2023 Kentucky Derby Recap: From Chaos Comes Clarity

Want to read a Kentucky Derby recap that has very little to do with the race? If so, I’ve got just the ticket.

(Editor’s note: Uh oh.)

(Writer’s retort: Come on. It’s me. You knew this was going to be weird.)

I did a ton of Kentucky Derby content leading up to Saturday. Catena Media allowed me to get my hands dirty on a bunch of sites within the company’s portfolio, and I’m grateful to them for that. I love my job, and I very much enjoy collaborating with some of the best co-workers (and friends) one can ask for.

I did a ton outside of my day job, too. You may have heard me on a few podcasts, and if you were in Ithaca or Albany (two of my former places of residence), you may have heard me on local sports radio affiliates, too. I woke up on Saturday morning bright and early, fully prepared to compile everything into one nice, neat package.

And then Forte scratched, and everything came crashing down.

Not literally, of course. Life goes on. However, with that scratch, almost every piece of content I conceived, produced, edited, and/or published the prior four or five days became irrelevant.

You may have seen a few social media posts from me in that vein that hinted I wasn’t in a great mood. As I told a few family members and close friends, I was absolutely devastated, and not because Forte wasn’t running.

There’s no worse feeling than seeing a lot of hard work fueled by passion go down the drain. I spent the entire week touting Forte enthusiastically, so everything that enthusiasm touched was instantly rendered obsolete.

(Quick note: If the vets determined Forte shouldn’t have run, then he shouldn’t have run. It’s truly as simple as that, so please don’t put words in my mouth.)

I audibled reasonably well the morning of the race. I put out a revised betting strategy, and if you acted on it, you came out ahead. Mage was my third choice, but a win bet at overlaid odds proved profitable. My exactas were toast, so I didn’t get rich, but I’ve had far, far worse Derbies.

After the race, a tweet of mine went around pretty quickly. I said Forte would have stomped that group, and I sincerely believe that. He’s beaten Mage twice already, and I don’t see a reason a healthy version of him couldn’t have done so again this weekend. I hope we’ll get a chance to see him sooner rather than later, ideally at an overlaid price.

The interactions that followed, though, gave me a lot of insight into my feelings and motivations. For as much bluster, pompousness, and ego my detractors (and there are many, for reasons passing understanding…) will claim I have, I genuinely enjoy going back and forth with about 90 to 95 percent of horse racing Twitter. I’ll talk shop in any setting anyone wants, and more often than not, I’ll genuinely enjoy it.

I was miserable most of Derby Day, and not because a horse I was excited to bet wasn’t going to run. It was because I put a lot of my spare energy into creating content for horseplayers to digest and enjoy, and I do it because there’s no better feeling than using my knowledge and insight to help someone else make money.

It’s why I keep doing all of this stuff on top of a day job I very much enjoy. I’m not getting rich off of these passion projects, and that’s not the point. The things I do in horse racing are because I want to do them, and because, over the years, there’s enough evidence to support the idea that I know what I’m talking about (you might have heard about Lord Miles…).

Saratoga’s in two months. I’ll be back in the pages of The Pink Sheet and online on this very site with full-card analysis, selections, and bankroll plays. Before that is the Alameda County Fair in Pleasanton. I’ll be in Europe for the first week of that meet, but most weekends, I’ll be co-hosting handicapping seminars just outside the grandstand that preview each day of racing action at the Northern California fair track.

In the meantime, you can keep checking this site and my social media platforms. I’m an easy guy to find. If you’ve got any ideas for content, or just something you’d like to see, use the “contact” function. I see everything that comes through.

To those that enjoy what I do, thank you. You’re a large part of why I’m still able to do it.

Sounding The Alarm To Fix Major Horse Racing Issues

The inspiration for this article came from a conversation I had with a good friend who works in the horse racing business.

(Editor’s note: Wait, Andrew has friends? We’re as shocked as you are.)

(Writer’s retort: You’re a jerk.)

On the whole, I don’t share the “doom and gloom” outlook on horse racing possessed by some loud voices on horse racing Twitter. I don’t think horse racing is on its deathbed, or that the sport will cease to exist in a certain number of years. I love this game, and as anyone who follows me can attest, I pour a great amount of energy into it on a consistent basis.

The fact is, however, that competition for legal wagering dollars has never been greater. Sports betting is being legalized in a majority of states around the country. The latest state to approve the industry is Kentucky, whose governor signed a sports betting bill last week.

Sooner rather than later, residents of the Bluegrass State will be able to log on to DraftKings, FanDuel, or whatever platform they want. They’ll be able to lock in wagers on their favorite teams, at set odds, with an abundance of free information at their fingertips. The rules of these contests are iron-clad and laid out for all to see, high standards for competition and the settings of competitions are set, winners and losers are known when the clock shows all-zeroes, and, by and large, confusion is at a minimum.

Meanwhile, in horse racing, all of the following items on the list below are true.

  • Racetracks, on occasion, have major issues correctly timing races from start to finish.
  • Three major racetracks (Gulfstream Park, Churchill Downs, and Fair Grounds) have had significant problems growing and maintaining grass on their turf courses.
  • Late odds changes are commonplace across many prominent circuits.
  • The California breeding industry is facing immense obstacles, and a major source of Cal-breds, Ocean Breeze Farm, has been put up for sale by the Reddams.
  • One state’s racing circuit, which had been handling record numbers over the past few years, stopped sending its simulcast signal out of its state, resulting in millions of dollars in lost handle each month (and that’s being conservative).
  • At the time of this writing, nearly two years after the 2021 Kentucky Derby, we still don’t know the official winner of that race.
  • Nearly four years after the 2019 Kentucky Derby, we don’t have one uniform answer to the question, “what is a foul that merits disqualification?

With all of that in mind, why would any novice who doesn’t have the time to dig into specifics choose to bet on horse racing rather than sports? This is true even in Kentucky, a state that prides itself on being the heartbeat of the racing industry. Call me crazy, but I don’t think the history of horse racing matters too much to someone who’s been to the track once a year, has $100 to gamble with, and has a choice of a Pick Four or an NFL game he/she/they can research a thousand different ways without spending a dime.

Take all of the things we horseplayers bicker about on Twitter and throw all of them out the window for a moment. Instead, let’s ask ourselves this question: What are we, as a sport, doing to ensure we get things as right as possible, as quickly as possible, for the benefit of every stakeholder involved?

Optics matter, and not just for whatever part of racing’s multi-legged stool you happen to reinforce. There are no simple answers to the below questions, but they need to be asked.

  • What are we doing to educate new fans, make them more informed fans, and give them the confidence they need to put their money through the betting windows more than once or twice a year?
  • Why are we breeding fewer horses, and why are the ones we breed now running fewer times, needing more time after races, and becoming harder for the average fan to develop interests in than thoroughbreds of years past? More importantly, how do we reverse this trend to where we’re breeding to race instead of racing to breed (or, even worse, breeding to sell on a widespread basis)?
  • What are we doing to get new owners involved in the game when the economics to do so have never been more challenging for the non-gazillionaires out there?
  • How do we keep the mid-sized, 10-12% trainer in business when the 20-25% trainers seem to have all the top bloodstock, owners, and riders on lockdown?

I don’t claim to have all the answers. I’m a bettor and a marketing/communications guy. I’m not a horseperson, or a veterinarian, or someone who’s intimately familiar with the challenges barns of all sizes face on a daily basis.

(Editor’s note: Wait a minute. He’s actually NOT a pompous know-it-all?)

(Writer’s retort: Shocking, right? Don’t tell anyone. Wouldn’t want to ruin a good shtick.)

I’m also not trying to insinuate the industry isn’t doing anything at all. A number of outlets are doing good work, and, in many cases, doing so while fighting numerous uphill battles. Acting as though they don’t exist, and/or minimizing their efforts, paints a biased picture.

(Also, say what you will about HISA, a well-meaning but imperfect piece of legislation clearly absent input from horsepeople before it was drafted and signed into law. However, it’s attempting to get everything under one roof with one set of rules. We can debate parts of the legislation all day long, but that particular goal is an admirable one.)

Still, there’s more that can be done across the board by everyone in racing’s ecosystem. Acting as though everything is fine and dandy when it isn’t is flat-out delusional, and it’s long past time for the industry to stop kicking the can down the road.

We don’t have to agree on everything in order for this to happen. If anyone knows about not being agreed with by some very vocal members of horse racing Twitter, it’s me (shoot, I got read the riot act once by someone angry I posted resources for victims of domestic violence). We can check our opinions about HISA, people in the game, and almost any other racing matter at the proverbial door.

The important thing we need to agree on is this: Things in horse racing are broken. If the industry is to survive (and maybe even thrive), a lot of things need to be fixed. The answers aren’t small tweaks. They’re huge, foundation-level adjustments that may require short-term sacrifices (a dirty word, I know, but go with it) to ensure the sport is still around for future generations.

The solution to these problems I’ve mentioned isn’t shooting the messenger. The problems are the problems themselves, not people talking about them (a lesson those quick to criticize the media would do well to learn). Whatever solutions are out there will take lots of thought from lots of smart people.

If we don’t find them soon, the consequences will be real and have longstanding effects for everyone. Let’s start the work now.

The Worst Horse Racing Opinion(s) I’ve Ever Seen

On Thursday, I read one of the most-pompous, least-informed “letters to the editor” in the history of journalism. It was published on the Thoroughbred Daily News website, and it contained a variety of wild accusations and untruths about horse racing journalists and media companies. Should you want to read it and subject yourself to the nonsense as we go along, here you go.

Before we go much further, I feel it prudent to point out my experience in the field. I worked with The Saratogian, HRTV, TVG, and The Daily Racing Form on a full-time basis. I’ve written for print and websites, I’ve run social media platforms, and I’ve geared content to a variety of different audiences. Everywhere I’ve gone, I’ve achieved significant growth in key metrics, and I’ve been fortunate to meet a lot of good people doing various things to keep each business going.

I’m not in racing full-time anymore, but I’m fortunate to still do plenty. I host a show on the On The Wrong Lead podcast network, I freelance for The Paulick Report and The Pink Sheet, and this site you’re on right now got more than 30,000 hits during the 2022 Saratoga meet. It hit that total with zero in the way of paid promotion, and with its only hype being on my social media platforms and the occasional blurb in The Pink Sheet.

I’m not saying this to gloat, but to prove that any decent list of competent horse racing writers, editors, podcast/video people, etc., has me on it. That gives me the credentials to be taken seriously when I say that this letter to the editor is barely worth the microscopic amount of space it takes up on the TDN servers.

Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look. Firstly, let this sink in: The writer of the letter to the editor, who urged accountability and transparency, requested anonymity.

That’s not a typo or an untruth. Already, the letter starts from behind, as the writer fails to practice what they preach and doesn’t understand the absurdity of what they’ve produced. How is this writer any better than the, ahem, “journalists with an agenda” they complain about, when the letter-writer is content to lob grenades from behind a cloak of anonymity? If you want to show you care about writers being held accountable for what they write, be accountable yourself.

That brings me to the “most journalists have an agenda” comment. Trying to keep this part brief is hard, but in short: No. To paraphrase my good friend and Catena Media colleague Alicia Hughes, news is good, bad, and indifferent. It doesn’t care what you think a reporter should or shouldn’t be covering, and it’s a good reporter’s duty to cover everything, warts and all. Like every sport, racing has its share of warts, and trying to act like they don’t exist is borderline delusional.

Reporters are not publicists, no matter how much executives at many racing and breeding organizations that employ publicists want them to be. Stuff gets tricky, awkward, and messy sometimes. That’s the nature of the beast, and fair reporters get that reputation by covering newsworthy stories that come their way, not by cherry-picking and only writing the warm and fuzzy stuff.

(On a related note: Have you ever noticed the people who say reporters need to be writing happier stories are often the ones saying racing should be covered like a mainstream sport? Go watch ESPN’s coverage of the situation involving NBA star Ja Morant and tell me how good reporters would cover any mildly-controversial issue in racing. If you can’t stand the heat thrown by solid reporters NOW, imagine the scrutiny that would come with being covered “like a mainstream sport.”)

Moving on, we get to complaints about “dishonesty at each stage of the pipeline, from the sources through the writers to the readers.” This also included that sources of most stories “are agitators that pull the strings by contributing to online fearmongering publications.”

This is about when my anger turned into bewilderment. To recap: Most journalists have an agenda, everyone’s lying…and it’s the PUBLICATIONS, not the writer of this letter, that are, ahem, “fearmongering?” These are tactics straight out of low-rent sensationalist political talk shows that paint pictures of “us” versus “them.” They don’t stand up to any level of scrutiny, and it’s another example of why this attitude should never be taken seriously.

I don’t shy away from what I write, and neither do a lot of extremely talented writers I’m proud to call friends and colleagues. They’ve won Eclipse Awards for what they do. They wake up at dawn, take in workouts, go through days at the races and nights at the sales, write brilliantly about the things they see, and in some cases don’t get paid nearly enough for the quality of their work. They deserve better than flimsy, lazy attacks from someone who doesn’t have the courage to publicly identify themselves, and I’m about done staying quiet about it.

Stuff like we saw in the TDN Thursday isn’t okay, and I’m not alone in thinking it. Don Clippinger wrote a rebuttal to that letter that TDN, to their credit, published later in the day. I’ll quote some of his response here, because it puts things in perspective very well:

“The motivation of most all the journalists I’ve encountered in that time, which probably number in the thousands, was to get the story and get it right. That means telling both sides of the story. True, I have seen instances where the text may have been influenced by a losing bet, and industry members have at times tried unsuccessfully to throw their weight around in publications.

But those instances are exceedingly rare. To say that these journalists are ‘dishonest,’ to use the word of the anonymous coward, borders on libel.”

I’m big on accountability. My name is on everything I’ve ever written or produced at every outlet I’ve ever worked for, and as those who know me well can attest, I’ve taken my fair share of lumps for it. If anyone has a problem with anything my name is associated with, I’m a VERY easy guy to find.

With that in mind, there’s no dishonesty, clickbait, or sensationalism when I say this: The letter run by the TDN was a slap in the face to a LOT of good people. It was put into the world by someone who created the kind of negative story they wrote in to complain about, and the writer did so by lobbing wild, unjustified, and unsourced insults and accusations at folks who deserve much, much better.

Shame on them, shame on anyone who thinks this way, and shame on those who enable these people to continue acting as though good, hard-working writers are somehow the enemy of this industry.

2022 BREEDERS’ CUP: Saturday Analysis And Selections (11/5/22)

The 2022 Breeders’ Cup is upon us. We’re on to the Saturday program, which boasts 12 races in total and nine that fall under the Breeders’ Cup umbrella.

In addition to my analysis down below, I’ve been fortunate to be part of some awesome shows and podcasts leading up to the Breeders’ Cup. You’ll find those videos embedded below, and links to podcasts will be there as well.

That’s What G Said: Distaff

Alright, time for a huge block of text. As I did last year, I’ll spend more time and energy on races where I have strong opinions (me blabbering on and on in races where I don’t feel strongly about any particular runner doesn’t help anybody). Let’s get to it!

RACE #1: We start bright and early, with a seven-furlong maiden race scheduled for 10:30 am Eastern (7:30 for those of us on the west coast). Thankfully, there’s something worth waking up for, because I like a horse that shouldn’t be favored.

#12 REAGAN ran very well in his debut. He was beaten just a neck that day, and while that day’s winner didn’t run well against winners Friday, I still think this one is very live. Seven furlongs is a tough distance to debut at, and in addition to having an experience edge on most of this group, Reagan also draws a cushy outside post in this 13-horse field. Add in a significant rider switch to Luis Saez, and I think there’s lots of plusses here.

#4 ARABIAN KNIGHT and #10 EXPECT MORE may have talent. However, I like Reagan on top, and I think he may drift up from his 4-1 morning line price.

RACE #2: I can’t see this optional claimer as anything more than a two-horse race. #2 NAKATOMI and #3 MESSIER look significantly faster than the rest of the field. I sincerely hope the morning line odds hold up, though my guess is the respective 9/2 and 4-1 prices will come down.

RACE #3: The first Breeders’ Cup race of the day is the Filly and Mare Sprint. Last year’s renewal was very good for me, as #4 CE CE came rolling home to ensure a very good day. I think this year’s edition goes a bit differently, but I still like a closer on top.

#7 OBLIGATORY has one way of going. She wants to drop back behind a fast pace and come flying late. She had significant traffic problems in the Grade 1 Ballerina, ones the running line doesn’t adequately explain. There’s a lot of speed in this race, and I think it sets up very well for what Obligatory wants to do.

#8 GOODNIGHT OLIVE is the 3-1 morning line choice. She makes some sense, as does #13 ECHO ZULU. Those two and Obligatory are the ones I’ll primarily be leaning on.

RACE #4: The Turf Sprint features #8 GOLDEN PAL, who has never lost a North American turf race. I don’t think he’s a cinch, but he does hit me as this race’s most likely winner.

I can’t get too crazy with any alternatives. The only one that intrigues me at all is #11 CASA CREED, and he’ll be on a few saver tickets in case someone goes with Golden Pal and sets things up for a deep closer. However, I’d like him more at six or seven furlongs than this 5 1/2-furlong distance.

RACE #5: This one hurts. I didn’t just like #6 LAUREL RIVER in the Dirt Mile. I loved Laurel River and saw him as a single. That one scratching Friday morning was a stomach punch, and it forced a complete re-evaluation of this race.

I don’t think #5 GUNITE wants to go two turns, so I’m playing against him. #7 CODY’S WISH isn’t totally illogical, but he’ll be a very short price and he’s another that sure seems more effective going one turn. #9 CYBERKNIFE, meanwhile, will take money, but while his best is good enough to win this, it’s fair to wonder if he peaked over the summer.

With that in mind, I’ll take a shot with #3 PIPELINE. He seems like the main speed in this race, and he went toe-to-toe with Jackie’s Warrior in the Grade 1 Forego last time out. I think he’ll be able to sit an easier trip in here, where there isn’t quite as much early zip on paper. Pipeline is 8-1 on the morning line, and that hits me as the best value in the field.

RACE #6: European runners dominated Friday’s turf races, and I think that trend continues Saturday. They’ve got the top three contenders in the Filly and Mare Turf, and I can’t get past that trio.

#3 NASHWA, #4 ABOVE THE CURVE, and #5 TUESDAY are all good enough to win this on their best day. Given that War Like Goddess’s connections opted to go against boys, the North American contingent just doesn’t hit me as a strong one.

RACE #7: First things first, if #9 JACKIE’S WARRIOR runs his best race, he almost certainly does not lose. However, there’s a bonkers price I’ll also be using, just in case he either misfires or gets caught up in a speed duel early on.

I think #3 O BESOS has been a sprinter all along. His connections ran him in the 2021 Kentucky Derby, but three of his four wins have come at sprint distances. That includes a last-out score in an optional claimer at Churchill Downs, which was his first start since April. I think he’s sitting on a career-best race, and if you’re looking for another horse to use in exotics or contests, O Besos hits me as a logical price play.

RACE #8: Another turf race, another where the European runners loom large. However, while I respect #4 MODERN GAMES and will be using him, I like another Euro on top at a slightly bigger price.

#3 DREAMLOPER was excellent in a Group 1 romp last time out. The two starts before that weren’t great, but I think the distance of those races wasn’t to his liking. It’s possible he’s just not a 10-furlong horse, and he certainly stepped forward in a big way when he was cut back to a mile at Longchamp. A repeat of that performance would make him very, very tough in this spot.

A few American runners are intriguing underneath. #6 IVAR should get a pace to close into, and #8 REGAL GLORY is as consistent as they come. Having said that, most of my multi-race tickets will revolve around Dreamloper and Modern Games.

RACE #9: The Breeders’ Cup Distaff came up a bit short on quantity, but not at all short on quality. In addition, I think it’s a fun betting race because I believe #6 NEST is an underlay. She can win, but her figures don’t tower over a very strong bunch of older fillies and mares, and I feel like she’ll be overbet.

I much prefer both #1 MALATHAAT and #4 CLAIRIERE. The former is 3-for-3 at Keeneland, the latter’s last-out effort is too poor to be true, and both should benefit from a race that has some early speed in it. Add in that neither runner is likely to be favored, and my interest gets piqued even more.

I’ll also throw in #7 SEARCH RESULTS on some of my tickets. I think she may sit a dream stalking trip behind #8 SOCIETY, and she may be the one they have to run down late.

RACE #10: More turf races, more Euros. The Breeders’ Cup Turf, naturally, has an international feel to it, and while I respect #2 WAR LIKE GODDESS, I think she’ll be up against it a bit against some of Europe’s highest-class runners.

I’ll be using #4 BROOME, #7 NATION’S PRIDE, and #11 MISHRIFF. Broome did everything but win this race a season ago when he was a tough-luck second behind Yibir. Like last year, he comes in off a misfire in the Arc de Triomphe, but he’ll get firmer ground, which he should appreciate. Also like last year, he figures to be a square price, which only adds to his appeal.

If you’re going to back an American runner, I’d recommend taking a look at #9 GOLD PHOENIX. This is a significant class hike, to be sure, but he had plenty of trouble early on last time out and was beaten just a neck despite having to rate well behind a modest pace. Flavien Prat had options, but he lands here, and that’s always a good sign.

RACE #11: Don’t get cute. Single #4 FLIGHTLINE and move on.

RACE #12: Yes, there’s a race after the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and it’s a fun one. #4 DALIKA and #5 SHANTISARA headline the Fall Harvest, and I prefer the former, who may not be favored despite coming in off of back-to-back graded stakes wins. She tailed off a bit late last year, but Al Stall has her going in the right direction. If the 7/2 morning line odds hold, that may be enough to entice a win bet.

2022 BREEDERS’ CUP: Friday Analysis And Selections (11/4/22)

The 2022 Breeders’ Cup is upon us. The two-day event starts Friday at Keeneland, with five races for 2-year-olds and an intriguing undercard that also offers plenty of wagering opportunities.

In addition to my analysis down below, I’ve been fortunate to be part of some awesome shows and podcasts leading up to the Breeders’ Cup. You’ll find those videos embedded below, and links to podcasts will be there as well.

That’s What G Said: Juvenile Fillies Turf

Alright, time for a huge block of text. As I did last year, I’ll spend more time and energy on races where I have strong opinions (me blabbering on and on in races where I don’t feel strongly about any particular runner doesn’t help anybody). Let’s get to it!

RACE #1: I’m not crazy about the post position #8 OPEN ROAD draws, but I think he’s a 3-year-old set to make significant progress late in the year. He comes in off of a win in a first-level allowance over a loaded field. The runner-up, Strong Quality, has talent, and third-place finisher Tiz Rye Time came back to win at next asking.

I think he’s got the tactical speed to clear some of his rivals early and establish position, which isn’t necessarily something likely favorite #6 B DAWK can do. Let’s see if we can get the likely second choice home to kick off the day.

RACE #2: I sincerely hope the daughter of Tapit and Songbird, #2 MAGICAL SONG, gets bet, because I don’t like her. Her works are just-OK, and debuting at seven furlongs is no easy task.

I prefer second-time starter #6 KLASSY BRIDGETTE, who closed to be second in her debut at Churchill and should get plenty of pace to run at. If you want a first-time starter, I’d recommend #8 VIVID DREAMS, whose most recent drill was very sharp, but again, this is a tough first assignment.

RACE #3: #11 MARSALIS will be a very heavy favorite, and he’s my top pick. If you want to extract some value, I’d suggest playing him in exactas with #3 SPARTAN ARMY (who goes second off a long layoff) and #6 PRO OXIDANT (who ran very well in his debut at should come back to form on a cutback in distance).

RACE #4: #9 ARABIAN LION is another heavy chalk that seems live. It’s a Bob Baffert trainee coming in off of earning a 92 Beyer Speed Figure in an impressive first-out win last month. He’s the one to beat, but I don’t think he’s a cinch.

#11 TRES SOLES and #12 PROTEGE both intrigue me at bigger prices. The former wound up on the lead by default in his debut, is bred to want the added distance he gets here, and boasts the Steve Asmussen work tab I love (the two-back work is fast, the most recent drill is a maintenance move). The latter, meanwhile, was professional in victory first time out for a barn whose debuting runners don’t often win. That day’s runner-up was six lengths clear of the third-place finisher and has since come back to win.

If Arabian Lion wins, will I be shocked? No. Will I probably still be alive? Yes. Do I think he’s a single, though? No.

RACE #5: The Grade 2 TAA (formerly the Breeders’ Cup Marathon) has no proven marathoners, and anything can happen. If ever there was a time to hit the “ALL” button, it’s here.

RACE #6: Breeders’ Cup action starts here, with the Juvenile Turf Sprint, and it’s a confounding race. My “Drank’n Champagne” co-host, Josh Rodriguez, really likes #2 LOVE REIGNS. I see why, and that one wouldn’t shock me, but to be honest, I can say the same about nearly half this field.

I’ll give two bombs that you probably want on those late Pick Five tickets. #6 PERSIAN FORCE was a half-length behind Blackbeard in the Group 1 Prix Morny two back, and that day’s rider, the ever-dangerous Frankie Dettori, sees fit to ride back. In addition, #9 SHARP AZA TACK was sent away at 1/5 odds in a stakes race at Kentucky Downs, where I think he bounced and still nearly won. Cutting back in distance should help, and if the same horse that won the Tyro by nearly eight lengths shows up here, he’s got a big chance at a square price.

RACE #7: My first strong play-against comes in the Juvenile Fillies, as I’m against #10 CHOCOLATE GELATO. I don’t think we can judge anything fairly when it comes to the prep races at Aqueduct, which were contested in boggy conditions that may never be replicated again. The post position is tough, this field is imposing, and I simply prefer others.

#7 CHOP CHOP is the wise-guy horse, and she makes a ton of sense. There should be plenty of speed signed on to set up for her late kick, and a step forward from her hard-luck second in the Grade 1 Alcibiades would make her tough. I don’t think it’s as simple as relying on just her, though.

#2 YOU’RE MY GIRL was second in the Frizette, and her debut was sensational. She has the speed to make the rail draw an asset, but I also don’t think she necessarily needs the lead. In addition, I’ll give #11 AMERICAN ROCKETTE another shot. She lost all chance at the start of the Grade 1 Spinaway, but made up a metric ton of ground to finish fourth. Again, I see the Frizette as a throw-out, and with the lively pace we’ll likely get here, she hits me as one that could step up.

Finally, I’ll give you a bonkers longshot that could clunk up for a share. #1 VEGAS MAGIC was 3-for-3 going into the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante, where she likely bounced off of a solid score in the Grade 2 Sorrento. Her pedigree says two turns won’t be a problem, and we know she can close. Can the winner of the Alameda County Fair’s flagship 2-year-old race, the Everett Nevin, win this one? Probably not, but if you’re playing tri’s and super’s, I wouldn’t leave her out.

RACE #8: As you may have seen in the shows and podcasts I’ve done, the Juvenile Fillies Turf houses one of my biggest plays of the entire weekend. Remember what I said about there being no value in Aqueduct preps? That applies here in a big way.

#6 BE YOUR BEST had no shot in the Grade 2 Miss Grillo, where the top two ran in place from start to finish. Toss that race, and you’re left with a 2-year-old filly that won a pair of starts at Saratoga by a total of seven lengths. She saved no ground in her debut and won anyway, defeating #4 FREE LOOK in the process. She then crushed an overmatched group in the P.G. Johnson, and in both instances, she rallied into paces that were pretty soft.

I think there’s plenty of early speed in here, and several of the likely pace-setters have drawn terrible outside posts. This opens the door for Be Your Best to do what she wants and come running late. Should she do so and get the money, she’ll likely be a square price. She’s a very heavy play for me on top.

If you want to go deeper, I’m most intrigued by #5 PLEASANT PASSAGE, who exits back-to-back bullet drills, and #11 G LAURIE, who had a nightmare trip in the Grade 1 Natalma and gets a massive rider change to William Buick. However, Be Your Best will be a single on most of my tickets, and if she wins, Friday will likely be a fantastic day for me regardless of anything else that happens.

RACE #9: Single #3 CAVE ROCK in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and move on.

RACE #10: For reasons that don’t make much sense to me, we finish with the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, and let’s hope this year’s renewal is less eventful than the 2021 running.

#4 SILVER KNOTT and #8 I’M VERY BUSY are logical top two choices, and they’ll both be on my tickets. However, I also really like #5 BATTLE OF NORMANDY, and for many of the same reasons I like Be Your Best two races earlier.

Like Be Your Best, Battle of Normandy ran well twice at Saratoga while closing in paceless races. Like Be Your Best, Battle of Normandy never had a chance in a prep over a boggy turf course at Aqueduct. Like Be Your Best, Battle of Normandy figures to finally get some speed to chase, and will do so at an overlaid price.

In addition to all of that, the rider switch to Jose Lezcano cannot be ignored. Kendrick Carmouche is a fine jockey, but Lezcano has been one of the top turf riders on the New York circuit for years. This is a significant upgrade for a horse that should have every reason to fire a big shot on a big stage.

If you want to go even deeper, #1 VICTORIA ROAD and #2 PACKS A WAHLOP are my “B horses.” However, the first three will take most of my action, and if Battle of Normandy wins, it’ll likely put plenty of cash in my account heading into Saturday’s program.