Keeneland Analysis and Selections: 4/5/19

Best Bet: Lady Pauline, Race 2
Longshot: Homefortheweekend, Race 5

R1

Art Buff
Promised Fame
Social Circle

#2 ART BUFF: Gets a reluctant nod in a puzzling Friday opener. It’s tough to debut going two turns, and between the drop in class and the addition of blinkers, I think there’s potential for improvement; #5 PROMISED FAME: Tries a route distance for the first time, and she’s bred to want two turns. She also drops in class after three straight tries against maiden special weight foes; #1 SOCIAL CIRCLE: Has run evenly against $50,000 maiden claiming foes and drops further down the ladder here. She may inherit the early lead by default in what seems like a paceless race.

R2

Lady Pauline
Baytown Legend
Main Squeeze

#9 LADY PAULINE: Has several solid three-furlong works on the docket for all-world first-out trainer Wesley Ward. John Velazquez hops aboard, and when Stonestreet names a horse after Barbara Banke’s mother, look out; #2 BAYTOWN LEGEND: Merits a long look in the exotics at a big price. He’s worked well since shipping to Keeneland, and may get overlooked given that he hails from a smaller barn; #6 MAIN SQUEEZE: Has been training over the synthetic track at Turfway for Ward. It’s unclear if she’ll take to dirt, but anything this barn sends out at this meet merits a long look.

R3

Golden Curl
Gottaflathaveher
Club Car

#2 GOLDEN CURL: Missed by a half-length in her debut and adds Lasix at second asking. She’s worked well since her unveiling and figures to be tough at a short price; #4 GOTTAFLATHAVEHER: Needed her unveiling, as most McPeek trainees do, and comes in off a very sharp workout at Gulfstream. It’s logical to expect a step forward here, and the $3.60 ROI with recent second-out maidens is encouraging; #3 CLUB CAR: Is worth a look despite making her debut at a tough distance. Her dam and second dam were both stakes-winners, and while Ben Colebrook is only so-so with first-time starters, the workouts hint that this one may have talent.

R4

Abounding Joy (MTO)
Environs
Calumet entry

#5 ENVIRONS: Will be incredibly tough if this race stays on turf. She won a stakes race last summer in France, adds Lasix for her U.S. debut, and doesn’t seem to have caught a very strong field for the level; CALUMET ENTRY: I prefer #1 COCO CHANNEL, who has tried tough company in the past and makes her first start of 2019 here. She could sit a perfect stalking trip, and her back class may be an asset; #4 NANTUCKET RED: Won two back at Gulfstream in a career-best effort before taking a step back last time out. She’s worked well recently for Bill Mott, and a return to the January form gives her a shot. DIRT SELECTIONS: ABOUNDING JOY, OH MY, MISS ALTAMIRA.

R5

Toothpic
Homefortheweekend
Ruis entry

#13 TOOTHPIC: Could be tough if he draws in off the AE list. He showed speed at Tampa, a track he didn’t seem to like, and a return to familiar stomping grounds against a shaky field could wake him up; #10 HOMEFORTHEWEEKEND: Hasn’t done much running lately, but cuts back to a sprint, and he ran fairly well going short last fall at Woodbine. Maybe that was because of the synthetic track, but I think he’ll move up returning to a shorter distance; RUIS ENTRY: #1A TRAPPER PEAK needs two scratches to run, but he hasn’t done much wrong in his career and could come running late beneath Abel Lezcano, who’s winning at a 19% clip so far this year.

R6

Del Mar May
Sugar Love
My Majestic Rose

#9 DEL MAR MAY: Chased the likes of Bellafina and Brill as a 2-year-old and has been working well ahead of her 2019 debut. This obviously isn’t the goal, but if she runs to her works, she figures to be tough; #5 SUGAR LOVE: Likely needed her last race off the bench, and it’s worth noting that her second career start was easily her best race. Going off of that form cycle and a recent strong work, it’s safe to assume she’ll be fully-cranked; #4 MY MAJESTIC ROSE: Came flying late to be second against similar at Fair Grounds last time out. She may want more pace than she’ll get here, but Ortiz riding back is certainly a plus.

R7

Arklow
Projected
First Premio

#12 ARKLOW: Makes his 2019 debut in a loaded allowance event that drew several other stakes-quality horses. I find it difficult to believe we’ll get 5-1, as anything close to his best shot will make him a formidable foe; #3 PROJECTED: Hasn’t won since 2017, but is another dropping in class for his seasonal bow. The faster they go early on, the more he’ll like it, but it certainly seems like he enjoys settling for minor awards; #2 FIRST PREMIO: Won a stakes race by daylight two back before running into Synchrony in a Grade 3. He loves this distance and should have enough speed to establish position from his inside post.

R8

U S Navy Cross
Intrepid Heart
Get the Prize

#2 U S NAVY CROSS: Looked like a good one when storming home on debut at Belmont, but he hasn’t been seen since finishing a distant fourth in the Grade 3 Nashua. There’s a lot of speed in here, which should help given his late-running style; #9 INTREPID HEART: Ran to his $750,000 price tag in his debut win at Oaklawn and tries winners for the first time. He’s obviously talented, but he shouldn’t be alone on the lead in this spot, and while he may be eligible to improve, such a step forward may be mandatory, not optional; #8 GET THE PRIZE: Graduated in his debut, a swiftly-run six-furlong event, and stretches out to two turns. His pedigree hints this won’t be an issue, and he may have the most pure early zip in this field.

R9

Onthewaytonevrland
Henley’s Joy
The Black Album

#2 ONTHEWAYTONEVRLAND: Hasn’t done much wrong to date, with two wins and two seconds in four starts, and cruised home in a minor stakes at Turfway. He’s shown he can go two turns, and he could sit a dream stalking trip here in the Grade 3 Transylvania; #10 HENLEY’S JOY: Hated dirt in the Grade 2 Risen Star, but returns to the grass here and is a logical favorite. He was beaten just a nose in the Grade 3 Bourbon here last fall, and he’ll be tough if he can overcome the tough outside draw; #1 THE BLACK ALBUM: Hasn’t run since finishing eighth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, but hinted at significant talent in Europe earlier in the year and adds Lasix for this race. A return to form could make him a contender at a square price.

R10

Fast Talking
Fuel the Bern
Chaps

#12 FAST TALKING: Came off the bench running when graduating at Gulfstream Park and tries winners for the first time. The far outside post should give Ortiz some options, and an improvement second off the layoff would make him tough; #4 FUEL THE BERN: Won two in a row late last year for fellow Pink Sheet handicapper Dan Feiss and has been working pretty well lately in New York. Danny Gargan does strong work with a fairly small barn, and it’s notable that he ships this one here; #2 CHAPS: Has been gelded since his last start and returns to dirt. His best effort was a romp in the slop last fall at Churchill, and if expected rains show up, he’ll stand to benefit at a price.

Analysis and Selections: Keeneland Opening Day (4/4/19)

I’ll be doing full-card analysis and selections for every day of racing at Keeneland this spring. Simply put, I noticed a number of people I like and/or respect diving into the public handicapper pool at this meet. If I can provide quality handicapping materials for free to my readers, while also scratching my itch for friendly competition, it’s a win all the way around.

I’ll have analysis and selections up 24-36 hours before post time, and I’ll be tracking my win totals and ROI for the whole meet on Twitter (@AndrewChampagne). There may also be more fun stuff in the works, and I’m looking forward to keeping you posted on that.

Enough talk: Let’s dive into the Opening Day program!

– – – – –

Best Bet: Nayibeth, Race 1
Longshot: Storm Rider, Race 3

R1

Nayibeth
Nurse Maggie Sue
Baytown Babe

#13 NAYIBETH: Will be very tough if she can draw in off the AE list. Wesley Ward has his 2-year-olds primed for this meet, and there’s plenty of win-early pedigree here (her dam is a half-sister to Soldat, a multiple stakes-winner who was second in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf); #11 NURSE MAGGIE SUE: Comes in off a bullet drill from the gate on March 23rd and represents a barn that can win with debuting 2-year-olds at this meet. The presence of Jose Ortiz is another plus; #8 BAYTOWN BABE: Could have a say in the race at a price. Her most recent gate drill was the fifth-fastest of 27 at the distance that day, and her dam is a half to C P West, who was Grade 2-placed as a 2-year-old.

R2

Honey Bunny
La Femme Royale
Zena Rules

#3 HONEY BUNNY: Has won two of three this year (and 10 of 27 overall) and looms large as the likely favorite in this spot. She ran well when third beaten a head here last year, and this doesn’t seem like the strongest group for the level; #6 LA FEMME ROYALE: Certainly has to improve, but may inherit the early lead in what seems like a paceless race. The most recent workout here was strong, and she could be the one to catch turning for home; #2 ZENA RULES: Has a strong closing kick but seems to relish settling for minor awards. Her last start around one turn was a win, but that came against a very soft group.

R3

Storm Rider
Wild One Forever
Watch Cairo

#5 STORM RIDER: Makes his second start off a layoff in this wide-open maiden claimer and has a pedigree that hints he’ll love two turns. His second dam is multiple graded stakes winner Tweedside, and improvement off his late-running fourth last time out at Oaklawn would make him a factor at a big price; #14 WILD ONE FOREVER: Figures to be favored if he draws in off the AE list. He takes a big drop in class for aggressive connections, and would make his first start as a gelding if he runs; #3 WATCH CAIRO: Has also been gelded since his last effort, and is another going two turns for the first time. His race two back wasn’t bad, and Luis Saez is coming off of a stellar meet at Gulfstream.

R4

Taruca
Lewys Vaporizer
Turner Time

#9 TARUCA: Takes a big drop in class after running two so-so races at Fair Grounds. He’s won over this surface before, and the only time he started for a claiming price close to this, he found the winner’s circle at Saratoga; #13 LEWYS VAPORIZER: Is a feast-or-famine type, but must be respected if he draws in off the AE list. If he goes postward, he’ll likely be the main speed, and he can get brave if left alone on the lead; #2 TURNER TIME: Has won three in a row at Fair Grounds, but is just one for five outside Louisiana. Still, it looks like he’s in strong form, and Geroux riding back is encouraging.

R5

Frankincense
Instilled Regard
Admission Office

#5 FRANKINCENSE: Has a big shot to upset the heavy favorite given his last two outings (both wins at Fair Grounds). He’s closed well in a pair of races without much early speed, and they should be moving with some urgency out of the gate here. I doubt we’ll get the 20-1 morning line, but anything above 12-1 would be juicy; #2 INSTILLED REGARD: Makes his 2019 debut after spending most of 2018 running against Grade 1-caliber opponents. His best race almost certainly wins, but this race isn’t the goal, and he hasn’t won in a long time; #13 ADMISSION OFFICE: Merits a long look if he draws in. He hasn’t run since September, but was in good form last year, when he was first or second in all four starts.

R6

Ulele
High Regard
Mo Gayle

#1 ULELE: Gets the nod in a tough optional claiming event. There isn’t a lot of true early speed, and she was close to a solid pace when third against similar at Oaklawn. She may have the most natural speed here, and I think she could wire them; #11 HIGH REGARD: Almost certainly needed her last race in the Grade 2 Davona Dale and wasn’t helped by a bad stumble. Her form late last year was quite good, and she’ll be formidable if she can work out a trip from a subpar post; #6 MO GAYLE: Rallied to win her debut before running an OK third in her first start against winners. Her pedigree says two turns shouldn’t be a problem, and she’s flashed enough talent to be a must-use in the exotics at or near her 12-1 morning line price.

R7

Yes I Am Free
Abyssinian
Vivid Verse

#1 YES I AM FREE: Hasn’t done anything wrong to this point, having won both of his prior outings at Gulfstream. He rated a bit last time out in the Texas Glitter, but he’s also got enough tactical speed to establish position on the rail early in a wide-open renewal of the Palisades Turf Sprint where I’m trying to beat #12 BULLETIN; #9 ABYSSINIAN: Has improved with every start and faces the boys after a convincing score against optional claimers in February. Wesley Ward tends to keep sprinters on the right track, and if she gets an easy lead, look out; #2 VIVID VERSE: Cuts back to a turf sprint, and he’s 2 for 2 in such races to this point. A mile was likely too long for him, and improvement seems logical at a big price.

R8

Ipanema Beach
Miss Harry
Tolly Ho

#9 IPANEMA BEACH: Goes to Ben Colebrook’s barn and faces claimers for the first time. There were high hopes for this one at one point, and there’s enough back class here to hint that she’ll be formidable in the Thursday finale; #7 MISS HARRY: Was one-paced against slightly better in her first start in more than two months last time out. She may have needed that race, and she showed some talent in two Gulfstream races last December; #8 TOLLY HO: Gets Lasix for the first time following a maiden win on the synthetic at Turfway Park. There doesn’t seem to be much early speed in here, and if she can translate her synthetic speed to dirt, she could lead them a long way.

My 2019 Hall of Fame Ballot; PLUS: Oaklawn Park Analysis, Selections, and Tickets (3/16/19)

In something that undoubtedly does not sit well with some members of racing’s establishment, I have a ballot for the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. It’s one of the great honors of my career, and it’s always a joy to analyze the finalists, fill out my ballot, and mail it back east.

Last year was the first voting cycle with a new election threshold of 50 percent, plus one vote. The 2018 class was also one of the smallest in recent memory, as voters elected just one thoroughbred (Heavenly Prize). Whether this was a one-off occurrence or an indication of a shift in voter behavior is something we’ll likely find out when the 2019 class is announced in late-April.

One year ago, I had three horses on my ballot (for an explanation on last year’s ballot, click here). Heavenly Prize was one. The other two were Blind Luck and Havre de Grace, who both show up again. Once again, they make my ballot. The former won 10 graded stakes races (six of the Grade 1 variety), while the latter won Horse of the Year honors in 2011, a season where she beat the boys in the Grade 1 Woodward at Saratoga.

Two horses showed up on the ballot for the first time. Like many others, I’m sure, I voted for Royal Delta, a two-time winner of the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic. By any measure, she’s one of the best female racehorses of the 21st century, and while her credentials may mean she doesn’t crack the top pantheon of Hall of Fame horses, she did more than enough to earn a plaque in Saratoga Springs. It’s a safe bet that she’ll be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

That’s the extent of my ballot, and I’ll go down the list of horses, trainers, and jockeys. If you’re a longtime reader of the site, you probably know I’m no huge fan of Gio Ponti. At some point, to be a Hall of Fame horse, you have to beat really good horses, and in my estimation, he never did that. Meanwhile, Rags to Riches showed up on this year’s ballot, and she may be a sentimental choice for some voters. However, one tremendous moment does not a Hall of Fame career make. Yes, her win in the Belmont against males was memorable, but she raced just once after that and never beat older rivals. That’s not enough for me.

As far as the humans are concerned, I have tremendous respect for the careers of Mark Casse, Christophe Clement, Craig Perret, and David Whiteley. If any of them are enshrined this summer, I won’t be raising a stink about it. Having said that, none of them particularly hit me as people who need to be in.

Of the group, Casse and Clement are closest to earning my vote, and with both horsemen still active with large barns, my opinions may be swayed in the coming years. I don’t think Casse’s done quite enough in the U.S. as opposed to Canada (remember, it’s the NATIONAL Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame), and Clement’s lack of a Breeders’ Cup win is a big strike against him. Those aren’t easy races to win, as Clement trainee Gio Ponti’s seconds to Zenyatta and Goldikova prove, but when we get to this point, the goose egg matters.

One or two more big horses likely puts Casse in. A win on racing’s biggest stage probably puts Clement in. However, at this time, I couldn’t bring myself to check the box next to either name. I respect that others may feel differently, and if I’m outnumbered, I’ll tip my cap and eagerly tune in to the induction ceremony to hear their speeches.

– – – – –

Saturday’s card at Oaklawn Park is a really good one. An 11-race program is on tap, and it features two divisions of the Grade 2 Rebel. The card has drawn not just Bob Baffert trainees Game Winner and Improbable, but several of the best older fillies and mares in the country as well.

There are two Pick Four sequences on tap, and I think both are pretty attractive. Let’s get to it!

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #1

R1: 1,2
R2: 1,4,6,9,10
R3: 3,6,9,10
R4: 5

40 Bets, $20

Like many others, I’m sure, I’ve singled a heavy favorite in the payoff leg. However, the first three races all hit me as wide-open affairs, and given field sizes, we may be able to extract value from the sequence.

We kick things off with a maiden special weight event, and I’ve used the two inside runners. #1 BREAKING NEWS ran very well in his debut before regressing a bit last time out, but the recent work indicates he’s coming back to form. Additionally, #2 MY LEGACY showed a lot of speed in his unveiling at Fair Grounds before fading to fourth, and should improve for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen.

The second race is one of a few races every season at Oaklawn that baffle me. It’s a 12-furlong starter allowance event, and, for obvious reasons, I felt the need to spread. If you’re looking for a bit of a price, #4 BIGSHOT LACEWELL showed speed in a similar event earlier in the meet, and this race seems very light on early zip. If he gets comfortable, he could make the 8-1 morning line price look like a real overlay.

Maidens will go two turns in the third race, and I also felt the need to spread a bit here. #3 PLUG AND PLAY almost certainly needed his debut, and he’s not bred to be a sprinter. He adds blinkers and stretches out to a two-turn route of ground he should love, and for that reason, he’s my top pick. However, if you’re going price-shopping, #6 KINETIC SWAGGER showed zip off the bench last time out in a race that doubled as his first outing since October. A logical step forward in his second start back puts him right there, and given the 15-1 morning line price, I need to have him on the ticket.

It could be a big day for trainer Bob Baffert, and it starts in the fourth race with #5 DESSMAN. He was last seen suffering a brutal beat in the Grade 2 San Vicente, when he was beaten a nose while earning a 94 Beyer Speed Figure. He does try two turns for the first time, but given that he’s a son of Belmont winner Union Rags, I don’t think that will be an issue. Anything close to either of his previous efforts likely puts him far clear of the rest of the field, and because of that, he’ll likely be a very short price (the 8/5 morning line actually seems a tad generous).

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #7

I’m going to do something a bit different. I think DRF Ticket Maker’s functions fit this all-stakes Pick Four sequence like a glove, so I used it to put together $14.50 worth of tickets.

Screen Shot 2019-03-14 at 11.56.06 PM

The sequence kicks off with the Grade 2 Azeri for older fillies and mares. The field is short on quantity, but long on quality, as it drew both #2 MIDNIGHT BISOU and #5 ELATE (among others). Unsurprisingly, I’m using them both, but I’m also going to lightly use a big price. For all of the talent in this race, there isn’t much early speed. Midnight Bisou is tactical, which will help, but I needed some coverage in case #1 TAPA TAPA TAPA is left alone on the lead. She’s certainly not as talented as the four Grade 1 winners in here, but if you subscribe to the notion that pace makes the race, she can’t be completely ignored.

The eighth race is the first division of the Rebel, and while I wish I could get cute, I don’t think #9 IMPROBABLE loses. To me, this is the weaker division of the race, and anything close to his last two races puts him in the winner’s circle. I am not a believer in #8 GALILEAN, who has beaten nothing in Cal-bred races and tries open company for the first time. If you’re looking for a price underneath, #2 LONG RANGE TODDY had a deceptively awful trip in the Grade 3 Southwest, where he was shuffled back along the rail multiple times yet still salvaged third money. I don’t think the rider change is a coincidence, and while I doubt he’s talented enough to challenge Improbable, I think he’s talented enough to merit inclusion on the bottom of exacta tickets.

The ninth race is the Essex Handicap. I’m using likely favorite #8 GIANT EXPECTATIONS, but I don’t think he’s anything close to a cinch. He’s not a great gate horse, which is problematic given that he likes to be on or near the lead, and even if he gets out well, he almost certainly won’t be alone going into the first turn. My top pick is #7 SNAPPER SINCLAIR, a hard-knocking sort with tactical speed that may be getting better as a 4-year-old. Additionally, I don’t think there’s ANY chance #9 RATED R SUPERSTAR is close to his 12-1 morning line price, given his solid third in the Grade 3 Razorback last month. He should get a favorable race flow, and I think he’ll be flying late. Finally, I’ll lightly use fellow closer #2 HENCE, who may need to step forward but has been working well and would also benefit from fast fractions.

The payoff leg is the second division of the Rebel, and it features Breeders’ Cup Juvenile hero #5 GAME WINNER, who makes his seasonal debut. I think he’ll be very tough, but I could at least see a scenario where a rival nips him. I really liked #7 OUR BRAINTRUST in the Grade 3 Withers, and he looked like a winner turning for home. However, he was soundly bumped multiple times by that day’s runner-up (I thought it was enough to merit a DQ, actually), and he hung as a result. He gets blinkers here for his second start around two turns, and I love that he’s taken steps forward with every race he’s run. Would another step forward be enough to beat Game Winner if that one is fully-cranked? Probably not. However, it’s not like that one has been working lights-out of late. If Game Winner needs a race, I’ll at least have a little bit of coverage with another runner in the field.

Anyone Hiring? Plus: Analysis, Selections, and Pick Four Tickets (3/9/19)

First, the unpleasant tidbit that you may have already heard: I’m out of a job.

Back in November, I was hired by MOAC, a blockchain company based in Silicon Valley. This came two months after my job at The Daily Racing Form was transitioned from full-time to part-time. Unfortunately, earlier this week, I was informed that the company had dissolved its marketing team. As such, for the second time in six months, I’m actively searching for work.

Please let me stress that this isn’t a funeral or a pity party. Due in large part to the best support system anyone could ever hope to have, I’m confident I’ll land on my feet. However, if you happen to be out there looking for a horse racing, content creation, social/digital media, and/or marketing professional, I’d love to chat with you. You can reach out either via Twitter or this site’s “contact” feature.

Regardless of external circumstances, writers will always write, and semi-professional horseplayers will always give opinions about playing horses in a semi-professional manner. That’s why I’m here. We’ve got three Kentucky Derby preps coming up this weekend, and I’ll also be dissecting the associated Pick Four sequences.

There’s a lot to go through, so let’s get to it!

AQUEDUCT

Kentucky Derby Prep: Gotham S. (G3), Race 10
Late Pick Four: Races 8-11

We’ll start off at The Big A, which features, for my money, the strongest renewal of the Gotham Stakes in many years. It anchors a terrific all-stakes Pick Four, and it features one of the most talked-about 3-year-olds in the country.

That’s #6 INSTAGRAND, who ships cross-country for Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer. How good was he as a 2-year-old? Based on Beyer Speed Figures, he likely doesn’t have to improve at all to beat this solid group, and any sort of improvement would make the even-money morning line look like a real overlay. He’s worked well of late, and while the added distance is always a question mark, his breeding suggests a one-turn mile will not be a problem.

As a handicapper, I want to find a reason to go against him, but I can’t. Simply put, I think he’s much more talented than the group lining up against him. There’s a lot of speed signed on, to be sure, but I don’t think he needs the lead in order to win. I think he’ll likely sit off the speed and be in prime position going into the turn. With that sort of trip, I don’t think he loses.

If you insist on trying to beat the chalk, the most intriguing alternative strikes me as #5 HAIKAL, who may be the race’s true lone closer. He hasn’t run particularly fast, but based on the pace scenario, he’ll likely have much more left in the tank late than most of the opposition. The faster they go early, the better he’ll like it, and because of that, the play may be a Dave Weaver-style “ice cold exacta” using Instagrand on top of this 6-1 shot.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #8

R8: ALL
R9: 2,7,8
R10: 6
R11: 3,7,12

63 Bets, $31.50

While Instagrand figures to be very tough to beat, I do think there’s value in the late Pick Four. I’ll try to get a price or two home along with my Gotham single to make this pay a bit.

We’ll be guaranteed to get to the second leg, as I’m buying the Grade 3 Tom Fool. I thought this was a confounding race with a foggy pace scenario and a vulnerable favorite. #3 SKYLER’S SCRAMJET ran well twice here earlier in the meet, but hasn’t won since this race last year and may not be the same horse. With a fairly short field of seven, buying this race doesn’t result in an overpriced ticket.

The ninth is the Stymie Stakes for older horses, and it’s drawn a fun field for the level. #2 SUNNY RIDGE can certainly win, as can the returning #8 VINO ROSSO, but I’m pretty intrigued by a price. That’s #7 SHIVERMETIMBERS, who has run in some tough races out west. A scan of his running lines reveals an abundance of graded stakes-caliber horses, and all three of his wins have come at this one-mile distance. I doubt we’ll get his morning line price of 12-1, but if he wins, it’s likely that a lot of Pick Four tickets get knocked out.

We’ll hope to be alive to three horses in the finale, the Busher Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. I’m taking a bit of a shot here, as I don’t like favorite #10 PLEASE FLATTER ME or second choice #11 ALWAYS SHOPPING. The former gets a huge class and distance test and likely won’t be alone in wanting the lead, while the latter is likely better going two turns and wants much further than this one-mile distance. Of the two Todd Pletcher trainees, I prefer #12 ORRA MOOR, who has been impressive in back-to-back wins at Gulfstream Park. I’ll also use #3 OXY LADY, who won at this route back in November, and #7 FILLY JOEL, who cuts back to one turn after showing two turns may be a bit further than she wants to go.

TAMPA BAY DOWNS

Kentucky Derby Prep: Tampa Bay Derby (G2), Race 11
Late Pick Four: Races 9-12

The Tampa Bay Derby serves as the main event on a terrific card. The race drew a field of 11, and I think it’s a great betting race because I don’t like the morning line favorite.

I acknowledge that #7 WIN WIN WIN was very impressive in winning the Pasco Stakes. However, that race fell apart, and I don’t think he beat much. He’s never been two turns, and at his likely short price, I’m going to try to beat him.

#4 DREAM MAKER, like most offspring of Tapit, likely needed some time to grow up. Judging by his smashing win last month at Fair Grounds, he’s come a long way from two duds in stakes company last year. If he builds off of that last-out effort, I think he’s the one to beat, and we may get a bit of a price given the large field signed on.

The early pace is going to be interesting. If #5 WELL DEFINED gets an easy lead, he’ll likely be tough to catch. His win in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis here was very good, and a repeat effort puts him right there. My slight hesitation here is due to the presence of #11 ZENDEN, who may be sent hard from the gate and could present some pace pressure. However, I need to have Well Defined on my tickets, just in case Zenden either doesn’t clear from his outside post or is rated in his first two-turn effort.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #9

R9: 2,7
R10: 1,3,4,5,10
R11: 4,5
R12: 5,10

40 Bets, $20

Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s much room for huge prices in this sequence, so I made an effort to keep the cost of my ticket down. Still, the field sizes involve hint that we could get a surprising return on investment if we cash.

The ninth is the Grade 2 Hillsborough for older distaffers on turf. I’m using the two likely favorites in #2 HAWKSMOOR and #7 RYMSKA. I do prefer the latter, as Hawksmoor may want a touch shorter than this nine-furlong distance, but these two certainly seem to be the class of this group.

The best betting race of the sequence is probably the second leg. It’s the Grade 3 Florida Oaks for 3-year-old fillies, and I had to spread. #5 CONCRETE ROSE and #10 STELLAR AGENT both have talent, but they’re also making their 2019 debuts. I’m most intrigued by #3 WINTER SUNSET, who’s bred to be a really nice filly and is 2-for-2 coming into her graded stakes debut.

After the Tampa Bay Derby, the finale is a $25,000 claimer on the grass. Likely favorite #5 TRUMPI’s record looks significantly better if you toss the races at Gulfstream Park, which boasts a surface that simply may not agree with him. He adds blinkers in his first start for Dale Bennett, and he seems like the horse to beat. I’ll also use #10 SIMMARDSTRIKE, who drops in for a tag and may relish the cutback from nine furlongs to a mile. The outside post is a problem, but he could be rolling late at a fair price.

TURFWAY PARK

Kentucky Derby Prep: Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3), Race 11
Late Pick Four: Races 9-12

It’s never easy to predict which horses will like a synthetic track, which makes the Jeff Ruby an incredibly tricky affair to handicap. The likely favorite is #10 SOMELIKEITHOTBROWN, who first came onto the scene winning a race at the wrong distance at Saratoga (never forget) and has since won the local prep for this race, the Battaglia.

He’s certainly good enough to win, and I need him on my tickets. However, there’s another I need to use, and it’s one of those “first-time synthetic” horses. That’s #3 FIVE STAR GENERAL, who figures to be the main speed in this race. He didn’t break well in the Sam F. Davis, but won two off-the-turf races in a row before that, including a stakes race at Aqueduct. They’ve clearly wanted to get on turf for a while, and that’s often a sign that a horse will like a synthetic track. Somelikeithotbrown may be better, but I need to use Five Star General in case he gets brave on the front end.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #9

R9: 1,8
R10: 3,5,6,11
R11: 3,10
R12: 1,6,7,10

64 Bets, $32

The Jeff Ruby is one of three stakes races in this sequence, which seems to present some value given the big fields and lack of heavy favorites (save for Somelikeithotbrown). Hopefully, my $32 ticket provides enough coverage.

We’ll start off with the Kentucky Cup Classic for older horses, and I’m using the bookends. #1 NUN THE LESS makes lots of sense given his two-back win over similar foes, and he’ll likely go favored, but my top selection is actually #8 LANIER, who seems like the race’s lone speed. He wants to go longer than he ran last time out, and I think he could get very comfortable on the front end. He was just a length behind Nun the Less two back, and that was with a respectable pace. If they go slower (and I think they will), this one could wire them at a fair price.

The second leg is the Bourbonette Oaks, and like the Jeff Ruby, it’s attracted several out-of-town shippers. My top pick is #5 INTO TROUBLE, whose lone start on a synthetic surface was a last-to-first score at Arlington in September. However, I do think there’s room for a price. #3 BIRDIE was very impressive last time out at this route, while #6 RED ROUNDER’s last race at Fair Grounds seems like a throw-out. Finally, #11 DIVA DAY is bred up and down for this trip and could improve off of a debut win at a big price for a top local barn.

We’ll hope to be alive to four horses to finish this off. #7 BYE BYE BULLY’S may be favored, but I don’t think she’ll be her 8/5 price given the large field. 5/2 or so seems much more likely, and while she could easily win, I can’t simply rely on her alone in the payoff leg. #1 GOLDEN LOCH had a wide trip when second at this route last time out, and second-time starters #6 LYNDA D and #10 SAILOR’S CAP could easily step forward here at big prices.

Kentucky Derby Preps, Pick Four Tickets, and Standing Up for a Friend: 2/16/19

At my heart, I’d like to believe I’m a good person. I think most people that have met me and gotten to know me would conclude that, and I’m always going to attempt to do the right thing (regardless of if that’s the easy thing).

It’s in this vein that I’m going to attempt to decipher something that happened to a friend of mine last weekend. Mind you, I was away most of the day Saturday, so I’m seeing and hearing this second-hand, but if I’ve got this right, it’s one of the dumbest things I’ve heard since the heyday of the Breeders’ Cup Derby (disclaimer: if I don’t have this right, please correct me in the comment section or via email).

The friend in question is Gulfstream Park track announcer Pete Aiello. Whether or not he wants everyone else to know this or not is unclear, but Pete’s one of the best people I’ve met in racing. He’s a jolly, fun-loving guy without a mean-spirited bone in his body, and he doesn’t need me defending him in this instance (though I’m doing it anyway because it’s my website and I feel like it).

Last Saturday’s draw at Gulfstream Park was a mandatory payout in the Rainbow Six, and here’s where things get weird. According to tweets from Pete, someone from Gulfstream Park called the booth prior to the Saturday finale, gave him a range of payouts in the Rainbow Six, and told him to pump up those totals. Like a good soldier, Pete did what he was told.

As he did this, the Gulfstream Park simulcast feed, per several outraged members of the horse racing Twitterverse, did not show the payouts next to the horses in question. This has happened multiple times in previous mandatory payout situations, with tracks either being too slow to provide this information or, if you’re more conspiracy-minded, willingly withholding the information in question.

Whatever you believe about the track is one thing. I don’t know what goes on in those circles. If you want to be angry about the track not showing will-pays on its simulcast feed, go right ahead. It’s 2019. That this technology does not exist (or, even worse, if it exists and is not employed) is puzzling.

However, as in way too many situations in racing, the messenger was vilified. In this case, that was Pete, and some on Twitter went so far as to blame him for the situation. Here are several steps that show why this is a bad, bad idea.

Step 1: One of Pete Aiello’s superiors relayed information to the booth.

Step 2: Pete Aiello relayed that information to the audience.

Step 3: Pete Aiello does not control the Gulfstream Park simulcast feed.

That third step is the one that’ll kill you. As I’ve mentioned, Pete doesn’t need me to defend him, and if he’s angry at me for doing so, I’ll apologize to him, via phone, in the voice of Snitsky yelling, “IT WASN’T MY FAULT!,” after kicking a baby into the crowd. Having said that, I’m always going to stick up for the good guys, especially when those good guys have done a lot for me.

Anyway, now that I’ve gotten an unasked-for defense and an obscure wrestling reference out of the way, let’s focus on Saturday’s racing, shall we? We’ve got a pair of Kentucky Derby prep races on tap, as well as a few interesting Pick Four sequences at Fair Grounds and Laurel Park that I’ll take a crack at.

FAIR GROUNDS

Derby Prep: Risen Star Stakes, Race #12
Late Pick Four: Races 9-12

We’ve got a full field of 14 signed on for the Risen Star, even after the scratch of #13 KINGLY, who’s headed to Golden Gate Fields for the El Camino Real Derby (more on him, and that race, later). Many runners in here exit the Grade 3 LeComte, which was won by #14 WAR OF WILL. That post position is a real problem, and while he might be good enough to overcome it, I’m looking elsewhere on top.

My top pick is #8 OWENDALE, who has come into his own as a 3-year-old for trainer Brad Cox. He’s taken substantial steps forward in each of his starts this season, and while he’s got tactical speed, he doesn’t need the lead to run well, and that’s a big plus.

War of Will will be on most of my tickets as well, and I’ll also throw in a pair of bigger-priced entrants. #1 PLUS QUE PARFAIT didn’t break well in the LeComte, and did enough before that to merit a second chance. Finally, #3 MR. MONEY was fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and has been working well for Bret Calhoun. A logical step forward in his 3-year-old debut could put him right there at a price.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #9

R9: 2,5,9
R10: 9
R11: 1,9
R12: 1,3,8,14

24 Bets, $12

I’m going to try to play this sequence pretty cheaply. I think there’s room to make some money with an economical ticket, and I’ve built mine around a single that is perfect over the Fair Grounds turf course.

The ninth is the Grade 3 Mineshaft Handicap for older horses. I’m going three-deep to start things off, and my top pick is #2 HARLAN PUNCH. When he’s good, he’s really good, and trainer Brad Cox is running hot right now. I’ll also throw in #5 LONE SAILOR and #9 FLAMEAWAY, both of whom come in off of layoffs ahead of their 4-year-old debuts.

The tenth is the Grade 3 Fair Grounds Handicap, and I’m not getting cute. #9 SYNCHRONY is 3-for-3 at Fair Grounds and ran two sensational races here a season ago. There’s plenty of pace in here to set up for his late kick, and I highly doubt he’ll be the 3-1 morning line price come post time. If he is, that will merit a win bet.

The 11th is the Grade 2 Rachel Alexandra, and the race took a big hit when #10 CHASING YESTERDAY did not ship in for trainer Bob Baffert. With her out of the picture, the likely favorite is #9 NEEDS SUPERVISION, who has won three in a row. I’m using her, and I’ll also throw in #1 MOLTO BELLA, who was impressive last time out and boasts a much more impressive resume if you draw a line through the Grade 2 Demoiselle over Aqueduct’s demanding, slow surface.

GOLDEN GATE FIELDS

Derby Prep: El Camino Real Derby, Race #7

Handicapping synthetic tracks isn’t really my strength. Having said that, this is a heck of a betting race, with a 13-horse field and a morning line favorite I don’t like.

That’s #9 KINGLY, who ships up to Northern California for Bob Baffert. He hasn’t done much wrong, having won at first asking and run second in his first start against winners. His best could be good enough to win this, but at his likely price, I’m going to take a swing against him.

The likely second choice is #4 ANOTHERTWISTAFATE, and if I can get 5/2 odds, I’ll happily take them. He’s been very, very good in two starts over this track, and for how big the field is, there isn’t much speed signed on. I think he could sit a dream trip, and if he’s left alone on the front end, he could be very tough to run down late.

I’ll use that one with a pair of Santa Anita shippers. #5 THE CREEP ran very well in his lone start on synthetic, when he ran second to Sueno in the Gold Rush Stakes, and he’ll likely be a price because he hasn’t won in a while. Additionally, #7 EAGLE SONG won twice over synthetic tracks in Ireland, and if that form carries over, he could have a big say in the outcome.

LAUREL PARK

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #7

R7: 2,3,11
R8: 2,6,7,13
R9: 1,2,3,4,10
R10: 4

60 Bets, $30

Laurel Park’s Saturday card is a fun one. The late Pick Four boasts a trio of stakes races, two of which are graded, and I think there’s room to make some money here despite a likely short-priced favorite in the last leg. Note: If you saw this Friday night or early Saturday morning, the ticket has been modified following scratches.

The seventh is the John B. Campbell Stakes, and it took a hit with four scratches Saturday morning. I’m going three-deep, and without much early speed in the race, #2 JOHNNY JUMP UP could sit an ideal trip on the front end. He’s won two in a row, and I think he’ll be the one they have to catch turning for home.

The eighth is the Grade 3 General George for older male sprinters. 2018 General George winner #13 SOMETHING AWESOME is back to defend his title after a failed run in the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup, and I’m using him, but I prefer another closer on top. That’s #6 STILL HAVING FUN, who loves this distance and attracts Flavien Prat (who’s in town for the day).

The ninth is the Grade 3 Barbara Fritchie for older fillies and mares, and I thought this race was completely wide-open. #1 SPICED PERFECTION makes her first start for Peter Miller after being privately purchased following her win in the Grade 1 La Brea, but she’s never run outside of California, and I’m not exactly sure what she beat last time. I’m five-deep, and I really, really hope I’m deep enough.

I spread in the first three legs because I felt I could single with confidence in the Saturday finale. This is an allowance event, and I think #4 VELOCITA BRILLANTE may be the shortest price in the entire sequence. She’s won two in a row and was very sharp last time out. This field doesn’t appear to be that strong, and trainer Claudio Gonzalez is hitting at a 28% clip this meet as of this writing. I’ll try to get some prices home in the first three legs before relying on the chalk to finish things off.