CHAMPAGNE’S CAMPAIGNS: Justify, The Triple Crown, And a Realist Hoping He’s Wrong

Few fans of this game want a Triple Crown more than I do. Four times between 2003 and 2014, I went to Belmont Park begging for a coronation, and four times, I left dejected.

Funny Cide left his race on the training track several days before the race and was no match for Empire Maker, a horse who may as well have been typed into the “Belmont winners” table on Wikipedia the moment Toussaud was bred to Unbridled. Smarty Jones was the victim of something that most closely resembled an ambush, one that makes this handicapper do a double-take whenever a certain jockey-turned-commentator criticizes a ride. California Chrome was stepped on coming out of the gate, but quietly ran a gigantic race in defeat. He looked like a winner up until mid-stretch, when the Cal-Bred That Could finally ran out of gas after taking the sport on the first of two wild rides he’d orchestrate. Big Brown…well, we’ll never really know what happened there, and that proved to be the first domino to fall in one of the most fascinating stories in horse racing history (this Deadspin article is required reading).

I say all of this as a preface to a statement I don’t want to make. It’s one that goes against every fiber of my being as a racing fan, which every turf writer and broadcaster still is at heart. If the below statement is wrong, I will gladly endure the mocking on Twitter that I openly spurn most of the time.

Here goes. Inhale…exhale…Justify will not win the Triple Crown.

(ducks to avoid an onslaught of tomatoes, detached chair legs, and anything else that isn’t nailed down)

Can I come up now and explain myself? OK, good.

What Justify has done to this point in his career is nothing short of phenomenal. It isn’t just that he defied the Curse of Apollo, and it’s not just that he went on to add the Preakness Stakes this past Saturday. In less than 100 days, Justify has gone from an unraced prospect to the biggest name in horse racing, winning five starts in an era where top-level horses often need that 100-day period between races for such cardinal sins as running second or third in a Grade 1.

In this era of racing, horses do not do what Justify has done over the past three-plus months. Gone are the days where 3-year-olds would run six to eight times at two, and then have four or five starts before the Triple Crown on top of that. Present-day horses are bred to be “brilliant,” often being sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars based on “breezes” of one furlong long before they’ve fully matured.

Amidst this environment, Justify has won five races, three of the Grade 1 variety and two designated as American classics. That he has done so makes him an exceptional thoroughbred. That he has done so in slightly longer than it took Phileas Fogg to circumnavigate the globe in Jules Verne’s classic novel, “Around the World in Eighty Days,” puts him in different air than even the best horses we’ve seen in recent racing history.

That journey also makes him appear very vulnerable heading into the 2018 Belmont Stakes.

The obvious reason for not being high on Justify was his run in the Preakness, where he held off Bravazo and Tenfold to win by a rapidly-diminishing half-length. Yes, he had to match strides with the talented Good Magic early, but he did so through reasonable fractions over a very fast track. Those splits were significantly slower than the ones he endured two weeks earlier, and while the final time was sharp (a shade below 1:56 for the 1 3/16-mile distance), it’s worth pointing out, yet again, that the sloppy track consistently produced fast times all day long.

Justify earned a 97 Beyer Speed Figure Saturday, a significant regression from the 103 he earned in the Kentucky Derby (which, itself, was a slight decrease from the 107 number he was given for his win in the Santa Anita Derby). A 97 Beyer Speed Figure may not be enough in three weeks against a field that figures to include several horses freshened up since the Kentucky Derby. The likes of Hofburg, Vino Rosso, and fellow WinStar Farm charge Audible could all be waiting for another shot at Justify, and after Saturday’s step back, it’s tough to say there’s any reason for any of those colts not to try again. Bravazo and Tenfold are nice horses, but Bravazo was a distant sixth in the Kentucky Derby, and Tenfold didn’t even qualify to run in that event.

Furthermore, the Belmont Stakes will be Justify’s sixth race in less than four months. On its own, that’s daunting enough. Consider this, though: Justify will be running in that race, contested at the grueling distance of 1 1/2 miles, after barely holding on over second-tier 3-year-olds going five-sixteenths of a mile shorter, all with a picture-perfect trip. There are times where you can safely assume the Belmont distance won’t be a problem for a horse. This isn’t one of those instances.

One of my best friends in the game is Joe Nevills, and prior to the Kentucky Derby, he did a piece on the average winning distances of each Derby sire. Scat Daddy ranked eighth of 14 sires, with an AWD of just under seven furlongs. Meanwhile, Tapit, who has sired the last two Belmont winners and figures to be represented by Hofburg in this year’s renewal, was second on that list, and Curlin (the sire of Vino Rosso) checked in third. On its own, it’s not necessarily a damning statistic, but given what we saw Saturday and the trials and tribulations that come with running five times since mid-February, there are serious questions about whether this undefeated star can go 12 furlongs.

I would love nothing more than to be wrong about all of this. If Justify reveals himself as a superhorse and gallops home like fellow Bob Baffert trainee American Pharoah did three years ago, that’s just fine with me. Racing needs stars, and it needs them to run consistently over long periods of time. I say this next statement without a shred of hyperbole or exaggeration: If Justify was to pull off a sweep of the Triple Crown races after being an unraced maiden less than four months prior to the Belmont, it would be one of the greatest stories in the history of the game.

Unfortunately, what I saw Saturday at the end of the Preakness wasn’t a horse being eased to the wire like one with plenty in reserve. Mike Smith’s subtle easing of Justify as he came to the wire struck me as a move made to save a few drops of gas for another taxing race in three weeks, one where the competition figures to be considerably tougher (even with the likely absence of Good Magic in mind). As a fan, I crave a Secretariat-like performance, one that puts him in horse racing’s highest pantheon of four-legged immortals that boasts a gate opened just once in the past 40 years.

As a handicapper? I don’t think it’s happening.

Analysis, Selections, and Tickets: Belmont Park (10/28/17)

I really like Saturday’s card at Belmont Park. The stakes races later in the day feature strong fields, most notably the Grade 3 Bold Ruler, which reads moreso like a somewhat-light Grade 1 given the entrants contesting the race. I’ve got a pair of multi-race exotics tickets for your consideration, and I’ll dissect them next!

$0.50 Pick Five: Race #1

R1: 1,2,5,7
R2: 2,3,4
R3: 3
R4: 2,6
R5: 5,6,8,12 (11)

96 Bets, $48

I found the Pick Five sequence absolutely fascinating. My lone single is no huge favorite, and if we’re able to get this ticket home, it could give us plenty of bullets to fire during the Breeders’ Cup next weekend.

I needed to spread in the opener, a 10-furlong maiden race on the turf with no clear favorite. Similarly, I had no real convictions about the second leg, a $20,000 claimer going 6 ½ furlongs on the main track. #2 GAMBLER’S GHOST will be dangerous if left alone on the front end, but he’s done his best running at Monmouth, not Belmont, and sometimes that form doesn’t translate. With that in mind, I needed to use fellow logical horses #3 SARATOGA WILDCAT and #4 SET THE TRAPPE, the latter of whom is returning to his appropriate class level after finding starter allowance company too strong last time out.

My single comes in the third, a turf sprint for state-bred maidens. I really like #3 THROW THE DEUCE, who ran very well in his debut two back. They tried to stretch him out last time, and he didn’t have the best of trips that day. A return to sprinting should suit him, this field seems a bit soft for the level, and Joel Rosario climbing back aboard is a big plus. He’s 7/2 on the morning line, and given the big field signed on, we may get that price.

I’m two-deep in the fourth. #2 MIDNIGHT CELLO drops down sharply off the claim by David Jacobson, but he’s won regularly with these runners in the past. In case that one isn’t ready to fire, I’ll also use #6 POINT HOPE, who romped at this level two back and returns to it after finishing third in a starter allowance at Saratoga.

I’m four-deep to finish things off, and if you’ve got deeper pockets, there’s another you may want to consider. This is a maiden race for 2-year-olds going a mile on the turf, and while #5 BLOCKADE and #8 CONGRUITY will take money, I didn’t think either was a cinch. I’ll also use #6 WITCH DOCTOR and #12 THUNDER MESA (the latter of whom finished a half-length behind Congruity last time out and is way too big a price on the morning line). If you have the money, or if one of those horses scratches, don’t sleep on #11 FAST BOAT. He’s bred up and down for turf (by City Zip, out of a Lemon Drop Kid mare), and a few of his workouts hint that this Robert Evans homebred may have some talent.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #7

R7: 7
R8: 3,7
R9: 1,5,7,9,10,11
R10: 1,6,7,9

48 Bets, $24

Right off the bat, we’ve got a single that makes me nervous. The kickoff leg is the Grade 3 Athenia, and your favorite, #7 OFF LIMITS, is a horse I chased for most of 2016. Fittingly, right as I put her on my “never again” list, she turned a corner, winning three of four to this point in 2017 and earning a 105 Beyer Speed Figure in her Grade 3 Noble Damsel score. A repeat of that race, or even something close to it, would make her very tough, and if she doesn’t win, I don’t know who does. It’s a “hold your nose” single, but a single nevertheless.

The eighth is the Grade 3 Turnback the Alarm, and I thought this was a two-horse race. #3 MISS SKY WARRIOR is very good when she’s right, and the recent workouts indicate she may be in peak form. I’ll also use #7 ESKENFORMONEY, who gets a bit of class relief in this spot after chasing Forever Unbridled and Elate in her last two starts. If you want to pick one and single, I get it, but thanks to my single in the opening leg, I can cover my bases and use both.

The ninth is the Grade 3 Bold Ruler, and there are plenty of fun horses in here. #9 SEYMOURDINI returns off a long layoff, #7 STALLWALKIN’ DUDE has won 19 of 57 career starts, and both figure to take money. However, I want coverage, and I’ll get it with several value plays. #1 TALE OF S’AVALL may get plenty of pace to set up his late kick, #5 TOMMY MACHO has chased some of the top sprinters and milers around for most of the year, #10 MR. CROW was less than 3-1 in the Grade 1 Vosburgh and could be sitting on a bounce-back effort, and #11 DIVINING ROD was second in the Grade 2 Kelso and good enough to win this on his best day. Got enough storylines here? It’s a tremendous race, and kudos to the folks in the NYRA racing office for attracting so much talent (including several horses that wouldn’t be totally out of place at next weekend’s Breeders’ Cup).

We’ll close out the card with the Awad for 2-year-olds on turf. #6 WAR CHEST did something very few Shug McGaughey trainees do, which is win at first asking. He’ll likely be favored, and he could win, but watch the fifth carefully. If Congruity and Thunder Mesa don’t run well, his stock takes a hit. I’m four-deep here, and my top pick is a price. #9 DEVINE ENTRY wants as much distance as possible and stretches out past a sprint distance for the first time. He’s by Point of Entry, who did his best work at marathon distances, and Jose Ortiz getting the mount could signal that this improving colt is sitting on a big one. Given the solid form and likely price (he’s 8-1 on the morning line), I think he’s a must-use, and hopefully, he wins the payoff leg of the late Pick Four and keys a nice score for us!

Analysis, Selections, and Tickets: Belmont and Keeneland (10/21/17)

We’re two weeks away from the Breeders’ Cup, and Saturday’s cards at Belmont and Keeneland provide ample opportunities to build one’s bankroll. Belmont has a showcase day for New York-breds, while Keeneland’s slate is headlined by the Grade 2 Raven Run. I’ve got a pair of multi-race exotics tickets at each track, and I’ll analyze them below!

BELMONT PARK

$0.50 Pick Five: Race #1

R1: 2,3,4,7
R2: 4
R3: 1,3,6
R4: 3,5,8
R5: 3,4

72 Bets, $36

We start off with what I think is the most wide-open race of the sequence. #7 APPEALING BRIEFS will probably be favored, but he’s 0-for-9 and has had many chances. I want coverage, and I’ll get it with three horses towards the inside. I’m most intrigued by #3 GRAND VALOUR, who never had a chance last time out given the early fractions and should improve with a faster pace.

My single comes in the second, which doubles as the first stakes race of the day. This is the Maid of the Mist, and I think #4 PURE SILVER will be very difficult to beat. She was 3-for-3 before getting into a suicidal speed duel with eventual Grade 1 Frizette winner Separationofpowers in the Spinaway. She’s clearly the fastest horse out of the gate, and if she gets an easy lead, she’ll be tough to run down.

I’m using the three logical horses in the Iroquois. #6 COZZY SPRING was the last horse I threw into the wager, simply because I needed to be covered in case she proves quickest out of the gate. I’m also going to use the two likely betting favorites in the Ticonderoga. #5 FIFTY FIVE gets significant class relief, and #8 TIZZELLE has never run a bad race, but I also want to make sure I use #3 BROKEN BORDER. She’s won four of her last five starts, all at Belmont, and her lone defeat came in a two-turn race against open company that did not set up for her late kick. 12-1 is way too big a price, especially if there’s a pace meltdown.

I’ll hope to close this out by going two-deep in the payoff leg, the Empire Classic. #3 TWISTED TOM will likely be favored and should probably win, but #4 CONTROL GROUP has won three in a row and will be prominent early in a race that doesn’t appear to have much early speed.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #8

R8: 3,8
R9: 2,5,7
R10: 1,4,5,6,8
R11: 3,8,9

90 Bets, $45

To say this sequence isn’t easy would be an understatement. I usually don’t like to put $45 tickets out there, and this ticket doesn’t have a single, but if you’re playing it, this is how I’d advise doing so.

I’ll kick it off by using the two likely choices in the Hudson. #8 T LOVES A FIGHT and #3 WEEKEND HIDEAWAY ran 1-2 in an allowance two back in Saratoga, and those two appear toughest in this spot. If you’ve got deeper pockets, you may want to throw in #5 CELTIC CHAOS, but I didn’t have the budget to do so.

I’ll go three-deep in the Mohawk. #5 OFFERING PLAN and #7 BLACK TIDE will take money, but I also need to use #2 NEVISIAN SKY, a stablemate of Offering Plan who should be flying late. He’ll be a much bigger price compared to that one, and Black Tide’s presence assures a legitimate pace.

I’m five-deep in the Empire Distaff, and this is the most puzzling race in a very puzzling sequence. Two longshots intrigue me in a race where I’m not sold on any of the favorites. #5 NO HAYNE NO GAYNE took a big step forward in her first start off a layoff earlier this month, while #6 BONITA BIANCA loves Belmont and has never run a bad race. Both are 10-1 and provide real value.

Finally, I’ll go three-deep to finish it out. #9 LULU’S POM POM was the victim of, shall we say, a questionable DQ last time out at Saratoga. She likely wins with a similar effort, but two intriguing prices merit consideration. #3 COSMOISELLE is a first-time starter bred up and down for the turf, while #8 SPA TREATMENT has run OK in two turf sprints and maintains rider Javier Castellano.

KEENELAND

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #2

R2: 1,8
R3: 1,5,7
R4: 5,7
R5: 1,2,5,10,11

60 Bets, $30

I found this sequence pretty challenging, especially given the payoff leg. With a little luck, we’ll get a price home along the way to make this pay a bit.

I’m going two-deep in the kickoff leg. #1 JEANNE’S SPEIGHT makes her first start for new trainer Robertino Diodoro, while #8 HONOR’S PARADE was claimed last out by Tom Amoss, who cuts this daughter of Parading back to a sprint (which should be a more agreeable route).

The third is a tough optional claimer with several stakes-quality horses. My top pick is #7 CONQUEST WINDYCITY due to his affinity for Keeneland, but his recent form indicates he may be headed the wrong way. As such, I’ll also use likely favorite #5 SEEKING THE SOUL and #1 SOCIETY BEAU, who returns to dirt and was an impressive allowance winner here in the spring.

The fourth features the shortest price in the sequence. #7 KIRBY’S PENNY has won four of her last five and will be a heavy favorite. I’m using her, but this spot represents a sizable step up in class, and I don’t think she’s a cinch. #5 CHINA GROVE, meanwhile, drops in class after spending most of her career knocking heads with stakes-quality opposition. She won a stakes race at this distance earlier in the year, and trainer Ben Colebrook has enjoyed a strong meet to this point.

We finish things off with a grass grab bag, and I needed to spread here. The most intriguing price of the five I used (to me, at least) is #2 MOUNTAIN MOMMA, who’s shown ample early speed in three starts at Arlington. Keeneland’s turf course is kind to early speed in route races, and Florent Geroux’s ridden very well here this fall. Having said that, while I think she’s a must-use at her 8-1 price, she’s certainly not a standout, and my advice is to go as deep as you can.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #7

R7: 2,7 (9)
R8: 2,3,9,13,14
R9: 3,4,7,9
R10: 4,5

80 Bets, $40*

See that asterisk? That’s because my ticket, as constructed, uses two also-eligibles in the second leg. If one or both fails to draw in, or if they draw in because one or two of my other three horses in that leg scratches, add #9 AMERICA’S TALE in the first leg.

That first leg is a confounding maiden race. I took a bit of a stand by going two-deep, and one horse I used is a big price. #7 ELUSIVE TRUTH ran well in her debut and should step forward, but #2 PRINCESSOF THE NYL outran her odds when third at 45-1 in her unveiling last month. Jack Van Berg has saddled a few winners this meet, and 15-1 seems like too big a price on a well-meant second-time starter from that barn.

The eighth is a turf sprint, and the key to this ticket’s construction is if the AE’s draw in. I think both #13 EILA and #14 MONAVISTA CROSSING are contenders, and if they get into the race, I need to have them on my ticket. I’ll also use three logical contenders. #2 CHERRY LODGE has speed, #3 SPELLKER won at this route in the spring, and #9 SMILING CAUSEWAY has never finished out of the exacta in five career starts.

The third leg is the Grade 2 Raven Run, and I’m four-deep, with my top pick being a big price. That’s #3 PINCH HIT, who has shown versatility in a strong 2017 campaign. She won the Dogwood last time out at this distance, and it’s a plus that she can win while rating or while being on or close to the lead. I’ll also use #4 NONNA MELA, #7 TEQUILITA, and #9 CLASSY TUNE, all of whom will take some play at the windows.

I’ll go two-deep to finish off the ticket. #4 FREEDOM seems like the lone speed on paper, and over a course that’s kind to such a running style, that’s a big plus. I’ll also use #5 HALLIE BELLE, who came off the bench running last time out at Laurel. She’s run pretty well in two career starts, and Saturday could be graduation day with another step forward.

Belmont Park and Santa Anita Analysis, Selections, and Tickets: 9/30/17

We’re just five weeks away from the 2017 Breeders’ Cup, and while many trainers have opted to rest their stars ahead of the event, Saturday’s cards at Belmont and Santa Anita are packed with great racing and prime wagering opportunities. I’ve got a pair of multi-race exotics tickets at each track, and the likely payoffs are such that, even if only one hits, we’ll likely still be looking at a winning day.

One note before we kick off the analysis: I’ve set up a feedback survey for those who visit the site. Simply put, I want to know more about what you expect from a content perspective, as well as what you like/don’t like and your thoughts on a few additional bells and whistles I’m thinking about adding. It’s my goal to turn this site into a resource for players, and hopefully, I’ve at least taken steps towards that point. The survey is here, and it only takes a few minutes. If you have the time to fill it out, I’d appreciate it greatly.

Now, let’s get down to business!

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BELMONT PARK

$0.50 Pick Five: Race #1

R1: 2,7
R2: 4,6,9
R3: 2,4
R4: 2,3,5,7,8
R5: 3

60 Bets, $30

We’ll kick things off with a real puzzler. The opener is a $40,000 maiden claimer, and many of these horses just haven’t done much running. #2 VALDOCCO ran well a few times earlier this year against straight maidens, but that was at Gulfstream, and he’s been away a long time. I used him, but my top pick is #7 RIVER DEEP, who’s shown speed against better horses in the past and attracts John Velazquez. I’m taking a stand against #5 WHY GOD, who may go off lower than his 7/2 morning line due to his connections. Yes, this trainer/jockey combination merits respect, but the workouts at Monmouth are slow, the pedigree indicates that he wants much longer than seven furlongs, and (per DRF Formulator) Chad Brown is 0-for-his last-11 (and 1-for-his-last-21) with first-time starters in maiden claimers.

The second race is a turf sprint, and this is another race where you can go in many different directions. I can’t tell you who’ll be favored, but my top selection is #6 ABBOT, whose lone bad races on turf have come both directly before and directly after a one-year layoff. Joel Rosario hops aboard, and he’s ridden very well to this point in the meet. I’ll also use #4 LONE TRADER, who simply went too far last time out, and #9 SALLISAW, who is bred up and down for turf and has been gelded ahead of his return for a barn that’s done excellent work in turf sprints of late.

I’m using two of the logical contenders in the third race. Both #2 BIBLICAL and #4 ROAD TO MEATH debuted at Saratoga and could improve at second asking for top-notch barns. If I were to use another in here, it would probably be #8 FIRST WARRIOR. He’s bred to be a good one, has worked well since his debut (which he may have needed), and the odds disparity between this one and stablemate #6 AVERY ISLAND will likely be bigger than it should. However, while I may throw that one into a few vertical exotics wagers, I’ll stick with the first two on my Pick Five ticket.

The fourth is a fun turf race, and while I’m using the likely favorite (#3 FUNTASTIC), I didn’t think he was anywhere close to a lock. He did have trouble in his first start against winners, but I didn’t think he beat much two back. I’m most intrigued by the two outside horses. #8 LUNAIRE actually beat Funtastic last time out and has run up against horses like Bricks and Mortar and Frostmourne. He’s my top pick, and I also think you can make a real case for #7 HELLO HOLIDAY, who returns to his favorite turf course and gets Luis Saez. Finally, #2 VIA EGNATIA’s last race is a complete throw-out (he’s a turf horse, not a dirt horse, and running into eventual Allen Jerkens runner-up Takaful didn’t help), and #5 SOGLIO has been gelded since his last start and is another with significant back class.

We’ll finish with a fifth-race single, and probably the shortest price in the sequence. That’s #3 FAVORABLE OUTCOME, who has yet to run a bad race on dirt. He hasn’t been seen since a win in the Grade 2 Swale in February, but he’s been working very well ahead of his return, and anywhere close to his prior dirt efforts would likely beat this group.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #7

R7: 1,4,6
R8: 5,7,8
R9: 1
R10: 1,3,4,5,6,8,9,10

72 Bets, $36

Yes, I’m singling Elate in the Grade 1 Beldame, but I think this ticket could still pay handsomely. A large reason for that comes in the first leg, the Grade 1 Vosburgh, where I’ll first focus on the two horses I’m NOT using.

#2 EL DEAL made me look good with a runaway win in the Grade 1 Vanderbilt at Saratoga. He’s 3-for-3 since going to the Jorge Navarro barn, and he’s yet to really be tested. However, he’s lining up against plenty of horses with top-end early zip. #3 GREEN GRATTO, #4 TAKAFUL, and possibly #5 MR. CROW will make sure El Deal doesn’t get an easy lead. At his likely short price, given his one-dimensional running style and opposition he’ll face out of the gate, I have to try to beat him. Meanwhile, Mr. Crow takes a huge step up after two runaway wins at Saratoga. Yes, his two 100+ Beyer Speed Figures are big, but this is a sizable test for a horse with just three starts under his belt. Additionally, who, precisely, has he beaten in his wins, and what excuse did he have in his debut?

I’m three-deep here, and while I’ll use Takaful (who figures to benefit from a return to six furlongs), my top pick is #1 STALLWALKIN’ DUDE. He was way too close to the pace in the Forego, and that was just 15 days after a winning effort in an overnight stakes. He ran two strong races at Belmont earlier this year and should get an ideal setup. Another candidate for an ideal setup is #6 CELTIC CHAOS, who I’m throwing on my ticket in case multiple riders of speed horses get crazy and duel each other into submission. This horse may not appear good enough on speed figures, but if any horse benefits from the likely race shape, it’s this deep closer, and I have to have him on my ticket.

The second leg is the Grade 3 Pilgrim for 2-year-olds on the turf. #5 VOTING CONTROL was ultra-impressive in his debut win, which came earlier this meet. Chad Brown’s horses tend to improve at second asking, and such a step forward would make him the one to beat. However, I’m also keen on #8 EVALUATOR, who lost all chance in the With Anticipation following a horrible start, and solely for pace reasons, I’m also using #7 LOOKING READY. He flopped at Finger Lakes, and that’s concerning, but his pedigree is all-turf (by More Than Ready, out of a Giant’s Causeway mare), and he figures to be the main speed here. If he gets comfortable under Irad Ortiz, he may be the one they have to run down turning for home.

As mentioned, #1 ELATE is a single for me in the Grade 1 Beldame. She’s the typical Bill Mott filly that gets better and better as the year goes along, and her win in the Alabama was as impressive as any East Coast-based female horse has turned in this year. She’s helped in this spot, of course, by the lack of a star older filly or mare to run against her. #5 MONEY’SONCHARLOTTE has been managed brilliantly this year by Kelly Breen, but she’s been beating up on far lesser company. She’ll likely get her Grade 1 placing here, and a cold 1-5 exacta may not be a bad play, but I can’t see her beating Elate without monumental improvement.

We finish off the card with the Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, and as you can see by my ticket, I think this race could go MANY different directions. I used all but three horses (two of which are Naipaul Chatterpaul-trained longshots, with the other being #7 CHANNEL MAKER, who takes a big step up after two races in the Canadian Triple Crown). #3 OSCAR PERFORMANCE could establish himself as a real Eclipse Award candidate with a win over older horses, but this distance is new to him, and this is a tough field. Many horses exit either the Arlington Million (won by #5 BEACH PATROL) or the Sword Dancer (won by #4 SADLER’S JOY), and don’t sleep on #10 THE GREY GATSBY, who makes his North American debut in search of firm ground for a trainer that can win with a European shipper. It’s a fascinating race, and you’ll likely get a square price on whichever horse you like. Hopefully, we’ll be alive to a nice score!

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SANTA ANITA

$0.50 Pick Five: Race #1

R1: ALL
R2: 2
R3: 6,10
R4: 1,5,8,11
R5: 4

96 Bets, $48

If you want to take my last four races and punch the early Pick Four instead, I get it. That’s a $4 wager for a 50-cent increment, and you can play it multiple times for a reasonable investment. However, given the 15% takeout on the Pick Five and the high likelihood of a big price in the first race, this is the ticket I’m putting out.

I do not have a clue in the Saturday opener. This is a maiden race for 2-year-olds going long on the turf, and many of these horses are stepping onto the lawn for the first time. #10 PUBILIUS SYRUS is the morning line favorite and could win, but the last-out stakes race set up perfectly for him, and he did not have an excuse two back against similar company. With so many horses that boast great turf pedigrees, I’m punching the “ALL” button, using all 12 horses, and hoping we get a bomb home (along with, perhaps, a scratch or two to cut down on the cost of the ticket!).

The second race features a horse I’ve got some conviction about. I’m of the belief that #2 SUPREME VENTURE was one of many Peter Miller horses that just did not like Del Mar. Additionally, he was between horses most of the way, which isn’t an easy thing for a fairly-inexperienced horse to deal with. His race here two back against much better was quite good, as was his debut, which came before a long layoff (and yes, his first race back after that is a throw-out). #7 BOLSTER is favored after a romp last time out, but that was against lesser foes and came over a racetrack playing very kind to early speed. I’ll take a stand with Supreme Venture.

The third is another 2-year-old race, and I’ll use the two logical horses. #6 INSTILLED REGARD just missed behind American Pharoah’s little brother in his debut and likely learned a lot from that effort given the slow break. I’m also using #10 MOURINHO, who fetched $625K at auction earlier this year and has been working lights-out for trainer Bob Baffert. If you’re looking for a price underneath, #11 SECULAR NATION may want more ground, but his second dam, Ready’s Gal, was Grade 1-placed as a 2-year-old, and offspring of Distorted Humor can certainly run well at first asking.

The fourth race is probably a second division of the opener, since the conditions are identical. This one was not easy, but I was at least able to narrow it down a little. #1 CHOO CHOO is bred up and down for turf, and certainly not for a sprint at Los Alamitos, so he should improve here. #5 BIG BUZZ and #8 PITCHING have both been chasing Encumbered, a quality turf horse we’ll see later on Saturday in the FrontRunner. Finally, #11 RESTRAINEDVENGEANCE didn’t do anything wrong in his debut, which came in a turf sprint. Val Brinkerhoff has gotten this one recently, and she does great work with new acquisitions. Per DRF Formulator, she’s 6-for-27 with such horses over the past three years (22%), with six additional in-the-money finishes (44%) and a solid ROI ($2.69).

We’ll finish this sequence with a single in Santa Anita’s first Grade 1 of the day. This is the Zenyatta, and I’m giving #4 PARADISE WOODS one more shot. She was awful in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks at 6/5, and she lost all chance at the break in her return at Del Mar last month. However, she’s fired nothing but bullets since coming back to Santa Anita, and much like with Elate in the Beldame, there aren’t any heavy hitters lining up against her. #1 FAITHFULLY does merit respect, but on Paradise Woods’s best day, I don’t think she can run with her.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #8

R8: 1,4,8
R9: 7,8,10
R10: 5,6,8
R11: 3,5,11

81 Bets, $40.50

This is an all-stakes Pick Four with plenty of potential to pay big. I’m three-deep in each leg, and while some of the likely favorites merit respect, I certainly don’t think any are standouts to be afraid to go against.

The Grade 1 FrontRunner kicks this sequence off, and I’m not getting cute. #4 BOLT D’ORO may be the best 2-year-old male in the country, and he’s bred to love this route. If there’s any hesitation here, it’s because he had a picture-perfect trip rating well behind a hot pace in the Del Mar Futurity. #1 ZATTER ran a great race being so close to that pace, so I have to use him here, and I’m also using the other Bob Baffert trainee, #8 SOLOMINI. He and the runner-up were well clear of the rest of the field in his debut, and he’s bred up and down to go as long as possible.

The second leg is the Grade 1 Rodeo Drive, and there appears to be a metric ton of early speed signed on. As such, I want closers, and all three horses I used should be flying late. #10 GOODYEARFORROSES has been very good this season and has enough tactical speed to get first run turning for home. She’s probably the horse to beat, but both #7 BEAU RECALL and #8 DECKED OUT stand to benefit from the likely race shape. The former just missed in the Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks, and that result may give us some value here (she’s 8-1 ML, but would probably be considerably shorter had she gotten her nose down). Meanwhile, Decked Out may want more give in the ground than she’ll get, but she likely needed her last-out effort and returns to the site of her greatest triumph, which came in the Grade 1 American Oaks.

The third leg is the Grade 1 Awesome Again. #8 CUPID may be the shortest price in this sequence, and he’s probably the one to beat. Having said that, Cupid’s trainer, Bob Baffert, also saddles #6 MUBTAAHIJ, who has been working very well of late. That’s a curious entry, so I’m not as scared of Cupid as I would’ve been had Baffert solely entered him. Additionally, #5 BREAKING LUCKY hasn’t won in a while, but he’s had the bad luck of chasing Gun Runner in each of his last two starts. With all due respect to Cupid, this may be a softer spot, and given the way he’s been training at Woodbine, I think he’s got a big shot beneath Mike Smith.

The payoff leg is the Unzip Me, and this may be the toughest race of the sequence. I took the approach of preferring horses with success on the downhill turf course, and I also threw in one returning to the turf. #3 KENDA and #5 STORM THE HILL both exit the Del Mar Oaks, but both have also run well at this unique configuration in the past and could improve coming back to it. Also, #11 MISS SOUTHERN MISS’s layoff concerns me, but her lone prior turf effort was too good to ignore. She beat some talented fillies in last year’s Surfer Girl, and there should be plenty of speed for her to rate off of in here before being asked for her late kick. Kent Desormeaux riding for his brother is another good sign.

Belmont Park Analysis, Selections, and Tickets: 9/9/17 (PLUS: Saratoga stats/recap)

It’s opening weekend at Belmont Park, and Saturday’s card is a good one. There are 10 races on the program, and I’ve got a pair of multi-race tickets that I’m putting online. I think there’s plenty of potential for a few prices throughout the card, and hopefully, we can connect the dots. If we do, chances are we’ll get paid!

$0.50 Pick Five

R1: ALL
R2: 9,10
R3: 1,5
R4: 2,5,6
R5: 1

84 Bets, $42

This is a bit more expensive than I’d like, and if you want to downsize to an early Pick Four or a smaller Pick Five ticket, that’s just fine. My listed ticket would make for an $6 Pick Four that starts in the second leg, so I get that logic. However, the first race is wide-open, and if we get a price home there, it could set the tone for a big payday. I’m hitting the “ALL” button there, and I’ll narrow things down elsewhere.

I’ll go with Triangulate and Devine Entry in the second, and I think both could improve in their second lifetime starts. I’ll also go two-deep in the third. Portfolio Manager makes his first start for new trainer Danny Gargan, while Conquest Sure Shot woke up in his first race on dirt last time out and may have wanted this surface all along.

I’m using three in the fourth, and while two are logicals, I’m also throwing in Indimaaj, who is bred to go a distance of ground and faded following a speed duel in his unveiling. That brings me to my single, which comes in the payoff leg. I loved Kahrumana’s last race, where she set a pretty fast pace yet hung on to finish a close-up third. There’s some speed signed on here, but she seems like the quickest of the quick, and I think the rail draw is a big plus.

$0.50 Pick Four

R7: 2,3,11,12
R8: 3
R9: 3,4,7,8,9
R10: 2,10,11

60 Bets, $30

The makeup of my ticket changed considerably when Far From Over scratched out of the eighth. He would’ve been a heavy favorite, and I’m left with a single in a four-horse field. Anyway, I’m using a price in the opening leg. Itsinthestars, Treatherlikestar, and High Jingo are all logical and will be bet, but I need to use Rock Ave. Road as well. She ran some solid races here earlier in the year, and the rider switch to Joel Rosario is colossal. She ran behind a few of these at Saratoga, but I think she’ll improve with the change in scenery.

The eighth is the Saturday feature, the Seattle Slew. Conquest Windycity seems like the lone speed in a small field, and I think he’ll be very tough. The ninth, though, is much tougher. I went five-deep, and I hope that’s enough. If Camelot Kitten is right second off the layoff, he probably wins, but there’s also the possibility he just hasn’t improved from age three to age four, so I want coverage.

I’ll go three-deep to close things out. Mineralogy scratched, and that opens up the field a bit. Tu Exageres was eased last time out at Saratoga, but he’s my top pick. That one didn’t do much wrong in three starts before that, and I’m willing to give him another chance. I’ll also use Peculiar Sensation and Real Creel in an attempt to close things out.

– – – – –

OK, time for some stats before we go. Saratoga was a big meet for me in a number of ways. I put up a LOT of content on this website, and I was very curious as to the audience it reached.

I’d like to extend a special thank you to those who read and shared my stuff, because the analytics surpassed my wildest expectations. My website, and the content that was housed on it, received approximately 12,000 views from mid-July through Labor Day.

I started this website in large part because there were certain things I’d been permitted to do with a previous employer that I was stopped from doing about six months ago. I’ve never intended to make any money from this website (note that I’m not charging for picks or content!). This serves the purpose of scratching the writing/handicapping itch, while also giving people a handy reference point to find out more about me. I never once thought I’d ever reach THAT many people, and I’m floored that I did. Once again: THANK YOU.

Admittedly, a large part of that traffic was probably due to the fact that I had a very good meet. I wound up as the leading print handicapper at Saratoga, which is one of the greatest honors I will ever earn in my chosen field (not to mention validation for a chip I’ve had on my shoulder for six months!). My projected winners won 128 of 400 races where I had at least one top-three runner left after scratches, which is an even 32% clip.

Even is a good word in another sense. My father and I dove into the numbers, and we both concluded that, if you had bet $2 on every one of my top selections to win throughout the meet, you’d have, yep, broken even. In gambler’s terms, my $2 ROI was $2, which is pretty incredible considering I handicapped and provided selections for every single race, including ones where I didn’t necessarily have a strong opinion.

I’ll be back in 10 months to defend my title, and hopefully, next year’s meet goes as smoothly as the one before it did!