After watching thousands of races (could it be millions?) and spending way too much time at racetracks over the years, I occasionally fight the temptation to say I’ve seen it all. But before I actually utter those words, something happens that leaves me gobsmacked.
This week’s entry into the “Well I never” books is a 4-year-old thoroughbred named Mr. Changue (pronounced chen-GOO, according to those who should know) who was peacefully grazing on the grounds of the Fort Erie racetrack in Ontario about two weeks ago when he was swallowed by the earth.
It seems a nearby water main break had hollowed out the ground where Mr. Changue was quietly noshing, causing a sinkhole beneath his hooves and dropping him into a 6-foot deep pit of muddy water. His handlers tried to get him to jump out, but with each attempt, poor Mr. Changue dug himself deeper in the goo.
Rescuers rushed to aid the panicked horse, who was thrashing around like a washing machine agitator. Eventually, a backhoe dug an exit path that allowed them to pull the weary steed out and take him back to his barn. He suffered cuts and scrapes but avoided serious injury.
Flash forward to Tuesday, when Mr. Changue, apparently feeling invincible, stepped onto the Fort Erie track and proceeded to conquer six rivals in a $6,250 claiming race. In winning for the seventh time in 43 starts, the Florida-bred earned almost $10,000 Canadian for his owner, Sam Passero.
A tip of the hat to former Review-Journal turf writer and handicapper Jay Richards for pointing me to this feel-good story. I haven’t been able to write about too many happy endings lately, so it’s much appreciated.
#RJhorseracing featured races
The #RJhorseracing handicappers will watch the $600,000 Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga on Saturday, which will feature a return matchup of Triple Crown rivals Tax, Tacitus and War of Will. But with just six entrants, we will test our handicapping acumen elsewhere.
We’re instead creating a bicoastal Daily Double: The $250,000 Bowling Green (Grade 2) at the Spa and the $300,000 Bing Crosby Stakes (Grade 1) at Del Mar, a “win and you’re in” race for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.
The handicapping crew is about as deeply divided as I’ve seen on the Bowling Green, a 1⅜-mile test for 4-year-olds and up on the inner turf course, which drew a competitive field of 13. They narrowly favor the Chad Brown-trained Ya Primo (8-1) over Arklow (9-2) and Channel Maker (the 7-2 morning line favorite.)
These graded stakes on the turf are always tricky, as horses seem to take turns beating one another. But if you’re looking for consistency at the distance, Channel Maker seems to hold a slight edge. I’ll try to beat him, however, with Red Knight (12-1), who has been patiently brought along by trainer Bill Mott and knocking at the door at this level lately. My second pick is Channel Maker, with veteran Sadler’s Joy (6-1) in third.
In the 6-furlong Bing Crosby for 3-year-olds and up, the crowd ’cappers are again split, but favor Cistron (5-2) to fend off Line Judge (8-1) and 2-1 morning line favorite Recruiting Ready.
#Rjhorseracing handicapper CNote Nick gets the floor this week to explain what he saw in the group’s pick:
“Going 6.5 furlongs front running 2 starts ago with same jockey in a stakes he won by 5.25 (lengths) to earn life-best speed figure. Last race, going 1/8 mile longer than today, he led by 3 lengths at the stretch call (6 furlongs) only to be headed (at the finish.)”
I won’t be stunned if Cistron wins, but Recruiting Ready gets my vote, having finished a close-up third behind Catalina Cruiser last out in what was a stakes record in the True North Stakes at Belmont Park.
I’ll use Line Judge and Canterbury invader Cicatriz (12-1) to fill out the minor placings.
Ellis Starr’s Bing Crosby Stakes analysis
Desert Law ran the best race of his career last month in the Thor’s Echo Stakes. He could run even better in the Bing Crosby Stakes because this start will be his third following 11 months off. In the Thor’s Echo, Desert Law stalked in second in the early stages, then made a big move to be in front by three lengths with an eighth of a mile to go drawing off to win by 6 1/4 lengths. The effort earned a career-best 116 Equibase Speed Figure, which is tied with Line Judge for the best last race figure in the field. Since shipping to Del Mar from Santa Anita, Desert Law has shown he really likes the surface with two very strong half-mile drills, the most recent of which was timed in :47.2 and was the best of 59 at the distance on the day. With up to five horses battling for the lead in the opening quarter mile of the Bing Crosby, Desert Law should be in a great spot to pass the tiring leaders and win his second stakes race in a row.
In order to be successful in the Bing Crosby, Chief Cicatriz must run back to his effort 13 months ago in the Aristides Stakes at Churchill Downs. In that race Chief Cicatriz was third in the early stages, a length and one-half behind the leaders, before commencing a rally nearly identical to the one Desert Law put in last month. In the Aristides, Chief Cicatriz was in front by three lengths at the eighth pole and won by six and one-quarter lengths, earning a 121 speed figure, which is the best by any horse in the field. Taking nine months off after that, he returned to win his first start of 2019 on March 10 before a poor fifth-place finish 14 days later. Returning to top form in May, Chief Cicatriz missed by a head before easily winning the Dark Star Cup Stakes at Canterbury Park last month. That turned out to be a very productive race as the fifth, sixth and seventh place finishers all improved to win their next start. As such, with more improvement in his third start off a layoff, Chief Cicatriz can win for the 11th time in his 16th career start.
Line Judge posted the 12 to 1 upset winning the Kelly’s Landing Stakes last month at Churchill Downs, earning a career-best 116 figure and tied for the best last race figure in the field with Desert Law. That win came off the $62,500 claim by Peter Miller one race prior and now Miller ships the horse back to his home base. Having won 12 of 23 starts on dirt in his career, Line Judge has the right running style to win his second stakes race in a row as he rallied from sixth of eight early to win the Kelly’s Landing. As such, Line Judge rounds out a trio I think that have the bulk of the probability to win this year’s Bing Crosby Stakes.
Honorable mention goes to Air Strike, winner of the Triple Bend Stakes at the end of May. The effort earned the colt a career-best 108 figure which is short of the 116 to 121 figures the top three win contenders have proven capable of earning. However, Air Strike is a 4-year-old and may have more improving to do. The Triple Bend turned out to be a productive race as well, with the fourth and fifth finishers returning to win their next starts, the latter winning a stakes. The only issue with Air Strike running well enough to be competitive in the Bing Crosby is this 6 furlong trip may not be his best distance. He debuted at the distance in May, 2018, finishing third as the 4-5 favorite, and has only run longer distances since then.
Ellis Starr is the national racing analyst for Equibase. Visit the Equibase website for more on the race or to purchase handicapping products.