THE DARK DAY FILES: Trying to Make Sense of the 3-Year-Old Male Division

I was really, REALLY hoping I didn’t have to write this column.

You see, like pretty much everyone else, I’ve been hoping for months that a 3-year-old would separate himself from the rest of the division. Briefly, Always Dreaming did that, but he was knocked off the mountaintop just as quickly as he ascended it. Ever since the Preakness, the division has been shrouded in confusion, with big efforts often followed by duds that only serve to make things more difficult to decipher.

In what doubled as a dream come true for the NYRA marketing department, the three winners of the three Triple Crown races lined up in last Saturday’s Travers. Much like the last time this happened (1982), though, the race wasn’t won by one of those horses. West Coast, whose lone graded stakes win before the Midsummer Derby came at Los Alamitos against what would charitably be called a mediocre bunch, went wire-to-wire under Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith and earned the top Beyer Speed Figure of any 3-year-old router to this point in the season.

I’ll attempt to decipher the division here. Essentially, this acts as a quick and dirty summary of the main players, as well as what they likely need to do to emerge as a contender for the division’s Eclipse Award. I only considered horses that had won at least one Grade 1 race in 2017, which means horses like 2-3 Travers finishers Gunnevera and Irap, as well as Jim Dandy winner Good Samaritan, are out.

Disagree? Think I missed something? Shoot me a message, and I’ll be happy to discuss what I think.

West Coast

Claim to Fame: Beat the winners of all three Triple Crown races in the Travers.

Drawbacks: Hasn’t done much else to this point. He was visually impressive in both stakes wins earlier in the year, but he didn’t beat many quality foes in either spot.

Eclipse Chances: High. A win in either the Pennsylvania Derby (against 3-year-olds) or the Jockey Club Gold Cup (against older horses) would give him a resume very few in the division could match. Fun fact: If West Coast wins the award, this will mark the third time in the last five years that it has gone to a horse that did not win a Triple Crown race. Before Will Take Charge won in 2013 despite lacking such a win, the last thoroughbred to pull it off was Tiznow, who did so in 2000.

Always Dreaming

Claim to Fame: Won the Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby back-to-back, both by daylight.

Drawbacks: Has failed to win any of his three subsequent starts. I’m a bit higher on his Jim Dandy than most (he did salvage third over a very tiring track), but his Preakness and Travers efforts were lousy.

Eclipse Chances: Higher than you may think. As of this writing, no active 3-year-old can match his top-end wins, and even if he never runs again (which is possible, maybe even likely), there’s a chance he’ll end the year as this season’s only 3-year-old male with multiple Grade 1 wins on dirt. That would make him a popular “hold your nose” vote.


Claim to Fame: Won the Belmont, and did so in impressive fashion. He and runner-up Irish War Cry were well clear of the rest of the field.

Drawbacks: He’s only won twice, and while he didn’t run terribly in the Travers, he was fourth behind three horses that had previously combined for zero Grade 1 victories to this point in the season.

Eclipse Chances: Medium. There’s a chance he needed the Travers off a 12-week layoff, and a run in the Jockey Club Gold Cup would mean a chance at another Grade 1 victory at the scene of his greatest triumph to date. Such a win would give him two signature victories and would put him squarely in the middle of the conversation ahead of the Breeders’ Cup.

Oscar Performance

Claim to Fame: Has won back-to-back Grade 1 races, and is the only 3-year-old male in the country besides Always Dreaming with two such wins on his resume this year.

Drawbacks: He’s a turf horse.

Eclipse Chances: None most years, but this year, he’s got a shot. If ever there was a year for an unconventional winner of this award, it’s 2017, and a win over older horses would do wonders for his candidacy. He could get such a victory in the Grade 1 Joe Hirsch, provided his connections opt to bypass the Grade 3 Hill Prince, which boasts a similar purse and (likely) much less in the way of opposition. If he wins the Hirsch and runs well in the Breeders’ Cup (no easy task, since the Turf’s distance would be uncharted territory for him and the Mile is never an easy race to win), it would be impossible to keep him out of this discussion.

Classic Empire

Claim to Fame: When he’s right, he’s probably the best horse in this division in terms of pure talent. He won the Arkansas Derby, was the victim of a lousy trip when fourth in the Kentucky Derby, and just missed in the Preakness…

Drawbacks: …but he hasn’t been seen since. His connections had eyed the Pennsylvania Derby, but those plans fell through.

Eclipse Chances: Low. On one hand, if this horse hangs on in the Preakness, we’re probably not having this conversation (it’s at least much more concentrated in nature). On the other hand, how can one consider this horse a contender when he hasn’t raced since mid-May? Maybe he runs again in either the Breeders’ Cup or the Cigar Mile. Maybe he doesn’t and we’ve seen the last of him. If the latter is the case, it’s a real shame.

Practical Joke

Claim to Fame: Won the Allen Jerkens on Travers Day, and an argument can be made that he’s the best 3-year-old in the country at what he does.

Drawbacks: What he does is run one turn. He’s not the same horse going a conventional, two-turn route of ground.

Eclipse Chances: Low, and it’s no fault of the horse or his connections. If the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile was contested around one turn (like it will be next year at Churchill Downs), or if the Sprint was seven furlongs and not six, he would be in a great spot. However, he’s between distances and will need to overcome the lack of an ideal race on racing’s biggest weekend. A Sprint win would almost certainly vault him to the head of the class, and a Dirt Mile win would also be helpful, but if he loses either race and salvages the Cigar Mile or Malibu, would that be enough of a resume? I don’t think so.


Claim to Fame: Won the Grade 1 Haskell over a solid group, which included next-out Jerkens winner Practical Joke and next-out Shared Belief winner Battle of Midway. Earlier this season, he also captured the Louisiana Derby and Risen Star Stakes.

Drawbacks: Misfired in both the Travers and the Kentucky Derby, which were prime opportunities for him to show he belongs at the top of this division.

Eclipse Chances: Slim. Most years, he’d already be eliminated, counted out as a nice horse, but not one of the best. However, if he wins the Pennsylvania Derby, all of a sudden, we’ve got a horse that’s won two Grade 1’s, two Grade 2’s, and a lot of money. Is it unlikely? Yes, but then again, so was his Haskell win.

Cloud Computing

Claim to Fame: Reeled in Classic Empire in the Preakness, giving Chad Brown his first win in a Triple Crown race.

Drawbacks: He’s done nothing since then, throwing in two clunkers at Saratoga.

Eclipse Chances: Slim to none. If he comes back with a winning effort in a Breeders’ Cup prep race, we can more easily throw out the Saratoga races. However, those races were dreadful, and it’s tough to swallow something like that in this sort of a discussion.

Saratoga Race Course Analysis, Selections, and Bankroll: Travers Day (8/26/17)

BANKROLL: $851.50

Happy Travers Day, everyone! Before we get into the antics and shenanigans, I’d genuinely like to wish all of you luck. This may be the best wagering card we see all year in New York, and there’s no shortage of live longshots on the program.

That said, I have to chuckle at NYRA’s “no running” edict. As I mentioned last year around this time, all it apparently takes to turn some at the track into middle school hall monitors is one big day. No running? What about jogging, speed-walking, power-walking, or cantering? Where, precisely, is the line drawn?

FRIDAY’S RESULTS: We extended our winning streak in this section to three by maximizing value on Sunset Ridge. Our Pick Five connected for $1, our Pick Four hit for 50 cents, and our $40 investment returned $155 and change.

SATURDAY’S PLAY: Remember how I said there’s no shortage of longshots? I’ll play four horses to win and place, and it may only take one winner for it to be a profitable day. The horses I’ll put #5 to win and place on are as follows: KABANG (Race 2), PROFITEER (Race 5), WEST COAST (Race 11), and MOHICAN (Race 13).



Best Bet: Songbird, Race 6
Longshot: Kabang, Race 2


Good Magic
High North

GOOD MAGIC: Was a million dollar baby at last year’s Keeneland September sale, and for good reason. He’s by Curlin, and boasts a female family that’s one of the best you’ll ever see. He’s worked to that breeding and should be ready; HAZIT: Is another that’s bred to run and debuts for high-percentage connections. His dam was a graded stakes-winning sprinter, and he’s got every right to be precocious; HIGH NORTH: Is a half to Grade 2 winner Benner Island and has a pair of strong local workouts. Irad Ortiz likely had options, and he lands on this $230k yearling purchase.


Uncle Mojo (MTO)
Focus Group

KABANG: Has won three of his last four, with the most recent victory coming earlier this meet in a swiftly-run starter allowance. There’s some pace signed on here, which bodes well for this one’s late kick; FOCUS GROUP: Broke through at third asking last time out, graduation in a much longer race. Irad stays aboard for Chad Brown, and at least you know the distance shouldn’t be a problem; RICHMOND STREET: Ran a clunker last time out, but that was his second race off a long layoff, so it could’ve just been a bounce. His race two back was solid, and he ran well here twice last summer. DIRT SELECTIONS: UNCLE MOJO, HOLIDAY BONUS, SON OF A SAINT.


Strike Me Down

NEEPAWA: Was a fast-closing third in his debut, which came at this route. The post position is a problem, but of those that have run before, he boasts the most impressive effort; STRIKE ME DOWN: Is bred up and down to be a strong turf horse. His dam won a Grade 2 on turf and threw Grade 3 winner Golden Sabre, and this gray has turned heads in the mornings; CHIRPING: Ran a sneaky race in his debut, rallying late for fifth and showing he likely wants more ground. He gets that in this spot and can’t be ignored at a price.


Candid Desire

OSTROLENKA: Has run some of his best races since being claimed earlier this year by David Jacobson. He was a close-up second at this route against a solid sprinter, and the likely race shape sets up for a closer like him; STICKSSTATELYDUDE: Returns to the races after a nine-month break and has back class that must be respected. This is certainly shorter than he wants to go, but he did break his maiden going six furlongs here as a 2-year-old; CANDID DESIRE: Is another that merits a look given the likely shape of the race (not to mention his likely odds). He ran fourth to Stallwalkin’ Dude last time out after a brief freshening, and a quick look at the running lines shows he beat THREEFIVEINDIA (who could be the favorite or second choice here) three back.


Ray’s The Bar

CLOONTIA: Showed a new dimension last time out, rating well off the leader and rallying to win a lesser allowance race. He steps up in class, but this is a horse that likes to win, and these connections merit respect; PROFITEER: Hasn’t been seen since April, when he trailed in the Grade 3 Transylvania. It’s possible he just didn’t take to the Keeneland turf course, and he’s a major player if he runs back to his other grass races; RAY’S THE BAR: Almost certainly needed his 2017 debut, so I’m drawing a line through it. He’s been gelded since that effort, and he has significant back class.


Forever Unbridled
Going for Broke

SONGBIRD: Is the length of Beholder’s nose away from being undefeated and will go for her 10th Grade 1 victory here. No other rival has the early speed to go with her, and I think she’ll be incredibly tough to run down late; FOREVER UNBRIDLED: Is extremely tough on her best day. Remember, she was beaten less than two lengths by Songbird in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff, and while the race shape doesn’t figure to help her, she could come running late; GOING FOR BROKE: Made stablemate Carina Mia work last time out in the Shine Again, and that distance was shorter than she’s accustomed to going. She chased Songbird in last year’s Alabama and figures to get a piece of this purse as well.


Carina Mia
Highway Star

PAULASSILVERLINING: Has won four in a row, including the Grade 2 Honorable Miss earlier this meet. There’s a shocking lack of early speed signed on here, and she could sit a dream trip on or near a slow pace; CARINA MIA: Fended off a game stablemate at this route earlier in the month and could improve in her second start for Chad Brown. The issue here is that my top selection has beaten her in both of their prior meetings; HIGHWAY STAR: Is 3-for-3 going seven furlongs and chased Songbird and Paid Up Subscriber home last time out in the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps. If you’re looking for a longshot, you could do a lot worse than a horse that’s 7-for-11 lifetime (with one loss coming in a turf race).


American Anthem
Coal Front
Practical Joke

AMERICAN ANTHEM: Returns to New York for his first start since an easy win in the Grade 2 Woody Stephens on Belmont Day. He’s 3-for-3 around one turn, and a repeat of the effort we saw in June would make him very tough to beat; COAL FRONT: Is 3-for-3 and most recently took down the Grade 2 Amsterdam. He showed maturity that day, slowing down to take a breath after setting a fast pace and speeding up again to repel a late challenge. These are deep waters, but he’s given me nothing to knock so far; PRACTICAL JOKE: Missed by a half-length in the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational, finishing behind two horses that will contest the Travers. He won last year’s Grade 1 Hopeful at this route and has improved since then, but the rail draw isn’t ideal.


Mind Your Biscuits
Divining Rod

MIND YOUR BISCUITS: Has developed into one of the top dirt sprinters on the planet. His win in Dubai two back was sensational, and this seven-furlong distance suits him perfectly; DREFONG: Won both the Breeders’ Cup Sprint and King’s Bishop last year, but his 2017 season has not gone smoothly. He dumped Mike Smith in the Bing Crosby, and while horse and rider were fine, the workouts since then have been on the slow side. His best race probably wins, but can he channel that form?; DIVINING ROD: Came back running last time out in his 2017 debut, crushing an overmatched field at Laurel Park. He just missed in last year’s Cigar Mile, and he seems best of the rest here.


Money Multiplier

IDAHO: Was third behind two of Europe’s best horses last time out in a Group 1 at Ascot. Enable may be the best horse in Europe regardless of gender, while Ulysses is eyeing the Breeders’ Cup Turf. By comparison, this is a softer spot, and these connections can ship in and win these races; MONEY MULTIPLIER: Started his 2017 campaign in fine fashion last time out with a Grade 2 win at Monmouth. Improvement is logical second off such a long layoff, and this one was second to Flintshire in last year’s running of this race; ERUPT: Is a cut below Europe’s best, but he won the Grade 1 Canadian International last fall at Woodbine. His effort two back in Group 1 company was solid, and he’s a contender on his best day.


West Coast
Good Samaritan

WEST COAST: Has developed into Bob Baffert’s top 3-year-old colt after back-to-back stakes wins on opposite coasts. His running style suggests he’ll handle this distance just fine, and he gets my top pick in a very confusing renewal of the Travers; GOOD SAMARITAN: Beat the Derby and Preakness winners with an authoritative performance in the Jim Dandy, which doubled as his dirt debut. Figure-wise, that was a new career-best race by a considerable amount, and he could win with a repeat performance; TAPWRIT: Was last seen winning the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes in June. The layoff is a concern, as is the Haskell performance of Belmont runner-up Irish War Cry, but he’s trained well of late and can’t be ignored.


Lady Eli

LADY ELI: Was a surprise entrant in this race following her victory in the Grade 1 Diana. That win came after she and her stablemate (more on her shortly) broke through the starting gate before the race, and she’s strictly the one to beat; ANTONOE: Did not have a good day when last seen, breaking through the gate and sitting a strange trip. Still, she was only beaten a length by my top pick, and her win two back in the Just A Game was scary good; DICKINSON: May inherit the early lead by default. She misfired in the Diana, but her best race certainly gets her a share.


All About Voodoo

MOHICAN: Hasn’t run well in two local starts this summer, but I think you can toss both of those races. The race two back came off a long layoff, and his last-out effort came on dirt. Given the class drop, I think he’s live at a nice price; ALL ABOUT VOODOO: Showed speed earlier in the meet going much longer against a better group. The class drop is sensible, and keep him in mind if Focus Group (that race’s winner) comes back with a good effort in Saturday’s second race; PROGNOSTICATION: Had every chance at this level last time out, but was forced to settle for third in a so-so group. He’ll take money given the connections, and his best race puts him right there, but this may be a spot to shop around for some value.

Saratoga Race Course Analysis, Selections, and Bankroll: 8/16/17


BANKROLL: $819.75

I got in an interesting discussion online the other day about the current 3-year-old picture and the potential for an unconventional winner of the Champion 3-Year-Old Male Eclipse Award. Long story short, if Always Dreaming wins the Travers, he likely clinches the trophy, while Cloud Computing or Tapwrit would certainly have a significant (but not insurmountable) edge if one of them won the Midsummer Derby.

However, what if a non-winner of a Triple Crown race won the Travers? That opens the door for a horse like Oscar Performance, provided he steps up and beats older horses at the Grade 1 level. Additionally, what happens if a horse like American Anthem or Coal Front wins the Allen Jerkens and follows it up with a win in either the Breeders’ Cup Sprint or the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile? It’s a fascinating scenario, and the next domino falls in a week and a half at Saratoga.

MONDAY’S RESULTS: In short, ugh. Everything Magic lost a photo for second in the opener to a 45-1 shot, and one of the horses we keyed her with in exactas won. It was a painful way to drop $22.

WEDNESDAY’S PLAY: I’ll focus on the fifth race. #4 MY MR. WONDERFUL ran a big race in his debut last month, which was rained off the turf. I’ll key him in $4 exactas above and below #2 SICILIA SAL, #6 JOE’S SMOKIN GUN, and #10 TEN EYCK, as well as in $3 doubles that use #4 PADEN and #6 ROCKFORD in the sixth.



Best Bet: Claiborne entry, Race 7
Longshot: Paden, Race 6


Bishop’s Castle

MUTASAAWY: Cruised home last time out when crushing maidens at Parx and seems to have taken to hurdles like a duck to water. This seems like a fairly soft spot to try winners for the first time; KREMLIN: Figures to be the main speed in here. He set the pace earlier this meet against better horses and could be dangerous if he gets loose early on; BISHOP’S CASTLE: Lost the jock last time out at Parx but has run several solid races of late, including a win two back.


Powerful Ally

SPIETH: Tries two turns for the first time in his second start off the layoff, and the pedigree indicates that this is exactly what he wants. He’s worked well and should be prominent early; POWERFUL ALLY: Was an OK third earlier in the meet in his first start off a freshening. Jose Ortiz riding back is a big plus; D’AMBROSIO: Is another stretching out to two turns with the pedigree to embrace such a route. The rider switch to Castellano is notable, but he finished behind my top pick last time out when that one probably needed the race.


Motion entry
Fire Away

MOTION ENTRY: Both HOLIDAY STAR and STREET FASHION can win this turf marathon. The former is a multiple graded stakes winner, while the latter exits a stakes race at Delaware Park; MUQTASER: Was brilliantly-ridden last time out by Joe Bravo in a win at this route. Don’t be surprised if Jersey Joe sends him again, especially in such a small field; FIRE AWAY: Loves this distance and may have needed his race earlier this month off a freshening. He was beaten less than two lengths in stakes company that day and merits respect here.


Lady Constance
Jump for Joy
Dubb entry

LADY CONSTANCE: Has not won in a while, but that can be said of many in here, and this filly drops way down in class in this spot. Her lone try at anywhere close to this level was a tough-luck second two back; JUMP FOR JOY: Was a runaway winner last time out at Aqueduct, but that was almost a year and a half ago. Pletcher can get horses ready to run, though, and the fact that she is ineligible to be claimed today could speak volumes about the barn’s intentions; DUBB ENTRY: I prefer EASY WAY OUT, who graduated last time out after burning money twice at Aqueduct. The rider switch is a concern, but her usual effort puts her right there.


My Mr. Wonderful
Ten Eyck
Joe’s Smokin Gun

MY MR. WONDERFUL: Ran well in his debut last month despite the race being rained off the turf. The connections should get the desired route today, and improvement is logical at second asking; TEN EYCK: Doesn’t draw a great post, but is bred up and down to be a very strong turf horse. He’s by Freud and out of a City Zip mare, and he’ll likely be a square price; JOE’S SMOKIN GUN: Was a solid second two back on turf before running in the same race my top pick exits. The connections are cold, but a repeat of the two-back effort could easily get him a piece of this. DIRT SELECTIONS: MY MR. WONDERFUL, STOLEN PISTOL, JOE’S SMOKIN GUN.


Players Group entry

PADEN: Has run well against better horses going longer, one-turn route distances and ships in for a high-percentage barn. There doesn’t appear to be much early speed signed on, so don’t be surprised if he’s forwardly-placed; ROCKFORD: Generally runs the same race every time out and was a solid second earlier this month in his first start for David Jacobson. He’s another with tactical speed, and his best puts him right there; PLAYERS GROUP ENTRY: I prefer FULL SALUTE, who comes back to the dirt after a failed experiment on turf last time out. He won at this distance two back beneath Jose Ortiz, and that pilot returns here.


Claiborne entry
End Play

CLAIBORNE ENTRY: COMMEND is clearly the horse to beat here. He exits the Grade 2 Highlander at Woodbine, which was won by world-class turf sprinter Green Mask, and this spot represents significant class relief; END PLAY: Was beaten less than a length in a strong race for the level earlier this meet. He’s run well here in the past and generally runs the same race every time out; FEAR: Has won three of his last four and merits a longshot look. The lone defeat in that stretch was in a dirt race, and turf is clearly what he wants.


Damage Control
No Texting

MOBRIDGE: Beat a number of these rivals last time out and comes back at the level here. If there’s a concern, it’s that all three visible wins in the form were at Belmont, but note that he ran fairly well going two turns at Gulfstream earlier this year; DAMAGE CONTROL: Was beaten a length by my top pick last time out and didn’t have much pace to close into that day. If someone goes with that horse early, it could set up for this one; NO TEXTING: Was fourth in that common race, but was inexplicably rated that day after showing ample early speed in his previous six starts. Given that fact, the rider switch is no shock.


Sly Beauty
March X Press

SLY BEAUTY: Ran into runaway Schuylerville winner Dream It Is in her debut and jogged last time out. This barn is starting to turn strong efforts into wins, and this one could have plenty of talent; MARCH X PRESS: Closed like a freight train to win her debut earlier in the meet at this route. There should certainly be plenty of early speed in front of her; FAIRYLAND: Exits a Group 3 at Royal Ascot, and the blinkers come back on. If there’s a concern here, it’s the rail draw, which has not been kind in turf sprints this meet.


Borsa Vento

BORSA VENTO: Drops way down in class, and given the horrible trip, his last race is a throwout. He’s run well at this distance against better in the past, and I’ll give him another shot; IRST: Looked like a promising horse when second here last summer behind an eventual Grade 3 winner, but he hasn’t moved forward since then. The class drop should certainly help, as would a pace battle up front; BRITAIN: Has shown some zip since dropping to the maiden claiming ranks, but was a distant fourth at this level earlier in the meet. Still, he merits respect given the powerful trainer/jockey combination.

Saratoga Race Course Analysis, Selections, and Bankroll: 7/29/17



Today’s Jim Dandy is light on quantity, but not on quality. Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming and Preakness winner Cloud Computing headline the field in today’s 10th race, and a win by either would likely make the victorious horse your favorite in next month’s Travers Stakes.

Ahead of what’s sure to be many marketing-speak versions of, “All three Triple Crown race winners are pointing to the Travers,” though, is my annual word of caution. It seems like whenever such a matchup is hyped, we get a Travers winner from out of left field. Runaway Groom topped all three major winners in 1982, Will Take Charge topped Orb and Palace Malice in 2013, and most recently, a big gray named Arrogate made Exaggerator and Creator look ordinary last summer. I’m not saying there isn’t cause to be excited, but let’s not go overboard, okay?

FRIDAY’S RESULTS: Our two exacta horses ran third and fifth in the fifth race, and we dropped $20.

SATURDAY’S PLAY: I’ll get involved in the late Pick Five, which features three graded stakes races. I’ll be kind to The Pink Sheet’s copy desk and save space by not spelling out most of the names and just using numbers: 7,8,11 with 3,4,8 with 1,7 with 1 (ALWAYS DREAMING in the Jim Dandy) with 2,3,4,6. Hopefully, we can extract some value out of a heavy favorite this way.



Best Bet: Always Dreaming, Race 10
Longshot: Chirping, Race 4


Bourbon Resolution

BOURBON RESOLUTION: Finished just a half-length back in his debut, where he was outsprinted early and made a wide move. The third-place finisher from that race has since come back to win, which flatters this one; MOJOVATION: Is one of two in here for Todd Pletcher, but I’m taking a bit of a stand against him. The recent works are solid, but the five-furlong works aren’t as impressive as the four-furlong drills, and there likely won’t be betting value here, either; LIONITE: Fetched $330k at auction last September and earned a bullet for a five-furlong gate drill earlier this month. This barn hasn’t gotten off to a great start at the meet, but this colt seems talented.


Surprise Twist

HIEROGLYPHICS: Has not run a bad race since being switched to the turf and could sit a dream stalking trip in this spot. A repeat of his most recent effort downstate could win this; PAGLIACCI: Was third in the race my top pick exits and figures to be prominent early in this spot. His lone win came going a two-turn route of ground, and he may appreciate coming back to such a trip; SURPRISE TWIST: Took a step forward to win at second asking and faces winners for the first time. It’s tricky to gauge how Maryland form will translate to Saratoga, but Arnaud Delacour attracts Javier Castellano and we may get a price. DIRT SELECTIONS: PAINTER’S RAGS, PAGLIACCI, JUNKET.


Kirby’s Penny
Kentucky Dancer

KIRBY’S PENNY: May have been a dirt horse all along despite breaking her maiden here on turf last summer. She was a strong second last out in the slop, and the third-place finisher came back to win earlier in this meet; KENTUCKY DANCER: Ran a clunker last out in a turf experiment and comes back to dirt. She’s been running against weaker foes, but she also hasn’t run a bad race on fast dirt since March of 2016; AREWEHAVINGFUNYET: Steps up to starter allowance company after a win against claiming competition last out at Belmont. There’s a ton of speed signed on, and while the rail isn’t ideal, she could be picking up the pieces late.


El Dulce
Ultima D

EL DULCE: Fetched $200k at auction earlier this year and has worked well for Todd Pletcher. This race is a real head-scratcher, but offspring of Twirling Candy can usually run on turf and his dam was a stakes winner; CHIRPING: Is a longshot on the morning line, but has the pedigree to be a runner. His dam is a half to Grade 1 winners Coil and Chiropractor, and Tom Proctor found the Saratoga winner’s circle with several prices last summer; ULTIMA D: Was a good second when last seen two months ago on the synthetic track at Woodbine. She ran into a next-out stakes winner in her debut and has more of a foundation than any other horse in the field. DIRT SELECTIONS: SAME.


Coal Front
Mo Cash

COAL FRONT: Has done nothing wrong in two starts against older, more-experienced competition. He makes his graded stakes debut today, and continued progression would make him very difficult to beat; MO CASH: Has done quite well in Florida and was most recently a close second in the Grade 3 Carry Back. He’s got plenty of early zip and will likely make the lead; EXCITATIONS: Gets the one-turn route he likely wants in this spot. Any speed duel would likely work in his favor, as he should be running well late.


Call Provision
Maker entry

CALL PROVISION: Probably needed his 2017 debut, which was won by a horse competing in today’s Grade 2 Bowling Green. He’s won at this distance before, and you could argue his best race was his allowance win here last summer; MAKER ENTRY: I prefer ST. LOUIE, who won at this distance last out at Belmont and likely wants as much ground as possible. The far outside post for that one is discouraging, but we may get a price; TATHQEEF: Returned to turf with aplomb in his last-out victory. Among the horses he chased going long in Europe last year was eventual Group 1 winner Hawkbill, so there’s back class here. DIRT SELECTIONS: WAR STROLL, ALTAR BOY, TATHQEEF.


Just Got Out (MTO)
Ack Naughty
Mom’s On Strike

ACK NAUGHTY: Likes to run second, but did so in a stakes race last time out in a race she may have needed. She has four top-two finishes in five starts on this turf course, and she’s a logical favorite; MOM’S ON STRIKE: Turned heads in her turf debut, which came in the Pebbles back in October. She hasn’t raced since, but Joe Sharp can get horses ready off long layoffs, and a repeat of that effort could win this; AWESOME SONG: Has been snake-bitten of late, losing three straight photo finishes. The outside draw isn’t perfect, but she could be the controlling speed under Castellano. DIRT SELECTIONS: JUST GOT OUT, MOM’S ON STRIKE, CRIMSON FROST.


A.P. Indian
El Deal
Limousine Liberal

A.P. INDIAN: Was the best sprinter on the grounds here a season ago, and he’ll look to defend his Vanderbilt title. He loves this track, and he could sit just off what figures to be a contested early pace; EL DEAL: Has quarter horse-type early speed and comes north after a dominant win in a minor stakes at Monmouth. Jorge Navarro’s barn is one of the hottest in the country, but this is a major class test; LIMOUSINE LIBERAL: Has won three in a row at Churchill Downs, and shippers from there have done quite well to this point in the meet. He may want a hair longer, but he’s another who would be helped by a scorching pace early on.


Bigger Picture
Frank Conversation

BIGGER PICTURE: Certainly reaped the benefits of a solid pace when winning the Grade 1 United Nations earlier this month. He has, however, shown flexibility in his running style, and he won at this route last summer; ASCEND: Pulled off a shocker on Belmont Day when winning the Grade 1 Man o’ War over several rivals that also show up here. The added furlong is a question mark, though, and we likely won’t get any value here; FRANK CONVERSATION: Was a good second in a Grade 2 at Santa Anita when last seen in May. He’s got a running style that indicates he wants this trip, and this barn has shipped cross-country to win major races here before.


Always Dreaming
Cloud Computing

ALWAYS DREAMING: Dropped anchor in the Preakness, but I think you can draw a line through that race. Pletcher very rarely runs horses back that quickly, and a return to this one’s Derby-winning form would almost certainly mean a win here; CLOUD COMPUTING: Was very sharp in winning the Preakness, but he had lots going his way that day, between the pace and my top pick’s bounce off his Derby win. He may need to be more forwardly-placed today; PAVEL: Debuted with a smashing win at Santa Anita earlier this month. Going from that race to tackling divisional heavyweights is a tall order, but it sure seems like there’s potential here.


Durable Goods
Wake Island
Fashion Week

DURABLE GOODS: Was sharp in her debut, and that effort wins plenty of races at that level. Improvement is logical at second asking, and two turns shouldn’t be a problem; WAKE ISLAND: Could easily complete a Chad Brown exacta in the finale. She hasn’t run since November, but her turf races from last season were solid and her worktab is strong ahead of her 2017 debut; FASHION WEEK: Hasn’t turned many heads in two dirt tries, but there’s a lot of turf in her pedigree. Her dam was a Grade 1-placed mare on the lawn, and Velazquez staying aboard for Shug is a plus. DIRT SELECTIONS: WAKE ISLAND, FASHION WEEK, MAGICAL SKY.

2017 Preakness Stakes Analysis/Selections, Plus Pick Four/Five Tickets

Coming out of the Kentucky Derby starting gate two weeks ago, Irish War Cry and Rajiv Maragh took a hard left turn and delivered a cross body block that would’ve made Ricky Steamboat, Tito Santana, and Bayern proud. For Classic Empire, the result was the loss of any chance to win the Run for the Roses, and that he somehow managed to salvage fourth despite the incident can be seen, in hindsight, as a minor miracle.

Two weeks later, Classic Empire is back in the Preakness, the second leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown. He’ll line up directly outside of Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming, who had nothing short of a perfect trip in his victory earlier this month. That’s not to demean Always Dreaming’s victory, or the stellar jobs done by trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey John Velazquez, but what this means is that Always Dreaming could be a wagering underlay for stand-alone, win-only purposes.

I’ll be using both of those horses in multi-race exotics wagers. However, for the purposes of win-only wagers, I think Classic Empire is the play in the Preakness. He was my Derby pick, and even though he didn’t win that day, he ran a winning race. Given the smaller field and more of a chance to show his tactical speed, he’ll have every opportunity to turn the tables Saturday in Maryland.

With that in mind, here are my multi-race exotics tickets for Preakness Day at Pimlico. There are plenty of opportunities to take swings, and the guaranteed pools mean that if you hit, you’ll likely be rewarded handsomely.

$0.50 Pick Five: Race #2

R2: 2
R3: 1,6,8
R4: 2,3,5
R5: 1*,2,5,6,7
R6: 3,6 (15)

90 or 108 bets, $45 or $54

Many aspects of this ticket require some explanation. First of all, a Pick Four starts in the third, and if you want to play it, you can, for the same amount. As mentioned yesterday, given a single in the first leg of a Pick Five and the substantially-lesser takeout, it makes no sense not to play THAT wager instead.

My single is #2 Commend, whose form going short on turf is very good. He missed by a head three back in stakes company, and it’s safe to assume something went wrong two back, because we didn’t see him for nearly six months. His comeback race was much longer than he wants to run, and he gets his desired trip Saturday in his second start off a layoff.

Finally, you’ll notice an asterisk by #1 Elusive Joni, who I’ve used in the fifth at Pimlico. That means that, if #15 Barney Rebel draws into the sixth and you need a horse to throw out to keep costs down, that’s the one I’d recommend. If you keep her on the ticket, it becomes a $67.50 ticket, and that’s too expensive for me to comfortably give out.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #6

R6: 1,3,6 (15)
R7: 7
R9: 5

39 or 52 bets, $19.50 or $26

The value of the ticket is contingent upon whether or not Barney Rebel draws in. Because I had the budget to do so, I also threw in #1 Jose Sea View, who was a tough omission from my Pick Five ticket.

My two singles will likely be heavy favorites. Recruiting Ready has been focused on sprints since a failed attempt going a mile three back, and his runaway win in the Bachelor was extremely impressive. Speaking of impressive, Whitmore is undefeated in sprints, and he’ll likely be favored in the Maryland Sprint, which doubles as the payoff leg of this sequence.

The presence of those two singles allows me to hit the “ALL” button in the eighth, the James W. Murphy. Simply put, I don’t have a clue about this race, so I’m hoping we get a price home between two short prices. If that happens, this Pick Four could pay pretty handsomely.

$0.50 Pick Five: Race #9

R9: 5
R10: 2,3,6,7,10
R11: 2,9
R12: 2,4,7,10
R13: 4,5

80 bets, $40

This is another instance where I feel the need to give out a Pick Five ticket, since there’s a single in the opening leg. That’s Whitmore, who was profiled above. Having said that, you may want to play both the Pick Five and the Pick Four, as the all-stakes Pick Four boasts a guaranteed pool of $2 million.

The Gallorette (Race #10) and the Dixie (Race #12) are both wide-open races. The favorites may not be much more than 3-1 or 7/2 in either spot, which, combined with guaranteed pools, makes for a VERY juicy sequence. The 11th is the Sir Barton, and while Hedge Fund merits respect, my top pick is Time to Travel, who adds Lasix and John Velazquez in his second start for trainer Michael Matz.

We end with the Preakness, and I’m using the two logicals on my Pick Five ticket. However, the course of action I’d recommend, if you’re playing both tickets, is to single whoever your top choice is in the Preakness so you can spread further in some of the other races in the sequence. Want to hit the “ALL” button in either the Gallorette or the Dixie to be safe, or add a few horses into the Sir Barton? Do that. There’s still substantial overlap between your tickets to where you could hit both. It’s all a matter of picking the right horse in the second leg of the Triple Crown. No pressure!