By Ed McNamara
If you’re like me, you cut back dramatically on wagering after the pari-mutuel frenzy of the Breeders’ Cup. Although my handicapping was good, my betting was sloppy, and I should have made more than $50 on the year’s two best cards.
For the past few weeks, I haven’t had much desire to look at past performances, but I’m over my hangover. There’s not much high-quality racing in December until Santa Anita opens on the 26th, and Thanksgiving weekend offers a chance to put money on good horses. I’m interested in five stakes at Churchill Downs, Aqueduct and Del Mar, and maybe I can provide some useful pointers.
Churchill Downs (Friday)
$500,000 Clark Handicap (G1), 1 1/8 miles
The 146th edition of the Clark drew a strong field filled with multiple-stakes winners, headed by Brad Cox’s pair of By My Standards and Owendale and 2019 Travers and Jockey Club Gold Cup champ Code of Honor.
Code of Honor was supposed to be a major figure as a 4-year-old, but that hasn’t happened. He’s only 1-for-4, losing his last three (Met Mile, Whitney and Kelso). He’s become somewhat of a sucker bet, but I think he could turn it around here. He’s working well for Shug McGaughey off an eight-week layoff, so he’s a fresh horse facing Breeders’ Cup also-rans By My Standards (seventh, Classic), Owendale (fifth, Dirt Mile) and Mr Freeze (sixth, Dirt Mile). Those three might be a bit vulnerable after recent hard races in top company.
Code of Honor drew well (post 3), which could set up a ground-saving trip under John Velazquez behind what shapes up as a solid pace. He’s always been a strong finisher, and I think the script favors him.
I’ll play Code of Honor to win and key him in exacta boxes with By My Standards, Owendale and Mr Freeze.
Feel Glorious, the best of trainer Christophe Clement’s three runners, is 2-for-2 on Aqueduct’s tight course, including an ungraded stakes victory last December. She’s 5-for-17 on grass, with only one bad race in her last eight. Likely favorite Tapit Today beat her by 2 1/2 lengths last time but is stuck out in post 12. She’ll be a short price, so I’ll go with Feel Glorious. Chaleur, who fell a half-length short of Feel Glorious in a Saratoga stakes, looks like a live long shot.
Del Mar (Friday)
I’ve never been a big fan of Arklow, a teaser who’s burned lots of money by going 0-for-3 at odds of 8-5, 6-5 and 6-5. He’s in a 2-for-13 slump, and even the brilliant Brad Cox hasn’t been able to turn him into a consistent winner. But although he’s lost six of his last seven, his company lines are far better than anybody else’s in here, and it looks as if Cox has sent him from Kentucky to a very favorable spot. He’s 3-for-11 with two seconds at the distance, including a Grade 3 win this summer at Kentucky Downs, and I don’t believe in any of his rivals.
Arklow hasn’t faced a field this easy in a long time, so his odds won’t be much, even with his long slump. If you can get 8-5 or 9-5, make a win bet. If not, box him in exactas with Acclimate, Red King, Say the Word and Laccario and root for him to be second to a price horse.
When in doubt about what to do in a grass race, turn to Chad Brown. He’s scored with many shippers to Southern California in late autumn turf stakes, and I’ll be going with Fluffy Socks. Unlike most 2-year-old fillies, she can finish strongly, and most of her opponents have little or no form around two turns. One who does look OK on paper is Invincible Gal (1-for-4, two seconds), but she’s way out in post 14.
Fluffy Socks is a nose away from being 2-for-2 in stakes, and two back she beat Invincible Gal by 2 1/2 lengths on Preakness day at Pimlico. Others worth a look are Plum Sexy, Consternation and likely front-runner Bay Storm.
Can standout closer Domestic Spending overcome Christophe Clement’s standouts Gufo and Decorated Invader? Maybe, and he’ll be a better price than either.
Domestic Spending (post 8 in here) hasn’t run since early August, when he upset Gufo (post 13) and Decorated Invader (post 10) in the 1 3/16-mile Saratoga Derby. Domestic Spending lost his other meeting with Decorated Invader by 1 1/4 lengths, when he was third after a slow start.
Another contender is Smooth Like Strait, a winner at 1 1/8 miles last time in the Grade 2 Twilight Derby. He and Get Smokin should ensure a face pace.
Chad Brown wins 29 percent of the time off extended layoffs, and Domestic Spending gives the impression he has more to give. He’s 3-for-4 with excellent late-pace figures. I’ll be betting he’ll take another step forward, as Brown’s lightly raced horses usually do.
Ed McNamara is an award-winning journalist who has been writing about thoroughbred racing for 35 years. He has handicapped races for ESPN.com, Newsday and The Record of New Jersey. He is the author of “Cajun Racing: From the Bush Tracks to the Triple Crown” and co-author of “The Most Glorious Crown,” a chronicle of the first 12 Triple Crown champions.