Before we do a deep dive into the Sam F. Davis, the mandatory Rainbow Six payout at Gulfstream Park, and three other multi-race sequences at tracks from Florida to California, I’m going to attempt to wade into the deep water and go through some stuff that’s been lingering in my subconscious for a week. If you want to scroll down past the next several paragraphs and resume reading at the section marked “TAMPA BAY DOWNS,“ feel free to do so. If you do, though, know that you’re missing the most bizarre “thank you” I’ve ever written.
As those who know me well can attest, I’m cursed, and I’m only half-joking. My mind rarely stops, and sometimes, what it conjures up are some of the weirdest, most whacked-out things known to mankind. There are times where this has worked (every journalism award I’ve ever won), times where it hasn’t (one major track pushing for me to be fired; you’re all going to want to hear that story when I can tell it), and times where the reactions I get generally puzzle everyone (me going into “pro wrestler cutting a promo” mode, as I’m prone to do).
Last Friday was one of those times. I’d just come back from dinner at Vinnie’s, the local dive bar in my neighborhood that prides itself on cheap burgers, bright TV’s, and a juke box with long songs designed to tick people off when you buy them with the “advanced priority” option (my go-to is the 12-minute version of “Papa Was a Rolling Stone”). Before cranking out a 2,700-word column, I took to Twitter.
I’m officially an old fart. My idea of a fun Friday night is going to the bar next door for a cheap burger, hogging the jukebox with ridiculously long songs, then coming home and handicapping Aqueduct, Gulfstream, and Santa Anita.
Is there a support group for this? Send help.
— Andrew Champagne (@AndrewChampagne) February 2, 2019
24 hours later, I looked, and that tweet had more likes than anything else I’ve ever tweeted. Please understand that this, for lack of a better phrase, scared the hell out of me.
I beat everyone at Saratoga in 2017, less than six months after being told by someone that I had no use to him/her as any sort of a handicapper. I’ve won awards for the work that I’ve done with several different outlets. I’ve been different combinations of fortunate, proud, and successful at a lot of different things…and me calling myself an old fart who needs help was what got the most attention.
Being scared was the short-term reaction. Some in horse racing genuinely believe that I’m a joke who isn’t to be taken seriously, and I’m sure that group includes some pretty high-profile people. However, what I ultimately realized, in the aftermath of that tweet, is that I’ve got the support of way more people than I ever thought I did.
I can’t really go into too much depth about why that means as much as it does right now (it’s a long story for another time and place). Suffice it to say, though, that when I digested everything, I was pretty moved. I’m not in the horse racing business full-time anymore, so nobody’s paying me to write this stuff. This is a labor of love for me, and between the response to that tweet and the stats I’ve seen on my website, I’ve realized that I’m a very blessed person. I have some value to people who read my stuff, and any writer will tell you that that’s an incredible thing.
To everyone who read this (and those that scrolled down to the next section and are only catching this paragraph by accident), thank you. Now, let’s get to work!
TAMPA BAY DOWNS
Derby Prep: Sam F. Davis Stakes (Grade 3)
Late Pick Four: Races 9-12
The Sam F. Davis Stakes headlines the Saturday card at Tampa Bay Downs, and Kentucky Derby points are on the line. The race drew a field of 10, and it’s headlined by #3 KNICKS GO, who ran second in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile behind Game Winner.
Knicks Go can certainly win this race. His clunker in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club is excusable given the sloppy track he ran on, and he’s working well ahead of his 3-year-old debut. Having said that, there’s a lot of speed in this race, and while Knicks Go doesn’t need the lead to run well, I think he’ll be up close to a very fast pace.
I’m looking elsewhere for my top pick, and I landed on #8 SO ALIVE, a Todd Pletcher trainee that will likely go off much shorter than his 5-1 morning line price. He boasts a win over the Tampa Bay Downs surface, and he’s shown a strong closing kick. His final pre-race work was a bullet earlier this week, and it’s never a bad thing to have Javier Castellano in town to ride.
In addition to those two, I’ll also use a price on some of my wider tickets. #10 STILL DREAMING is a half-brother to Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist, and he stretched out with authority last time out at Laurel Park. The post position is definitely an issue, and he almost certainly has to step up, but logical improvement and some racing luck puts him right there for a piece of it.
$0.50 Pick Four: Race #9
60 Bets, $30
The late Pick Four features three stakes races, and it starts with the Suncoast for 3-year-old fillies. I found this race positively confounding, and I had to spread in order to be at all comfortable with getting out of the first leg. Had Rymska’s connections not opted for the Grade 3 Suwanee River at Gulfstream instead of the Endeavour, I’d have hit the “ALL” button, but I had to chop a few horses off the ticket to save money.
Rymska scratching actually opens this sequence up a bit for me, because I don’t like the new favorite. #6 HAWKSMOOR certainly has speed and back class, but she hasn’t run since October, hasn’t won since 2017, and figures to see some opposition up front. My top pick is #2 GET EXPLICIT, who got pretty good near the end of last year, and I’ll also throw in #4 MONTE CRISTA. That runner is a price, but something clearly went wrong two back and her 2019 debut came off a three-month layoff. She showed serious ability last summer, and anything close to the 12-1 morning line would hit me as a considerable overlay.
I’ll go two-deep in the Sam F. Davis (though I’ll likely save with Still Dreaming in doubles), and I’ll go three-deep in the payoff leg. This is a claiming race for older horses going two turns on the turf. I’ll use the two likely favorites, #1 ADIOS NARDO and #6 HUNTSTOWN, as well as #4 AT THE READY, who has run very well over this track, would benefit from a pace meltdown, and could give us some value at anywhere close to his 8-1 morning line price.
$0.20 Pick Six: Race #7
R7: 2,4,5,9,12 (15)
250 Bets, $50
The handicapping puzzle of the day at Gulfstream is the Rainbow Six, which boasts a mandatory payout. Naturally, the folks in Hallandale Beach have put together some incredibly difficult events to decipher, and if you hit, I think you’ll get paid handsomely.
Right off the bat, we have an overflow field in a maiden claiming event. As usual in a race like this, there isn’t much in the way of proven form signed on, so I felt the need to go five-deep. One note: If one of my horses scratches, that opens the door for #15 CROWN ROMANCE to draw in. If that’s the case, I need to have him on the ticket, hence the parentheses above.
The eighth, however, seems much more clear-cut. #2 REAGAN’S ODYSSEY has burned some money of late, but was a good second last time out at this level and goes to the barn of Audrey Maragh, which has been on a hot streak of late with horses first off the claim. I think she’s considerably best in here, and we need to single somewhere given my self-imposed budget, so that’s what we’ll do.
The ninth is a maiden special weight event for 3-year-old fillies, and it starts the late Pick Four (note: if you want to play my last four legs, it would be a $25 Pick Four ticket). This is another spread race for me, as several in here are stretching out in distance. My top selection, though, is a juicy 6-1 on the morning line in her turf debut. That’s #2 EBULLIENT, who’s bred up and down for the lawn and gets Lasix for trainer Michael Matz.
The tenth is a loaded allowance race headlined by a pair of 3-year-olds that could be on their ways to bigger things. The morning line favorite is #3 GLOBAL CAMPAIGN, who was a very impressive debut winner for Stanley Hough. The close second choice is #5 STANDARD DEVIATION, who misfired in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile after running a sneaky-good third in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland. Some may single one or the other, but I’m playing it safe and going two-deep.
The eleventh is the final spread race on my ticket. It’s the El Prado Stakes, and there may be a lot of tickets out there that buy this race. That’s how difficult it is, and for an ungraded stakes race, it drew a very strong field. #5 MR CUB was a close second behind Pegasus World Cup Turf winner Bricks and Mortar last time out, and I’d be stunned if he went off at his 9/2 price. The big price I need to use, though, is #4 SIDING SPRING, whose best races have come over this turf course. He’s simply a different animal in Hallandale Beach, and even though he’s lacking a bit in figures, I need to have him on the ticket.
I hate singling in the last leg of a ticket like this. However, there’s a filly in the finale that I like a fair bit, and she’ll likely be a bit of a price. #5 SUNNY DALE ran evenly in her career debut going two turns last month, and I think she’ll take a big step forward at second asking. John Servis’s horses tend to improve with experience, and she’s bred to be a very good turf horse. It’s tough to debut at two turns, so I’ll take a shot against #1 CAFÉ AMERICANO (the likely favorite). If that one beats me, so be it.
$0.50 Pick Four: Race #6
54 Bets, $27
For the second Saturday in a row, Oaklawn’s late Pick Four is a doozy. I’m building it around one horse I really like, and I’m hoping we get a price or two home around that one to make this pay a bit.
The sixth is a $20,000 claiming event. The entry trained by Robertino Diodoro figures to be tough, but I like #11 DOCTOR LEE best. He was fourth against a much better field last time out, and he won three straight races not long ago. 6-1 seems like a square price, and anything close to that would certainly entice a win bet.
I’m also going three-deep in the Saturday feature, the King Cotton Stakes for older sprinters. I can’t get too cute in here, as I’m using the three likely favorites. If #1 WILBO is ready to go off of the long layoff, I think he’s the horse to beat. He won this race last year and has done some of his best running in Hot Springs. He boasts a steady work tab ahead of his return, and I think trainer Chris Hartman (who’s 0 for 13 at the meet as of this writing) could get off the duck in a big, big way.
My single comes in the eighth, an allowance event for older fillies and mares. That single is #9 SPRINGDETTI, who has been working lights-out for trainer Norman McKnight. McKnight is hitting at a 27% clip this meet, and if this mare runs to her works, I think she’ll be very tough.
I’m happy I could single with some degree of confidence in the eighth, because the Saturday finale is a mess. It’s a maiden claimer with a full field, and it includes several runners dropping in class. #10 AUGIE is the likely favorite, and if he’s ready, he probably wins, but he hasn’t run in almost 11 months. If he’s not ready, I have no confidence in much of this group, so I’ll include five others to buy some security.
$0.50 Pick Four: Race #11
80 Bets, $40
We’ll finish things off with Santa Anita, and I’ll start with a bit of a rant. The opening leg of the sequence is an optional claiming race for 3-year-olds going six and a half furlongs. Sunday’s feature is the Grade 2 San Vicente for 3-year-old sprinters going seven furlongs. Why was Saturday’s race even carded, especially with the San Vicente struggling for entries? My head hurts.
Several runners in this field likely would’ve taken some play in the latter race, and I’ve singled one of them. #6 MUCH BETTER was part of a contested pace in the Grade 3 Sham, which was won by the fast-closing Gunmetal Gray. That one ran OK when second in the Robert B. Lewis last weekend, and I think Much Better will run…well, much better, on the cutback in distance for Bob Baffert and Mike Smith.
The ninth race is the Grade 2 San Marcos, and while the West Coast turf marathon contingent isn’t any great shakes, I thought this was a fascinating betting race. #3 CHICAGO STYLE and #4 EPICAL will take money, but the former does his best running at Del Mar, and the latter takes a big step up in class and may have to work for the early lead. My top pick is actually #1 UNAPOLOGETIC, who runs for red-hot trainer Bill Spawr, and I’ll also use European invader #6 SEJO, who gets Lasix for the first time after hinting at some potential last year in France.
The tenth is a claiming race for older horses, and your guess is as good as mine with regard to who will be favored. #9 HONEYMOONZ OVER gets that distinction on the morning line, and I’m using him on the drop in class, but the barn is ice-cold this meet, so it’s not like he’s a cinch. Of the bigger prices, #3 CRAZY UNCLE RICK caught my eye. He takes a massive drop out of the allowance ranks to run here, and the last time he ran for a tag on dirt, he jogged. This may wake him up, and if he wins, there’s a chance plenty of tickets get knocked out.
We finish with a maiden race for fillies going down the hill. Naturally, there isn’t much proven hill form signed on (what fun would THAT be?), so I’m spreading and hoping to catch a price. The possible bomb I used here is #10 SPANISH CHANNEL, whose debut was far from bad for an outfit whose firsters tend to need their initial outings. Kent Desormeaux hopping aboard is noteworthy, as is the odds disparity with other runners from that race. #11 SETTLE IT beat Spanish Channel by just a half-length that day, yet the latter is three times the price. I’m hoping Spanish Channel gets ignored, because I think she deserves just as much attention as anyone else in this spot.