We’re just five weeks away from the 2017 Breeders’ Cup, and while many trainers have opted to rest their stars ahead of the event, Saturday’s cards at Belmont and Santa Anita are packed with great racing and prime wagering opportunities. I’ve got a pair of multi-race exotics tickets at each track, and the likely payoffs are such that, even if only one hits, we’ll likely still be looking at a winning day.
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Now, let’s get down to business!
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$0.50 Pick Five: Race #1
60 Bets, $30
We’ll kick things off with a real puzzler. The opener is a $40,000 maiden claimer, and many of these horses just haven’t done much running. #2 VALDOCCO ran well a few times earlier this year against straight maidens, but that was at Gulfstream, and he’s been away a long time. I used him, but my top pick is #7 RIVER DEEP, who’s shown speed against better horses in the past and attracts John Velazquez. I’m taking a stand against #5 WHY GOD, who may go off lower than his 7/2 morning line due to his connections. Yes, this trainer/jockey combination merits respect, but the workouts at Monmouth are slow, the pedigree indicates that he wants much longer than seven furlongs, and (per DRF Formulator) Chad Brown is 0-for-his last-11 (and 1-for-his-last-21) with first-time starters in maiden claimers.
The second race is a turf sprint, and this is another race where you can go in many different directions. I can’t tell you who’ll be favored, but my top selection is #6 ABBOT, whose lone bad races on turf have come both directly before and directly after a one-year layoff. Joel Rosario hops aboard, and he’s ridden very well to this point in the meet. I’ll also use #4 LONE TRADER, who simply went too far last time out, and #9 SALLISAW, who is bred up and down for turf and has been gelded ahead of his return for a barn that’s done excellent work in turf sprints of late.
I’m using two of the logical contenders in the third race. Both #2 BIBLICAL and #4 ROAD TO MEATH debuted at Saratoga and could improve at second asking for top-notch barns. If I were to use another in here, it would probably be #8 FIRST WARRIOR. He’s bred to be a good one, has worked well since his debut (which he may have needed), and the odds disparity between this one and stablemate #6 AVERY ISLAND will likely be bigger than it should. However, while I may throw that one into a few vertical exotics wagers, I’ll stick with the first two on my Pick Five ticket.
The fourth is a fun turf race, and while I’m using the likely favorite (#3 FUNTASTIC), I didn’t think he was anywhere close to a lock. He did have trouble in his first start against winners, but I didn’t think he beat much two back. I’m most intrigued by the two outside horses. #8 LUNAIRE actually beat Funtastic last time out and has run up against horses like Bricks and Mortar and Frostmourne. He’s my top pick, and I also think you can make a real case for #7 HELLO HOLIDAY, who returns to his favorite turf course and gets Luis Saez. Finally, #2 VIA EGNATIA’s last race is a complete throw-out (he’s a turf horse, not a dirt horse, and running into eventual Allen Jerkens runner-up Takaful didn’t help), and #5 SOGLIO has been gelded since his last start and is another with significant back class.
We’ll finish with a fifth-race single, and probably the shortest price in the sequence. That’s #3 FAVORABLE OUTCOME, who has yet to run a bad race on dirt. He hasn’t been seen since a win in the Grade 2 Swale in February, but he’s been working very well ahead of his return, and anywhere close to his prior dirt efforts would likely beat this group.
$0.50 Pick Four: Race #7
72 Bets, $36
Yes, I’m singling Elate in the Grade 1 Beldame, but I think this ticket could still pay handsomely. A large reason for that comes in the first leg, the Grade 1 Vosburgh, where I’ll first focus on the two horses I’m NOT using.
#2 EL DEAL made me look good with a runaway win in the Grade 1 Vanderbilt at Saratoga. He’s 3-for-3 since going to the Jorge Navarro barn, and he’s yet to really be tested. However, he’s lining up against plenty of horses with top-end early zip. #3 GREEN GRATTO, #4 TAKAFUL, and possibly #5 MR. CROW will make sure El Deal doesn’t get an easy lead. At his likely short price, given his one-dimensional running style and opposition he’ll face out of the gate, I have to try to beat him. Meanwhile, Mr. Crow takes a huge step up after two runaway wins at Saratoga. Yes, his two 100+ Beyer Speed Figures are big, but this is a sizable test for a horse with just three starts under his belt. Additionally, who, precisely, has he beaten in his wins, and what excuse did he have in his debut?
I’m three-deep here, and while I’ll use Takaful (who figures to benefit from a return to six furlongs), my top pick is #1 STALLWALKIN’ DUDE. He was way too close to the pace in the Forego, and that was just 15 days after a winning effort in an overnight stakes. He ran two strong races at Belmont earlier this year and should get an ideal setup. Another candidate for an ideal setup is #6 CELTIC CHAOS, who I’m throwing on my ticket in case multiple riders of speed horses get crazy and duel each other into submission. This horse may not appear good enough on speed figures, but if any horse benefits from the likely race shape, it’s this deep closer, and I have to have him on my ticket.
The second leg is the Grade 3 Pilgrim for 2-year-olds on the turf. #5 VOTING CONTROL was ultra-impressive in his debut win, which came earlier this meet. Chad Brown’s horses tend to improve at second asking, and such a step forward would make him the one to beat. However, I’m also keen on #8 EVALUATOR, who lost all chance in the With Anticipation following a horrible start, and solely for pace reasons, I’m also using #7 LOOKING READY. He flopped at Finger Lakes, and that’s concerning, but his pedigree is all-turf (by More Than Ready, out of a Giant’s Causeway mare), and he figures to be the main speed here. If he gets comfortable under Irad Ortiz, he may be the one they have to run down turning for home.
As mentioned, #1 ELATE is a single for me in the Grade 1 Beldame. She’s the typical Bill Mott filly that gets better and better as the year goes along, and her win in the Alabama was as impressive as any East Coast-based female horse has turned in this year. She’s helped in this spot, of course, by the lack of a star older filly or mare to run against her. #5 MONEY’SONCHARLOTTE has been managed brilliantly this year by Kelly Breen, but she’s been beating up on far lesser company. She’ll likely get her Grade 1 placing here, and a cold 1-5 exacta may not be a bad play, but I can’t see her beating Elate without monumental improvement.
We finish off the card with the Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, and as you can see by my ticket, I think this race could go MANY different directions. I used all but three horses (two of which are Naipaul Chatterpaul-trained longshots, with the other being #7 CHANNEL MAKER, who takes a big step up after two races in the Canadian Triple Crown). #3 OSCAR PERFORMANCE could establish himself as a real Eclipse Award candidate with a win over older horses, but this distance is new to him, and this is a tough field. Many horses exit either the Arlington Million (won by #5 BEACH PATROL) or the Sword Dancer (won by #4 SADLER’S JOY), and don’t sleep on #10 THE GREY GATSBY, who makes his North American debut in search of firm ground for a trainer that can win with a European shipper. It’s a fascinating race, and you’ll likely get a square price on whichever horse you like. Hopefully, we’ll be alive to a nice score!
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$0.50 Pick Five: Race #1
96 Bets, $48
If you want to take my last four races and punch the early Pick Four instead, I get it. That’s a $4 wager for a 50-cent increment, and you can play it multiple times for a reasonable investment. However, given the 15% takeout on the Pick Five and the high likelihood of a big price in the first race, this is the ticket I’m putting out.
I do not have a clue in the Saturday opener. This is a maiden race for 2-year-olds going long on the turf, and many of these horses are stepping onto the lawn for the first time. #10 PUBILIUS SYRUS is the morning line favorite and could win, but the last-out stakes race set up perfectly for him, and he did not have an excuse two back against similar company. With so many horses that boast great turf pedigrees, I’m punching the “ALL” button, using all 12 horses, and hoping we get a bomb home (along with, perhaps, a scratch or two to cut down on the cost of the ticket!).
The second race features a horse I’ve got some conviction about. I’m of the belief that #2 SUPREME VENTURE was one of many Peter Miller horses that just did not like Del Mar. Additionally, he was between horses most of the way, which isn’t an easy thing for a fairly-inexperienced horse to deal with. His race here two back against much better was quite good, as was his debut, which came before a long layoff (and yes, his first race back after that is a throw-out). #7 BOLSTER is favored after a romp last time out, but that was against lesser foes and came over a racetrack playing very kind to early speed. I’ll take a stand with Supreme Venture.
The third is another 2-year-old race, and I’ll use the two logical horses. #6 INSTILLED REGARD just missed behind American Pharoah’s little brother in his debut and likely learned a lot from that effort given the slow break. I’m also using #10 MOURINHO, who fetched $625K at auction earlier this year and has been working lights-out for trainer Bob Baffert. If you’re looking for a price underneath, #11 SECULAR NATION may want more ground, but his second dam, Ready’s Gal, was Grade 1-placed as a 2-year-old, and offspring of Distorted Humor can certainly run well at first asking.
The fourth race is probably a second division of the opener, since the conditions are identical. This one was not easy, but I was at least able to narrow it down a little. #1 CHOO CHOO is bred up and down for turf, and certainly not for a sprint at Los Alamitos, so he should improve here. #5 BIG BUZZ and #8 PITCHING have both been chasing Encumbered, a quality turf horse we’ll see later on Saturday in the FrontRunner. Finally, #11 RESTRAINEDVENGEANCE didn’t do anything wrong in his debut, which came in a turf sprint. Val Brinkerhoff has gotten this one recently, and she does great work with new acquisitions. Per DRF Formulator, she’s 6-for-27 with such horses over the past three years (22%), with six additional in-the-money finishes (44%) and a solid ROI ($2.69).
We’ll finish this sequence with a single in Santa Anita’s first Grade 1 of the day. This is the Zenyatta, and I’m giving #4 PARADISE WOODS one more shot. She was awful in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks at 6/5, and she lost all chance at the break in her return at Del Mar last month. However, she’s fired nothing but bullets since coming back to Santa Anita, and much like with Elate in the Beldame, there aren’t any heavy hitters lining up against her. #1 FAITHFULLY does merit respect, but on Paradise Woods’s best day, I don’t think she can run with her.
$0.50 Pick Four: Race #8
81 Bets, $40.50
This is an all-stakes Pick Four with plenty of potential to pay big. I’m three-deep in each leg, and while some of the likely favorites merit respect, I certainly don’t think any are standouts to be afraid to go against.
The Grade 1 FrontRunner kicks this sequence off, and I’m not getting cute. #4 BOLT D’ORO may be the best 2-year-old male in the country, and he’s bred to love this route. If there’s any hesitation here, it’s because he had a picture-perfect trip rating well behind a hot pace in the Del Mar Futurity. #1 ZATTER ran a great race being so close to that pace, so I have to use him here, and I’m also using the other Bob Baffert trainee, #8 SOLOMINI. He and the runner-up were well clear of the rest of the field in his debut, and he’s bred up and down to go as long as possible.
The second leg is the Grade 1 Rodeo Drive, and there appears to be a metric ton of early speed signed on. As such, I want closers, and all three horses I used should be flying late. #10 GOODYEARFORROSES has been very good this season and has enough tactical speed to get first run turning for home. She’s probably the horse to beat, but both #7 BEAU RECALL and #8 DECKED OUT stand to benefit from the likely race shape. The former just missed in the Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks, and that result may give us some value here (she’s 8-1 ML, but would probably be considerably shorter had she gotten her nose down). Meanwhile, Decked Out may want more give in the ground than she’ll get, but she likely needed her last-out effort and returns to the site of her greatest triumph, which came in the Grade 1 American Oaks.
The third leg is the Grade 1 Awesome Again. #8 CUPID may be the shortest price in this sequence, and he’s probably the one to beat. Having said that, Cupid’s trainer, Bob Baffert, also saddles #6 MUBTAAHIJ, who has been working very well of late. That’s a curious entry, so I’m not as scared of Cupid as I would’ve been had Baffert solely entered him. Additionally, #5 BREAKING LUCKY hasn’t won in a while, but he’s had the bad luck of chasing Gun Runner in each of his last two starts. With all due respect to Cupid, this may be a softer spot, and given the way he’s been training at Woodbine, I think he’s got a big shot beneath Mike Smith.
The payoff leg is the Unzip Me, and this may be the toughest race of the sequence. I took the approach of preferring horses with success on the downhill turf course, and I also threw in one returning to the turf. #3 KENDA and #5 STORM THE HILL both exit the Del Mar Oaks, but both have also run well at this unique configuration in the past and could improve coming back to it. Also, #11 MISS SOUTHERN MISS’s layoff concerns me, but her lone prior turf effort was too good to ignore. She beat some talented fillies in last year’s Surfer Girl, and there should be plenty of speed for her to rate off of in here before being asked for her late kick. Kent Desormeaux riding for his brother is another good sign.
Thanks, as always for your thoughtful analysis.
Just a note to let you know Val Brinkerhoff is a guy and a great horseman!