Friday, December 26, 2008

The Malibu Stakes

The following piece was originally written as a handicapping column for another publication with the novice handicapper in mind. As such it has been edited a little from it's original form.

This week is the 57th edition of the Grade I Malibu Stakes on opening day at Santa Anita on Friday Dec 26th. The race is for three year olds (foals of 2005) and is contested at, perhaps, the most difficult of all distances, seven furlongs. The first running was in 1952 a time when racing was still center stage in this country. The Malibu has always been contested at 7furlongs, unlike so many stakes that have had their distance changed over time. Originally awarded a Grade II status the race was up graded to a Grade I in 1980.

While the length of seven furlongs isn’t what we think of when we think of great horses many great horses have their names etched into history as winners of the Malibu Stakes. There was Round Table, Native Diver, Buckpasser, Damascus, Spectacular Bid, Precisionist and Ferdinand to name a some of the most notable. More recently Mizzen Mast won in 2001 and Rock Hard Ten in 2004. What is most notable about this roster of winners is that almost all are thought of as being stamina influences to the breed. And while Precisionist is probably best remembered for having won the 1988 Breeder’s Cup Sprint if you look back at his past performances you will see he won big races from sprint distances up to a mile and a quarter; the 1984 G.I Swaps for example.

Different types of races demand a different focus to the handicapping employed. But one of the first things that has to be done in any race is that you have to eliminate horses. Generally when handicapping I check the breeding of each horse to determine if there are any that do not, in my opinion, have the pedigree for the race. Many past performances available today have some notation, based on some formula, as to the publishers best guess for the suitability of the horse for the distance but I prefer to determine this myself and quite often find myself at odds with opinions proffered. However, by the time a horse has had several races it is pretty easy to see what type of runner it will be and if it is running to it’s pedigree. While pedigree handicapping is most obviously useful with maidens I think it can always be a tool, and I use it in conjunction with a horses PP’s to make decisions. For instance in this weeks Malibu there are two horses with pedigrees that scream out for a lot more distance in one case I see it as a positive and the other a negative.

First, Colonel John.
I love the back class of Colonel John. And class usually rises to the top. Yet his pedigree (Tiznow – Sweet Damsel, by Turkoman) would suggest he would be best suited with a lot more ground. But looking back to his second race we see that he broke his maiden at seven furlongs in a race that had another pretty nice horse in it, Medjool. Yet, it was a maiden race and a lot has happened since. One thing that happened is that he went from a horse that was forwardly placed to one that rated and came with a late run. That strategy only worked for him in the Santa Anita Derby, not a bad place for it to work but another runner in the Malibu, Bob Black Jack, is who he defeated. Bob is a horse that makes the pace or runs with it; not the type of horse one necessarily thinks about winning the 1-1/8 mile SA Derby. He again rated well off the pace in the Derby and it resulted in his worst performance. Since then Colonel John has returned to a more aggressive strategy and it has paid off. He missed by just a length and a half first back in the G. II Swaps and then won the G.I Travers. Those two races are arguably his best performances. His last race was the BC Classic. While you never have to apologize for losing the classic it is a race that he didn’t embarrass himself in and once again he sat a little farther back than I think he wants to be. Yet through his running lines his versatility and class is obvious and that is what makes him one of my favorites in this race. In the Malibu the pace should be very heated and from the opening of the gates I expect him to,once again, be more engaged. So if Gomez keeps him two or three lengths back from the first tier, as I think he will, he will be well engaged in the race while also able to reserve a little more than the rest for the end. Based on that information I actually like his pedigree here. He is a horse that has shown he has the stamina to run until next weekend, he has tactical speed and runs best when involved. As I pointed out above many of the past winners were horses that we associate with stamina. I see no problem with Colonel John shortening up here to seven furlongs. With his pedigree and preferred running style perhaps he may be best suited as a miler! Can anyone say sire!

The other horse is Golden Spikes. Another horse that should really enjoy going longer. He is by Seeking the Gold out of the A.P. Indy mare A.P interest. He should be running marathons yet here he is at that netherworld distance. He’s a horse that just hung on at 6 furlongs to win both the G.II Carry Back and the 94k Unbridled. Both tries at 7 panels have ended badly. Sandwiched in-between his sprints are four routes, three in graded company, in which he did not change his front running style of running much, if at all, and was never really a threat in any of them. I think he would be better suited to backing up to 5 ½ or learning to rate and go long. This is not his game. Here I think the horses’ pedigree and running style are at odds with each other. Far be it for me to question Marty Wolfson (31%). He must think an awful lot of this horse to bring him all the way across the country but I give him little to no chance. One eliminated
You have to eliminate horses. Those that you don’t think can’t win just toss out. Sure you’re going to be wrong a lot but the fewer horses you have to choose between the easier your decisions will be. So for me Golden Spikes is out. He just seems outclassed and over matched here to me.

The next horse I would throw out is Guns on the Table. I know a lot of people wouldn’t throw him out just because Baffert trains him and the new perennial winning southern California jockey Rafael Bejarano has got the mount. But I’ll take a good horse over a good trainer or jockey any day. Good horses are what make good trainers and jockeys. He is a horse that only broke his maiden three races ago. He may end up being a nice horse, I expect he will. But today he is part of the chaff. Yes, he’s worked steadily and well but to me he is just in way over his head. Is it possible he wins? I guess anything is possible but I would have him as the longest shot on the board.

Another horse I will take a stand against is the early favorite, Into Mischief. He has really done nothing wrong. Three wins (one a G.I) and two places in five starts! He has already defeated Colonel John and Georgie Boy. He’s won at the distance and he’s won on the Pro-Ride surface. So what’s not to like? A few things. First his PP’s suggest an ouchy horse. Second, after his Oct. 25 win he did not record another work for 27 days. That scares me a little. Since then he has been working steady and well, however, he shows two 7 furlong workouts one on Dec.11 the other Dec. 17. While I like longer workouts to determine if you think a horse will get a distance I don’t like them here. I can’t figure them out and that throws up a red flag for me. Maybe he’s real fresh and kicking down the barn or maybe he’s playing catch up. But it’s worrisome to me especially with a horse that seems to have had some health issues. By race day he will have had two works (1-3/8ths miles total) and a Grade I race in the last eight days. For a war horse no problem, but that’s not how I see him by looking at his PP’s. Of course if you know a horse and know that he had bucked somewhere along the line or at least knew the reasons for his ouchy form that’s different. I don’t know in this case. I could perhaps research it but most often we have to go with what’s in front of us and so that’s how I read his lines. Another reason I don’t like him here is the pace. That word has to come up in EVERY race. Into Mischief is going to be at the front and his #1 post position forces the issue a little from the start. He will be going early and he will have a lot of company. This race will be fast. Into Mischief, Bob Black Jack, Golden Spikes, all like to get right at it and Georgie Boy and Guns On the Table will likely be nipping at their heels. I don’t think the race sets up well for Into Mischief. I don’t think he can win this race from off the pace and his post doesn’t allow him many options. Most of us like to be able to throw out the favorite for value (though I don’t think he will be at post time, I think Colonel John will be) and in this instance I have enough reasons that I will. Into Mischief is out.

There’s a lot to like about Bob Black Jack. He keeps good company. He’s won at the distance and he’s training extremely well. As a matter of fact his last race on Nov. 22 was right on schedule with his works. And since then he hasn’t missed a beat. He also runs very well second time back from a layoff, as this race is for him.. He makes it hard to go against but again I think the pace of this race will be his undoing. Although he’s kept company with a few of these horses he’s yet to beat any of them and I don’t think he will change that in this race.

Nownownow is an interesting case. On paper, he really doesn’t look like he fits here. But he has won on an artificial surface and has, occasionally, shown a very good turn of foot on the turf. I think he can move up here on the Pro-Ride. On paper the race sets up best for him or Colonel John best of all. That is if Colonel John doesn’t sit too far off the pace and if Nownownow is fit. Perhaps then this horse has an outside chance of picking up the pieces at the wire. I don’t expect that to happen but I won’t be stunned if it occurs. The horse is also back with Biancone who has a lot to prove. The negatives are that I don’t like the work tab much . It was 42 days from his last race to his next published work and he has had only two more works since then. Seems like they are trying to play catch up. Though maybe he’s just been getting a lot of those long morning stamina building gallops. He’s run some good races and has been entered in races that would lead one to conclude that there is a lot of untapped potential. Will Biancone and the switch from turf back to synthetics be the catalyst he needs? He’s the dark horse here and will have a lot of upside as far as the tote is concerned. To me he’s worth a small bet as a longshot possibility.

Like Colonel John Georgie Boy has versatility. He is also a specialist at the distance having won two of three (one against Into Mischief) and a horse for the course having also won 2 of 3 at Santa Anita. We should, perhaps, hold off judgement on that for another race or two as he has only raced over the Pro-Ride surface once and he finished fourth to Into Mischief in that one. But that was his first race back after 7 months. One can’t find fault in his running lines and they have all been on synthetics. He has also proven his class. The downside is that this will only be his third race since March. That would normally be a concern but I know from the Blood-Horse article about his trainer Kathy Walsh ( Dec.13 no.50) that he pulled a muscle in his back and they were just giving him plenty of time. After such a long time away he needed that last race. He certainly is working well and he shows up to run every time. One of the hardest factors to determine with two and three year olds (especially when they have been away for a while) is how they have matured against each other. Rarely is the precocious two year old hanging around as a good late three year old. And they change so much as three year olds from the beginning of the year to the end, without races to gauge the change, it is very much guess work. That is when knowing a trainer will help you. I don’t think Kathy Walsh would have him in this spot if she didn’t feel he was up to the competition. A race can break, as well as make, a horse. So if she’s got him in I assume he has developed well. For me this race comes down to how Edgar Prado rides Georgie Boy. Starting on the outside he’ll be able to see the race unfold better than anyone and should be able to find a comfortable position from which to stalk the leaders. If he’s fit enough I think he wins. He’s obviously shown he has the stamina and I think he’s also faster than Colonel John at seven furlongs.

Colonel John has got the class but I think this is just a touch short for him. I would play #7 Georgie Boy to win and an exacta box with #2 Colonel John (just because class usually finds a way).


Amateurcapper said...

Happy Holidays.

I also posted a comment on the Malibu, please check my blog if you have time (

One thing to consider, GEORGIE BOY may be just as "ouchy" as INTO MISCHIEF.

I'm considering BBJ to win, coupling him with the contention in exactas.

Good luck!

George said...

Nice call! Amateurcapper, about BBJ and Georgie Boy. Maybe you should update the name of your blog!

Amateurcapper said...


Thanks for the kind words.

Certainly, I'd like to have more back/forth with fellow horseplayers. These days it's hard to get to the track, although I did today :)! If you like what I write and feel I'd be a good addition to TBA, please put in a good word for me with HANDRIDE and the other leaders of the site.

I've been blogging for three years now, most recently at Horseplayer Pro as "Amateurcapper". However, I feel a bit out of place there being strictly an amateur horseplayer but a professional fan.

I'll be posting daily at least the first 9 days of the meeting, what I feel is the foundation for the year in SoCal.

I'll type back soon.

Patrick J Patten said...

TBA year end note