Kitten's Dumplings, above, powered to victory in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Stakes. (Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire)
There are times when a handicapper needs to be forgiving – selectively forgiving.
When you can read the tea leaves correctly - rationalizing and then excusing a loss in a horse’s last race – it can be a highly rewarding experience.
Since handicappers cannot call a trainer and ask what went wrong, deductive reasoning comes into play. Sometimes horses are in a poor form cycle and one bad effort is bound to be followed by another clunker. Then again, there are other times when, much like Sherlock Holmes, a handicapper can study the clues and solve the mystery, coming to a reasonable conclusion that there was a legitimate reason for yesterday’s loss which can point to a strong effort today.
Kitten’s Dumplings was a good example of that concept.
In the spring, Kitten Dumplings was giving off loud indications that she would be one of the year’s best 3-year-old female turf runners.
She won the ungraded Edgewood Stakes at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Oaks day and then returned to take the Grade 3 Regret Stakes in mid-June. On July 24, she stretched her winning streak to three with a half-length win in the Grade 2 Lake George that would have been even more decisive if not for a 5-wide trip.
Up next for Kitten’s Dumplings was a trip west to Del Mar, where she finished fourth, beaten 2 ½ lengths, in the Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks on Aug. 17.
Kept on the sidelines for nearly two months, Kitten’s Dumplings was entered in the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth Challenge Cup Stakes on Oct. 12 at Keeneland.
The dilemma for handicappers was deciding on how to view Kitten’s Dumplings. Was her loss at Del Mar the result of a Grade 1 stakes being beyond her scope? Or was it a small bump in the road - a loss that could be blamed on the rigors of shipping west or possibly racing in unfamiliar surroundings?
There was logic behind both sides of the equation, but what stuck out most was that her connections – owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey and trainer Mike Maker – had enough faith in her to try her in a Grade 1 stakes again. And they did not get overly ambitious and tackle older fillies and mares. They kept her in a stakes restricted to 3-year-olds.
She was also back home in Kentucky, where she had won twice earlier in the year, and she sported some promising workoutss for her comeback race.
Listed as the 5-to-2 second choice in the morning line, she drifted up to the 4.90-to-1 third choice by post time. For those who felt there was enough evidence that Kitten’s Dumplings would return to her East Coast form, the payoff was an $11.80 mutuel when she held off Alterite in the final strides to win by a neck.
THE LESSON: There’s no sure-fire way of doing it, but if you can explain away a horse’s loss and the price is right, then taking a chance on a horse reverting to top form can make all the sense in the world.