Jim Vs. Picks and Ponderings

mischief_cropEvery Friday this meet, Jim Miller faces a new contestant for a friendly little handicapping competition.  Tomorrow, I will be that contestant.  I will discuss the races and my selections with Jim on the pre-race show, and also do a segment in the paddock before one of the races.  It works a little differently this year: in previous years, the paddock segment (as well as my real-money wagers as a contestant) would be before the featured race on the card.  This time around, the contestant gets to choose the race on which they make their wager, and for which they do the paddock segment.  My wagering race will be the 6th race, a nice allowance that looks like a prep for the Third Chance Handicap later this month.  Heavy favourite Exquisite Lady looks a bit vulnerable, and I am going to go to the rail and try and beat her with Phaniebdancing.

The pre-race show begins at 1:00pm Central Daylight Time, and first post is at 1:50pm CDT.  In addition to being broadcast at simulcast locations and on all major ADW sites, the Hawthorne simulcast feed is also free to watch on phones and tablets using the Horse Races NOW mobile app.

Edited March 13 in light of a rider change on Melody Lane in the 5th, and the scratch of Dreamofjean E. in the 2nd.

Race 1: $32,000 allowance optional claiming, three-year-olds and up, non-winners of $8,800 twice other than maiden, claiming, starter, turf, or state-bred allowance OR N3L OR starters for a claiming price of $10,000 or less in 2014-2015 OR claiming price $32,000, one mile and seventy yards on the dirt, post time 1:50pm CDT

Selections:  Broome Street (3), Indy Awesome (1), Four Left Feet (5)

The day begins with the shortest field on the card, but one of the two classiest races on the card.  The race drew virtually devoid of early speed, with Broome Street being the only one who particularly likes to send.  The warmer weather may make the track less speed-friendly (we shall see), but lone speed is lone speed.  He flopped last out over the goop at Gulfstream, but he should do far better getting his way on a dry Hawthorne main.  Indy Awesome drew the friendly rail, and should be able to stalk fairly close to Broome Street early.  He has been working frequently over the winter break, and trainer Clay Brinson is a sparkling 36% off of similar length lays.  He faced similar company last out on Decemer 19, and finished a creditable third.  Four Left Feet has not been much for winning horse races, last crossing the wire first in July of 2012.  However, he still hits the board reliably, and showed improved form late in the Hawthorne meet last year.  He finished second in similar company last out, the same race in which Indy Awesome was third.  Trainer Terry Young fires at a respectable 18% (with 51% on the board) with runners off similarly long lays.

Race 2: $10,000 claiming, three-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, N3L OR three years old, six furlongs on the dirt, post time 2:20pm CDT

Selections:  Gothic Princess (2), Reckless Moment (1), Sheza Ruler (6)

Gothic Princess steps up from N2L to N3L this time out, but has shown form competitive against this group.  She had things her own way last out, but pressed early in her maiden win.  The 2-gate should be helpful: no one has been riding the rail better than Vicente Gudiel this meet, and Gothic Princess has sharper early pace than Reckless Moment, the only horse who drew inside of her.  She also benefits from the scratch of Dreamofjean E., the runner who looked most likely to try and outgun her out of the gate.  Reckless Moment will need to improve to beat these, but she drew the rail, removes the blinkers, and dials back from a route.  The rail has been gold this meet.  Trainer John Haran taking blinkers off has won five of his last twenty, with eight in the money, and a +$3.50 ROI.  She has speedy tendencies, and it may just be wise to keep her on or very close to the pace, since she only has to go six furlongs today instead of a mile and seventy yarsds.  Reckless Moment could well go off the longest price on the board; if that happens, there is enough to back her.  Below the Haran pair, the field gets a little muddled, but at least Sheza Ruler ran second against similar last out.  She can do well stalking fairly close to the pace, and can hit the board when the pace is contested.

Race 3: $5,000 claiming, four-year-olds and up, one and one sixteenth miles on the dirt, post time 2:50pm CDT

Selections:  Lethal (1), Limestone (2), Native Hatchet (6)

Lethal drew the rail, and comes into this race second off the lay.  If he can get back to the form he showed last meet, it should be more than enough to contend with this group.  He notches up from beaten $5,000 last out to open $5,000 here, but this is not the strongest open $5,000 field in the world.  On paper, there looks to be a decent amount of speed; there should be a bit more pace to attack than the turtle-slow fractions that Limestone set in his last race.  Limestone returns here, and he had the farthest-inside draw of any of the speed horses.  Though Malbros and Native Hatchet have shown speed in the past, they are both versatile enough that they may not send -- and, if they do, Limestone has also shown the ability to rate a bit.  He gets Maria Thornton back from his last-out win, and trainer Carl Bigelow has been unreal lately with his claim repeaters (four for his last seven) and his last-race winners (six of his last 14).  Native Hatchet has been in sharp form lately, and like Limestone has won his last two.  Samantha Colvin has the call again, and has been judging rides very well this meet.  He has won both of his starts at two turns on the dirt, and has won both of his last two races with an outside draw like he has today.

Race 4: $5,000 claiming, four-year-olds and up, non-winners of two races since June 13, one and one sixteenth miles on the dirt, post time 3:20pm CDT

Selections:  Ideal Alluvial (1) You Dancing Demon (3), Jack's Tiger (4)

This race drew almost nothing in the way of early speed; rail-drawn Ideal Alluvial is it, with Jack's Tiger possibly stalking nearby.  Jack's Tiger comes in off a layoff here, and always needs a race before he gets the job done.  On the other hand, Ideal Alluvial comes in second off the layoff, with the rail, dropping in class, as the only likely speed in the race.  His speeds have been solid, and he gets Tim Thornton back in the irons.  Ideal Alluvial is the top selection, and a single-worthy one.  You Dancing Demon typically closes, so the pace scenario does not look the best for him.  However, his career record at Hawthorne has him on the board over half the time, and he also has two of his three career wins at the distance.  He comes in first off the winter lay for trainer Michael Reavis, who hits the board at 51% off similar lays.  Hitting the board is basically all we are looking for from a horse who has not gotten his picture taken since October of 2013, but he fires reliably enough to suggest he will hit the board.  Jack's Tiger, a horse for this course and distance, is another one who should hit the board here.  Though his win chances aren't great first off the lay, his speeds are solid and he is the only one likely to be very close to Ideal Alluvial early.  The blazing-hot Vicente Gudiel has the call, and should be able to give him a shrewd ride.

Race 5: $10,000 claiming, three-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, Illinois-bred, N2L, six furlongs on the dirt, post time 3:50pm CDT

Selections:  Queen Otaheite (3), Wind Dust (6), Sunswept (7)

Queen Otaheite is a three-year-old facing older, but the only other speed in the race is outside-drawn Sunswept, who comes into this race out of one of the weakest $7,500 maiden claiming races that Hawthorne has carded in recent memory.  She stretches back out to the six-furlong distance at which she won two back.  She also showed the ability to pass horses: she relinquished and then regained the lead in her maiden win, and came from just a bit off the pace to finish second by a nose three back.  Though she was sixth at this level last out, there was a bit more pace there than here , and she was beaten just three lengths.  Wind Dust drops down to the lowest level of her career.  She races for the first time since November, but has a steady worktab since late January.  Trainer Chris Block hits at a solid 23% rate with winners coming in from lays longer than three months.  She dials back to a sprint here; the last time she ran one turn, she broke her maiden.  Turf or poly may be her better surface (Wind Dust is by Fort Prado out of Grand Crossing -- the dam of Sweet Luca), but her class merits consideration.  Sunswept's outside draw isn't ideal, but if Queen Otaheite does not fire, she is the only other real speed horse in the field.  She is also a four-year-old, with some chance of a maturity advantage over Queen Otaheite and Melody Lane.  The race she comes out of is questionable at best, but she won it impressively enough to give her a shot here.

Race 6: $50,000 allowance optional claiming, three-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, non-winners of $8,800 three times OR non-winners of two races since September 8 other than maiden, claiming, starter, turf, or state-bred allowance OR N4L OR claiming price $50,000, six furlongs on the dirt, post time 4:20pm CDT

Selections:  Phaniebdancing (1), Exquisite Lady (5), Gambler Five (3)

This race screams "prep for the Third Chance": it is a six-furlong race that drew the upper echelon of the local sprinting mares, and all but one of the horses in it were bred in the Land of Lincoln.  Make no mistake about it: Exquisite Lady should win this race.  She made a mockery of the boys last out, is the speed of the speed, and can rate a bit if she needs.  She has won her last three.  On paper, she stands out.  However, the rider change is just bizarre.  Jockey James Bielby rode first off of a fifteen-year lay on Mischief N Mayhem, one of Rusty Hellman's other horses.  It makes sense to ease back into race riding in a beaten $5,000 claimer.  Even though Emanuel Cosme has not had the hottest start to the meet so far, he gave Exquisite Lady a perfect ride last out, and it seems odd that he does not return to the irons as a proven quantity.  On that, let's take a swing with rail-drawn Phaniebdancing.  She cuts back to six furlongs for the first time since her juvenile season, and boasts at solid 3-1-2-0 career line at the distance.  She has shown the ability to run well first off the winter lay; last year, as a three-year-old facing older for the first time, she finished second beaten just a neck by multiple stakes winner Diva's Diamond.  Phaniebdancing is working up a storm, and trainer Terrel Gore has already won twice with runners first off the winter lay (Supersambdancing and Scorpiobdancing).  Gambler Five also comes in first off the winter lay for trainer Mark Cristel, who has just an 11% win rate but a positive ROI with runners off similar-length lays.  Typically she is a closer, but has been able to hit the board stalking closer to the pace if she needs.  She has hit the board in 25 of 41 career starts at Hawthorne and 24 of 40 at the distance, suggesting she is a reliable runner, and has frequently hit the board first off a layoff.

Race 7: $5,000 starter allowance, four-year-olds and up, starters for a claiming price of $5,000 or less in 2014-2015, six furlongs on the dirt, post time 4:50pm CDT

Selections:  Rushin' Rubietta (2), Surf Cast (6), Priceless Shore (3)

Rushin' Rubietta towers over this field.  He has won his last two races against this level at Hawthorne, and his speeds are very sharp for the field.  He also gets rider Tim Thornton back from both of those wins.  It is his first race off the winter lay, but trainer Ray Tracy, Jr. hits at 18% (with a positive ROI) off of similar layoffs.  He has a string of three very sharp workouts leading into this race.  There is some other possible speed in Priceless Shore and Heza Great Friend, but Rushin' Rubietta is the furthest inside of the bunch, and can rate a bit if necessary.  He will certainly go off favoured, but no one in the field has strong enough recent form or class to make it attractive to take a swing against him.  Surf Cast drew the outside, and finished a late-closing fourth against this level last out.  This is also his first start of the new meet, but he won first off a similarly-long freshening last year.  His 11-4-1-2 career line at Hawthorne shows affinity for the track, and seven of his ten career wins have come at this distance.  If he comes ready to fire, he stands to finish in the money.  Priceless Shore fits the $5,000 starter level better than anyone in this field save Rushin' Rubietta.  He was third at this level two starts back, and an even closer third last out against open $18,000 company.  He is a better horse on polytrack than on dirt, but has hit the board ten times over the Hawthorne main.  Though he runs his best races closing, he can hit the board when kept closer to the pace, as he showed last out.  He also gets rider Vicente Gudiel aboard.  Gudiel got him home third two starts back, and has been riding even more sharply after the winter break.

Race 8: $12,500 claiming, four-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, one mile and seventy yards on the dirt, post time 5:20pm CDT

Selections:  Dani Nikki (4), Grayrock (5), Coyote Breeze (1)

Of all the races on this card, this is the one which looks the most wide-open.  If you can afford the ALL button, do not be afraid to use it.  Dani Nikki keeps rider Santo Sanjur, who got her home first three times last year.  She is the innermost of the speed horses in this race, and can stalk as well if she is outgunned.  She has never won first off the lay, but has at least turned in a few decent efforts first off.  Her career lines at Hawthorne (17-4-2-1) and at this distance (17-5-4-0) also suggest that this is her preferred sort of race.  Grayrock has proven herself to be a horse for this course, winning three of four starts over the Hawthorne main so far.  All three of those wins came at two turns.  The only time she did not get her picture taken, she blew the start and did not get the forward placing she needed.  Though she steps up from open $5,000 company last out, the form she showed against weaker puts her right in the mix here, and the seven-pound weight break for having Maria Thornton aboard should help her carry her speed.  Coyote Breeze drops down from state-bred allowance company in her last five starts.  She finished second in one of those starts, but was otherwise not very competitive; she should appreciate the class drop.  She should have some pace to chase if the track plays more fairly on a warm day; if the rail bias stays around, her inside draw should help as well as her ability to hit the board stalking closer up.  Keep an eye on her legs in the paddock; she put on fronts last time, and will be an even more interesting proposition if they come off today.

Race 9: $5,000 claiming, three-year-olds and up, N3L, six furlongs on the dirt, post time 5:50pm CDT

Selections:  Cherokee Mate (9), Last Tears (3), The Green Cougar (10)

The finale is a twelve-horse free-for-all.  With quite a bit of early speed in the field, let's go with a reliably firing closer with proven form from outside posts, and proven form coming in off a layoff: Cherokee Mate.  He has only won twice, but both of those wins have come from after time off.  This is Cherokee Mate's first start since mid-December, and he hit the board multiple times against similar competition last meet.  His worktab is good, and with the likes of Bushido, Keep On Shining, Last Tears, and B S Wildcat all with a good chance to send, he should have something lively to attack late.  At anywhere near the 12/1 morning line, he should be the longshot special in the Super High 5 race.  Last Tears was third against similar company on February 27, and comes in here second off the winter lay.  He easily wired $5,000 N2L company two starts back, but showed in his maiden win that he could win on a stalk-and-pounce kind of trip, too.  Tim Thornton hops aboard, and Thornton has been 14-4-3-2 over the last week.  If he takes a step forward second off the lay, he will be formidable against this group.  The Green Cougar is a better horse on polytrack than he is on the dirt, but drops here to the lowest level of his career.  He has finished third in his last two starts against $10,000 company, once against IL-bred N3Ls and once against open N3Ls.  His speeds are strong for the field, and rider Samantha Colvin has hit the board with half her mounts so far this meet.  This screams "confidence builder", something that The Green Cougar has a chance to get here if the track is allowing horses to come from off the pace at all.

Photograph taken by Nicolle Neulist.

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