by Jo Talbot

It’s a rare weekday afternoon when a multiple graded stakes-winning millionaire races anywhere in the country, much less in a starter allowance.  But that’s exactly what you’ll find in Pimlico’s third race on Friday, a $7,500 starter allowance for three and up going five furlongs on the turf.

Millionaire Heros Reward will likely face seven rivals — 15 horses are entered but only eight will run — and is a strong morning line favorite.

Not so fast, however.  A cursory review of the past performances reveals that this is no ordinary starter allowance.  The 15 horses entered, combined, have run 550 races, accumulating 112 wins and earning more than $3,600,000 to date.  Their ages total 100 years and the full print out of their past performances fills 12 pages.  [pullquote]The 15 horses entered, combined, have run 550 races, accumulating 112 wins and earning more than $3,600,000 to date.  Their ages total 100 years and the full print out of their past performances fills 12 pages.[/pullquote]

There are a number of stories told in those lines, but none more compelling than that of Heros Reward, an 11 year-old gelding who has collected $1.3 million the old-fashioned way — he’s earned it, churning out 16 victories in 57 starts.  These first place finishes range from his first win at the $14,000 maiden claiming level at Laurel Park to his Grade 2 win in Woodbine’s Nearctic.   Hero notched another six stakes victories along the way, including the Grade 3 Highlander at Woodbine.  He raced a respectable fifth in the 2008 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint.

Heros Reward inches clear to win the 2008 Turf Sprint at Pimlico.  This photo, and feature image, by Laurie Asseo.

Heros Reward inches clear to win the 2008 Turf Sprint at Pimlico. This photo, and feature image, by Laurie Asseo.

A Maryland-bred by Partner’s Hero, his breeder and original owner was Gretchen Mobberly, who also trained him for his first four career starts.  Hero broke his maiden in his fourth try in March 2006; a month later in his next race,  Dale Capuano claimed him for $20,000.  Capuano’s barn has been his home ever since.

Hero has raced once this year, his fourth running in the state restricted Mister Diz stakes last month, which he won in 2009.  In this edition, he was lightly steadied before finishing fourth, beaten 3 1/4 lengths by the best turf sprinter in the country, Ben’s Cat.  In his prior race, run in November 2012, he won a 5 1/2 furlong turf sprint at Laurel under starter conditions, beating a field of ten at 9-10.   Not surprisingly, Frank Carulli has made Heros Reward the morning line favorite at 6-5.  [pullquote]As for me, well, I’m hoping the old man hits the wire first for his 17th time.[/pullquote]

The race initially caught my eye because of the starter allowance conditions.  Turf races usually mean full fields and good betting opportunities; plus, I have a potent and profitable betting angle that has served me well in starter allowances.  Horses that have won at twice the level of the race’s condition during period in which they became eligible for the race — in this case, at a $15,000 claiming level or higher — are prime selections.   Sometimes, the angle points to an obvious choice, but frequently it uncovers a live horse at 5-1 or more, which rewards me at the windows.

Is 6-5 fair value on the millionaire?  Maybe, but there are three other turf entrants who have won for $15,000 or more in the last two years:  Biddy, at five years old a relative youngster, lined as the second favorite at 2 -1; also-eligible Wire Funds, lined at 7-2; and also-eligible Damaging Doug, lined at 6-1.  If the two also eligibles draw in, it’s likely that the winner will be one of these four.

In most races, I’d be drawn to the value Damaging Doug offers.  Sometimes, though, cashing a ticket at the window is secondary to watching a gifted, gritty, athletic professional do what he does best.  If you want to try to beat Heros Reward, play him underneath my other selections.  As for me, well, I’m hoping the old man hits the wire first for his 17th time.

Post time for Pimlico’s third is 2:14 pm.  Good luck!