CHAMPAGNE’S CAMPAIGNS: The Value of Fan Education, And a Tweet Gone Horribly Wrong

This past Saturday, I spent some time at Oak Tree Pleasanton. The folks there invited me to help out with a handicapping seminar, and I had a blast going through the card and offering my thoughts on the day’s races. It apparently went well, as I shook a few hands afterwards and heard from people who enjoyed it.

I’ve always dug doing that kind of stuff, especially when it leads to people potentially making some money (I’m proud to report my top picks went 5 for 10 with a $2.96 ROI, so there was plenty of room for profit). Given how many of us were introduced to the game (being taken to the track by a parent, or a friend, or another family member), I think it’s the responsibility of those in the game to either bring someone to the track or take the time to explain what’s going on.

All of this serves as a preface to the since-deleted tweet that sent the handicapping section of horse racing Twitter into a frenzy Wednesday morning.

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I’m going to try to frame this as delicately as possible, for any number of reasons. On a fundamental level, the content of this tweet is as wrong as wrong can be, and pretty much everyone who responded to it said as much. This is as good a time as any to cue the Richard Dreyfuss line from “Let It Ride.”

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Thanks, Danny!

Racetracks are based on two main sources of income: Owners who buy and race their horses, and gamblers who bet on them. All of this funds the tracks, which put up purse money. Without either part of that one-two punch, tracks are doomed to fail. Saying betting will ruin the sport goes against lots of established logic, because the truth is that large-scale racing could not survive without it.

If people aren’t betting, racing cannot thrive. The question isn’t just, “How do we get racing fans to the track, or to an ADW?” The second question, which is just as important, is, “How do we provide a foundation for new fans to bet with some degree of confidence once they decide to invest their money?”

One of my longtime friends dating back to my two summers in the Saratoga press box is Tom Amello, a longtime handicapper who prides himself on fan education. He did a seminar at the racing Hall of Fame prior to the 2013 meet, and he did a great job of keeping things simple and relatable. His concepts centered around the odds board and four basic types of fields that can assemble in a given race, and it came across as something simple enough for new fans to understand.

Tom knows what he’s talking about, and he’s got a lot of valid points. The problem isn’t that people are betting too much and losing sight of the other stuff. The problem is, in many ways, the exact opposite. It can be intimidating for new fans to come to the races and not have a clue what they’re looking at or how to make money.

One of the things I try to do with my DRF Formulator Angle segments, which more often than not go against likely favorites, is explain why I’m going against the grain. While much of my analysis is grounded in the numbers Formulator provides, a fair part of it deals with various parts of the form that can be spelled out. Every horseplayer has angles they’re partial to. If what I do helps one person find an angle that works for them and the way they’re comfortable wagering, that’s a win. If that person uses that angle to cash a ticket, that’s an even bigger victory.

Racing does a good job of spreading the glamorous reasons to go to the track. Having said that, what are we doing once they get there so that they keep coming back, and not just for Instagram photos? Sorry, folks: Photos in fancy outfits don’t keep the sport going. Cold, hard cash at the betting windows? That’s a different story.

(Important note: If I turn up missing in the next few days, chances are that paragraph is why!)

I attempt to bridge the information gap every day when handling DRF’s social media platforms. My goal is to make the people who see our content more aware of what’s going on so that they can consume it in the most productive way possible. Hopefully, what I’m doing is bringing content to the attention of fans who will be enriched by it. The rule of thumb I’ve always abided by is that smarter fans are better fans. If smarter fans are compelled to do more to be invested in our game (whether that’s gambling on the races or raising awareness of them), then I’ve done my job effectively.

Speaking from that experience, I think there’s more we could be doing to be more welcoming to newer fans with money to burn, and if you’re taking the time to read this, you’re part of the solution. Making new fans that are inclined to gamble is of paramount importance, and that’s something we need to do given the likelihood of legalized sports betting in the near future.

If racing does not put up a fight, the sport stands to lose significant revenue to its organized sports betting cousins that don’t have this problem. Why would a group of people bet on something they don’t understand when they’ve been watching sports their entire lives and can form justifiable opinions on them without much effort?

Contrary to a tweet that went viral Wednesday morning, we DO need gambling money, possibly now more than ever. Sharing the game and knowledge within it with someone who could benefit from it is the single most productive thing one can do.

If you’ve got insight, share it. If you’ve got advice and new players can stand to benefit from it, help them out. You were there once, and someone helped you understand what was going on. It’s your duty to return the favor, so that there’s a game for us to enjoy in the years to come.

CHAMPAGNE’S CAMPAIGNS: 2018 Kentucky Derby Morning Line

I have a tremendous amount of respect for morning line makers. They have one of the most thankless jobs in all of racing. Nobody congratulates them when they correctly peg the way the public bets a race, but when they get a favorite wrong in a big race, out come the Twitter barbarians.

I’m guilty of criticizing morning lines, but it’s my view that, if you’re going to do that, you need to be prepared to make your own attempt at it. It’s not an easy thing to do, especially in races with large fields. Not only do you need to accurately gauge how gamblers will play it, but it needs to mathematically check out with a point total between 115 and 125 points (for an explanation on odds lines and point values for certain values, click here).

With all of this in mind, I’m going to take a stab at a Kentucky Derby morning line. Mine comes out to 124.2 points, which just barely checks out from a math standpoint. One disclaimer before we dive in: This is not an indication of the way I will analyze the race, nor an indication of which horse I will pick. This is my guess at the way the public will bet the race, and on that note, let’s take a look!

THE FAVORITE

Justify: 4-1

Justify will almost certainly be favored. His three races this year have all been impressive victories, including his Santa Anita Derby score over Bolt d’Oro. There’s a chance he goes off lower than this, but I couldn’t make a morning line that checked out mathematically with him lower than 4-1 (late defections could, of course, change this).

THE EASTERN JUSTIFY

Magnum Moon: 6-1

Like Justify, Magnum Moon will look to defy the Apollo Curse on the first Saturday in May. He didn’t race as a 2-year-old, but he’s 4-for-4 this year, with runaway wins in the Arkansas Derby and Rebel. The way he drifted out in his most recent start is a bit of a concern, but ultimately, I think he’s the most likely second choice.

THE OTHER MAIN CONTENDERS

Audible: 8-1
Mendelssohn: 8-1

Audible has only run twice this year, but both of those starts have been visually-impressive wins in Florida. The Todd Pletcher trainee showed versatility in the Florida Derby, when he rated well off of an insane early pace and made a big move. Meanwhile, Mendelssohn crushed an overmatched group in the UAE Derby and has shipped to the States successfully before. He’s Beholder’s younger half-brother, and while Aidan O’Brien has not won this race before, few conditioners in the world are better than he is.

WAIT, THEY’RE DOUBLE DIGITS?

Bolt d’Oro: 10-1
Good Magic: 10-1

If I had told you, in November, that these two horses would be double-digits on the Kentucky Derby morning line, you probably wouldn’t have believed me. However, Bolt d’Oro was second to Justify in the Santa Anita Derby, and while Good Magic won the Blue Grass, memories of his dud in the Fountain of Youth could be fresh in the minds of horseplayers. It’s possible either or both of these horses come down a point or two, but I couldn’t put them below my projected top four.

IS THE WOOD STILL A MARQUEE DERBY PREP?

Vino Rosso: 15-1

First of all, can the tradition-first stalwarts among us begrudgingly admit that the graded stakes committee made the right call downgrading the Wood a few years ago? OK, good. Anyway, Vino Rosso finally took a long-awaited step forward in that race, and despite having to sweat out an inquiry/objection, he has the look of a horse that could be moving forward. He’s got a substantial distance to close on the divisional leaders, but the presence of trainer Todd Pletcher and his recent victory ensure that he won’t be an outrageous price.

THE “WISE-GUY” HORSES

Hofburg: 20-1
Noble Indy: 20-1
Quip: 20-1
Solomini: 20-1

Each of these horses has angles to like. Hofburg is still eligible for a non-winners-of-one allowance, but he ran second in the Florida Derby, which doubled as just his third career start. Noble Indy may be Todd Pletcher’s fourth-best 3-year-old, but he showed grit in taking the Louisiana Derby. Quip won the Tampa Bay Derby and was a game second behind Magnum Moon. Finally, Solomini hasn’t crossed the wire first since the Los Alamitos Futurity (which featured a controversial disqualification), but he’s trained by Bob Baffert and has a running style that hints the added distance of the Derby won’t be a problem. If you ask 10 handicappers their opinions of this race, chances are at least one or two of them will bring up one of these horses as a threat to hit the board at a nice number.

GOOD, JUST NOT THIS GOOD (AND A FANCY NAME)

Enticed: 30-1
Flameaway: 30-1
Gronkowski: 30-1
My Boy Jack: 30-1
Promises Fulfilled: 30-1

We’ll get to Gronkowski in a minute. The other four have all won races on the road to the Kentucky Derby, but they seem outclassed by the best of the best in this spot. One or two of them may drift down a few points (most likely hard-trying Flameaway and/or late-runner My Boy Jack), but I felt more comfortable putting them here than anywhere else.

Meanwhile, Gronkowski earned a spot in the starting gate thanks to success in Europe. By any conceivable measure, he’s outclassed in this spot, and on ability alone, he should be 50-1. However, I think he’ll get plenty of money from once-a-year bettors and those betting based on name. That meant I couldn’t put him with my last group, which is below.

UP AGAINST IT

Bravazo: 50-1
Firenze Fire: 50-1
Free Drop Billy: 50-1
Lone Sailor: 50-1

Bravazo and Free Drop Billy may drift down a few points, but when Magnum Moon moved forward enough to be my clear second choice, I had to drop them from 30-1 to 50-1 on my line for it to mathematically check out. Meanwhile, Lone Sailor hasn’t won in a while, and Firenze Fire will almost certainly be the longest shot on the board given his apparent distance limitations.

ALSO-ELIGIBLES

Combatant: 30-1
Restoring Hope: 30-1
All Others: 50-1

Of the horses on the outside looking in, only Combatant and Restoring Hope strike me as anything other than hopeless longshots. Combatant (21st on the list) has had some rough racing luck and could come running late, while Restoring Hope (26th) is a Bob Baffert trainee, which alone is likely enough to move some money. None of the others seem logical, and if those horses get in, they’ll be 50-1 on my line (and other horses will likely come down in price if I have enough wiggle room to do that).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2018 NCAA Tournament: First Round Analysis/Plays

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

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

THURSDAY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FRIDAY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saratoga Race Course Analysis, Selections, and Bankroll: 7/22/17

BANKROLL

BANKROLL: $980

Not many brilliant 2-year-olds win Grade 1 races as 5-year-olds. Lady Eli has done that, all after overcoming laminitis. She headlines a renewal of the Grade 1 Diana that’s short on quantity, but not on quality. It’s also drawn fellow Grade 1 winners Antonoe and Dickinson, among others, and if Lady Eli continues conquering such fields this summer and fall, it may be time to start discussing her Hall of Fame credentials.

FRIDAY’S RESULTS: Victory to Victory faded and Dream Dancing never fired, so our doubles fizzled out and we dropped $20.

SATURDAY’S PLAY: I’ve got much more confidence in the early part of today’s card than in the later races, so I’ll play a 50-cent early Pick Four (contingent on turf races staying there). I’ll use #1 DADDY’S HOME and #9 MINISTER’S STRIKE in the second, single #5 UNTAMED DOMAIN in the third, press the “ALL” button in the fourth, and finish with #3 TAP DADDY, #4 SPORTING CHANCE, and #8 MACHISMO in the fifth.

TOTAL WAGERED: $21

ANALYSIS/SELECTIONS

Best Bet: Untamed Domain, Race #3
Longshot: End Play, Race #7

R1

Marshall Plan
Mr. Crow
Adulation

MARSHALL PLAN: Has run two sharp races behind stakes-quality 3-year-olds and may have found a softer spot here. The horse to his inside has potential, but based on his body of work, this one’s the one to beat; MR. CROW: Was a close-up second in his debut, where he outran his 11-1 odds and was credited with a solid 89 Beyer Speed Figure. The July 8th bullet seems to indicate he’s continued to develop since that performance; ADULATION: Has been away since November but ran against several stakes-quality horses as a 2-year-old. He may need a race, but he fits based on last season’s form.

R2

Sheep Pond entry
Minister’s Strike
Prize Fight

DADDY’S HOME: Was an impressive debut winner two back, but misfired against much better last month downstate. A return to two turns should help him, and these waters aren’t nearly as deep; MINISTER’S STRIKE: Has spent his entire season to date in stakes company and takes a much-needed class drop here. Both of his wins have come going two turns on turf; PRIZE FIGHT: Lost all chance last out and was in too deep two back in the Grade 2 Penn Mile. His form from earlier this season in Florida would be good enough for a piece of this. DIRT SELECTIONS: CURTIS, ESCAPE VELOCITY, HONOR THY FATHER.

R3

Untamed Domain
Pete Marwick
Another

UNTAMED DOMAIN: Is bred up and down to go long on turf, and he had plenty of traffic trouble in his debut. He came flying late that day, and the addition of Lasix is a major plus; PETE MARWICK: Has three starts of experience and tries turf for the first time. His pedigree says he could take to it, and he nearly graduated two back downstate; ANOTHER: May need a race, but has the pedigree to be a good one. His dam is a half-sister of Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner I’ll Have Another, and the July 4th work on the Oklahoma track was very sharp. DIRT SELECTIONS: PETE MARWICK, PLETCHER ENTRY, HONORABLE TREASURE.

R4

Voluntario
Shuffle Up
Alex the Terror

VOLUNTARIO: Was outclassed two back in the Grade 3 General George and likely needed his last race, which came off a substantial layoff. He drops in for a tag and seems well-meant in a race that, to this writer, was a mess to handicap; SHUFFLE UP: Won two in a row by daylight at Aqueduct before misfiring last out at Belmont. He’s got plenty of early zip and could be tough to catch if left alone early on; ALEX THE TERROR: Disappointed first off the claim, but ran a strong race at seven furlongs three back against much better. This is another who may be helped by the drop in class he gets in this spot.

R5

Machismo
Tap Daddy
Sporting Chance

MACHISMO: Fetched $500k at auction last year and has been working like a very good horse ahead of his debut. This isn’t an easy spot, but if this one runs to his potential, he could be a buzz horse moving forward; TAP DADDY: Hails from a barn that doesn’t usually work horses quickly, which makes several of his drills very interesting. He’s bred to go much longer than this, but all indications are that there’s plenty of talent here; SPORTING CHANCE: Did very little wrong when second in his debut last month at Churchill Downs. He was well clear of the third-place finisher, but that field may have been weaker than what he faces here.

R6

Born for a Storm
Gucci Factor
Fleet Irish

BORN FOR A STORM: Comes off a nine-month layoff, but ran two very strong races here last year. He’s been working well here ahead of his 4-year-old debut, and Brown and Castellano have won plenty of races together; GUCCI FACTOR: Ran off the screen in his seasonal debut last month at Belmont, winning by 16 lengths and appearing to have more in reserve. This is a much tougher spot, but he may have figured things out in a big way; FLEET IRISH: Hasn’t won since his debut last November, but this distance hits him between the eyes, and he’d benefit from an early speed duel, which could happen given the huge field signed on.

R7

Still Krz (MTO)
End Play
Partly Mocha

END PLAY: Comes in off a win downstate and is ridden back by Luis Saez, who’s been aboard for all three of his career victories. He ran well here twice a season ago, and 8-1 is a square price for a horse that appears to be in peak form; PARTLY MOCHA: Has been running against some of the top turf sprinters in the country and should certainly appreciate the shallower waters this race provides. The post position isn’t ideal, but he should be running well late; EVACUATION: Was thought of highly enough by his previous connections that they tried Group 1 company down under last year. He makes his North American debut for Wesley Ward and has attracted jockey John Velazquez. DIRT SELECTIONS: STILL KRZ, BOLITA BOYZ, LUNA DE LOCO.

R8

Annie Rocks (MTO)
Gioia Stella
Pricedtoperfection

GIOIA STELLA: Assuredly needed her 2017 debut after the layoff and wasn’t helped by that race being moved off the turf. Her two-turn turf efforts are among the best races of her career, and she gets such a route here; PRICEDTOPERFECTION: Makes her first start for a new barn and will be seen in the afternoon for the first time since September. Her back class is considerable, and she’ll be a major player if she’s ready to run; STELLA ROSE: Was third in a high-level allowance in her 2017 bow and won here a season ago. She’s run up against some high-quality horses, and this is a logical spot. DIRT SELECTIONS: ANNIE ROCKS, JOSEPHINE’S MOMENT, BROWSE.

R9

Direct Dial
Admiral Jimmy
Baffin

DIRECT DIAL: Did the dirty work in the Tremont, setting very fast fractions. He still hung on for second money that day, and he figures to be the main speed in a renewal of the historic Sanford; ADMIRAL JIMMY: Was nosed by my top selection in the Tremont and showed an ability to rate off the pace in that performance. He’d benefit from a fast pace, which could materialize; BAFFIN: Was never threatened in a sharp debut victory at Churchill Downs. It’s curious that Steve Asmussen (Direct Dial’s trainer) also enters this one here when there are ample 2-year-old races around the country.

R10

Lady Eli
Antonoe
Dickinson

LADY ELI: Won a scorching renewal of the Grade 1 Gamely at Santa Anita in May and appears to be as sharp as ever. She’s aided here by what appears to be a lack of early speed, and it wouldn’t be surprising if she led early on; ANTONOE: Flew home to capture the Grade 1 Just A Game and improve to 2-for-2 in North America. This race shape may not set up as well for her, but she’s certainly talented enough to continue her winning ways; DICKINSON: Was herded in the Just A Game, but likely wasn’t beating Antonoe that day. She did, however, top Lady Eli on the square two back, and she’s another who could be forwardly-placed.

R11

Doyouknowsomething (MTO)
Souperfast
Blarp

SOUPERFAST: Was impressive downstate in his last appearance and was claimed out of that race by David Jacobson. Many in this field may prefer one turns to this two-turn route, but he’s shown to be equally effective at either configuration; BLARP: Had a world of trouble when last seen and returns to a turf course he’s won on in the past. He has ample back class and should improve with a better trip; MILLS: Was third behind my top pick in his last outing and has since joined the Rudy Rodriguez barn. He’s one of the best on the circuit with new acquisitions, so improvement wouldn’t be a surprise. DIRT SELECTIONS: DOYOUKNOWSOMETHING, CARVE, MILLS.