So much action, hardly any attraction: That's generally how I feel about horse racing this time of year. I have no interest in Oaklawn, Aqueduct's inner track, Beulah, Laurel or Golden Gate, so what few bets I make are on Gulfstream and Santa Anita.
During winter, Southern California and South Florida have the best racing, but unless you get the Horse Racing TV network, you can't see them at home. About a year ago, HRTV suddenly became part of my cable package, which was a highlight. HRTV has many very good analysts, led by Jeff Siegel, and Laffit Pincay, Jon White and its other talking heads know their stuff. Too bad Pincay tries to sound too show-biz, and often his excellent voice comes across like a game show host's.
Saturday's racing was particularly uninspiring to me, even with 3-year-old preps at Oaklawn and Tampa Bay Downs. Maybe a few Kentucky Derby contenders will emerge from the Southwest Stakes (Smarty Jones did) and the Sam F. Davis, but I can wait to see the replays. I even considered suggesting a play on the Magna 5, a pick 5 featuring races from Laurel, Gulfstream, Golden Gate and Santa Anita. I thought better of it, and I'll tell you why.
It would have been easy to get into lottery mentality mode and spray around in a pick 5 to spice up a dull Saturday in February, but I had to resist. Except for the last event in the sequence, the Hurricane Bertie Handicap from Gulfstream, I found the Magna 5 inscrutable. Since there was no way I was going to play a ticket, I couldn't in good conscience recommend that anyone else should.
So I landed on the late pick 3 at Gulfstream, which includes the Hurricane Bertie. I'll throw a few dollars on those races, and maybe I can provide a few profitable insights.
Last week: Went 0-for-3, with two seconds, not cost-effective but not horrible, either. Host didn't fire and was out of the money in Gulfstream's Appleton Handicap. Proposed (Santa Maria Handicap) and Wild Fit (Las Virgenes Stakes) gave solid runner-up efforts at Santa Anita. Neither had the best of trips and both should be bet back.
9th race, Gulfstream, NW2 allowance (1 1/16 miles, turf)
In a race filled with teasers that rarely connect, I'll take a Todd Pletcher trainee coming off a layoff. Now there's a bold move. Cherry Bomb makes her grass debut with a solid pedigree for the surface and a long series of turf works, some of them pretty quick. This will be only the seventh career start for the 5-year-old, so obviously she has soundness problems.
Her main competition should come from a pair of money-burners. Asti is 1-for-15 with five seconds and lost at odds of 2-1 or less four times last year. Malaysia needed eight grass starts just to break her maiden. If you make it a rule never to bet on chronic failures with seconditis, you'll be way ahead in the long run. Even if Asti and Malaysia run 1-2, it would be a bad bet.
1. Cherry Bomb 2. Asti 3. Malaysia
10th race, Gulfstream, Grade III Hurricane Bertie Handicap (6 1/2 furlongs)
For All We Know provided me with a golden moment last October, when she won a Keeneland stakes at odds of 8-1. I touted her in this column, had her to win and place and hit a very large exacta, so I should have sent a bushel of carrots to John Ward's barn.
She'll run for the first time since then, but Ward knows how to win off the layoff. For All We Know has good tactical speed and can finish, and she's 2-for-2 at 6? and 7 furlongs. She'll need her best effort, because Grade I winner Splendid Blended and multiple-stakes winner Smokey Glacken are very tough.
Splendid Blended hasn't raced since July and she's never sprinted. Smokey Glacken won a Grade III over the track and is remarkably quick and consistent. If she can clear the field early, she'll be tough to catch. Smokey Glacken outran Kuanyan for the early lead last time, but Kuanyan might be able to pressure her here.
1. For All We Know 2. Smokey Glacken 3. Splendid Blended
11th race, Gulfstream, maiden claimer, (1 1/16 miles, turf)
It's your typical last-race, get-out-for-the-day grab bag, and I landed on Perfect Promise. In her second career start for Jimmy Toner, she drops in class off a layoff. Although she didn't show much on the Aqueduct grass in November, she has a nice turf pedigree (by Royal Anthem out of a Red Ransom mare) and has been working steadily. Bill Mott sends out the likely favorite in Reigning Emerald, second by 6 lengths last month on the Gulfstream turf. If she wins at short odds, it will be no surprise. Longshot possibilities are Mystic Mirage and Bay Pond.
1. Perfect Promise 2. Reigning Emerald 3. Mystic Mirage