Jim Vs...Picks and Ponderings!

Every week, Hawthorne hosts Jim Vs.: a weekly head-to-head handicapping competition between Jim Miller, the track’s television analyst, and one intrepid track-goer.  This week, I am that contestant.  I will be on the pre-race analysis show today starting at 1:00 PM Central to discuss my picks, and my top three selections for each race will be shown on the track feed along with Jim’s before each race.

Below are all of the selections I will be presenting as part of the contest, as well as my reasons for selecting each of the runners.

All picks are updated in light of race-day scratches, and current as of 11:50am Central Standard Time.  All post times are Central Standard Time.

Race 1: $25,000 maiden claiming, two-year-olds, one mile and seventy yards over the dirt, post time 1:50pm

Selections: Uncle Silas (2), Dadtaughtmewell (5), Karmic (6)

Uncle Silas struggled at Arlington all summer, but tries dirt for the first time here.  This may get him started, as all four of his half-siblings to win won on dirt surfaces.  He drops in class compared to his last two outings; he did try maiden $15,000 at Arlington, but it was on polytrack — a surface on which trainer Ingrid Mason has not sent him since.  Finally, he has gotten a freshening of almost two months, and Mason usually sends her runners ready off a lay.  Dadtaughtmewell is a Jim DiVito trainee trying dirt for the first time.  He has started twice so far, on turf.  He finished a decent, late-running fifth against maiden special company on grass just one week ago, and DiVito is wheeling him right back here.  His breeding is a bit better for dirt than grass, and trainer DiVito performs far better on the main track.  Finally, top jockey Emmanuel Esquivel rides.  Karmic takes a notch up in class here, but had a troubled trip last out.  He had enough gas in the tank late in a five-furlong affair over polytrack two back to suggest he wanted longer, and the fact that he is out of a Giant’s Causeway mare suggests the stamina for a mile seventy should be no problem.

Race 2: $4,000 claiming, three-year-olds and up, non-winners of two races in 2013-2014 OR non-winners of a race since July 31, 2013, six and a half furlongs over the dirt, post time 2:20pm

Selections:  B S Wildcat (2), Try a Lemon Drop (6), Lethal (1)

In a race such as this, it is worth looking for a price, and B S Wildcat is just that.  This runner figureds to be the likely speed of the speed, and is getting the seven-pound allowance with apprentice rider Maria Thornton aboard.  He has been well-beaten in his last few starts, but may wake up third off the lay.  Those last two, also, may have been a bit short for him.  Both of his career wins have come over the Hawthorne oval, and he is a respectable 2-1-1-0 at this distance.  At anything close to his 20/1 morning line, he is worth a chance in this bunch.  Try a Lemon Drop tries a class drop here, moving in from $12,500 N3X company last out.  He was sixth in that last effort, but not a bad sixth: beaten just 2 3/4 lengths all told.  He does have a win at the distance, and a win over the Hawthorne track.  His speeds are consistently okay for this field, and he has won recently enough (August of this year) to suggest he remembers what it feels like.  Lethal should be used for undersides of intra-race exotics only.  He is in the best form of anyone in the field, but has a critical case of second-itis: a 47-3-9-4 lifetime record, and a 10-0-6-1 line this year.  He does take a bit of a class drop here, from $5,000 N1Y to $4,000 beaten, but a likely short price on a runner who keeps finding ways to not cross the wire first is less than attractive.

Race 3: $17,500 maiden claiming, two-year-old fillies, five and a half furlongs over the dirt, post time 2:5opm

Selections: Devil Unchained (2), Wonder Kay (4), Jazzy Jan (7)

Devil Unchained gets a second crack at $17,500 company after breaking poorly and trailing last out.  Trainer Steve Manley typically does well in maiden claimers, hitting at 16%.  He is also having a very strong meet, sitting second in the win standings with 11 going into the racing day.  Devil Unchained is a fourth-time starter today; her one half-sister to win (Agile Wonder) took a few starts to figure the racing thing out, but won sixth out over the Hawthorne strip for Manley.  Wonder Kay drops in here from $62,500 company at Arlington last out, and was fourth beaten 4 3/4 lengths against that tougher company last out.  In that race, she finished in the same ZIP code as both Rock My Dreams and A Little Unique: both actual contenders in the Showtime Deb this Saturday.  She also tries dirt for the first time today, which may help her.  Finally, first-timer Jazzy Jan is in with a shot.  She has a half-sibling, Twentyoneandtwo, who won first out.  The sire side is not bad for first-timers either; sire Grand Slam’s babies win at 12% first out.  Trainer Michael Reavis is a solid 20% in maiden claimers, and a perfectly decent 14% with debut maiden claimers.  The question here is the very short worktab — just one work — but given the field she is up against, it is worth trusting Reavis’s judgment here.

Race 4: $4,000 claiming, three-year-olds and up, non-winners of two races in 2013-2014 OR non-winners of a race since July 31, 2013, six and a half furlongs on the dirt, post time 3:20pm

Selections: Chantilly Outlaw (9), August Day (4), Strategic Game (2)

This is a race in which no one would be blamed for using the ALL button — the almost defining characteristic of this race is that they are runners who don’t much like (or aren’t much able) to win, which means it may well be anyone’s game.  There are a lot of runners in this field who are inclined to be near the front early, which could set up well for an off-pace type.  Chantilly Outlaw comes from off the pace, and is usually making up ground late.  She has three wins in 23 career starts — but two of those have come in her nine starts at Hawthorne, suggesting he likes the track.  The fact that he has not won this year is suboptimal, but he can muster speed that fits the field, and the style fits.  August Day is the morning-line favourite, and with good reason: he was second last out against similar, has a win over the summer, and has hit the board in his last five starts.  He can also likely keep himself off the pace, tending to come from a stalking or mid-pack place instead.  Trainer Percy Scherbenske is blazing hot right now, having annexed two more races just yesterday.  He gets rider Tim Thornton back as well, who piloted him to close seconds in each of his last two starts.  Strategic Game will be near the front, but has shown the ability to maintain interest from off the pace, and showed in April that he can win off a contested lead in a route race.  He has been facing mainly weaker company, but does come in here third off the layoff.  He has been better this year than most of his adversaries here, with a win, a close second, and a third in five starts.  He has only run at Hawthorne once before, but gets a different rider, which may help improve the result.  Carlos Montalvo has the call, and Montalvo has been quietly putting together a pretty good meet.

Race 5: $25,000 claiming, three-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, N3L OR three years old, one mile and seventy yards over the dirt (originally carded for a mile over the turf), post time 3:50pm

Selections: Fleet Performer (10), No Flowers (9), Flattering Touch (3)

This race was originally carded for grass, but has been moved to the dirt.  Fleet Performer is taking a step up from $15,000 N2L company last out.  Still, she absolutely destroyed that field, and that was a race originally carded for the dirt.  She frequently hit the board over the summer over dirt at Delta and Prairie Meadows — so even though last out was her first dirt win, she has repeatedly shown the ability to run on it.  She gets rider Chris Emigh back from that, and he should be able to give her a nice frontrunning trip again today.  Last out she won at this same distance, with a contentious lead early.  She may or may not have a fight on the front, depending on how either Arden Natalie or Kana fire early on dirt.  However, neither of those have shown they like dirt the way Fleet Performer does, and Fleet Performer should have enough to put them away.  No Flowers has seen the light come on over her last two starts.  She broke her maiden over the Hawthorne mud last month, and followed that up with a win over the grass in $20,000 N2L company.  That maiden win was her first attempt on dirt; this will be her first try on a fast surface.  She is an unknown quantity, but between the fact that she can stalk decently close to the pace and the fact that she gets blazing hot rider Emmanuel Esquivel back in the irons, that is a chance worth taking.  Flattering Touch comes in here second off the lay for trainer Roger Brueggemann.  She raced on the grass all summer, but has had a few tries on dirt.  She has been less than dependable, but was able to muster a decent second against a harder bunch than this last September at Churchill.  Tim Thornton, typically sharp at Hawthorne, has the call today.  (Chris Emigh had been her usual rider, but Emigh opts to pilot top choice Fleet Performer instead).  If she stalks fairly close to the lead, she may stay on to hit the board.

Race 6: $17,500 maiden claiming, tw0-year-old fillies, six furlongs over the dirt, post time 4:20pm

Selections: Go Bonnie Go (7), W W Salty Queen (8), Spell Winder (5)

First-timer Go Bonnie Go races for trainer Hugh Robertson, who is a whopping 32% (with +$2.22 ROI!) with first-time maiden claimers.  Robertson is also firing at 34% this meet — and her rider is none other than riding leader Emmanuel Esquivel.  She should be fit, as her worktab stretches all the way back to August, and she has recently been putting up five-furlong moves.  Her pedigree is also solid for a first-time starter, particularly the dam side: damsire Not For Love is a 13% influence for winning first time out.   W W Salty Queen starts for the second time, and drops from $25,000 company last out.  She stretches out from five and a half furlongs to six, a distance that should suit her better.  Breeding-wise, there is a chance she should understand the racing thing rather quickly: her only full sibling to race, Salty Wave, won first out.  Finally, she races for trainer Scott Becker, who is ultra-sharp in these circumstances: 25% in maiden claimers, and 24% with juveniles.  Spell Winder drops in class here to the lowest level of her career, and also tries dirt for the first time.  She also dials back in distance, from a mile in her last two outings to six furlongs here.  That should suit her well, since her pedigree (Spellbinder out of a Formal Dinner mare) may suit sprinting better — especially on top.  She also gets a rider change to Rolando Aragon.  That may not be considered an upgrade given that Esquivel rode her in all five of her previous starts, but there’s a chance they just didn’t click, and she also gets a seven-pound bug allowance this time out.

Race 7: Allowance ($21,000 purse), three-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, Illinois-bred, non-winners of $8,800 once other than maiden, claiming, or starter OR N2L one and one sixteenth miles over the dirt, post time 4:50pm

Selections: Friendly’s Rap (3), So Good to Go (4), Lewderhoo (8)

The name of the game is speed: or, specifically, the lack thereof.  Friendly’s Rap looks likely to get things her way on the front end, which makes her dangerous.  She takes a class rise here (she has been mainly racing in $5,000 claiming and state-bred $10,000 claiming company), but she can put up speeds that stack up just fine with this field of state-bred N1X types.  Rider Emmanuel Esquivel gets the call again, and Esquiel has been firing well (7 for his last 21, with a +$0.90 ROI) with trainer Hugh Robertson in the last two months.  She does have a win over this Hawthorne course, and is 5-1-3-0 at this distance.  She was second last time out — with a contested early lead, and first off a three-month lay.  Here she should have less pressure, and should be fitter.  So Good to Go has been in pure claming company through the summer and falls, but the light ahs come on.  This three-year-old filly has won three of her last five, and the combination of trainer Brian Williamson and rider Edgar Perez has annexed five of their last 20 (with 12 money finishes), with a +$1.02 ROI.  Perez won on this filly last out.  She does have a win at this distance.  She has only run on dirt once, but that was in her career debut — she deserves another chance on the surface now that the light is on.  Lewderhoo is not a good choice on top, but is a must for intra-race exotics.  She has now won this year, and has won just once over the last two years, but her 35-3-9-5 record shows that she does hit the board with reliability.  She struggled a bit through the summer, but the return to dirt last out got her back to her ways of hitting the board.  Most of her times hitting the board have been at similar distances, either a mile and seventy yards or a mile and a sixteenth, and she has usually been able to run well against the sort of company she faces today.

Race 8: Allowance optional claiming ($22,000 purse), three-year-olds and up, non-winners of $8,800 twice other than maiden, claiming, starter, or state-bred allowance OR N3L OR claiming price $25,000, post time 5:20pm

Selections:  Bank Account (2), Sancerre (1), Dynamical (8)

Bank Account comes into this race third off the layoff for trainer Roger Brueggemann, and has two strong second place finishes in similar company in both his starts this Hawthorne meet.  He stretches out to six and a half furlongs, a distance at which he is a respectable 9-2-2-3.  Though polytrack is probably his best surface, he is no slouch on dirt: five of his fifteen career wins have come on the Hawthorne main.  Pacewise, he is fast enough to get the early lead, but versatile enough to rate: exactly what he needs in this field with several sometimes-speeds, but no one-way speeds.  Rail-drawn Sancerre (1) also stands a good chance here.  He comes in off a win in $18,000 claiming company last out, but is about as consistent as they come: he has been on the board in all six starts this year, and has only missed the board once in thirteen starts stretching back to May of last year.  He is a confirmed closer, so he will probably need a pace duel to unfold for him to win: but there is enough possible speed that it could happen, and even if the fractions are slow, he will likely hit the board.  Finally, Dynamical looks to be in a good spot here.  He is second off the claim by Tammy Domenosky, a 20% win proposition.  He cuts back from a second-place finish against similar last out at 1 1/16 miles, but cuts back to a sprint here.  Two of his three career wins are at seven furlongs, and he has enough speed to compare favourably with this field. He should be fairly close to the front, but has the versatility to set the fractions or bide his time.  Though the class is a bit of a question (he has spent most of his time this year in straight claiming company), he acquitted himself well enough at Belmont, Saratoga, and Churchill to suggest he has a shot here.

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

Selections:  Leathers Slappin (9), Diver (3), Cherokee Mate (11)

The scratches in this race are more than a little frustrating: the original (and rather emphatic) top two selections were Senor Tremendo and Specks in the Sun, but they are both scratched.  Leathers Slappin has run well twice at this distance last meet, and stretches out from shorter attempts earlier in the meet.  He gets a rider change to Chris Emigh, which can’t hurt; Emigh is 16% with speed/stalk type runners.  He can run well when rated early, which is key — there are a ton of speedy types in this race, basically everyone but Cherokee Mate, so he should be able to bide his time if Emigh can relax him.  Diver has been struggling most of the year, but is coming back into form this meet.  He has only hit the board twice in ten starts this year — but those have been his last two.  He gets hot rider Tim Thornton back, who piloted him to a third-place finish last out after moving a bit too early.  If Thornton can rate him again and time the move better, he stands a chance if he runs back to either of his two most recent efforts.  Cherokee Mate has not won a race in two and a half years, but has closed for second a few times this year.  After scratches, he is the only horse left in the field with no real inclination to be up front early.  The lack of wins is worrisome, but the pace scenario should be as beneficial as possible, and he should be able to close in for at least a share.  He was a decent fourth last time out, and gets an extra half-furlong.  Stamina to get that distance should not be an issue; in fact, this race is probably still too short for him.  Still, he should get in for a share if the likely pace fallout happens.

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