Outplay, the 2017 winner of the Curlin Stakes
The $100,000 Curlin Stakes at Saratoga on Friday for 3 year olds who haven't won a graded stakes in 2018 might seem like a no-brainer at first glance, but there are questions about the obvious favorites in here that suggest it might be more of a challenge than it seems. Lets look at the field.
This is the horse I absolutely loved in this year's Belmont Stakes. I thought he had the makings of a champion and at 6:1 odds I jumped into the deep end of the pool. As we all know, Justify proved too good in that one and while Hofburg made a nice run into a ridiculously slow pace, the issue was never in doubt. It was only a combination of pure luck and a sense of pending disaster that caused me to throw a few of the better bred horses in between Justify and Hofburg as a "saver" trifecta that paid so generously that it recouped all my Hofburg bets and then some.
So, if I was willing to bet Hofburg against Justify, then I must love him against this modest group, right? No, I don't! He has numbers that tower over these, but he figures to be the victim again of a very modest pace in a small field. That is a recipe for disaster for a stone closer! I still like this horse, but in this spot he will not get my attention. I think he presents an opportunity to bet against.
2. Madison's Luna
He won the Grade 3 Hutcheson down in Florida in March against a small field of six, but his subsequent forays into Graded Stakes company were disasters. His last race on the grass was pretty nice and now he returns to the dirt trying to recreate that Hutcheson form.
I think he has a good chance of doing just that! He is the main inside speed in a race that doesn't have much speed. He will easily clear Hofburg, slow it down, and take them as far as he can. Can he beat Hofburg and Reride in here? It's a tall order, but I believe the dynamics of the race are very favorable for him. If the price is over 5:1, he is the one!
3. Zing Zang
Another deep closer who figures to be the victim of a moderate pace in a small field. Even if the race were to somehow go faster on the front than it appears, how does this horse "outclose" Hofburg? He has a touch of back class and has run against some very good ones, but his one for nine lifetime record is hard to get worked up over. I'll pass.
An inexperienced closer who just broke his maiden, but it's hard to like him against these horses. There are several better closer options in here if that's what you like, but I'm going with the inside speed.
5. American Lincoln
He will sit the stalkers trip in this one, but does seem just a cut below most of these. He made a nice run in the Longbranch at Monmouth and he has a great trainer, but this is still a tall order. I'll pass.
The wildcard! He ran against that ridiculous speed bias in Dubai and had absolutely no chance that day. The combination of the speed bias and Mendelssohn freaking out and winning by a pole are more than enough to excuse his performance that day. His experiment on the grass in his last wasn't bad, but this is the right spot if he's ready. He should sit just off Madison's Luna and he will take a lot of beating in here.
I like him more than Hofburg if it comes down to that, but I will be using him and Madison's Luna in here.
This race illustrates an important handicapping principle. The horse I loved in the Belmont faces a much more modest group in here, but I'm not betting him. Why? Each race presents a different set of dynamics and variables that are unique to that particular race. Just because you bet a horse the last time he ran, it doesn't mean you have to bet him this time. Evaluate the race today on the dynamics you believe will present themselves today.
Can Hofburg win this race? Of course he can! He has proven class against the best of his generation and his speed numbers dwarf this small field. I simply do not believe this particular race sets up very well for him. I'm betting against him.
Good luck to all who are playing!