be summarily dismissed.
FAIR ODDS: 12-1
3-GREAT DANCER (8/1)
He’s had some tough beats, but put it together nicely in his latest, rallying from far off a slow pace (+1 ESR) to record a 96 Brisnet speed figure and 0 LSR in a ½-length score over conditioned allowance foes at Saratoga.
FAIR ODDS: 10-1
Good early lick, but doesn’t meet the Brisnet speed par for Saturday’s race.
FAIR ODDS: 15-1
5-FORCE THE PASS (6/5)
After winning four of his first six starts, including the Grade I Belmont Derby, Force the Pass was made the 3-2 favorite in the Grade I Secretariat at Arlington Park. A poor start (+15 ESR) left the son of Speightstown with virtually no chance of winning, yet he still rallied to finish third and post a 0 LSR. His tactical running style — barring another poor start — is a huge advantage in a race devoid of early lick and he’s strictly the one to beat.
FAIR ODDS: 4-5
6-ONE GO ALL GO (8/1)
Showed early foot in his turf debut, which is great, but recorded a -1 LSR in that race, which is not, given the completion he’s facing today. Son of Fairbanks should improve in his third start off the shelf… and he’s going to need to.
FAIR ODDS: 15-1
7-MAJESTIC PRIDE (30/1)
Another one with decent early foot — and good turf breeding to boot — but he simply looks too slow.
FAIR ODDS: 40-1
Improving type with the best overall LSRs in the field; he’s a major player.
FAIR ODDS: 6-1
Below is a link to my Win Factor Reports and Pace Profile Reports for Laurel and Parx on Sept. 19, 2015: