When favorites are out of form, up-and-comers can surprise

September 6th, 2023

When a Grade 1 winner takes on a field of unheralded up-and-comers, many bettors will side with proven class over potential. But if the form of the Grade 1 winner is slipping and up-and-comers enter in hot form, it’s a recipe for an upset.

The favorited class standout doesn’t have to be a Grade 1 winner either. Any accomplished racehorse in subpar form can be vulnerable against up-and-coming but less accomplished rivals.

A lucrative example occurred on Sept. 4, 2023, at Del Mar. One of two stakes on the Labor Day card was the one-mile Tranquility Lake S. for fillies and mares who hadn’t won a stakes worth $50,000 or more to the winner (state-bred stakes excluded) at one mile or longer since Feb. 1.

The conditions were a mouthful, but they qualified the talented four-year-old Fun to Dream, winner of the La Brea (G1) and Santa Monica (G2) sprinting seven furlongs at Santa Anita the previous winter. Fun to Dream wouldn’t have been eligible if she’d come out on the other end of a photo finish in the March 11 Beholder Mile (G1) at Santa Anita, but alas, she’d settled for second place by a head after leading in midstretch.

Fun to Dream started as a heavy 3-10 favorite while dropping in class for the Tranquility Lake, but there were reasons to doubt her win chances. Her two biggest victories had come in sprints, and she entered the Tranquility Lake off a last-place finish in the 1 1/16-mile Clement L. Hirsch (G1) at Del Mar one month prior. The Hirsch had marked Fun to Dream’s return from a five-month layoff, so she entered the Tranquility Lake in subpar form and was tackling a one-mile distance arguably longer than her best.

Only four other runners entered the Tranquility Lake. Two were longshots, but the other two—Micro Share and Yuki—were enticing up-and-comers with strong recent form.

Micro Share loomed as the more likely winner after rattling off back-to-back victories running long, including a decisive 2 1/4-length triumph in a $40,000 allowance optional claimer racing one mile at Del Mar. The runner-up, Trouville, had already returned to win a similar race.

As for Yuki, the Chilean-bred filly entered off a half-length triumph in an $80,000 allowance optional claimer racing one mile at Del Mar. Sticking to the same track and distance for the Tranquility Lake figured to make her competitive.

So what happened? Yuki started at 7.50-1 and opened up a large early lead before getting passed in the final furlong by Micro Share, who romped home on top by 3 1/4 lengths at odds of 3.30-1. Yuki held on for second place while Fun to Dream flattened out in the drive and finished third. Every $10 win bet on Micro Share returned $43, while the $10 exacta paid $227 and the $10 trifecta yielded $335.

Not bad for a straightforward outcome in a five-horse field, right? And all bettors had to do was play against a vulnerable favorite with a pair of in-form up-and-comers.