Key Horse Races & Expert Handicapper Bets – October 02, 2021

Champagne Stakes – Race 8 at Belmont – Post Time 4:40PM Eastern

My Prankster opens as the 5 to 2 third choice in this six horse field and is likely to remain the third choice in the wagering behind Chad Brown’s Jack Christopher (9 to 5) and Todd Pletcher’s Wit (2 to 1). My Prankster is trained by Pletcher as well, and like favorite Jack Christopher, My Prankster has only run once, winning easily at Saratoga first time out. He won by 10 lengths at six and one-half furlongs, compared to Jack Christopher winning by eight and three-quarters lengths at six furlongs and the Equibase Speed Figure My Prankster earned (95) tells me he ran FASTER than Jack Christopher (88) and even faster than Wit earned when second in the Hopeful Stakes one month ago. Granted, Wit stumbled at the start and lost all chance while 11/1 shot Gunite won the race. Gunite opens at 4 to 1 here and certainly will take some money as well. My Prankster showed a LOT of maturity and preparedness in his debut, relaxing in third early then taking over entering the stretch and winning easily under Saez, who rides back. As to breeding, as a son of Into Mischief there’s little doubt how good My Prankster can be as he stretches out, as the sire produced a lot of winners of top two and three year old races including Practical Joke in 2016, plus Gamine and Authentic. With a ton of upside physically and mentally off his debut, My Prankster could take some beating here and may offer us strong low odds overlay potential as a win bet.

Handicapper Picks

Win bets:

My Prankster should be bet to win at odds of 3 to 2 or more.

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Santa Anita Sprint Championship Stakes – Race 8 at Santa Anita – Post Time 7 PM Eastern (4 Pacific)

Vertical Threat is a perfect four for five in dirt sprints. Three of those four wins came at the six furlong distance of the Santa Anita Sprint Championship. The fastest of those came last November when leading from start to finish to draw off by seven and one-half lengths in the Steel Valley Sprint, earning a career-best 118 Equibase Speed Figure on par with the 117 figure C Z Rocket earned winning this race last year. Although this field is composed of some top sprinters, none has the early speed of Vertical Threat, which he not only used to win the Steel Valley Sprint but also most recently when winning the Russell Road Stakes. Leading from start to finish on fast fractions for the track at Charles Town, Vertical Threat still pulled away late to win by three and one-half lengths. Cutting back from seven furlongs to the six furlong trip he so dearly loves, and making his third start after returning from an eight month layoff, I have little doubt jockey Abel Cedillo is going to put Vertical Threat on the lead and play “come catch me” with the field. Considering those tactics were successful in the colt’s last two wins and considering the 118 figure earned in one of them is good enough to win in this field, Vertical Threat may be very tough to beat in this situation.

C Z Rocket was claimed for a fairly paltry $40,000 in April of 2020, compared to the more than $1 million he’s earned since then winning seven of 10 races. He won the 2020 Pat O’Brien Stakes at Del Mar with a 110 figure before a career-best 117 figure in last year’s Santa Anita Sprint Championship. Not disgraced one bit following that when second in the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Sprint, C Z Rocket returned in March to win the Hot Springs Stakes (111 figure) and the Count Fleet Stakes (114 figure) and has run well in three races since, all graded stakes, without winning. It’s possible the seven year old has lost a step but on the other hand considering he’s on the same pattern as before winning last year’s edition of this race by cutting back from seven furlongs to six, he must be respected as a contender.

Flagstaff won the Commonwealth Stakes at seven furlongs in April and the Churchill Downs Stakes in May then cut back to six and one half furlongs and ran in to a buzzsaw in Firenze Fire when second in the True North Stakes with a 110 figure in June. Rested nearly three months while pointing to his race, Flagstaff was only a head behind C Z Rocket in the Pat O’Brien and so is on the same pattern he was last year when second in the Pat O’Brien behind C Z Rocket before losing by a head to the same horse in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship. That effort tied a career-best 117 figure earned when beaten a neck in the Palos Verdes Stakes in January of 2020 at this six furlong trip. Cutting back a furlong while making his second start off a layoff just as he did when almost winning this race last year, Flagstaff has a strong chance to add to his seven for 21 record on dirt and $1 million in career earnings.

Handicapper Picks

Win bets:

Vertical Threat can be bet at odds of 5 to 2 or more.


Box Vertical ThreatC Z Rocket and Flagstaff

(We’re trying to completely keep Dr. Schivel, the 2/1 starting favorite, out of the exacta)

Pick 4:

Race 8: Vertical ThreatC Z RocketFlagstaff

Race 9: LuckDogtag

Race 10: MidcourtMedina SpiritAzul Coast

Race 11: UnitedMaster Piece

(Note – My analysis for Race 9, the Rodeo Drive Stakes, is available on another blog you can get the link to from me on Twitter @ubercapper).

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Awesome Again Stakes – Race 10 at Santa Anita – Post Time 8 PM Eastern (5 Pacific)

Medina Spirit can win, but so also can his stablemate Azul Coast and Midcourt, the latter two opening at 12/1 odds that don’t make any sense. Tripoli opens as the 3/1 second choice behind Medina Spirit (whose 5 to 2 morning line is going to be reset big time by the public probably down to 6 to 5). Sure, Tripoli won the Pacific Classic, but he was six to one that day, he beat Tizamagician, who is only a grade 3 stakes winner, and it was at 10 furlongs. This nine furlong trip is going to move a number of horses up, and it may take away any edge Tripoli may have had, if he had one at all. Then there’s Express Train, opening at 4 to 1, as is Tizamagician. Express Train won the San Diego Handicap this summer at a mile and one-sixteenth and he won the San Pasqual Stakes at this distance in January, but he doesn’t appear fast enough to win if others run their best. His best three Equibase figures this year are 106 and 107. When Midcourt won the 2019 San Pasqual, he earned a stellar 119 figure. Off from last December until June, Midcourt won a classified allowance race at a mile with a 112 figure, his best since the San Pasqual and the same as when winning the Native Diver Stakes at this distance two years ago next month. If Midcourt can run a big race with a 110+ figure off an eight month layoff, running back off a four month layoff is no problem. Maldonado rode him for the first time in that last race and gets the return engagement and Midcourt has the ability to stick right off the heels of Medina Spirit from the start, and as a six year old is stronger physically, and possibly mentally, enabling him to go by late for the upset win.

If not, Baffert’s other starter, Azul Coast, can win at high odds. Returning from 10 months off in July, Azul Coast only managed third but then in his seconds start back, at the same mile trip Midcourt raced in his comeback, Azul Coast ran a grade 1 winning race with a 115 figure while stalking in second early then battling head and head to the wire. Compare that 115 figure effort to Medina Spirit, who earned a 110 figure in the Derby then a 105 figure in the Shared Belief (in which he probably could have run faster), and there’s no doubt in my mind both Azul Coast and Midcourt have what it takes to win, and since both open at double digit odds putting them in an exacta box with favorite Medina Spirit still promises a nice profit.

Handicapper Picks


Win bets: Bet both Midcourt and Azul Coast to win at 5 to 2 or more.

Exacta: Box Midcourt, Azul Coast and Medina Spirit

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John Henry Turf Championship – Race 11 at Santa Anita – Post Time 8:30PM Eastern (5:30 Pacific) 

United is the one to beat but I will not discount the chances of Master Piece to post the mild upset win. For exacta tickets we will add Camino Del Paraiso and Acclimate.

United was unlucky, perhaps very unlucky, six weeks ago in the Del Mar Handicap. Locked in with a quarter mile to go and seventh of 11 after getting shuffled back from fifth, United angled inside with just 110 yards left to go and came charging but too late, ending up a half-length, neck and nose short of winning. In last year’s Del Mar Handicap, United also rallied too late, missing by a neck to Red Lark, who is not in the same kind of form he was at this time last year. Nevertheless, in last year’s John Henry, United put it all together when Prat, sensing no early speed in the race, put him on the lead through fairly slow fractions, from which he showed his usual kick and gave no other horse a shot. In this year’s John Henry, there’s all kinds of “Early” speed horses, starting with Acclimate, who has had the lead through the first mile in each of his last six races. There’s also Neptune’s Storm, Award Winner and Media Blitz, all who are likely to want to press Acclimate in the early stages and perhaps take him on. In any of a number of scenarios, all Prat has to do with United is keep him in the three or four path so he can get to the middle of the track in the stretch and close just as he did winning the San Marcos Stakes at this distance at Santa Anita in 2020, or as he did winning the Eddie Read Stakes at Del Mar in July.

That being said, Master Piece, who opens at 5 to 1 compared to 5 to 2 for United, has a shot, particularly if the pace is especially hot. Master Piece comes from much further back than United, as in the Del Mar Handicap when he was 10th of 11 early and still sixth with an eighth of a mile to go before missing the win by a half-length. Considering 13 horses are entered here, that’s a lot of traffic to navigate but it’s not impossible as there were 11 in the Del Mar Handicap. Winner of a Group 2 stakes at 10 furlongs in his native Chile and making his second start in California and second for McCarthy after moving from the Chad Brown barn, it’s logical Master Piece will run another “A” race good enough to win or be part of the exacta.

In spite of all the “early” speed types signed on, Acclimate should be used on exacta tickets as he holds on very well in the final parts of the race. He was second in 2019 after leading the whole way and second in the Charles Whittingham Stakes in May at this distance after leading early. Camino Del Paraiso only ran farther than a mile and one-sixteenth once, but it was a big effort when second in the mile and one-half San Luis Rey Stakes on the SA turf in March, 2020. That effort, his win last September in a stakes at Golden Gate fields on the turf and last November there as well, suggest he could get a piece to add to his record of finishing first or second in 20 of 42 career races, nearly 50% of the time. He came back from nine months off one month ago to win a stakes in Northern California as well and not only should he be physically stronger second off the layoff but he likes to sit in third to fifth early, which is a good place to be when the horses on the lead and pressing the pace get tired from their early efforts.

Handicapper Picks

Win: United to win at 9 to 5 or more AND Master Piece to win at 3 to 1 or more.

I would also make a small win bet on Camino Del Paraiso at 6 to 1 or higher.

When making multiple win bets, use a “Dutching” tool to do the work of allocating your wagering dollars for the best edge. A Dutching tool lets you set the amount you want to bet or the amount you want to win, then based on the odds your bets are proportioned accordingly. Amwager has a great dutching tool available, among many other great features.



United and Master Piece over United, Master Piece, Acclimate and Camino Del Paraiso

United, Master Piece, Acclimate and Camino Del Paraiso over United and Master Piece

(I would play the top exacta for at least two more units than the second. For example if you play the top exacta for $10 then play the second exacta for $5)

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Ellis Starr

Ellis is a well respected handicapper and contributor of AmWager. He has been a public handicapper for more than twenty years, educating racing fans of all skill levels with detailed commentary few other handicappers provide.

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