Melmich seeks to enhance his Canadian Horse of the Year claims in the Autumn Stakes. Pic: Michael Burns Photography.

Melmich – Michael Burns Photography

Want to take on a difficult handicapping challenge this weekend? Then come join me in analyzing Sunday’s $125,000 Valedictory Stakes (gr. III) at Woodbine.

The uncommon (and very testing) 1 ¾-mile distance would make this race tricky to handicap even if it were being run on dirt or turf, the two most common racing surfaces in North America. Add in the fact that it is actually being conducted over the synthetic Tapeta track at Woodbine, and the challenge becomes even greater.

However, by favoring horses with established form over the Woodbine Tapeta, I’ve managed to narrow this race down to the three horses that interest me most. In post position order, they are…

#5 A. A. Azula’s Arch: A three-year-old filly beating older horses going 1 ¾ miles? It might sound farfetched, but this daughter of Arch has a strong record over the Woodbine Tapeta and overcame a very slow early pace to rally and win the 1 ¼-mile Maple Leaf Stakes (gr. III) over this track last month. If she can handle the extended distance—and let’s face it, that’s a question mark for a lot of these horses—I think she can win or hit the board at a nice price. It’s not like she’s a speed-crazy filly; she actually settles quite nicely, and that should help her see out the distance.

#7 Melmich: This tough-as-nails seven-year-old gelding has competed in the Valedictory three times previously, winning in 2015 and finishing second in 2016-17. His form this year has been solid with five exacta finishes from seven starts, and he tuned up for this race with a late-charging victory in a 1 1/16-mile allowance race at Woodbine, in which he overcame a very slow pace (RacingFlow.com assigned the race a speed-favoring 3 on their 1-100 scale) to win by three-quarters of a length. He has to be considered the horse to beat.

#9 Pumpkin Rumble: Although he could only finish fifth in the 2017 Valedictory, Pumpkin Rumble seems to have improved this season, finishing second in the 1 ½-mile Singspiel Stakes (gr. III) on turf and most recently powering to a 6 ¾-length triumph in a 1 5/8-mile allowance race over the Woodbine Tapeta, a prominent prep for the Valedictory. For that effort, Pumpkin Rumble received a 100 BRIS speed figure—the highest last-out number posted by any horse in the field—and a repeat could put him in position to win.

Rather than try to delicately split hairs and key one or two horses, I’ll box these three in the exacta while emphasizing the combinations with Melmich on top:

$7 exacta: 7 with 5,9 ($14)
$4 exacta: 5,9 with 5,7,9 ($16)

Good luck!