I co-host “Champagne and J.D.,” a weekly YouTube show with guests from all around the horse racing world. This week, J.D. Fox and I were proud to be joined by handicapper and NYRA morning line man David Aragona. The three of us offered a trio of late Pick Four tickets for the first Saturday program of the meet after discussing some of the Opening Day action and what goes into the multiple positions David has within the sport.
It was a really cool discussion, and I’m grateful to David for taking some time out of his busy schedule to join us. If you’re interested in watching, you can do so here!
FRIDAY’S RESULTS: Polished Gem ran fine, but was third behind the two favorites I tried to beat. I dropped $20.
SATURDAY’S PLAY: I’ll play a cold daily double in an attempt to extract some value out of two short-priced favorites in the middle of the card. I’ll single both #9 CHATTALOT in the fifth and #4 PORTFOLIO COMPANY in the sixth on a $20 ticket. I’ll also play $5 exactas in those races, using Chattalot on top of #2 SEAL BEACH and #7 MONTAUK POINT and using Portfolio Company on top of #9 ANSEL and #10 GREAT BRITAIN.
TOTAL WAGERED: $40
Best Bet: Chattalot, Race 5
Longshot: Christopher, Race 2
#8 SHERIFF BLANCO: Ran second in back-to-back tries against similar foes downstate and once again looms the main win threat. He sure looks like the main speed in here, and while the field’s large, it isn’t the best one we’ll see at this level this summer; #4 MAJESTIC TIGER: Ran well to be beaten just a nose at first asking and may have bounced a bit in his second start. A return to the debut form would give him a shot at a bit of a price; #3 WAR SMOKE: Debuts for Jeremiah Englehart and has been working steadily ahead of his unveiling. Irad Ortiz, Jr., sees fit to ride, and his connections seem to have found a soft spot for his first afternoon try.
#6 CHRISTOPHER: Is a reluctant top pick in a race I’m just not crazy about. However, he seems to have found his best form in two recent starts at Monmouth Park, and he’s one of only two horses in here with multiple wins, which is worth something; #5 REPO ROCKS: Broke his maiden last time out and tries winners for the first time. Figures-wise, he’s the horse to beat, but I just don’t think the field he topped last time out was that good, and I can’t endorse him at his likely short price; #3 BABY YODA: Ships up from Pimlico and makes his first start for new trainer Bill Mott. He’s shown some ability, but just one published workout since his June 26th effort is absolutely a red flag, and his new conditioner might need some more time to figure him out.
Trumpet Lilly (MTO)
#11 MISS DELICIOUS: Adds Lasix and John Velazquez for this event, and she sure looks like the main speed in here. She wired a field of maidens two back before running a good second in her first start against winners, and I think she may be able to sit a comfortable trip here; #7 MAGISTERIUM: Was claimed by Orlando Noda last time out, when she made a strong move to be beaten just a half-length. Noda’s one of the best on the circuit with new acquisitions, and while she hasn’t won in a while, she’s also run just one poor race in her eight-start career; #3 AMALFI PRINCESS: Is another that hasn’t found the winner’s circle in a while, but she’s placed in three stakes races this season and just missed in a $100,000 event last month. Blinkers going on is a curious move, but she’s got plenty of ability and has shown she can go a mile effectively.
Grape Nuts Warrior
#8 AUSTRIAN: Got pretty sharp this past winter and spring after going to the Danny Gargan barn, and he comes in off a bit of a freshening here. He just missed against similar-level foes at Aqueduct back in April, and he did so despite having to close in a race without much of an early pace; #2 COTTON: Earned the diploma last time out in a race that doubled as his first start with Lasix. He’d run fairly well in all but one of his five prior outings, and two of the runners he topped last time out came back to run third and fourth on Opening Day; #7 GRAPE NUTS WARRIOR: Rallied to win at first asking two back before running third in his first try against winners. Chad Brown puts the blinkers on, and it’s not like he’d be a shocking winner, but I’m demanding more value than I’ll likely get and Brown and Castellano have been shockingly iffy on turf of late (just 2-for-29 since April 24th).
#9 CHATTALOT: Showed immense potential in a series of gate drills at Keeneland last month and draws a cushy outside post in his debut. The Asmussen barn unveiled one promising 2-year-old on opening day (Echo Zulu), and this may be another to add to the list; #2 SEAL BEACH: Debuts for the Mike Maker barn, and this is an outfit that can be sneaky with first-out juveniles. He’s shown speed in the mornings and most recently earned a bullet for a five-furlong drill in 1:00 and change on July 6th; #7 MONTAUK POINT: Hammered for $550,000 last year and debuts for Shug McGaughey. This barn, however, has a history of not fully cranking up first-time starters, and I think he may need a race or two to truly get going.
K Club (MTO)
#4 PORTFOLIO COMPANY: Is a very logical favorite in his first career start. He’s by Kitten’s Joy, which means he should take to this turf route configuration like a duck to water, and he’s been working steadily at the Spa for more than two months; #10 GREAT BRITAIN: Draws a tricky post but is bred up and down to be a very good turf horse. He’s by English Channel and out of a mare named Rutherienne, who won the Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks and is a full sister to Grade 3 turf winner Ruthenia; #9 ANSEL: Is one of two in here trained by Bill Mott, and he sold for $150,000 last year. Sire Blame has thrown several strong grass horses, and it may be telling that this is the Mott trainee Junior Alvarado will ride.
#2 BATTLE STATION: Gets a tepid nod in a very difficult turf sprint. He’s run some of his best races over this route of ground, including a win in last summer’s Lucky Coin Stakes, and he was fourth in a stakes-caliber optional claimer earlier this month downstate; DUBB ENTRY: Of this trio, I prefer #1A SHEKKY SHEBAZ, who certainly regressed after Jason Servis’s arrest but is still a strong turf sprinter. He returned with a second-place finish behind my top pick in May, and he’s got top-end speed that should put him up front early; #11 GHOUL: May actually benefit from the outside draw given his running style. He’ll want to drop back and make one run, and perhaps a wide trip will allow him to keep his momentum late. If he does, he’s certainly got a shot.
#1 BEAU LIAM: Won like a very good horse in his debut, when he stormed off to win by nearly eight lengths and earned a 94 Beyer Speed Figure. The inside draw isn’t ideal, but I think it’s a sign of confidence that he’s been entered against older horses in his first start against winners; #12 MAHAAMEL: Chased the promising First Captain in his unveiling two back before cruising home in the mud last month. The Pletcher/Velazquez tandem must be respected, and this $700,000 purchase may very well be putting it all together; #10 CROWDED TRADE: Ran in three straight graded stakes races after his debut victory and most recently finished fifth behind Rombauer in the Grade 1 Preakness. On ability, he certainly fits, but there’s one question worth asking: If Crowded Trade is sitting on a big effort, why is Chad Brown also saddling #7 WITSEL in this event?
#2 CANDY LANDING: Won his debut at Churchill Downs like a very good horse, and jockey James Graham sees fit to make the trip to upstate New York. He showed a lot of speed that day, and that could be an asset against one of the biggest Sanford fields in recent memory; #9 HEADLINE REPORT: Won his debut at Keeneland in very handy fashion and has trained forwardly since the first-out victory. Few in the game are better with 2-year-olds than Wesley Ward, and this $550,000 purchase may have plenty of potential; #1 WIT: Will almost certainly go favored after an eye-catching win on Belmont Day earlier this year. However, the rail’s a tough place to be for any 2-year-old, let alone one that hasn’t shown early speed yet. Perhaps he’s good enough to win, but at his likely price, I can’t endorse him.
Harvey’s Lil Goil
#6 SUMMER ROMANCE: Was second to a stablemate (more on her in a moment) in the Grade 1 Just A Game last time out, and Charles Appleby sees fit to run both back in the Grade 1 Diana. This one is 2-for-2 going longer than a mile, and I think her tactical speed makes her a real threat to wire this field; #8 ALTHIQA: Capitalized on a world-class ride from Mike Smith to win that day, and she’s never finished worse than third in 10 career starts. The question is, can she get today’s distance, one she finished third to my top pick at earlier this year?; #5 HARVEY’S LIL GOIL: Won the Grade 3 Beauty in her 2021 debut before being caught wide over yielding going in the Grade 2 New York. That may have been a bounce, and a return to form gives one of the coolest female horses in training a shot at a second Grade 1 win.
#7 DUCALE: Debuted by dead-heating for second in a swiftly-run race at Churchill and has every right to improve in what seems like a wide-open finale. He’s worked very well since that event, and once Brad Cox trainees get on the right track, they tend to stay there; #9 LAUGHING BOY: Showed speed in his first start off the bench going a mile and cuts back to seven furlongs. If nothing else, the distance shouldn’t get him beat, and the presence of Jose Ortiz is a plus; #4 SOUTHERN FLAG: Had an adventurous trip last time out when third going a mile at Belmont. In fact, he’s found trouble in each of his first two starts, yet has still run races that make him a contender here. He’s certainly got the potential to be a factor provided he gets the clean trip that has eluded him to this point.