Thoughts from UMBC’s Stunning Win, Plus Saturday NCAA Tournament Picks/Analysis

Word has long been out on Las Vegas serving as the place to be during the first week of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Every casino with a sports book holds an event, and lines to bet often rival those at ritzy nightclubs (except these lines actually move and you may get something out of your investment).

What happened Friday night only served to emphasize that point further. 1-vs.-16 games aren’t the most fun to bet on. Most major sports books don’t even offer money lines for those games, and point spreads are often in the 20’s. Prior to this year, top seeds were 132-0 against the perceived runts of the litter, only occasionally being driven to the point of having to work for a victory.

And then, UMBC came along, and this year’s tournament suddenly ascended to a level that had never been seen before.

This wasn’t the plucky, lovable upstarts from Hickory High eking out a one-point victory to win the state title. No, this was Delta Tau Chi raising holy hell on Faber College’s homecoming parade. UMBC didn’t heroically stick with Virginia for 39 minutes before running a miracle play at the buzzer. The Retrievers systematically destroyed the Cavaliers, solving the ACC champs’ relentless defense with 16 assists on 26 made fields goals while outrebounding their opponents 33-22. Mind you, this was a squad that lost to an average UAlbany team by the score of 83-39 earlier this season, and one that was down nine points with less than nine minutes to go in a true road event that doubled as the America East championship game.

This is the fifth year my dad and I have made the trip to the desert for the first two rounds of March Madness. We didn’t have money on the game, and we watched most of it from a restaurant between Flamingo and The Linq. In the second half, when the Retrievers couldn’t miss, the entire place was rocking with gasps and shrieks. Through all of the talk about how a 16-seed would eventually win a first-round game, it seemed as though we were all stunned that it was actually happening.

This was underscored by what happened in the last minute. In that moment, there was no hooting and hollering. Nobody had winning tickets to celebrate. This wasn’t a great gambling moment, like so many games have already been this year. This was a seminal sports moment, certainly the greatest upset in the history of college basketball, and it was as if we all decided to savor it.

One note on Virginia before we move to plays for Saturday: It’s entirely possible that program has been on the receiving end of the two most shocking defeats in college basketball. Their loss to Chaminade in the 1980’s looms large as well, and while it takes a snake-bitten program to take the top two spots on that dubious list, it’s tough to argue anything else threatens that pair of inglorious moments.

The tournament moves on without them, as it also does for traditional power Arizona and fan favorite Wichita State. The round of 32 kicks off Saturday, and while it’s appealing to back prospective Cinderella stories once again, I’m taking the stance that the slate of games offers several chances for college basketball to experience a reversion to the mean.

#3 Tennessee -5 ½ over #11 Loyola-Chicago
#5 Kentucky -5 ½ over #13 Buffalo

It isn’t that I like being a killjoy (though others may disagree with that), but both of these games have very similar storylines. Loyola-Chicago and Buffalo are far from powerhouse programs, but they won in fun ways. The Ramblers beat the buzzer in knocking off Miami, while Buffalo played a perfect second half in dispatching Arizona.

With that in mind, sentimental money has certainly come in. Both of these lines opened at -6 and dropped down, which stuns me. While it’s fun to root with one’s heart, I’m betting with my head. I think the two SEC teams are simply much better than their opponents, so I’ll give the points and hope for blowouts.

#4 Gonzaga vs. #5 Ohio State: OVER 143

Gonzaga could not have POSSIBLY played worse against UNC Greensboro. In that 68-64 win, the Bulldogs went 5-for-23 from three-point range and 13-for-25 from the free throw line. They did just enough to get by, and with that clunker out of their systems, I think they’ve got a real chance of snapping back into a groove. Ohio State, meanwhile, prevailed in one of the most fun games of the tournament, an 81-73 shootout against South Dakota State. Still, by the numbers, the Buckeyes weren’t all that efficient. They shot 37.5% from the floor, prevailing in large part thanks to the Jackrabbits’ inability to get anyone but Mike Daum going (he was 9-for-20, while everyone else went 15-for-43).

What I’m saying here is that both offenses have a lot to build on, and because of that, a 143-point total seems low. I’ll happily take the over and hope for a shootout between two teams that can certainly provide one.

2018 NCAA Tournament: First Round Analysis/Plays

I’m headed to Las Vegas later this week for the first two rounds of March Madness. It’s an annual tradition for my dad and I, and it’s always a blast, especially when sports books get loud as leads change with every basket down the stretch of a game.

I’ve got several plays that I’ll really be focusing on over the first two days of the tournament. There are 32 games combined on Thursday and Friday, so there are plenty of chances to find money-making opportunities. Below is what I’ve come up with, and games/plays are listed in order of how strongly I feel about them (with spreads and totals current as of Tuesday morning).


#4 Arizona (-9) over #13 Buffalo (9:40 p.m. ET)

I want to like Buffalo because they did what mid-majors are supposed to do. They scheduled tough teams in the non-league portion of the season and built on that foundation in conference play. They finished their season on a six-game winning streak, with all six wins coming by double-digits.

However, Arizona is a horrible matchup for the Bulls (not the Bills, as Ernie Johnson said in the abomination that was the NCAA Selection Show). DeAndre Ayton may be the best player in the country, and he’s flanked by an athletic group that’s come together in the face of the off-court scandal the program is facing. I get that the Pac-12 wasn’t a stellar league this year, but Arizona started 3-3 and has since won 24 of 27 games. Buffalo may keep it interesting, but I think the Wildcats simply have too much firepower and pull away late to win by a convincing margin.

#12 South Dakota State (+8) over #5 Ohio State; OVER 147 (4 p.m. ET)

It’s tough to find a hotter team (or one with a more fun mascot) than the feisty Jackrabbits, who have won 19 of their last 20 games coming into the tournament. They put up lots of points, and they boast wins over power conference foes Iowa and Ole Miss, as well as a 14-point victory over MAC champ Buffalo and a more-than-respectable 10-point loss on the road against Wichita State.

Ohio State has several good wins on its resume, but they haven’t looked the same since their one-point win at Purdue last month (a weird game where the Boilermakers blew a 14-point lead with 10 minutes to go). The Buckeyes have lost three of their last five, including a pair of defeats against a Penn State team that didn’t make the tournament, and their two wins in that stretch came against non-tournament teams (Rutgers and Indiana). Maybe Ohio State wins, but eight points seems like too big a spread.

I also think these two teams will put up plenty of points. Ohio State’s shown plenty of offensive firepower, and South Dakota State wants to push the tempo behind star guard Mike Daum. If the over-under number stays in this neighborhood, I’ll bet the over and hope for a shootout.

#4 Gonzaga (-12 ½) over #13 UNC Greensboro (1:30 p.m. ET)

Okay, let’s get some kvetching out of the way. St. Mary’s, which served as Gonzaga’s chief conference rival this year, should have been in the tournament. They beat Gonzaga during the season, managed a 28-5 record, and were passed over for a Syracuse team that lost 13 games (including winnable contests against ACC bottom-feeders Wake Forest and Georgia Tech). St. Mary’s got hosed, and you’ll get a glimpse of that if Gonzaga plays to its potential.

The Bulldogs got to the national title game last year, and while this season’s squad isn’t quite as good, the team boasts plenty of experience and is peaking at the right time. UNC Greensboro did not play a strong schedule this year, and while their defensive stats are strong, they haven’t seen an offense like Gonzaga’s yet.


#12 New Mexico State (+5) over #5 Clemson (9:57 p.m. ET)

After a win over hapless Pittsburgh on February 8th, Clemson was 20-4 and 9-3 in the powerful ACC. What a difference five weeks makes. The Tigers finished the season by going 3-5 in their last eight games, and two of those wins came against non-tournament teams (Georgia Tech and Boston College). They were certainly hurt by Donte Grantham’s injury, and they come into the tournament without much momentum.

New Mexico State, meanwhile, finished the regular season at 28-5, with several high-quality wins (including back-to-back triumphs over Davidson and Miami). They play strong defense and crash the boards relentlessly, both of which could give a struggling Clemson team (playing 3,000 miles from home, by the way) major headaches. I’ll gladly take the points in this spot, and the 12th-seeded Aggies could be a money line play as well.

#4 Wichita State (-11 ½) over #13 Marshall (1:30 p.m. ET)

Marshall showed some promise in the regular season, most notably giving eventual #1 seed Xavier a game on the road before falling by four points. They peaked at the right time, sweeping the season series with Conference USA favorite Middle Tennessee and then eking out a win over Western Kentucky in the conference tournament’s title game.

However, this is a HORRIBLE (yes, it’s all-caps worthy) matchup for the Thundering Herd. Marshall plays an up-tempo style and scores plenty of points. This has served them well, as they’re in the top 12 nationally in both points and assists per game. With that in mind, Wichita State plays the same way, and the Shockers are a much better team on the glass (ninth nationally, with 40.5 rebounds per game). If Marshall starts the game cold and is limited to one shot per possession, I think this could get out of hand in a hurry.

#4 Auburn vs. #13 College of Charleston: OVER 148 ½ (7:25 p.m. ET)

Admittedly, I’m much more confident in the first two Friday picks I’ve given out, and I think the rest of the lines are very fair. This number, though, seems a bit low, given that both of these teams want to play up-tempo basketball and sometimes get lazy on defense (for reference on Auburn, look up how Collin Sexton dissected the Tigers like a surgeon in the SEC tournament).

Charleston has scored at least 79 points in nine of their last 10 games, and it certainly seems like they’ve found their offensive identity. Auburn, meanwhile, has played many games in the 80’s this year, and before laying an egg in the second half against the Crimson Tide, they’d scored 75 points or more in 12 of their previous 13 games. I’m expecting a shootout here, and if you need an extra wager to throw onto a parlay, this is where I’d go.

Analyzing My 2018 Hall of Fame Ballot

A few years ago, I received one of the biggest honors in horse racing when given a ballot for the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. It’s a responsibility I don’t take lightly, especially in the wake of new induction protocols that could see waves of new honorees in the next few summers.

I’ve mailed my ballot back to Saratoga Springs, and it’ll be interesting to see vote totals when they get announced next month. I saw none of the 10 finalists as surefire inductees, and I wound up checking three names on my ballot. Below are my explanations, starting with the one I had the most conviction about.


Far from a visually impressive equine specimen, Blind Luck began her career in a maiden claiming event at Calder. After her debut victory, she was privately purchased and moved to the care of Hall of Fame horseman Jerry Hollendorfer, for whom she would reel off 10 graded stakes victories, including six Grade 1 triumphs. She earned an Eclipse Award as 2010’s top 3-year-old filly, and she finished in the money in all but one of her 22 career starts.

Personal story: I was in attendance for the 2010 Alabama, and got to go into the paddock before the race thanks to a friend who had connections (one I now work with at DRF; hi, Craig!). I’ve been watching horse racing for most of my life, and I can safely say that I have NEVER seen a horse look worse before a race than Blind Luck did that day. She was washed out, showed positively no interest in being there, and looked nothing like a horse that had already taken down a pair of Grade 1 races that season.

Then, she went and did this.


Of course, we can’t talk about Blind Luck without mentioning her main rival, Havre de Grace, who’s also on the ballot. Unlike Blind Luck, who won Grade 1 races in three consecutive seasons, Havre de Grace is best known for one shining campaign that earned her Horse of the Year honors.

Yes, there are asterisks here. Her trophy came in 2011, a year where there was no standout older male. She did beat boys in that year’s Grade 1 Woodward, but with the exception of upper-tier stalwart Flat Out, there wasn’t much else in the race, and she was fourth behind Drosselmeyer in the Breeders’ Cup Classic two starts later. Furthermore, her peak was fairly short compared to other Hall of Famers, and in an age where top horses race fewer and fewer times, longevity may very well matter more come voting season.

I understand the logic there, but I don’t necessarily agree with some of it. Unpopular opinion coming: If the Hall of Fame isn’t meant for a horse that had one sterling season, who wants to be the one to tell those at Stonestreet that Rachel Alexandra’s being kicked out? I voted for her, but if we’re going off of the “she didn’t beat much and her peak wasn’t long” angle, certainly it applies to Rachel, right? She beat nothing in her Woodward triumph, and with all due respect to Summer Bird, the crop of 3-year-old males she dusted multiple times was one of the worst of the past 15 years.

Maybe Havre de Grace came along at a time of transition for the handicap division, but her stirring rivalry with Blind Luck certainly helps, and her win over future Hall of Famer Royal Delta in the 2011 Beldame puts her over the top.


I went back and forth on Heavenly Prize multiple times over the course of my deliberations. Admittedly, I wasn’t overly familiar with the distaff division of the early-1990’s, and the lack of a Breeders’ Cup victory doesn’t help her cause.

However, the more I looked, the more I became won over by this mare. She never finished out of the money in 18 career starts, and of her nine wins, eight were of the Grade 1 variety. She ran against the likes of Inside Information, Paseana, and Serena’s Song, all legitimate Hall of Famers, and she didn’t discredit herself in her lone start against males, when she ran third to the great Cigar in the 1996 Donn Handicap.

A Breeders’ Cup victory would’ve made her a much easier choice. She was third in the 1993 Juvenile Fillies (just her third career start) and second in the Distaff in both 1994 and 1995. The first Distaff lost stings, as it came by a neck to 47-1 shot One Dreamer, but the second one is understandable, as Inside Information turned in one of the most freakish performances in North American racing history. With billing like that, I HAVE to show it, right?

I wasn’t sold on Heavenly Prize when ballots went out. However, eight Grade 1 wins, in an era where top-class mares seemed to grow on trees, is one heck of a total, even if none of those victories came in the Breeders’ Cup. Ultimately, I felt she’d done enough to merit inclusion, so she was the final checkmark before I sealed the envelope and sent it back east.

– – – – –

As far as the others are concerned, there were no hard omissions for me. I’ve discussed Gio Ponti’s resume at length, and while he might get in given the new standards for induction (50.1%, no maximum number of honorees), I couldn’t bring myself to vote for him. None of the jockeys struck me as Hall of Fame-worthy, although Corey Nakatani could convince me with a few more strong years given his nine Breeders’ Cup victories, which matter more to me than Robby Albarado’s 5,000-plus wins.

As far as the trainers are concerned, Mark Casse will likely get in in a few years. I couldn’t vote for him this time around, though. It’s the NATIONAL Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, and while his Canadian accomplishments are astounding, I just don’t think he’s done quite enough since coming to the U.S. One or two more big horses, though, will probably sway my vote.

Think I messed up? Have a question about the way I did things? Drop me a line. I read everything that comes in through this site, and I’m happy to discuss this further.

The Big ‘Cap’s Big Problem

One of the most prestigious races in the country will be run this weekend. A list of the race’s winners over the years boasts Hall of Famers, champions, and some of the best horses of their respective eras, not to mention legendary owners, trainers, and jockeys.

Yes, the Santa Anita Handicap will be run Saturday in Arcadia. However, the Big ‘Cap isn’t quite so big anymore, in stature, prominence, or in the quality of horses it attracts.

The reasons for this abound, and perhaps the most reasonable one is the proximity of the race to the Dubai World Cup. Why run for the winner’s share of a $600,000 pot when you can run for the biggest piece of a $10 million pie? With the three-week gap between the two races, trainers of yesteryear may have openly tried to run in both. As we all know, though, they don’t make many horses physically capable of that anymore.

Gun Runner has already started his second career, covering mares at $70,000 a pop. West Coast, the best of a forgettable lot of 3-year-olds in 2017 but a 4-year-old that at least made Gun Runner work in the Pegasus, has his eye on Dubai, as does last year’s champion older dirt mare, Forever Unbridled. The winners of the 2017 Triple Crown races are still working their way back, as is champion 3-year-old filly Abel Tasman.

This paints a horrifyingly bleak picture of the older horse divisions, and the field for the 2018 Santa Anita Handicap reflects it. Past performances show a field of eight that could be whittled down to seven if Giant Expectations opts to instead run in the Roy H-less Grade 1 Triple Bend. This octet has combined for a total of three Grade 1 wins. Hoppertunity has won a pair, while Mubtaahij won a similarly watered-down renewal of the Awesome Again last fall.

There are plenty of nice horses in this race. Three-time Grade 2 winner Accelerate, Pegasus World Cup fourth-place finisher Fear the Cowboy, and millionaire Giant Expectations are thoroughbreds any owner or trainer would love to have. They’re honest, hard-trying equines…but, to this point, they’re not Grade 1 horses, and of the two in the field that have achieved that status, one has won once in his last seven starts (Hoppertunity), and the other (Mubtaahij) has one win since the spring of 2015.

In my estimation, the Big ‘Cap isn’t even the main event of Big ‘Cap Day. That honor falls to the San Felipe Stakes, a prep for the Santa Anita Derby that has drawn some of the top 3-year-olds in the country. Bolt d’Oro makes his seasonal debut there, and he’ll face the undefeated McKinzie, impressive San Vicente winner Kanthaka, and wire-to-wire Robert Lewis victor Lombo, among others, with a total of 85 Kentucky Derby points on the line. Now THAT is a race with some pizzazz to it, one where you could talk to a novice horse racing fan and explain why it’s important without sounding like a marketing executive obviously stretching the bounds of rationality and logic.

The Santa Anita Handicap? This year’s renewal is a step down from even the most recent runnings, which were far from star-studded but did have some appealing aspects to them. 2017 had Shaman Ghost, who put together a nice string of performances before being sidelined last summer with ailments that ultimately led to his retirement. Melatonin at least franked the form he showed in his 2016 upset when he added the Grade 1 Gold Cup, and Shared Belief dazzled us with one of his finest efforts when taking the 2015 version. Before that, Game On Dude won three Big ‘Caps in four years, including the 2014 running over Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Mucho Macho Man and reigning champion 3-year-old Will Take Charge (it’s worth noting that this was the final year where Meydan ran the Dubai World Cup on a synthetic surface).

Something has to be done to restore this great race’s glory. It cannot succeed going up against the Dubai World Cup in a world where the best horses MAY run six or seven times a year for the biggest purses available. Here’s how I’d do it.

1) Move the race to the second Saturday in May, and restore its purse to $1 million.

The current timing of the Santa Anita Handicap clearly does not work. It’s not attracting the best horses in the country, as they’re busy preparing for excursions to a desert halfway across the world. Before we do anything else, we need to move it, and May is the best spot.

If nothing else, this gives the Big ‘Cap a weekend all to itself between the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. General interest in racing is at its peak at this point, and this also at least opens the door for horses returning from Dubai to consider running. Everything would need to go perfectly, but it’s at least a consideration, especially given further suggestions I have.

Also, before we go further, let’s treat the Big ‘Cap like it matters and give it the $1 million purse it deserves. If this means axing the Pimlico Special (normally run the next week on Preakness weekend in Maryland) to balance the budget and get more top-class runners in one spot, so be it. It sounds really cold (especially to at least one Maryland racing fan I know that’s probably reading this), but I’d rather kill a Grade 3 than a Grade 1, which is what we’re doing by doing nothing with the Santa Anita Handicap.

2) Move the Gold Cup to closing weekend.

Given the moving of the Big ‘Cap, the Gold Cup at Santa Anita also needs to be rescheduled. It was run on Memorial Day last year, and that’s too quick a turnaround.

If this gets moved to closing weekend, it provides six or seven weeks between the two 10-furlong races. Horses could easily run in both races, and this race provides an even more realistic target for those looking to return from Dubai. One could also attract horses exiting either the Met Mile or Brooklyn on Belmont Day, as that wouldn’t be an unreasonable turnaround for aggressive barns. Furthermore, it represents an ideal spot for a top-class mare to try the boys. It’d be four or five weeks after Santa Anita’s flagship spring-summer race for older distaffers, the Beholder Mile, and that spacing could be ideal.

3) Establish a series culminating in the Pacific Classic, and award bonuses to the most successful horses.

What we’ve done with these two maneuvers is establish a logical, three-race series for California’s top handicap horses. Here, we have three races, each six to eight weeks apart, all at the classic distance of a mile and a quarter. It’s not anywhere close to as grueling as the Triple Crown, nor will it have the pop culture relevance if a horse wins the first two legs. However, there are ways to make this appeal to the masses in such a way that it could be a novel idea.

The simplest bonus would go to the connections of any horse that sweeps the series. My initial idea is $500,000, to be paid for by The Stronach Group (which owns Santa Anita) and Del Mar (which puts on the third leg). Furthermore, since Stronach is involved, let’s also throw in the right to buy a slot in the starting gate for the Pegasus World Cup at half-price (down from $1 million to $500,000). With the $500,000 cash bonus also in mind, this essentially turns the Pegasus into a freeroll for the owners and whatever breeder acquires the horse’s stallion rights. Money talks, and a free shot at the winner’s share of the Pegasus would be very attractive.

If no horse wins all three legs, we’d go to a scoring system. My proposal would be 10 points to the winners, with six points to the second-place horses, three points to the third-place horses, and one point to everyone else in each field (as a bone to entice barns into running their horses in all three legs, so as to keep the mathematical possibility of a win in the series alive). The winner of the series would be in line for a bonus, with the runners-up each getting smaller bonuses. For the sake of this conversation, let’s put the prizes at $100,000, $25,000, and $10,000. If you’ve got a hard-knocking horse in a year where one thoroughbred doesn’t take multiple legs of the series, two seconds and a third could easily get you some serious money, on top of the purse money your horse wins in those races.

Currently, the Big ‘Cap has little relevance to the national racing scene. It’s the byproduct of a previous era, and it’s my belief that, like they’ve done with several other staples of generations past, The Stronach Group needs to review the facts and do what it can to save a race that deserves so much better.

Analysis, Selections, and Tickets: Gulfstream Park, Santa Anita (2/24/18)

Now that my move from SoCal to NorCal is mostly complete, I’ve got some time to put pen to paper on some betting strategies for Saturday’s racing action. Gulfstream has a mammoth, 13-race card with three Pick Four sequences, while Santa Anita’s program is headlined by the return of Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint winner Stormy Liberal in the Grade 3 Daytona. Here’s how I’ll be playing!


$0.50 Pick Four: Race #2

R2: 5
R3: 1,8
R5: 1,3,9

48 Bets, $24

If I had to guess, I’d say that my opening single in the early Pick Four will likely be the shortest price on the card. That’s #5 KING POWER, who certainly seems like the main speed in this bottom-level claiming event. If he’s allowed to dictate terms on the front end, I think he’ll be very tough to beat, and singling him allows me to spread elsewhere at a fairly-low cost.

The third is a two-turn event on grass, and I almost singled here as well. #8 GRACE’S DRAMA makes her second start off a long layoff, and her return came against much better horses. She showed some speed in a starter allowance before fading in a race she clearly needed, and this seems like a much softer spot for a horse that should be ready to progress. I reluctantly included morning line choice #1 PLEIN AIR, simply because there’s a fair amount of speed signed on that could set things up for her late kick, but Grace’s Drama is my top pick.

I have no such convictions about the fourth, an optional claiming race on the lawn where there doesn’t appear to be a standout. #2 BINGO KITTEN is favored, and his race two back was very good, but his recent dud can’t be ignored, and the claiming tag he’s entered with could be a red flag. I’m buying the race and hoping we get a price home.

The payoff leg is a maiden claimer for female sprinters, and I’m three-deep. #1 Y’ALL’s lone dirt race came in a tough straight maiden event, and she was a respectable fourth. The runner-up has since come back to win, and she’s a legitimate favorite. I’ll also use #3 QUICKLUCKYCOCO, who adds blinkers and has shown some life since dropping to this level three back, and #9 SENZA TE, who returns off a long layoff for Wesley Ward and sports several sharp drills at Palm Meadows.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #6

R6: 2,6
R7: 2,5,6,7
R8: 7,12,13
R9: 2,9

48 Bets, $24

I have no singles in this sequence, one that contains races with an average field size of 11 horses. If you hit, chances are you’ll get paid handsomely.

It starts with a minor stakes race, the Texas Glitter for turf sprinters. #2 BARBAROSSA has hinted at talent for Todd Pletcher and merits respect cutting back to one turn. I’ll use him, but I can’t ignore #6 REED KAN, whose lone turf race back in December was an excellent performance. That one seems like the main speed in here, and he could be the one they have to run down turning for home.

The seventh is a bottom-level claimer, and I found this race pretty tricky. I’m going against morning line choice #10 STARSHIP APOLLO, who’s on a four-race losing streak here and may prefer Gulfstream Park West. Additionally, while I used #5 MITOS Y LEYENDAS, 2-1 seems like a short price on a horse that hasn’t won since 2016. Of the four I’m using, the biggest price is #7 HORSE SPOTTER CARL, who won two back before getting off to a rough start last time out at this level. 15-1 seems like an overlay if you draw a line through that race.

I’m also going against the morning line choice in the eighth. That’s #9 FLIRTY, who takes a huge drop for high-profile connections after two misfires against straight maidens. I’ll try to beat her, and my top pick is #7 SOMEWHATOPTIMISTIC, who improved last time out in her second career start. She was beaten less than a length, and the top two finishers from that race have both come back to win. Further improvement in start number three would make her tough, and those 8-1 odds look juicy. I’ll also use second choice #12 TRUMP THAT and #13 SECOND ILLUSION, who missed the break in her debut but showed some life in rallying for third money.

The ninth is a turf route for older claimers, and it’s drawn a strong field for the level. I highly doubt we’ll get 5-1 on #9 RAY’S THE BAR, who was an impressive winner last time out on the drop in class. Jose Ortiz stays on, and I think he’ll probably be your post-time favorite. I’ll also throw in #2 MEGEVE, who ran two very good races two and three back before throwing in a clunker last time out. I can excuse that race, since he was marooned on the far outside with a short run into the first turn. He draws more favorably here in his first start for the strong David Fawkes outfit, and Luis Saez riding back is a plus.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #10

R10: 1,5,7,13
R11: 4
R12: 1,2,3,6,8
R13: 1,7,9,12

80 Bets, $40

In order to play this ticket for a reasonable amount of money, you need to single somewhere. The question is, where do you do it? The bookends of the sequence feature a number of first-time starters that will take money, the Hal’s Hope seems competitive, and the second leg is a claiming event with many horses that look similar to one another. If you’re right in taking a stand, though, you could be in line for a windfall.

The 10th is a maiden event for 3-year-olds going seven furlongs, and pedigree folks ought to be chomping at the bit. #5 BAIL OUT is a half to several graded stakes winners, and #7 RULER OF THE NILE was a million-dollar purchase at last year’s OBS sale. I’ll use them both, while also throwing in second-time starter #1 KING ZACHARY (who ran into Principe Guilherme in his debut) and #13 ARK IN THE DARK (who’s been working well at Palm Meadows for Kelly Breen and draws a cushy outside post).

My stand comes in the 11th. I’m far from crazy about it, but if I’m right on #4 ZEFIRO, I’ve got plenty of coverage elsewhere to potentially get paid. He was claimed last time out by Robert Dibona, who has run a smaller barn with great success over the past few years. His strike rate first off the claim is excellent, and note the presence of Javier Castellano, who doesn’t ride for him very often.

I couldn’t take any sort of a stand in the Hal’s Hope, and if you can, more power to you. #1 IRISH WAR CRY makes his 2018 debut, but it’s not like he HAS to win this event, and his best races have come around two turns. I needed coverage here, and my top pick is #6 MALAGACY, who almost certainly needed the race last time out going six furlongs. He didn’t run terribly that day, and he should be much more fit in this spot.

We finish with a real puzzler in the form of a maiden race for 3-year-olds going a mile on turf. #7 RHODE ISLAND and #9 VEGAS KITTEN are both first-time starters that will take money. I’ve used them both, but I much prefer two horses with experience, and one of them is a crazy price. #12 ROSE’S VISION will have to work out a trip, but he’s got plenty of turf form from last year and needed the race last time out. He could go off favored, and he’d be far from shocking. My big price is #1 TOP SECRET INDY, who debuted going a mile and was eased. However, Bill Mott’s horses usually need a race to get going, and the 316 turf Tomlinson number indicates he could relish the lawn. His second dam, Winendynme, was a multiple stakes winner on turf, and for all of these reasons, it wouldn’t be stunning if he took a major step forward in this spot. I have to use him, especially given his 20-1 morning line price.


$0.50 Pick Four: Race #2

R2: 2
R3: 2,3,5,6
R4: 4,5,6,7
R5: 4,8

32 Bets, $16

Of the five sequences I’ve dissected, this is the one where I’m least optimistic about a huge payoff. It seems chalky on paper, especially if the likely favorite wins the feature, but maybe there’s a way we can extract some value.

I’m singling #2 GIFT OF A STAR in the second, a $16,000 claiming event. She comes back to dirt and drops in class, and her recent form looks much better if you cross out the turf races. This isn’t a stellar group, and this one’s usual dirt race should be good enough to beat this bunch.

I’m four-deep in both the second and third legs. The second leg is a sprint, and while I’m using likely favorite #5 HERE AND THERE and possible second choice #6 CLASSICO, I’m also going to throw in a few prices. #2 BEAR SKINNED drops in class a bit and has some competitive back form, while #3 CHROMIUM was claimed last time out following an uncharacteristic dud.

The fourth race is the Grade 3 Daytona, and it features the return of #7 STORMY LIBERAL. Trainer Peter Miller, though, saddles two others in here, and that makes me a bit apprehensive about the likely favorite’s chances. I’m using the other two Miller charges, as well as #6 PERFECTLY MAJESTIC, who could get an ideal setup rating off a hot pace beneath Kent Desormeaux.

The payoff leg features another possibly-heavy favorite. That’s #4 MONDAYMORNINGBLUES, who drops in for a tag for the first time. It wouldn’t be shocking if she won, but I also need to use #8 ALLIE’S LOVE, who’s been competitive at this level in two straight starts and draws a nice outside post. Whichever one of those two makes the lead should be tough to run down late.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #7

R7: 1,3,5,6,7,9,10
R8: 2,5,10
R9: 5,7
R10: 4

42 Bets, $21

By contrast to the early Pick Four, the late Pick Four could pay pretty well, even if shorter-priced horses find the winner’s circle. The fields are large, and that bodes well for the potential payoff.

We start with the seventh, and I needed to spread in this two-turn turf route. I almost punched the “ALL” button, but was at least able to whittle it down to seven horses in this 12-horse group. If you’ve got deeper pockets, buying the race may not be a bad idea, as it’s tough to separate this bunch.

The eighth is a maiden special weight event for older fillies and mares. #2 GET YOURSELF HOME is the morning line choice, but the relative lack of early speed she’s shown is a bit problematic. I used her, but I’m more focused on #5 ZILLINDA and #10 KARMIC AFFINITY. Those two have significantly more early speed, and, to me, they seem more logical.

I’m two-deep in the ninth, a classy optional claimer. #7 LIFE’S BLESSINGS will be a popular single, but I have to go deeper than just her. #5 POWDER got very good last fall, winning three in a row before a failed turf experiment. She’s working well ahead of her 2018 debut, and, on figures, she’s right with the likely favorite.

My single comes in the Saturday finale, the Wishing Well Stakes. #4 BENDABLE made her downhill debut last time out in the Grade 3 Las Cienegas and ran well, finishing second behind a classy mare. This seems like a softer spot, and she should be ready to take a step forward second off the bench. While I think she’s imposing, and while she’ll likely be a short price, I think there’s value in the exotics. #9 BARBARA BEATRICE, #10 ALGORITHMIC, and #11 MONGOLIAN SHOPPER all love this route of ground, and they’ll all be square prices that could shake things up by hitting the board.