By Noel Michaels
A trio of racetracks are in the spotlight this weekend before Thanksgiving, so let’s focus in on Del Mar, Churchill Downs and Aqueduct. With top quality races at these three tracks, it makes it easier for horseplayers to tune in on three signals and still stay on top of the game
All three tracks reach the peaks of their meets late in November with a bevy of turf races before the circuits transition into winter racing.
A closer look at handicapping these three:
A wide open 10-horse field will go at it at 1 3/8 miles on the grass in the three-turn Red Smith, and it’s shaping up to be an incredible betting race since just about every horse has a chance to win on its best day. The morning-line favorite is #4 Serve the King (3-1) for trainer Chad Brown with Irad Ortiz, Jr., aboard, coming out of a second-place finish in Belmont’s 1 ½-mile Turf Classic Invitational (G1) in his last race. He hails from top connections, has high speed figures, and owns wins ranging in distance from 1 mile to 1 5/8 miles in Saratoga’s John’s Call two races ago. The chalk should be used in the exotics, but the door is open for a mild upset and the two most likely to do it are #3 Soldier Rising (5-1) or #7 Channel Cat (4-1). Soldier Rising is a 3-year-old trained by Christophe Clement. He disappointed last time out when fifth in the Hill Prince (G3) when that 1 1/8-mile race came up a bit too short for him, but he looked very good at 1 ½ miles the time before last when running second in Belmont’s $1 million Jockey Club Turf Invitational, beaten only by the long-striding next-out winner of the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1), Yibir. Soldier Rising was also good three races ago when second in the Saratoga Derby Invitational. Channel Cat, trained By Jack Sisterson, is a veteran earner of over $1.4 million who earlier this year won Belmont’s Man o’War (G1) at this distance.
The Play: Bet #3 Soldier Rising to win, and box him along with #4 Serve the King and #7 Channel Cat in the exactas and trifectas.
The one-turn, 1-mile Chilukki drew an eight-horse field of mostly older fillies and mares, many of whom are in search of a first graded stakes win. The morning-line favorite is the field’s only 3-year-old, #7 Obligatory (5-2) trained by Bill Mott and to be ridden by Joel Rosario. She was runner-up in the Cotillion (G1) at Parx two races ago. She disappointed last time out when never involved in the 7-furlong Raven Run (G2) at Keeneland, but it’s worth noting she is already a graded stakes winner on this track in last year’s Eight Belles (G2). For her to win she will need to knock off a pair of older horses in good form like #3 Matera (3-1) and #4 Miss Bigly (3-1). Matera was fourth behind the likes of Shedaresthedevil last time out in the Locust Grove (G3) for Eclipse Award trainer Brad Cox and had won all three of her other starts this year including Ellis Park’s Groupie Doll, which she won from post 12. Miss Bigly invades from the West Coast off a third-place finish in Santa Anita’s Zenyatta (G2), placed in two stakes races earlier this year at Thistledown behind Crystal Ball and at Churchill behind Envoutante. She has won her last three races at 1-mile at three different tracks. Now she will try her hand at a mile around one turn.
The Play: It’s a toss-up between the favorites. Box the exactas and trifectas with #3 Matera, #4 Miss Bigly and #7 Obligatory.
The key to handicapping this one could turn out to be the distance of the race at 1 1/8 miles, which seems to be a little farther than some of these horses want to go. Three of the top choices in the field of eight are trained by Bob Baffert, and the top contenders seem to come from that group, along with #2 Midcourt (4-1) trained by John Shirreffs. Midcourt is a multiple graded stakes winner in his career at 1 1/8 miles and ran a bang-up race as recently as June when he won a Santa Anita conditioned allowance race with a big speed figure. In this race, however, Midcourt will require something of a leap of faith to bet him, because he was eased in his only recent outing, which came last month in the Awesome Again (G1). If you believe he can positively rebound off that last-place fiasco, Midcourt is probably the best horse. He won this race in 2019 and placed in 2020, and has a very good lifetime record at Del Mar. Among the Baffert trio of #5 Azul Coast (4-1), #6 Eight Rings (7-2), and #7 Ax Man (6-1), Ax Man is the best odds and will have Mike Smith aboard to make him bettable, but the best of the lot could be Azul Coast, who flopped in the Awesome Again last time but won nicely at Del Mar in the outing before and is already a stakes winner earlier in his career at 1 1/8 miles in the El Camino Real Derby. Flavien Prat has the ride.
The Play: Bet #2 Midcourt to win, especially if he is close to his 4-1 morning line. Play a three-horse box in the exactas with Midcourt, #5 Azul Coast, and #7 Ax Man.
Noel Michaels has been involved in many aspects of thoroughbred racing for more than two decades, as a Breeders’ Cup-winning owner and as a writer, author, handicapper, editor, manager and promoter of the sport for a wide range of companies including Daily Racing Form and Nassau County Off-Track Betting.
He also is regarded as the leading source of news and information for handicapping tournaments and the author of the “Handicapping Contest Handbook: A Horseplayer’s Guide to Handicapping Tournaments”, which made his name virtually synonymous with the increasingly-popular tournament scene.
In addition to contributing to US Racing, he is also an analyst on the Arlington Park broadcast team.