Before I dive into extended race-by-race analysis of Saturday’s tremendous Pegasus World Cup Day program at Gulfstream Park, I wanted to expound a bit on what’s become a touchy subject in the horse racing community.
As reported by many sources, the Breeders’ Cup was entertaining the idea of a Breeders’ Cup Derby. The race would be restricted to 3-year-olds, and as a result of this race’s implementation, the Breeders’ Cup Classic would be pushed back to December.
I tweeted my thoughts on this idea a few days ago. If you didn’t see it, it’s below.
I’ve been off the grid for most of the day, and I’m just getting caught up on the goings-on.
I’ve been following horse racing my entire life. I’ve seen 29 years’ worth of ideas; some good, some bad.
The idea of a Breeders’ Cup Derby is the single worst idea I have ever heard.
— Andrew Champagne (@AndrewChampagne) January 23, 2018
Grade 1 races are supposed to be difficult to win. They should mean something when a horse retires and goes off to stud, not be part of a culture where there are so many Grade 1 races that almost every decent horse gets a piece of the pie (especially in years where foal crops are declining). We do not need more Grade 1 races restricted to 3-year-olds, and we certainly do not need them scheduled near the end of the year, when those horses should be testing themselves against older company.
Standing pat, with the current setup as it was run in 2017, is clearly the solution preferred by a wide margin of racing fans. In fact, in spending time on Twitter, I failed to come across a single positive opinion of the Breeders’ Cup Derby. DRF colleague Matt Hegarty reported that the Breeders’ Cup board did not commit to any changes in their meeting Friday, and that’s a relief.
Now that we’ve gotten through that, let’s take a look at Saturday’s 12-race card at Gulfstream Park. It’s headlined by the world’s richest horse race, the $16 million Pegasus World Cup, which doubles as the final race of Horse of the Year Gun Runner before the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner retires to stud. That race goes as the finale, and there are ample wagering opportunities before Gun Runner and company hit the track.
I’ve got three Pick Four battle plans below the analysis, so if you’re solely interested in those, scroll down. However, with the big fields and juicy prices on tap, I felt each race deserved its own write-up, so that’s what I’m doing. Let’s get started!
RACE #1: Right off the bat, we have what I felt was the toughest race on the card. I’m grateful that Gulfstream carded this one as the opener, which puts it out of all three Pick Four sequences (although it does kick off the early Pick Five).
This is a maiden race for 3-year-old fillies going long on the turf, and there are some first-time starters with flashy pedigrees that bookend the full field of 14. #1 AMERTUME is out of a mare who’s a half to Grade 1 winner First Defence, and her female family traces back to all-time great broodmare Tousseau (who threw Empire Maker and Chester House, among others). Additionally, #14 TOUCH OF GRACE is out of a mare named Sealy Hill, who was one of the top horses in Canada in her heyday. She fetched $275,000 at auction and is trained by Chad Brown, but that post is a killer, and it’s tough to debut going two turns.
I’ll use them both underneath a few horses that have run before. #8 SPECIAL TRIP is my top pick. She was a good second last time out at Belmont, and while she hasn’t run in three months, the past two workouts show she could be sitting on “go.” I’ll also take a bit of a swing with #10 SHOW GIRL, who’s bred to go much longer than the six furlongs she went in her debut. Her recent turf works are lively, she should appreciate the added distance she gets here, and I think she’ll be bet down a bit from her 15-1 morning line. Finally, #12 SMART SHOT is the tepid 7/2 favorite on the morning line, and she was a solid third in her turf debut last month. She could win this, but that last race was a pretty big step up for her, so a bounce is also in question.
RACE #2: This maiden special weight starts the first of three Pick Four sequences. It’ll be contested at a tricky seven-furlong distance, and while that’s a tough route to debut at, two of the four horses I’m using are first-time starters.
#2 CACHE is working impressively ahead of her debut, and she’s bred to be a good one. Her second dam is a full sister to Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Spain, and this one fetched $500,000 at auction and has appeared to move forward in the mornings for Mark Hennig, who’s hit at an alarming rate with first-time starters of late. I’ll also use fellow debutante #3 TAKECHARGEDELILAH, a Todd Pletcher trainee that’s a half to stakes winner Mo Don’t No.
Of the ones that have run before, I prefer second-time starters #6 MUCHACHA UNO and #8 ROMANTIC MOMENT, both of whom are eligible to improve adding distance off of debuts much shorter than they likely want to go. I’m going against morning line favorite #9 COACH ROCKS, who has had plenty of chances and enjoyed a perfect trip last time out, only to get caught. If that one beats me, I’ll live with it.
RACE #3: This is the first graded stakes race of the day. It’s the Grade 3 La Prevoyante, and seven older mares will go a mile and a half on turf. In my opinion, this race houses the day’s most likely winner. Unfortunately, she won’t be any sort of a price.
#7 APPLE BETTY won a pair of stakes races last year going 12 furlongs, and in doing so, she dispatched several rivals she’ll line up against in this spot. Her tactical speed is a big plus, as is the continued presence of John Velazquez. Anything close to the form she displayed in the Grade 3 Dowager is good enough to win this, and she may even be able to afford a slight regression.
If you want to include another horse, I’d recommend #2 SUMMERSAULT, who’s done some of her best running over this turf course. She won three in a row here last winter/spring, and she may relish a return to her favorite track. However, she’d likely have to improve considerably to defeat Apple Betty.
RACE #4: We go back to the main track for this one, a maiden event with a field of 13 3-year-olds going a one-turn mile. There are some intriguing prospects here, but I think you need to use a shipper that may go off at a big price.
The post-time favorite will likely be #4 PERSONAL TIME or #13 LIFE’S A PARLAY. The first horse mentioned is Orb’s younger brother, and while he hasn’t done a ton of running to date, he could easily wake up with the addition of Lasix. Meanwhile, the outside horse is a second-time starter that ran well in his debut after a rough start.
However, don’t sleep on #10 ROSE’S VISION, who comes to Gulfstream off of a solid (albeit winless) campaign at Woodbine last year. There’s a chance he’s a turf horse in need of a race, but if he can run as well on dirt, his 15-1 morning line odds represent a considerable overlay. He was third behind Dixie Moon two back in a $226,000 stakes race, and if he really was in need of a race, why is he getting Lasix? I think he could be ready to run, and if he can run on dirt, he could shake up the exotics at a large number.
RACE #5: This is the male version of the opener, and it’s almost as wide-open as that race was. In my multi-race tickets, I’m five-deep, and I’ve sprinkled some prices in with the logical contenders.
#3 EMPIRICALLY is a logical favorite. He crossed the wire first in his debut, then ran against stakes foes in each of his next two starts before a brief freshening. His comeback race was fine, and he can win this, but I can’t feel confident trimming this down when he had a nice trip last time out against state-breds and couldn’t get the job done.
Additionally, #6 NEEPAWA exits stakes races at Woodbine and has worked well ahead of his 3-year-old debut, and #7 SARGEANT DRIVE was beaten less than two lengths at this level in his turf debut. They’ll both get bet, but I also need to use two prices. #9 PIANTAGRANE was second at this level last time out despite racing greenly, and #11 GUNNISON adds blinkers and has shown zip in the mornings since his last race.
RACE #6: We’ll shorten things up for the sixth, which is the Ladies’ Turf Sprint. While you probably need to use the two shorter prices drawn to the outside, their bad luck at the post position draw opens things up for a horse that may be a bit more of a price.
My top pick is #3 JUSTA LADY, who comes back to the turf after a lackluster showing in an off-the-turf race two months ago at Churchill Downs. Before that, she notched six straight top-two finishes, including a second behind Morticia in a stakes race at Keeneland. Her 2017 form is certainly good enough to win this, and she could capitalize on many others having to endure wider trips.
I’m not completely against #11 BRANDY’S GIRL and #12 BLUE BAHIA, both of whom are certainly talented enough to win this. Neither needs the lead, which helps, but they may lose significant ground going around the turn. I’ll use them, but Justa Lady is my key horse here, and I’m hoping we get the 6-1 morning line price.
RACE #7: Older horses will go postward in the Grade 3 Fred Hooper. This has attracted 11 milers, and this is another case where the race may set up for a 6-1 shot.
#8 TOMMY MACHO spent most of 2017 running against top-notch competition. A look at his running lines reveals names like Sharp Azteca, Mind Your Biscuits, Drefong, Mor Spirit, and Awesome Slew, and this spot is a significant step down in class. Furthermore, he does his best running at Gulfstream Park, having won stakes races at this level and route in each of the past two seasons, and this race should set up for a closer. He’s my top pick in here, and this may be another case where the large field inflates the prices we see come post time.
I’ll also, reluctantly, be using #1 TALE OF SILENCE. I usually don’t like betting closers on the rail, especially at his likely price, but he could get an ideal setup for his style given the abundance of early speed in this field.
RACE #8: The morning line man thinks this is a two-horse race, and I’m inclined to agree. It’s the Grade 3 W. L. McKnight, and I’m not going deeper than #5 BULLARDS ALLEY and #7 OSCAR NOMINATED.
The former ran well in defeat last time out, when he fell a head short in the two-mile H. Allen Jerkens. His 12-furlong form is evident, and on back class, he’s the horse to beat. Meanwhile, Oscar Nominated threw in a clunker last time out at Aqueduct, but he quietly earned more than $600,000 in each of the past two seasons, and his usual race would definitely give him a big shot.
RACE #9: The late Pick Four starts with the Grade 3 Hurricane Bertie, and it features a local favorite that will likely be a pretty heavy favorite. I’m using her, but there’s another in here that I find interesting.
#7 CURLIN’S APPROVAL is 7-for-11 at Gulfstream Park, and I might argue her best race here came in defeat last time out. She went a bit longer than she probably wants, but she still ran second behind a talented horse (Lewis Bay). She’ll love the cutback to a familiar distance, and if she runs her typical race, others would have to improve to beat her.
However, I’m also intrigued by #1 MARLEY’S FREEDOM, who was last seen running fourth in the Grade 1 La Brea. Unique Bella and Paradise Woods ran 1-2 in that race, so this spot certainly provides some class relief, and the presence of Mike Smith certainly doesn’t hurt. She’s 10-1 on the morning line, and I highly doubt we get that price come post time.
RACE #10: This is the Gulfstream Park Turf Sprint, and I can see this race playing out one of two ways. I think that either the likely favorite goes wire-to-wire, or he gets cooked and a closer picks up the pieces.
If a front-runner wins, that front-runner is most likely to be #8 PAY ANY PRICE. He’s a local favorite, and a distance specialist that has won eight of 10 starts at this distance. He’s an absolute rocket ship out of the gate, and he’ll look to defend his home turf against shippers from around the country.
If Pay Any Price does not win, I don’t think it’s another speed horse that takes the top prize. I think a closer rallies, and that could be one of #6 RAINBOW HEIR, #9 TOMBELAINE, or #11 BLIND AMBITION. Also, while I’m not crazy about him, #7 RICHARD’S BOY did beat Pay Any Price the last time they faced off, so I can’t completely ignore him. At any rate, Pay Any Price is my key horse, but I can’t discount the possibility of him getting worn down trying to make the lead.
RACE #11: We’ll stay on the turf for the South Beach Stakes. With a better draw, the favorite may have been a single for me. However, #11 CELESTINE is parked outside, so while I’m using her, it wouldn’t be shocking if she lost, especially with such a short run to the first turn.
My other two primary horses are #8 PERDONA and #10 STORM THE HILL. Perdona is a price on the morning line (15-1), but she got good in the middle of last year and may have simply hated Woodbine’s synthetic track. She’s got speed and should be forwardly-placed early on, and I’m banking on a return to her mid-2017 form. Meanwhile, Storm the Hill led turning for home last time out before settling for third. That was probably a hair longer than she wants to go, and this cutback should be just what the doctor ordered.
Celestine’s best race certainly wins this, but she’s been off four months and doesn’t draw well, so it won’t be stunning if she’s knocked off. In addition to the two I mentioned, I’ll also have a small piece of #9 STORMY VICTORIA, who was a close-up third behind the talented On Leave last time out. She may be at her best around one turn, but one smaller Pick Four ticket will have her on it.
RACE #12: Here we are at the Pegasus World Cup. #10 GUN RUNNER will be a heavy favorite, and rightfully so. If he’s right, he’s strictly the one to beat, and all indications are that he’s as good as ever heading into his final race.
Much has been made of the post position draw. Gun Runner didn’t draw particularly well given the layout of this route, which features a short run into the first turn. However, if he clears #9 TOAST OF NEW YORK, he should at least sit a manageable trip with regard to ground saved. He doesn’t necessarily need the lead in order to win, as he proved in the Woodward, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him sit just off the pace before pouncing turning for home.
The question is, can any of the frontrunners survive what could be a scorching pace? #4 SHARP AZTECA and #5 COLLECTED will almost certainly gun for the front, while #1 SINGING BULLET, #2 WEST COAST, and #3 STELLAR WIND may vie for the lead as well (and certainly won’t be far off the pace). Add in Toast of New York and #12 GIANT EXPECTATIONS, and you’ve got the makings of a potential pace meltdown.
Of those runners, I most prefer Collected. I understand his run in the Grade 2 San Antonio was not sharp, but I’m treating that race as a throw-out. He didn’t break well, and Mike Smith tried to rate him behind a very slow pace. He should sit his preferred trip today, and like Gun Runner, he may be better at a mile and an eighth than he is at a mile and a quarter.
Many handicappers have insisted on using #6 GUNNEVERA because of the aforementioned pace scenario, and I understand why. He’s a deep closer that loves Gulfstream and will be a big price. However, the closer I’m throwing on one of my Pick Four tickets in case of a complete meltdown is #7 FEAR THE COWBOY, who figures to be an even bigger price. I really liked his win in the Grade 3 Harlan’s Holiday, and that was his second graded stakes win of 2017 at this track. Tyler Gaffalione has ridden very well this meet, and I need to use him at least a little bit in case crazy fractions get posted.
PICK FOUR TICKETS
Early Pick Four: Race #2
60 Bets, $30
I’m trying to extract some value out of Apple Betty, who may be the second shortest price on the entire card. I’ve got some prices on this ticket, and I think there’s room for an early score here.
Middle Pick Four: Race #5
60 Bets, $30
The scratch of Game Over (who I’d previously used) makes this a more affordable ticket. I was tempted to single Tommy Macho, but ultimately decided I needed to use Tale of Silence as well given the likely race shape.
Late Pick Four: Race #9
I’m going to go a bit different with this. There’s a guaranteed pool of $1 million up for grabs, and I’ve got three tickets that total $40.
48 Bets, $24
This is the main ticket, and if you’re only playing one, this is the one I’d suggest. There are no singles, but it’s a manageable $24 and it’s got the horses I really like on it.
20 Bets, $10
This one singles my top picks in the first two races (Curlin’s Approval and Pay Any Price), while also opening things up a bit in the last two races. It adds Stormy Victoria in the third leg, while also throwing in West Coast, Sharp Azteca, and Fear the Cowboy in the Pegasus.
12 Bets, $6
Finally, this is a skinnier ticket that singles Gun Runner in the Pegasus. It also adds in Richard’s Boy in the second leg, since he’s not covered on the other two tickets.
Long story short: If we can get the 7-8 double home in the ninth and tenth, we’ll be alive to everything halfway through the sequence. Even if Gun Runner wins the Pegasus, the large field sizes ensure that this won’t pay peanuts, and if we can hit it multiple times, that’s great.