Well That Was Something – According to Dew

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handicapper Justin DewA New Handicap Star in the Making

by Justin Dew

It may have been a mild step down in terms of graded status, but City of Light’s win in the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap at 1 1/8 miles on Saturday has put the rest of the handicap division on notice that there is a new force to be reckoned with as we move towards the Grade 1 dirt routes for older horses to be run between now and November.

Previously just a sprinter, City of Light had won back-to-back Grade 1s at 7 furlongs in California. His win Saturday at Oaklawn was not only his first start out of California, but also his first beyond 7 furlongs and his first attempt going two turns. He won like he was born to do it all along, earning a career-best 107 Beyer Speed Figure. And while I have never been a huge Accelerate fan, you can only beat those who show up to face you. And looking ahead, it’s not hard to envision City of Light going heavily favored in some of this country’s top route and sprint races and possibly making a run at….dare I say it?…..Horse of the Year.

I think the early favorite for 2018 HOTY was probably West Coast on the basis of his solid efforts in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and Pegasus Invitational. And many observers will chalk up his Dubai Wold Cup loss to the speed/rail bias that has been firmly established. He is justifiably still #1 on most handicap division rankings. But how good is he? His signature win to date is his romp in the Travers last August, and while it was a visually impressive performance, and while I have respect for Gunnevera and the ill-fated Irap who ran behind him, I’m not so sure that field was super-tough. West Coast might be a grinder with a higher cruising speed than we are used to seeing in grinders. He’ll get his share of wins in 2018. But if I may steal and slightly alter a line from There Will Be Blood, “When it’s time for the showdown, he won’t be there.” At least that’s my opinion.

Belmont Park horse racingI bet on Sharp Azteca in the Pegasus, and while the start certainly didn’t help him, that wasn’t his distance.  I think he’s going to be most effective this year going a mile. I think it’s fair to put Accelerate a notch below the best based on what we saw yesterday. He’s just not an elite horse in my opinion. And I feel like we know, at this point in their careers, what Mubtaahij and Hoppertunity are capable of. Yes, they are useful horses. But they aren’t going to scare anyone away from anything. Diversify and Good Samaritan also come with class, but don’t seem to bring their ‘A’ game often enough.

So who does that leave as the potential big guns in the handicap division? Can Army Mule stretch out? Will he even try? I tell you who could have made some noise this year. Forever Unbridled. It’s too bad she’s been retired. I would have loved to see her in the Stephen Foster and then a couple of those New York Grade 1s in the summer.

Ok. Prediction time. In this murky fog of a discussion where we’ve touched on Horse of the Year, handicap division leader, and Forever Unbridled, I’m ready to call it….

2018 Horse of the Year: City of Light (unless, of course, Justify wins the Triple Crown.)

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About Editor

Rich Nilsen is a 14-time qualifier to the National Handicapping Championship (NHC), an event he has cashed in four times. He was the first player to finish in the top 10 twice. He recently won a $24,000 package into Kentucky Derby Betting Championship I. A former executive with Brisnet.com, Rich is also a graduate of the University of Louisville Equine Business Program. He is founder of AGameofSkill.com, a site devoted to horse racing education and promotion.

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