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Monday, October 30, 2006

The Distaff

- Reader Mr. Ed wrote that he feels that Fleet Indian and Pine Island can be beaten in the Distaff, but wonders about the alternatives, writing that he can not make sense of this race after tossing those two.

I'd also like to beat the two top choices, and I don't really need a reason other than I want to. But as a handicapper, I always feel the need to build a case based on logic rather than just hope. The ones that I can't do so are the ones I'm timid about opposing.

It's hard to argue with a horse like Fleet Indian (Indian Charlie) who has won eight in a row, most by dominating margins, even if I think that the competition was marginal compared to what she'll see in the Distaff. She was taken out of her game in the Beldame, and instead of establishing a comfortable lead against mediocre fields, she had to rate behind the leaders, go four wide on the turn, and gamely hold off Balleto. It was an eye-opening performance to be sure. But she still had it relatively easy against just five opponents, sitting the trip behind three dueling leaders before overtaking them. I think that the post position will be key for Fleet Indian; a wide draw and she'll have to overcome a lot more than she ever has.

Pine Island (Arch), in my opinion, is a tougher bet against. You gotta love this filly. She fires every time - one turn, two turns, dirt, slop, or grass - and she's relentless, running with her head down as if to say "Get out of my way, I'm coming!" And come she does, never failing to finish at least within a length of the winner. She's improved her Beyer in every race, and had a nice work on Sunday, five furlongs in 1:01 1/5, galloping out three-quarters in 1:14. And she has classic Phipps breeding, out of a full sister to their 2005 Distaff winner Pleasant Home.

The rest of this field is, as Mr. Ed said, tough to figure. I think it may be the least interesting of the card. It consists of several fillies who look as if their best form may be in the past. But here's some ideas.

Happy Ticket (Anet) has had some tough races, and she may have tailed off after three consecutive gut-wrenching races in the spring. Since then, she ran second in the Clement Hirsch to Healthy Addiction (Boston Harbor); and then there was the sixth place debacle in the Spinster. However, she was caught wide on both turns against Healthy Addiction in the Hirsch, and had all that trouble at Keeneland when she was checked very sharply midstretch. She never runs a bad race, really, and perhaps has one more in her for 2006. Trainer Andrew Leggio told the Thoroughbred Times the other day, "She's trained forwardly for the past month; she's as fit as she can be, so we'll go from there."

I wasn't at all enthralled by Healthy Addiction's prep for the Distaff. Returning from a two month layoff and facing a mediocre field of four opponents, she staggered home in slow fractions, earning a slow fig, for her, of 91. But she's developed this year into a solid graded stakes winner, and I think she certainly has a shot if she improves off that race.

Round Pond (Awesome Again) is making her third start of the form cycle for Michael Matz. If you look at her fast track two-turn form, she's three-for-three, most recently her duel over Happy Ticket last March. She was off five months after that, and since ran second in the slop at Monmouth and her third to Fleet Indian in the one-turn Beldame. (Full Disclosure: I actually picked her in the Beldame, saying she prefers one turn.) She has good tactical speed, and worked five furlongs in a sharp 59 flat on Sunday.

With potential speed like Pool Land (Silver Deputy), Round Pond, Fleet Indian, Bushfire (Louis Quatorze), and Healthy Addiction, there should be plenty of pace to set up a late run by Balleto (Timber Country). She's coming off three consecutive seconds in Grade 1's. She actually had a chance in two of those, and my impression of those races is that she should have won. She had Spun Sugar and Fleet Indian absolutely dead to rights in the Go For Wand and Beldame; no way she should have lost either. She may get a piece of the purse here, but I wonder if she can dig down for the extra it would take to get the big prize.

Interested In: Despite all these great ideas, I'm having a hard time getting past Pine Island. She's like a little buzzsaw, and if she can work out a trip - and she'll be facing such a big field for the first time - I don't see why she won't finish well. I'll watch the board for overlays on Happy Ticket, Healthy Addiction, and Round Pond, but I'm not really getting all that excited about any of them. Are you?

Against: If and only if Fleet Indian draws poorly, I'd consider leaving her out completely.

Exotics: Balleto


Anonymous said...

Historical analysis provides zero guidance here, except for the fact that the winner generally comes from one of 3 preps, the Spinster (now polytrack ) the Beldame or the Ladys Secret. That tidbit eliminates only 3 entrants, Baghdaria, Pool Land and Bushfire.

As I stated earlier, I just do not believe Pine Island or Fleet Indian, both huge fillies, are the type to navigate a two turn mile oval in a full field. They have been running in small fields, but now are apt to encounter trouble and quick acceleration is not their forte.

After banging my head against the wall on this race, I have narrowed my possible upsetters to four. Balleto just seems to hang when the going gets tough but can not be left off the exotics ticket. The horse for course angle makes me include Bushfire, an early leader in the division who has been freshened after an unusually bad run in the Gazelle, and her conqueror in the Ky Oaks, Lemons Forever who will be my longshot in the hope she can reprise her victory in May.

But the more I stare at the form, I am now leaning toward Spun Sugar as my main play. She figures to work out a nice stalking trip and has proven competitive at this level. Even the owner of Fleet Indian appeard concerned mostly with her in his recent comments, which I assume reflects the view of Mr. Pletcher, who trains them both.

From a multiple race wager perspective, it appears this race is a spread which means I will need to narrow down the mile, yet another puzzler.

Alan Mann said...

Wow, I didn't even really mention Spun Sugar. She's another one that if you just look at her two-turn record (excluding the one on Polytrack), she has an excellent record. I'll take another look; but I did attribute her win in the Go For Wand, in which she was dead on the board, to the ground saving trip by Luzzi (some people considered it the best ride of the meeting), and Balleto's inability or refusal to pass another horse in deep stretch.

I think we're all grasping at straws a bit here, though I don't completely disagree with your assessment of the favorites.

Anonymous said...

Post Posistions are going to play a big part of who I will be betting in this race. But on the subject of Lemons Forever. Shes the only entry with a Grade I win over the surface. And its at this distance. She has the style to take advantage of the quick pace this race figures to cook up. Fleet Indian is 6 for 6 at this distance, formidable, but if she comes up hot that day and doesnt rate, I can see 6F in 1:10 or less setting it up for a deep closer like Lemons Forever. The Churchill Downs paddock can fire up even the calmest of horses. Nick

Alan Mann said...

Jeez, I didn't mention Lemons Forever either...

Anonymous said...

Much tougher race on paper than the experts are making it out to be, so you know what to expect, a classic ding dong battle down the the wire between the two favorites and a host of handicappers wondering why they didnt have the generous $24 exacta.

El Angelo said...

There's so much pace here, I think playing the off-the-pace runners is the way to go. I'll be boxing Round Pond, Spun Sugar, Pine Island & Lemons Forever, and using the first one to win. If Spun Sugar is anywhere near 10-1, she's also worth a win bet.