I’m a firm believer that talent trumps all in horse racing, so in handicapping and betting the $125,000 Marine Stakes I’ll be taking a small leap of faith on an unproven colt.
The 1 1/16-mile, Grade 3 race at Woodbine July 25 serves as a prep for the Canadian classics and could produce one or more starters for the Sept. 12 Queen’s Plate. Typically at the mid-point in the season for 3-year-olds, I’d be looking for proven ability and success at the stakes level in a win candidate for the Marine Stakes.
Instead, I’ll push my chips in on a colt making his second career start, stretching out around two turns for the first time, and switching from turf to the all-weather Tapeta Footings surface at Woodbine: Shirl’s Speight (#7).
A homebred Speightstown colt for Charles Fipke out of his 2011 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf winner Perfect Shirl, Shirl’s Speight made quite a first impression when rolling to an eight-length runaway in a seven-furlong turf sprint July 4 at Woodbine.
He took control from the start and set a solid pace before leaving nine challengers reeling in his wake as he surged clear in the stretch. Jockey Rafael Hernandez had taken his foot off the gas by the time they passed the sixteenth pole as Shirl’s Speight was geared down late and still covered the seven-eighths of a mile in 1:19.97. The seven-furlong course record at Woodbine is 1:19.22, set by Silent Poet in August 2019. Shirl’s Speight led through a half-mile in :45.38 and yet he still was able to finish with a final eighth of a mile in 11.73 seconds.
While I am a bit worried about the lack of experience and stepping up in class while stretching out around two turns, especially at his 6-5 odds on the morning line, I’m confident this is a graded-stakes quality colt and he’s worked well on the synthetic main track for Hall of Fame trainer Roger Attfield. I don’t expect the pace to be as fast going 1 1/16 miles on the synthetic main track, so Shirl’s Speight should be able to get good position from the outside post and either set or press the pace.
My prediction is that Shirl’s Speight turns in a breakout performance and wins the Marine Stakes for fun, but in order to get a decent return on investment we’ll need to find some value underneath. I’m going to do that by trying to beat 3-1 morning-line second choice Lucky Curlin (#1) and 9-2 third choice Untitled (#6) in the exacta. The former is winless in three tries at one mile or longer and the latter is best when allowed to set an uncontested pace, which I don’t believe will be the case here, plus I didn’t love Untitled’s first try on a synthetic surface.
I’ll try to fill out the bottom half of the exacta with a closer in Lookinatamiracle (#3) and with Dotted Line (#4), who could be up close or stalk from farther back depending upon the pace scenario.
If Untitled and Shirl’s Speight duel early, I think that could set up Lookinatamiracle nicely. Arguably his best race to date was a third-place finish by a length last October on this track and at this distance in the Grade 3 Grey Stakes, and I expect him to float up from 6-1 odds on the morning line.
Dotted Line (8-1) is a stakes winner on the Tapeta Footings surface at Woodbine at 1 1/16 miles and versatile enough to win from the front, pressing the pace, or stalking. Trainer Sid Attard and jockey Justin Stein have clicked at 27% when teaming at Woodbine over the past two years with a terrific return on investment, and I think he’ll improve in his second start of the year.
Strategy on a $20 Budget
$10 exacta 7 with 3,4 ($20)
What to say at the betting window: Woodbine, third race, $10 exacta 7 with 3,4