Stakes races attract a circuit’s best horses and, on occasion, they can be great wagering opportunities.
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A lot of the time, they feature a star who prevails at a short price.
But there are also times when the competitive nature of these races provides a golden opportunity to take a gamble on a longshot.
A key prep for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, the Tampa Bay Derby attracted a field of 12 hoping to move forward on the Road to the Triple Crown.
Off that effort, he surely deserved consideration, even at his odds of 3-2.
Yet at the same time, there was also fertile ground for a longshot.
One in particular was King Guillermo.
He was listed at 15-1 in the morning line and he surely did not look as formidable as Sole Volante, but there was a reason to believe he could be competitive with the favorite.
The reason why was right there in his past performances. In his last start, he was third in the Pulpit Stakes on turf. Running on turf is not a traditional prep for a race like the Tampa Bay Derby, but what stood out was who beat King Guillermo in the Pulpit.
That was none other than Sole Volante, who exited his win in the Pulpit and then moved to the dirt and finished third in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes before winning the Sam F. Davis.
In the Pulpit, King Guillermo led midway through the race and wound up only 3 ½ lengths behind at the finish line.
So, in King Guillermo you had a horse who was competitive with the favorite. He had run once on dirt and finished sixth but that was at 5 ½ furlongs and he took a big step forward when he was switched to two-turn distances on the turf.
Perhaps it was the distance rather than the surface that sparked the turnaround.
He was also a son of Uncle Mo, whose sons and daughters have fared quite well on turf and dirt, so he had the pedigree to handle the surface change.
But what he really had going for him was his odds. As post time approached, his 15-1 morning line soared to 49-1.
Think about that. There was one horse who was 3-2 and another who was 49-1. There was 3 ½ lengths between them at the wire in their previous meeting, which was a sizeable difference but much smaller than $95 difference between them on the toteboard.
Perhaps at 15-1, you could look past King Guillermo, but the value he offered at 49-1 was quite appealing and worth at least a small play or use in the exotics.
If all of that value resonated with you, you were surely king for a day.
King Guillermo switched over to the main track just as smoothly as Sole Volante did. He pressed the pace, then took over turning for home and drew clear to win by 4 ¾ lengths.
He paid a regal $100.40 for a $2 wager.
Better yet, if you hooked up the two rivals from the Pulpit in the exacta it paid $359.80.
Either one was a nice reward for letting value steer you to a winner.