I took a break of a few weeks after Saratoga. Some of this was for burnout-related reasons. Handicapping every race, every day, six days a week takes a toll, and I simply needed a respite. Unfortunately, some of this is also related to stuff I’m dealing with. I don’t really feel comfortable disclosing too much right now, other than I’m fine health-wise, friends and members of my family are fine health-wise, and I’m going to be okay long-term (I think).
Anyway, what drew me back to handicapping was Saturday’s card at Woodbine. I really enjoy looking at their biggest days. Fields are large, the quality of racing is excellent, and, perhaps best of all, their multi-race exotic bets are in 20-cent increments. This may sound gimmicky, but it’s actually brilliant. Everyone plays at that level, so the payout disparity between that and 50-cent increments at other tracks isn’t nearly as large as you may think, and that allows handicappers the luxury of going a bit deeper than usual or not having to risk as much money playing combinations.
Woodbine Mile Day is always a good time, and I’ll dive into both Pick Four sequences on the 12-race program. Both sequences boast guaranteed pools, and I think they offer exciting value propositions, so let’s get to it!
$0.20 PICK FOUR: RACE #4
54 Bets, $10.80
We kick off this sequence with what might be the best betting race on the card. It’s a lucrative allowance event, but while I’m using likely favorite #6 SAY THE WORD, I’m far from in love with him. Yes, he was second in a $400,000 stakes race last time out, and a repeat of that effort probably wins, but his best races have come on turf, not the synthetic surface he’ll run on here. He’s actually my third choice, and my top two are prices.
#3 AMBERWOOD is my top pick in here. His 2018 form may not look great, but I’m tossing his last-out effort entirely. He had a miserable trip that day, and it’s probably not a coincidence that a rider change was made. Patrick Husbands rode him to two victories here last season, and even a repeat of his two-back effort could make this 15-1 shot a contender for top honors. I also need to use #5 DIVINE DANCE, who has a knack for finding the winner’s circle. He’s won six times in his last nine starts, and while he gets a class test here, it’s not like he’s facing any monsters. He goes second off the layoff for a small barn that’s done quite well this meet, and his 8-1 odds hit me as an overlay.
The fifth is also intriguing. #1 GLACIER has gotten quite good since being switched to the synthetic track for top local horseman Norman McKnight, and he’s my top pick. The other must-use in this race for me, though, is 10-1 shot #5 SAN NICOLA THUNDER, a consistent sort that finished less than two lengths behind my top pick last time out. He exits some fast races, and it’s not inconceivable to think he could pop up at a price here. Finally, I’ll reluctantly throw in #4 CIRCLE OF FRIENDS, who earned a big Beyer Speed Figure last time out but had a dream trip that day. I think he’ll be an underlay in the win pool, but if one of my bombs wins the first leg, this one takes the second, and he knocks me out of the sequence, I’ll feel horrible.
The sixth race is the Sweet Briar Too Stakes, and I can’t get too creative here. 5/2 second choice #1 MOONLIT PROMISE is my top pick on the slight class drop following eight straight tries against graded competition. She had a horrible trip in the Grade 3 Seaway last time out, and a cleaner journey would make her tough to beat. I also used #2 CODE WARRIOR, who benefited from a perfect front-running trip last time out and could do so again here. For a $100,000 stakes race going 6 1/2 furlongs, there isn’t a ton of tactical speed signed on, and she could get brave if left alone on the front end.
The payoff leg is an allowance race for older fillies and mares that also starts a Pick Five sequence. I’ll look to finish out this Pick Four with one of four runners. #2 LISA’S ESCARPMENT and #4 MYSTIC NILE will take money, and I also need to use #1 ALICE’S WAR, who comes back to the main track after a rough start last time out on turf. Her race two back was pretty good, and the rail draw could mean she’s up pretty close to what figures to be a slow early pace. With that kind of trip, she could be right there at a bit of a price.
$0.20 PICK FOUR: RACE #8
108 Bets, $21.60
This is the late Pick Four, and they’re not messing around, as it starts with the Grade 1, $800,000 Woodbine Mile. I’m using the two logical favorites, #3 DELTA PRINCE and #7 OSCAR PERFORMANCE, while slightly preferring the latter. He was pulled up in the Arlington Million, but he’s worked very well since then, and we may get a slightly-inflated price based on that journey. I also felt a need to use #1 GOOD SAMARITAN, who comes back to the grass and goes a route of ground he should love. I think he’s better now than he was when he chased Oscar Performance at two and three, and 10-1 just seems like way too big a price.
Leg two is the Grade 2 Canadian for fillies and mares. I nearly singled #3 INFLEXIBILITY, who’s been running against some of the top turf distaffers in the country (most of whom reside in her shedrow). She certainly seems like the one to beat, but I can’t discount the possibility of #1 DARING DUCHESS getting brave from her inside post and having plenty left for the stretch run. When she gets that trip, she’s tough, and with the 20-cent increment, it makes no sense to leave her off this ticket.
The third leg is the Grade 3 Bold Venture, and it could feature the shortest-priced horse on the card. That’s #3 PINK LLOYD, the reigning Canadian Horse of the Year. He could win, but I don’t think he’s a cinch. He fell at this route three back to #6 KINGSPORT, who has since added another stakes win to his collection. I’m also going to throw in #10 SWEET LITTLE MAN, who was a very good third in the Grade 2 Play The King behind two horses contesting the Woodbine Mile.
We finish off the sequence with the Grade 1 Northern Dancer. Last year’s renewal of this race gave me nightmares. I needed 3/5 favorite #5 HAWKBILL badly, and he was run down after setting a very manageable early pace. He’s back for another go, and he’ll likely be a pretty heavy favorite, but why should I have unshakable confidence in him if he couldn’t capitalize on a perfect trip last year over what seems like a weaker group?
I’m using him, but I won’t single him again; far from it, actually, as I’m going six-deep. #1 MEKHTAAL may be figuring things out, #3 UTMOST won the Grade 2 Sky Classic here last time out, #6 TIZ A SLAM has gotten good for Hall of Famer Roger Attfield, #9 ENGLISH ILLUSION took a big step forward in stakes company last time out, and #10 PATTERSON CROSS has shown ample ability in the past and should be flying late down Woodbine’s long stretch. I think this is a tremendous betting race, and it anchors a Pick Four sequence that could pay very generously.