Handicapper's Debate: Count Fleet Sprint Handicap
Saturday's Count Fleet Sprint H. (G3) at Oaklawn Park is shaping up as one of the best races of the weekend. A large and competitive field of 10 older sprinters will dash six furlongs and vie for a lucrative $500,000 purse. It's no wonder why handicappers Keeler Johnson and Vance Hanson have chosen the Count Fleet as the focus of this week's debate.
Keeler Johnson: I've been on board the #10 Strobe (7-2) bandwagon ever since he dominated his debut sprinting six furlongs at Churchill Downs. The speedy Brad Cox trainee won by 4 1/2 lengths with a massive 107 Brisnet Speed rating and counted future Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1) winner Elite Power among his beaten rivals.
Strobe is making his stakes debut in the Count Fleet, and he's facing some formidable rivals. But Strobe hasn't been challenged in four starts on fast tracks and owns the best Brisnet Speed rating in the field, so I believe the Count Fleet may mark the ascent of a future champion sprinter.
Who do you like Vance?
Vance Hanson: You make a strong case for Strobe. My only reservation, in case the field holds together, is there is a lot of other speed in the field. Strobe is well drawn on the outside to potentially handle it, but rivals like Edge to Edge, Skelly, and Cogburn are going to make him work for it from the opening bell.
I think this race can set up well for a closer. Morning line favorite Tejano Twist could certainly be the one, but there's no value on him. Instead, I'll go out on a limb with #6 Radical Right (15-1) for trainer Peter Miller, who won this race two years ago with C Z Rocket.
Miller has had the stakes-placed Radical Right for only his two most recent starts. The first was an honest, second-place run in the Palos Verdes (G3) at Santa Anita. Last time, Radical Right was the beaten favorite in the Phoenix Gold Cup at Turf Paradise, when he broke in the air from post 1 and made little impact late after racing five-wide on the turn. In addition to the poor trip, Radical Right perhaps didn't appreciate that notoriously fast surface (the splits were :21.60 and :43, with a final six-furlong time in a freakish 1:07.80).
Radical Right is certainly going to have to improve, but he seems to have a bit more upside and the pace scenario could be favorable.
Does the presence of all the other speed concern you with your selection of Strobe?
KJ: The abundance of speed in the Count Fleet field is my one concern for Strobe, who suffered his lone defeat when beaten to the lead in a Churchill Downs allowance last fall. But a sloppy track may have been the bigger factor in his defeat that day. As you mentioned, Strobe has drawn favorably in an outside post, giving him the best chance to sit comfortably behind a hot pace if needed. I'm optimistic he'll handle the challenge.
That said, I can also see the potential for a pace meltdown favorable to late runners like Tejano Twist and Radical Right. Are you concerned the pace might get a little too hot for Radical Right, given that he's stepping up in class? He's lost ground from the eighth pole to the finish line after chasing honest fractions in his last two starts.
VH: The class hike, rather than the expected hot pace, is definitely the number one concern for going out on a limb with Radical Right. On the plus side, he did finish second to an eventual Grade 3 winner in the City of Laurel S. in November, and in the Palos Verdes outfinished a rival who came back to romp in an Oaklawn allowance while earning a 104 Brisnet Speed rating.
I'd honestly be more confident if this race were slightly longer, but Oaklawn's track configuration doesn't allow for one-turn races beyond six panels. He does need a lifetime best, but Radical Right has hit the board in every dirt race he's run in save the Phoenix Gold Cup debacle and hopefully can pick up all of the pieces at a very generous price.