We’ve come to the first Saturday of the new year, and with it come two intriguing programs at Gulfstream and Santa Anita. Gulfstream has an assortment of ungraded stakes races on the docket, while Santa Anita will host two graded events, one of which features Kentucky Derby points for the top four finishers. I’ve got two multi-race tickets at each track, so let’s get going!
$0.50 Pick Five: Race #1
72 Bets, $36
If you believe in the axiom, “Pace makes the race,” the outside two horses look like the ones to beat in the Saturday opener. There’s a lot of early speed signed on, and this race appears to set up for closers #10 FAN BASE and #11 LITTLE BALTAR. The outside posts give me some pause, but so many horses inside of them need the lead, and I think those runners will be backing up late.
I thought the second race was very interesting. I don’t like #7 ROYAL HOLIDAY or #8 ALIEN INVASION, both of whom may not want two turns. My top pick is #2 FLYING LIBERTY, who exits a minor stakes race and won at this route three back. I’ll also use #6 COMETIN, who likes this turf course, and I’m also throwing in #3 WICKED BOY, on the off chance he replicates his two-back effort beneath new jockey Jose Ortiz.
The third is the Limehouse Stakes, and I’m intrigued by #3 PIVEN, who ships in from Woodbine. Usually, that’s not an angle I like, but he’s been working very well lately, and if he runs to those drills, he’ll be very tough. I’m also using #5 EMPIRE POWER, who may be the controlling early speed in this short field.
I’m also two-deep in the fourth, where I’ll use a pair of class-droppers. #3 WHAT POWER last ran for a $35,000 tag and goes out for the red-hot Marcus Vitali barn, while #5 SPORTSCASTER has a number of solid races over this turf course and won in his last start at this level.
The payoff leg is the Glitter Woman Stakes, and I’m three-deep in what turned out to be a fascinating field. #4 CICATRIX and #7 ELEVENSES both romped in their debuts for trainers whose first-time starters aren’t always fully cranked, so they definitely merit consideration. I’m also using #8 FOXTROT SALLY, who may have simply not wanted two turns last time out in the Grade 2 Golden Rod. Javier Castellano’s presence is a positive, and we may get a bit of a price given the recent dud.
$0.50 Pick Four: Race #8
72 Bets, $36
With 42 entrants across four races, there’s plenty of room for this to pay pretty well, even if shorter-priced horses find the winner’s circle. The first three legs may be formful, but if we get to the last leg, we’ll hit, and hopefully for a nice chunk of change.
The eighth is a seven-furlong maiden race for 3-year-olds, and we may see some of these horses on the road to the Kentucky Derby. #6 LIFE’S A PARLAY debuts for Todd Pletcher, and this $725,000 auction purchase is bred to be a good one. With that in mind, though, some of the workouts are pretty slow, so I want a bit more coverage than just him. #5 COVE BLUE has shown ample early speed and should relish the cutback in distance, while #10 ORBED probably needed his debut and should improve at second asking, especially with the added furlong.
I’m excited for the ninth, as there’s a 9/2 shot I really like. #8 ANDINA DEL SUR rallied impressively in her debut, and that race has proven to be a live one given the next-out winners it has produced. Every part of her pedigree says she wants to go two turns, and there should be plenty of early speed in here to set up for the kick she showed in her unveiling. I’d be very happy if we got the morning line price.
Like most people, I think the 10th race, the Mucho Macho Man, is a two-horse race. #3 DAK ATTACK was one of the most impressive 2-year-olds in the country last summer before going to the sidelines, and #6 MASK was a sharp first-out winner for Chad Brown. I’d be pretty surprised if the winner wasn’t one of those two runners.
If we get through those three legs, we’re assured to hit this wager. I needed to buy the Saturday finale because I didn’t have a clue, and judging by the morning line odds, I’m not alone. The 7/2 favorite is a horse that has been beaten a total of 33 1/4 lengths in two lifetime starts. The 4-1 second choice trailed in his debut and was beaten more than 24 lengths at odds of 32-1. If you’ve got conviction, good for you. I certainly don’t, and if we get to this point, I’ll be rooting for pari-mutuel chaos.
$0.50 Pick Five: Race #1
96 Bets, $48
My initial feeling is that the Pick Five sequence that kicks off with the Saturday opener could wind up a bit chalky. The bookends feature popular singles, and hopefully, we can get a price or two home in the middle legs.
At first, I wanted to play against #5 MIDNIGHT SWINGER in the first. She’s dropping in class after losing her last eight races. However, the more I looked at this race, the more I disliked her opponents. #8 ROAD TEST was beaten by that one two back, #2 TIZ ADORE is 1-for-12 and has had many chances to break through, and #9 QUINN MURPHY hasn’t won since being claimed this past summer. It’s a “hold your nose” single, but that’s where I’m going.
Singling twice allows me to spread elsewhere, and I need to hit the “ALL” button in the second race. This is a bottom-level claiming event featuring horses that seem to take turns beating one another. I can’t back any of these horses with conviction, so I’ll use all eight and hope for a price.
I’m also going pretty deep in the third. This is a maiden claimer, and I can’t get too excited about any of these, either. #8 PSYCHEDELICAT may go off favored, and his Beyer Speed Figures are such that I need to use him, but he’s 0-for-12 and has never so much as run second. Of the four I used, I most prefer #7 CONFIRMED, who just missed when dropping down to this level last time out, and #10 PATH OF EXILE, who drops down in class and is eligible to improve second off the layoff for trainer Michael McCarthy.
If #12 RANCOR had gotten a better post, she may have merited a single. She did everything but win in her turf debut at Del Mar, when she was a length behind next-out stakes winner Ippodamia’s Girl. A repeat of that race would make her tough, but she’s parked way outside, so I need to use two others. #1 PAVED was third that day, and #5 EVER SO TRUE exits the Grade 3 Jimmy Durante, where she was beaten just three lengths.
The fifth is the Grade 3 Sham for 3-year-olds, and it features one of the top Kentucky Derby prospects on the west coast. That’s #6 MCKINZIE, who was put up in the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Futurity. He’s worked very well since then, and if he runs his usual race, he’s going to be incredibly tough to beat.
$0.50 Pick Four: Race #6
80 Bets, $40
I thought the Pick Five was pretty chalky. The late Pick Four? Not so much. I think this has the potential to pay very well, and my ticket spreads in three legs while singling a 6-1 shot in the other one.
We start off the sequence with a maiden claimer, and I’m not overly impressed by many of these runners. Of the four I used, the two I like most are #5 IMPECUNIOUS, who ships down from Golden Gate, and #11 KARMIC AFFINITY, who’s been working well ahead of her debut and draws a cushy outside post.
The seventh is the Grade 2 San Gabriel, and while the cast of characters may be a bit underwhelming, the evenly-matched nature of it makes for a fun betting race. I’m four-deep, and one horse I used figures to be a big price. #9 FREE ROSE ran just once in 2017, but he’s done very little wrong over the course of his career. That one race was a solid fourth in the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile, where he finished just two lengths behind Bal a Bali. If he’s right, I think he’s got a big shot.
My single comes in the third leg, a seven-furlong claiming event. #1 KISS MY LULU seems like the race’s main speed, and inside speed has been very good in these extended sprints so far this meet. I’m tossing the two recent races over Golden Gate’s synthetic surface, as she’s much better on conventional dirt. If she breaks well, she could get an ideal setup, and because of that, I really like her.
If we’re alive going into the finale, we’ll be five-deep. #10 INSTANT REFLEX isn’t a bad favorite, but she’s never run down the hill before, and that’s a major concern. I’ll use her, but I need coverage elsewhere. The longshot that has to be on my ticket is #7 PHANTOM PROTON, who was beaten less than four lengths in a fast race at this route two back before running into the talented Painting Corners last time out at Del Mar. There’s plenty of speed to set up for her late kick, and the presence of top downhill rider Corey Nakatani is a huge plus.