Dear Zenyatta/Ziconic Fans,
There’s something you should know before reading the rest of this letter, and, by extension, my analysis into Saturday’s card at Santa Anita. I am NOT a Zenyatta hater.
I have a deep respect for what the great mare was able to do. I was among the Hall of Fame voters that put her and fellow legendary female Rachel Alexandra in on the very first ballot. Furthermore, in an age where horse racing is in desperate need of stars, few are hoping harder that Zenyatta’s offspring can run than I am.
Ziconic is no bum, and part of his inability to win one yet hasn’t been his fault. He ran into eventual multiple graded stakes winner Dalmore twice in early-2016, and then, in his fourth lifetime start, he was beaten into submission by a little-known gray horse named Arrogate, who would later emerge as the top dirt horse in the world.
However, this is where I urge you all to breathe very deeply, because here’s where the gambler in me comes out.
It is my belief that any money wagered on Ziconic to win Saturday’s finale at Santa Anita…is dumb money.
(pausing to allow objects to be thrown in my general direction)
OK, done now? Good.
Anyway, here’s my logic. Ziconic’s fatal flaw throughout his career has been an inability to break well from the starting gate. In his six starts, he’s been closer than eight lengths behind at the first point of call just once. With that in mind, the rail draw is a huge problem. Not only will Ziconic likely concede considerable ground from the word “go” in Saturday’s finale, but he’ll probably have to check back sharply while doing so. Furthermore, the race itself has positively ZERO known early pace to speak of (more on this later). If you subscribe to the notion that pace makes the race, Ziconic is up against it, and would be even with a better post position.
Consider all of these facts, and then consider Ziconic’s likely price at the betting windows. A 3-1 morning line is conservative, given the Zenyatta fans that follow the horse and will bet with their hearts at the windows. My guess is that Ziconic goes off somewhere between 8/5 and 2-1, and I simply cannot endorse a win bet on a slow-breaking closer in a paceless race contested on a surface that is often very kind to early speed at that short of a mutuel.
I had a Twitter follower comment once that wagering on Ziconic was akin to placing flowers on the Zenyatta statue in the paddock at Santa Anita. I’m not heartless. I get that argument. However, as a horseplayer, I wake up every day in search of the elusive property known as value. When Ziconic (and before him, Cozmic One) is hammered at the windows to the point of being a monstrous underlay, value exists with the rest of the field.
If Ziconic blooms at a later age and turns into a star, nobody will be happier than yours truly. I work in social media, after all, and that story would play REALLY well. With that in mind, he’ll likely be bet like he towers over the field he faces Saturday. The facts show that he doesn’t.
(braces for a social media backlash of epic proportions)
$0.50 Pick Five: Race #1, Santa Anita
48 bets, $24
This Pick Five ticket (which also includes the skeleton of a $12 early Pick Four ticket that begins in the second race) is built around the singling of Stormy Liberal in the Grade 3 Daytona. The Peter Miller trainee has four wins and two seconds in his last six starts, and has won three in a row going down the hill. The far outside post is a huge plus, and I think he’ll be tough to beat in that short field.
The other legs, though, are not easy. If One I’m Running To channels his 2-year-old form, he likely wins the opener comfortably, but coming off a long layoff and running for a $12,500 tag after thumping $50,000 maiden claimers last fall is a big red flag. As such, I also used Bitte, whose last race is a throwout given his slow start. A repeat of his races two and three back would make him a major player.
The second race is a mess, so I spread there before singling Stormy Liberal in the third leg (if you’ve got the budget to hit the “ALL” button, go ahead; I opted to keep the cost of the ticket down a bit). I settled on only using two horses in the fourth. Honor and Courage may be the only speed horse in the race, while Acker was a solid second in his debut and has the pedigree to love a two-turn route of ground. Finally, I was tempted to single Lady Eli in the Grade 1 Gamely, but I also had to use Avenge, who may be the race’s lone early speed horse. The latter has been working well, and all signs point to a big performance.
$0.50 Pick Four: Race #6, Santa Anita
64 bets, $32
Given the guaranteed pool and the wide-open fields, this is a Pick Four that could pay very generously. I spread in the first two races, and several horses I used are fairly big prices on the morning line.
The sixth is an optional claimer that looks much more like a stakes race. Taman Guard seems like the horse to beat, and when he’s on his game, he’s very good. However, he hasn’t run in nine months, and the post position isn’t great, so I added some more coverage. Texas Two Step should improve with the re-addition of blinkers, Boy Howdy’s two races this season for red-hot trainer Bill Spawr have been solid, and don’t overlook Pioneerof the West. He’s 20-1 on the line, and while he comes in off a long layoff, his best race would be competitive in this spot. Vladimir Cerin can win with horses coming in off this kind of a freshening, and he’d be a knockout horse.
I’m using the same numbers in the second leg, the Grade 2 Monrovia. Illuminant and Enola Gray merit respect, but Watch This Cat gets off the dreaded rail (which hurt her badly last time out against several rivals that also show up here), and Anita Partner has crossed under the wire first on four straight occasions, three of which have come in races contested at this route.
I’m going against Midnight Storm in the Grade 1 Gold Cup at Santa Anita. There seems to be a lot of early speed signed on, and 10 furlongs may be just a hair further than he wants to go. American Freedom makes his second start off the layoff for Bob Baffert, while Follow Me Crev is in good form and should get plenty of pace to run at. If Midnight Storm wins, I lose, but if one of those two horses can beat him, many tickets go up in smoke, and I stand to benefit from it.
Finally, we come to the nightcap. This is the Ziconic race, and I’ll try to beat him with two horses, one of which is his stablemate. Oregon seems like the horse to beat based on his last-out effort. He didn’t get a great trip that day, but rallied to finish second in his first start around two turns. His race down the hill two back suggests he may have a bit more tactical speed than he showed in his most recent outing, and I also like the May 20th workout, which was sixth-fastest of 67 at the distance that morning. I’m also going to use Ample Sufficiency, who may very well be the speed in this race by default. He was 0-for-7 overseas, but he was beaten just a length in a Group 2 as a 2-year-old, and he gets Lasix for the first time in his U.S. debut. If Tyler Baze is aggressive out of the gate, this newcomer could lead them a long way.
I agree with you and I’m a huge Zenyatta fan. I have seen Ziconic race every time he’s run at Santa Anita. The fact that his last race was the race that he came closest to winning tells me he’ll be hammered at the windows today. Sigh. I will bet Ziconic to have the souvenir ticket that goes with the rest of my Ziconic tickets in my Zenyatta scrapbooks, but I’m not getting my hopes up for a win. I will be out there snapping pictures of him as I have in the past, but at this point, for me, I would just like to see him WIN! ONE! RACE! I don’t even care what his odds are (and I never bet favorites!). Keeping my fingers crossed, but I agree you can’t bet him, even though I will to have the souvenir ticket.