I’ve never been accused of mincing words, and I’m not going to start now. Friday was, um…NOT a good day for yours truly. On Twitter, I likened it to the start of the Drago/Rocky fight in Rocky IV, when the big Russian is beating the daylights out of the champ. Hopefully, Saturday is akin to the second half of the fight, where Rocky comes back, beats the giant, and ends the Cold War.
I’ll start by analyzing the main event, the 2017 Kentucky Derby. It’s one of the most wide-open renewals in recent memory, with every single horse seeming to have some sort of redeeming factor and massive flaw. You’re likely to get a square price on whichever horse you like, and the exotics wagers figure to be very enticing as well.
My top pick is Classic Empire. It’s by no means a top pick made with tons of conviction, or with a proclamation that he can’t lose. However, he overcame a tough trip to win the Arkansas Derby over a solid group. He was shuffled back, raced between horses most of the way around the track, and came flying late in such a way that it convinced most Saturday’s distance will not be a problem. If he can negotiate a comfortable trip (always the biggest ‘if’ in any Derby), I think he’s the horse to beat.
Having said that, I’ll be going five-deep in all multi-race exotics wagers I play. Three of the other horses are ones who will receive plenty of support at the windows. Always Dreaming is undefeated around two turns, McCraken loves Churchill Downs and should improve off the Blue Grass, and Irish War Cry’s record fits the mold of a Derby winner if you can toss his unconscionable clunker in the Fountain of Youth.
The fifth horse I’m using is my price horse, the one who would potentially make Saturday a very good day for me. That’s Tapwrit, and if you’re willing to throw out the Blue Grass, his huge price doesn’t make much sense. The 10-furlong distance should fit him like a glove given his pedigree, he’s won over a wet track before, and he turned in a flashy workout at Churchill last week leading up to the Derby. I want every bit of him at his likely price, even after his lousy race at Keeneland last month.
With all of that in mind, let’s shift gears to a few Pick Four plays for Saturday. These are posted with the same caveats as Friday’s: These tickets assume all races carded for the turf course stay there. If they get rained off, updated versions of my tickets (or advice to pass the sequences entirely) will be posted on my Twitter page.
$0.50 Pick Four: Race #2
32 bets, $16
This isn’t an expensive ticket, and I really like this sequence. The first and third legs are strong betting races, and I’ve got confidence in the second and fourth legs. Flashy Jewel will likely go off shorter than his 8-1 morning line in the third, and I think he’s the lone speed horse in the race. Part of me wanted to single him, but Rocket Time possesses considerable back class and merits respect coming back to a track he loves.
The fifth race features a major spot play, assuming we stay on the grass. Forge ran a strong race in his American debut last month at Keeneland, which doubled as his first race since September. He’s run up against some very tough European competition, and he faces an optional claiming group that doesn’t appear very imposing. I’ll gladly take 7/2 if I can get it, although that’s another morning line that seems very generous.
$0.50 Pick Four: Race #5
48 bets, $24
Forge starts off this sequence, and then things get tricky. Finest City and Carina Mia head this year’s Humana Distaff, which features some other strong sprinters, and I’m hoping I can skate through only going two-deep. I’m also only going two-deep in the Distaff Turf Mile following the scratch of Miss Temple City; Linda’s been working well for Ian Wilkes, and Roca Rojo goes out for Chad Brown.
This brings us to the Pat Day Mile, which gave me headaches of increasing intensity every time I looked at it. I can make cases for almost every runner in what’s now a 12-horse field, so I’m hitting the ALL button. I know I’m going to get some heat for this on Twitter, but the fact is that I have absolutely no confidence in any opinion I could present here, and given that I can come in well under my soft budget ($40) by using each runner, that’s what I’m going to do.
$0.50 Pick Four: Race #9
80 bets, $40
In one of several animated Twitter discussions on Friday, I mentioned that I really like Pick Fours that act as glorified odds boosts on short-priced horses. Everyone wants to catch a big price, sure, but if you can take a heavily-bet favorite, single that horse in a Pick Four, and beat a favorite or two along the way, the sequence essentially turns into an odds boost. If said single is 4/5 and jogs after you play it to win, you won’t get much of a rate of return. However, if a $40 Pick Four ticket like this one hits and returns $300 or so, all of a sudden, you’ve turned that 4/5 into odds closer to 6-1. That’s value, and that’s my strategy here.
My single comes in the 10th race, the Churchill Downs. Masochistic burned me in his 2017 debut, but there are plenty of reasons to back him here. He’s easily the top early speed on paper, and if the track is playing to speed (as it often does on Kentucky Derby Day), he’s going to be very difficult to beat. This is not an easy sequence, and you need to single somewhere so as to spread in the other three legs. There are worse horses to do that with than a horse that could make an easy lead in a race without much other speed.
We dissected the Derby above, so I’ll go through the other two legs here. In the American Turf, I prefer closers Big Score and Good Samaritan, but if one of Oscar Performance or Conquest Farenheit gets away, they may be tough to catch. Meanwhile, in the Woodford Reserve, I most prefer Beach Patrol, although he’s no cinch in a wide-open betting race. Divisidero is 2-for-2 at Churchill, and both Bal a Bali and Enterprising (subbed in for the scratched World Approval) are good enough to win on their best days as well.