The field rounds the far turn in the Commonwealth Stakes (gr. III) - Keeneland Photo

The field rounds the far turn in the Commonwealth Stakes (G3) – Keeneland Photo

Every year the $100,000 Hanshin Cup Stakes (G3) at Arlington Park offers a great challenge for handicappers who like large, competitive fields.

Held over Arlington’s synthetic Polytrack course, the one-mile race typically attracts an unusual blend of synthetic specialists, tried-and-true turf horses, and daring dirt runners with an eye on snatching an “easy” Grade 3 prize. But winning the Hanshin Cup isn’t as easy as it looks. The last seven winners have started at 8-1, 25-1, 44-1, 5-1, 7-1, 8-1 and 8-1. The favorites across those seven years finished fourth, second, sixth, third, 12th, fourth and second.

The favorite this year could be #6 Nun the Less, fresh off a runner-up effort in the Ben Ali Stakes (G3) at Keeneland. The son of Candy Ride boasts a strong record on synthetic tracks, including a win in the Kentucky Cup Classic at Turfway Park two months ago, and he’s posted seven straight 90-plus Brisnet speed figures, ranking him among the fastest horses in the Hanshin Cup field.

But do we really want to rely on the favorite in a race this competitive? Take note, Nun the Less will carry top weight of 124 pounds, seven more than his ten rivals. He also benefited from racing wide in the Ben Ali on a day when the rail seemed dead and late runners like Nun the Less were excelling.

A logical alternative to Nun the Less is #5 Sir Anthony, who won the Bruce D. Memorial Stakes over this track and distance in August. He’s since proven his class against tougher competition by winning the Harlan’s Holiday Stakes (G3) and finishing second in the Skip Away Stakes, both on dirt at Gulfstream Park. At level weights I might still prefer Nun the Less, but seven pounds is a meaningful advantage for Sir Anthony, who isn’t far off the favorite in terms of Brisnet speed figures.

But the real danger might be #4 Richiesinthehouse, a speedy sprinter stretching out in distance after challenging for the lead and fading in a high-class renewal of the seven-furlong Commonwealth Stakes (G3) at Keeneland. Richiesinthehouse is unproven going a mile, but he’s 8-for-10 on synthetic tracks (never finishing out of the exacta) and 3-for-4 at Arlington.

A pure frontrunner, Richiesinthehouse has been known to throw down sub-:45 half-mile fractions and could shake loose on a relatively easy lead in the Hanshin Cup. If he relaxes up front through a ~:47 half-mile, he might not come back to the field, especially over this one-turn mile configuration. For good measure, trainer Larry Rivelli is 5-for-11 at the current Arlington meet and jockey Jose Valdivia Jr. is 5-for-14.

I’ll bet Richiesinthehouse to win and key him in the exacta with Sir Anthony and Nun the Less:

$12 to win on #4 Richiesinthehouse
$6 exacta: 5,6 with 4 ($12)
$3 exacta: 4 with 5,6 ($6)

Good luck!