The Kid Itiz

The Kid Itiz

Last week's inaugural head to head wager offered an important lesson in understanding how scratches can change the dynamic of a race.

Acclamation not only finished ahead of Caracortado to pay $4.80 on the head to wager but also bested the entire field to pay $8.40 to win. The multiple Grade 1 winner ran well enough that it would be unfair to suggest that the scratch of Celtic Princess was the only reason for his success, but it certainly helped.

Understanding how each entrant affects a race is essential to handicapping the head to head wager "race within a race". As discussed last week, the goal is not to beat a horse but all horses, and trying to win the war could mean some lost battles along the way.

This week's head to head matchup is between Kevlar Kid and Golden Itiz in the $200,000 San Diego Handicap (G2) for older males going 1 1/16 miles on the synthetic Polytrack as a prep for the Pacific Classic (G1).

Kevlar Kid is making his stakes debut after consecutive victories going gate-to-wire while moving through first- and second-level allowance conditions. The last time he lost was a runner-up finish to eventual Grade 1 winner First Dude (now retired).

Golden Itiz won the Affirmed Handicap (G3) last year as a three-year-old but went on a 10-month hiatus following a seventh-place finish in the La Jolla Handicap (G2) last summer. He won a conditioned allowance race last out and stretches out in his return to stakes company third start off the layoff.

Handicapping this race and the head to head wager within it is an exercise in valuing weighing performance versus "angles."

Kevlar Kid has the advantage in the former, having run faster than Golden Itiz (based on the BRIS speed rating) in most of their starts. Using BRIS pace ratings, Kevlar Kid also has an obvious tactical advantage not only over his head to head foe but also the field. Multiple graded stakes winner Aggie Engineer likes to attend the pace early, but he has nowhere near the early foot of Kevlar Kid; no one in this field does.

A cool thing the Ultimate PPs from BRIS includes is a pace rating to go along with the pace figures. Under the "1c" and "2c" columns immediately to the left of the BRIS speed rating are a pair of numbers typically ranging from -20-+20. Negative numbers denote a slow pace, positive numbers a fast pace. Both of Kevlar Kid's recent wins came after setting a fast pace. He should have company again in the San Diego with sprinter Don Tito stretching out and Aggie Engineer having to get involved from the outside, but he's shown he can handle the pressure.

Golden Itiz will be running late, and as a lightly raced four-year-old has every right to improve stretching out third off the layoff for a trainer who excels with both those types of angles for an owner who is willing to be patient with horses so that they compete at their best. Still, he's never run fast enough, and I don't like taking short prices when needing a breakthrough performance even if the connections are clearly capable of building toward one.

My line for this wager is 4-to-5 on Kevlar Kid and 7-to-5 on Golden Itiz. (This adds up to slightly less than 100%, which helps me account for handicapper's margin of error)! I'm interested in Kevlar Kid as a straight win play at 4-to-1 or better as well.