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Thursday, May 31, 2018

A rather large field for a middle distance stakes took to the track for the opening qualifying round in the $100,000 Razorback Classic Stakes earlier in May without any apparent clear cut favorite to land in the championship. After four rounds, two field cuts and a couple of tiebreakers later, it still appears as if we do not have a clear cut favorite to win it all. Nobody made it through undefeated and by contrast, nobody made the finals without capturing at least one victory.

What we did end up with is three kennels each receiving two entries to the big race on Sunday, despite the final total number of points needed to reach the championship being a little higher than usual (37 as compared to an average of 34 in recent history). Let’s preview one of the most wide open championships there has been in the Razorback Classic in recent history.

1. IMARK CHARLIE (Pat C Clement – Destiny Wookie)

Weight: 63 lbs Color: Black Sex: Female Age: 28 months Razorback Classic Qualifying Record: 4/2-0-1-1 Total Points: 42 (Tied 5th) Owner: Imark Kennels Trainer: Mike Holguin Kennel: Steve M. Sarras

As one of two entries in the big race for the Steve M. Sarras Kennel, this is the only lady out of the eight to make the championship field. “Lady Luck” popped her head in during the post position draw though, as this inside runner drew the best possible starting position for her style. When she draws inside post positions, her reaction and breaking speed seem to be better than when compared with starting positions further to the outside. This Arkansas Bred captured two victories during qualifying while also running third, and most recently fourth to land her enough points to finish fifth in total points earned.

She possesses prototypical late speed for a middle distance racer, but it doesn’t blow you away on paper. She’s a methodical, steady type of closer which means that her ability to win this race will likely depend heavily on how good of a start she can muster on Sunday. If she does get off quickly, she is capable of holding off challengers as her 36.67 best time on this course shows. The race isn’t necessarily loaded with good breakers, but there is a lot of rushing speed in the race to worry about if she doesn’t start fast. This post position alone will garner her some attention. Just how much of it translates into a victory is yet to be seen.

 2. HL’S ROCKY (Starz Jenko – KL’s Ruth)

Weight: 72 lbs Color: White & Brindle Sex: Male Age: 28 months Razorback Classic Qualifying Record: 4/2-2-0-0 Total Points: 50 (1st) Owner: Herbert R. Legg Trainer: Leon Giguere Kennel: Legg Greyhound

Usually 50 points earned doesn’t land you in the #1 position when it comes to qualifying, but due to his kennelmate who earned three victories (KL’s Finn) having a seventh place finish, HL’s Rocky finds himself on top. He is a true rail runner, so while the #1 post would have been gravy, the blue blanket here will be nearly as good of a starting spot as he could get.

As one of two entries for trainer Leon Giguere and the Legg Greyhound Kennel, HL’s Rocky arguably is the most consistent of the rivals. His two runner up finishes were fairly close (a combined 3 ½ lengths) while his two victories were by a combined 7 ½ lengths. He’s fairly sharp on the break (but not the best), decent rushing speed (others in the field are better) and has the ability to pull away late in the race (but not the deepest closing speed in the group). So how is he so successful to this point in this stakes if he isn’t the best at any one thing? He is good at all the traits of a competitive distant runner that does all of them consistently. Having the rail here is going to help a lot, but the true tell on whether he has a shot to win it all will likely be decided in the front stretch run. He hasn’t won a career race yet where he was worse than fourth in the second call point of the race. With the talent in this field, I wouldn’t expect him to get his first under that scenario here either.

 3. ARTEX CRAB (Definate Opinion – Atascocita Tariq)

Weight: 77 lbs Color: Red Sex: Male Age: 28 months Razorback Classic Qualifying Record: 4/1-2-1-0 Total Points: 42 (Tied 5th) Owner: Robert J. Frey Trainer: Gerald Love Kennel: Darren Henry

 The second of three Arkansas Bred greyhound to make the championship field, this is the first of two entries for the Gerald Love trained Darren Henry Kennel. Although this greyhound can run from a variety of post positions, the most impressive stat about “Crabby” is that he made the championship field in a distance in which he has a combined total of six starts in! This leaves little history to go on, and although slow starts to a race seem to be a common denominator for this guy, his rushing speed early in the race seems to be getting stronger with each start.

What isn’t seeming to get stronger (as of yet anyway) is his final stretch run (closing speed). He is the only greyhound to have the lead late in the race and not hold on (albeit by a half length against fellow finalist Imark Charlie). This may be his distance of choice when it is all said and done though, and to it the trifecta in five of your six career starts over 660 yards doesn’t seem to be fluky at all. If he can ever figure out how to get out of the starting box better than the last three on average, “Crabby” can be a sneaky threat to, if not straight out win the race, be a factor in the exotic wagering payouts come Sunday evening.

 4. TUXEDO (KC And All – KT Justlikethat)

Weight: 65 lbs Color: Black Sex: Male Age: 25 months Razorback Classic Qualifying Record: 4/3-0-0-0 Total Points: 48 (2nd) Owner: Travis Bartley Trainer: Stephen Ulrich Kennel: Charter, Inc.

He is the youngest greyhound in the championship field, reaching his second birthday at the beginning of the month of June. And while he is considered “small” for a male greyhound at just 65 pounds, his running ability is anything but small. He caught fire early in qualifying, ripping off three straight victories before finishing a fading fifth in the semi-finals. The fifth place finish may be more telling than the three wins even though this greyhound has just seven official starts at this distance. It was the second time during those seven starts he wasn’t sniffing the lead or outright had the lead in the backstretch, but both those times he appeared to “let up off the gas” late in the race and faded back.

Even in sprint races, this black male on the lead is dangerous and his wins early during qualifying showed it can translate into this longer distance. The post position isn’t great, but since this greyhound depends on quick starts to be viable, it doesn’t really factor as much as some others in the field. He’s beat some of the best (in this field and otherwise) during his short middle distance career so you definitely can’t throw him out. However, he hasn’t come and “run down” dogs late in races either, so you are pinning your hopes on an early lead and clear shot down the homestretch, or face the reality that he may pack it in a little and let off the gas late if he isn’t in contention. That makes him more of a “quiniela or bust” play in a race like this.

5. IMARK OCTANE (Djays Octane – Gogo Stitches)

 Weight: 80 lbs Color: White & Black Sex: Male Age: 35 months Razorback Classic Qualifying Record: 4/1-1-1-1 Total Points: 37 (Tied 8th) Owner: Imark Kennels Trainer: Mike Holguin Kennel: Steve M. Sarras

You would usually find this solid hound making his way around the longest distances at Southland Park (primarily 703 and 820 yards), but 660 yards is not a strange distance for him even though it was about a year ago at this time when he last ran it on a regular basis. He held his own during qualifying, earning the “buffet” award (finishing in all four top positions one time each) which just snuck him into the final field tied for the last spots with 37 points.

You will notice that one start before qualifying began, he demolished a field by 10 lengths going away, but that definitely is the outlier historically speaking for this second entry for the Steve Sarras Kennel. He more often is that steady closer that slowly chips away at leads and leaders and his ability to win a race at this distance is more reflective on how well he starts the race than how well he can finish. While it definitely is possible for him to win this race, history shows that he naturally needs more track length to optimize his chances, which is why he normally runs our marathon and super marathon courses. It isn’t likely he can capture this championship, especially against this field and this post position, but don’t be shocked if you see him late in the race making things interesting.

 6. MRL BOLD EGO (JS Im Seein Red – MRL Booby Trap)

Weight: 73 lbs Color: Black Sex: Male Age: 31 months Razorback Classic Qualifying Record: 4/3-0-0-0 Total Points: 47 (3rd) Owner: MRL Metals, Inc. Trainer: Gerald Love Kennel: Darren Henry

Similar to Imark Octane, “Ego” has spent more time at the marathon distance (703 yards) than he has on the middle distance course during his time at Southland Park, but managed to win 3 of the four qualifying rounds. The one race he didn’t win, he completely “whiffed” and ran sixth as the odds on favorite in round three. Outside of that one miss though, he has four wins in his past six at this distance and you can add a second place finish as well. Early speed is the name of his game, and he will need to be on his game in the championship race as this inside runner will have some work to do to get to his favored position on the track.

There is no question about his ability to win here, as his victories have been at an average of nearly 6 lengths each and his 36.59 winning time in round 2 is best amongst the finalists. Put this greyhound in the #1 box (where his three wins happened) and you likely have the odds on favorite to win this thing. Being in the #6 box gives you a bit of a pause, as he hasn’t won a race from here in distance racing ever. But, he has won and fared well in other outside starting positions and if he breaks on top, you likely will see your 2018 Razorback Classic championship wearing yellow.

7. FLYING DIVERGENT (Flying Penske – Flying Blush)

Weight: 69 lbs Color: Red Sex: Male Age: 32 months Razorback Classic Qualifying Record: 4/2-0-1-0 Total Points: 37 (Tied 8th) Owner: Vince Berland Trainer: Ken Lesperance Kennel: Lester Raines

Trainer Ken Lesperance is not only used to stakes finals, but he usually fares pretty well in them as well. The Lester Raines Kennel usually fields a lot of nice greyhounds here at Southland Park, with a lot of the strongest ones gracing the sprint course. After two big wins in the opening rounds followed by a third place finish in round three, Flying Divergent earned just enough points to claim a spot in the field, but as we learned most recently in the Great American Greyhound Futurity, all you need is “a chip and a chair” to have a chance.

Flying Divergent is a veteran of the Razorback Course, racing pretty much the past nine months at this distance and doing well. He has won his share of top grade events over 660 yards but despite those wins, has never won a race at this distance from either the #7 or #8 posts during his career here. Most would point to that being just “overdue” and not a systemic problem of the “insider runner in an outside post” syndrome. They may be right. Even though he is approaching his third birthday, you can never quite get a feel for how good he will break, or rush for that matter which leads to a rather erratic pattern of wins and “whiffs”. If he breaks on top in the race, it may be “see you later” for the rest of the field as the only greyhound to ever catch him on the lead here is stakes veteran Braska Dale (twice) by slim margins. He doesn’t miss the board often, but when he does, it does tend to be from these outside post positions.

 

8. KL’S FINN (Pat C Clement – KL’s Fancy)

Weight: 80 lbs Color: Black Sex: Male Age: 41 months Razorback Classic Qualifying Record: 4/3-0-0-0 Total Points: 46 (4th) Owner: Karen L. Legg Trainer: Leon Giguere Kennel: Legg Greyhound

 He is the third greyhound in the championship field to earn three victories in the four rounds of qualifying, but end up with a “stinker” for a fourth race that prevented him from being undefeated going in. He is the oldest member of the championship eight which also means he has the most career starts and the most starts at this distance of everyone in the race.

That experience is a huge plus. Also another feather in his cap is that he absolutely feels comfortable out here in the far outside. Unlike nearly all the other greyhounds in the race, KL’s Finn has no issues starting or finishing a race over the midtrack positions as two of his three wins came from out here. On the downside, you never know which version of this racer you are going to see. When he breaks alertly he is very tough to beat. He has plenty left in the tank at the end of the race to go with a Jekyll and Hyde break. Like a few others in this race, namely MRL Bold Ego and Flying Divergent, if he gets the lead in the first 100 yards of this race, it may be over at that point. If he doesn’t break well (which tends to happen more often with inside starting positions), he is as mortal as it gets on a racetrack. The only thing for sure, only one can get to the lead first, just who will it be?

RACE PREDICTION

The old saying goes, if all things are equal, then post position should be the tiebreaker, and that is what I have to resort to trying to handicap a race where you could make a legitimate case for four, maybe five greyhounds winning this championship. I have a feeling you could run this race five or six times before you would get a repeat winner over here.

With that disclaimer out of the way, KL’s Finn appears to have the best overall setup. He has a great post position for him (#8 for a midtrack runner), everyone on his left will be heading inside or to the rail giving him endless amounts of room to rush and operate and the greyhound has the talent to beat anyone in the field head’s up.

HL’s Rocky has been the most consistent runner through four rounds, and that #2 blanket fits just nice for a rail runner who probably has the best overall mix of breaking speed, rushing speed and late speed in the field. It will take trouble of some kind I would have to think for him to not hit the board somewhere in the top 3, maybe 4 in this race.

Despite knowing the #5 box is statistically the worst starting post in the game, my eyes couldn’t leave Imark Octane. He just keeps coming in a race, which is a valuable commodity to have if a couple of these greyhounds who need near the front, don’t get there and start to fade back. When winners could be many, having one you can count on to get you a third or fourth is sometimes more valuable in the mutuel pools. He is 15 of 19 starts this year “in the money” and still has an outside shot to pull out a surprise victory if he “hits the lid”.

Let’s face it, anyone can run fourth here. We talked about Imark Charlie posted well, so I lean in that direction, but Tuxedo is definitely in play here. It is hard to ignore that last race though and whether that is an abnormally or something that is a trend is anyone’s guess. However, the history before that race is too rich for me (and good), so I have to figure he will rebound from that.

Shane Bolender