INTERLUDE: Gimmick Andrew, the Kentucky Derby, and horse racing insanity

We find Normal Andrew in his absurdly-overpriced Northern California apartment, mulling over the events of the strangest day in the history of horse racing Twitter. It’s quiet.

Too quiet…until music familiar to wrestling fans of a certain age blares from the parking garage next door.

Suddenly, we see the familiar flair and panache of Gimmick Andrew strut right through the front door and past Elliot the fearsome attack cat. Unlike past run-ins, this time, Gimmick Andrew is clad in a freshly-tailored suit, walking with a newfound spring in his step in time with “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase’s theme music, and speaking when marked in bold.

“Is the music really necessary? And the suit? And…is that a cane?”

“Everyone else is doing stupid things with no ramifications for their actions. Why not me?”

Both Andrews judgmentally look at a nonexistent camera for a few seconds, a stretch of time that feels like an eternity.

“You know what you need to do?”

“Write something that’ll go over the head of 90% of my audience but hit the other 10% square between the eyes?”

“…other than that.”

“Ask when you’re refunding the money you won on Derby Day?”

“Nobody’s going to make either of us feel guilty about hitting the race. I won’t allow it. All the naysayers can come take my Kentucky Derby winnings from our cold, dead hands, like Charlton Heston and his guns.”

“Credit where it’s due. We had Medina Spirit and gave out winning wagering strategies on every platform…”

“So why shouldn’t I be celebrating?”

“Read the room, dude. It’s not exactly a celebratory time.”

“What? Trainers cheating in horse racing comes as a shock?”

“Not quite. It’s moreso the fact that we’ve got so few chances to get things right as an industry and can’t do it. Then, when stuff happens, we have no uniform response because jurisdictions can’t work together.”

“Did I hear right that Baffert’s blaming a groom for urinating in a stall?”

“Yep. He’s also blaming ‘cancel culture.’”

“How is ‘cancel culture’ at fault with regard to a drug test? His horse tested positive. He’s either got a drugged-up horse or the testing system is flawed.”

“I wrote that.”

“Well, one or the other clearly has to change.”

“I wrote that, too. Read the site.”

“Sorry. I spent all day getting my suit worked on. It’s like an Italian sports car. Gotta get it fitted just right.”

“Whatever. It’s just sad.”

“Why do you feel that way?”

A pause.

“Don’t get all clammy on me. I’m your subconscious. If you can’t tell me, who CAN you tell?”

“I’ve given a lot to this game. A lot of passion, a lot of gambling money, a lot of time spent creating content. Now, everybody’s got an opinion, everyone thinks their opinion’s the only one that counts, and whether you’re being logical or not, and whether you have any credibility or not, isn’t worth a damn.”

“Welcome to Twitter.”

“It’s never been like this, though. Monday was unprecedented. Horse racing really can’t get out of its own way.”

“Then why do you care so much?”

“That’s why I paused. Between this situation, how it’s being handled by everybody, and the general disrespect being shown by everyone towards everyone else, it’s the first time I haven’t been proud to be part of the racing community. I just…wish there was room for some logic, somewhere, ANYWHERE.”

“You wish there was room for you.”

“…you don’t pull punches.”

“What good would I be if I did?”

“You want to fire up the CM Punk pipe bomb, or should I?”

“Go ahead.”

“Hey, WordPress isn’t allowing me to post a link to the spot in the video.”

“Tell them to scroll to 4:14.”

“Better now?”

“A little. There’s so much wrong that I want to change, except I can’t change it. Being passionate is almost a negative nowadays.”

“You wrote about that a few years ago.”

“Nothing’s changed. The people angriest about this situation may not be the connections involved in the Kentucky Derby. It’s the fans, the bettors, the people the sport cannot function without yet sometimes completely takes for granted and fails to appreciate.”

“You mean the people that groom from Claiborne went after?”

“I’m not touching that with a 10-foot pole.”

“You’re no fun.”

“Anyway, it really stinks to be passionate about something when a perfect storm of horrible things comes together and threatens to destroy it.”

“You’re not going to quit betting, are you?”

“No, why?”

“Because if you did, I’d say, ‘see you tomorrow,’ which is literally the only possible retort against an attention-seeking person who resorts to that.”

Normal Andrew smiles.

“I’ll give you that. But what do you do when the thing you love very much seems hell-bent on destroying itself and doesn’t much care what you think about it?”

“You be yourself. In your case, it means being the very best you can be, doing things very few other people can do as well as you can, and hoping that one day, it’ll be enough for…well, whatever it is you’re chasing.”

“What am I chasing?”

“It seems like a moving target. But if it’s meant to be, you’ll hit it. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m double-parked outside.”

“You bought a car?”

“Yeah! Brand new Camaro.”

“How’d you afford that?”

“What I made on Medina Spirit pales in comparison to what I made buying Dogecoin.”

Medina Spirit, the Kentucky Derby, and two important words

A long time ago, I composed a 50-point plan to improve horse racing’s future prospects. One of the most important ones was also probably the simplest one on the list. It was two words, and comprised a philosophy that racing had yet to embrace at that time.

“Optics matter.”

You know why I’m writing this column. It was announced Sunday morning that Medina Spirit, the winner of the 2021 Kentucky Derby, tested positive for a banned substance. We’re now playing the waiting game as a split sample gets tested. If that comes back positive as well, we’ll see just the second medication-based disqualification in Derby history.

When trainer Bob Baffert was reached for comment on the situation, he denied giving Medina Spirit the illegal substance.

“I don’t know what is going on in racing right now but there is something not right,” he said to reporters Sunday. “I don’t feel embarrassed, I feel like I was wronged.”

This is consistent with his responses to situations involving top-tier horses such as Justify, Gamine, and Charlatan, among others, all of whom tested positive and have largely had those situations swept under the rug. In the latter two cases, the Arkansas Racing Commission recently overturned rulings made by its own stewards and reinstated victories for those two horses. Justify, meanwhile, tested positive for scopolamine following the 2018 Santa Anita Derby, but was not disqualified, either immediately after the test results came in or after lengthy legal proceedings stemming from a lawsuit filed by Bolt d’Oro’s owner/trainer, Mick Ruis.

I’m not a vet. If you’re looking for a detailed analysis of the substance Medina Spirit tested positive for, you’re going to need to look elsewhere. What I am is a lifelong racing fan, a handicapper since I was in middle school (for better or for worse), and someone with a career in marketing and communications that can provide some insight into how this will go over with the people racing needs in order to survive.

Spoiler alert: It’s not going over well.

Many in racing want the sport to be mainstream, as it was many years ago. As Alicia Hughes, a friend of mine and one of the best writers in the game, continually points out, this means an acceptance of criticism and coverage that is good, bad, and indifferent. Right now, what we have are a bunch of people who are very angry, for legitimate reasons.

Those who bet Mandaloun, who ran his eyeballs out to be second and tested clean, feel robbed. Those who took to social media to complain after the Derby, either because they didn’t use a 12-1 Bob Baffert trainee in a race he’d won six times before last weekend or because they genuinely felt something was afoot, have all the ammo they need to say the game is crooked (though cries of “I’M NEVER BETTING AGAIN” from those who shove the GDP of a developing nation through the windows or ADW’s will always come across as hollow and/or ego-driven).

How does any of this help racing draw the new fans it desperately needs? How has racing’s continued inability to effectively police itself in any way, shape, or form helped ensure a place for itself moving forward? And when will people who have the ability to make decisions that impact the sport moving forward realize trainers constantly complaining about being wronged are taking lessons from the Taylor Swift School of Spin, where nothing bad is ever their fault?

The answers: It doesn’t, it doesn’t, and they won’t, at least not without significant prompting to do so.

It took the FBI moving in for Jorge Navarro and Jason Servis to be run off the racetrack. In Navarro’s case, he had a rap sheet as long as Giannis Antetokounmpo’s arm but continually received mere slaps on the wrist as he took bottom-level claimers and turned them into stakes winners. All the while, bettors had an idea of what was going on, bet money accordingly, and watched as racing took no significant action despite enough smoke to indicate a giant wildfire.

At a time when perception is everything, it seems racing is deliberately choosing not to be proactive. In combating the issue of race-day medication, the sport decided to phase out Lasix, a substance designed to stop horses from bleeding. While Lasix may be A problem, the Medina Spirit situation shows it was not THE problem. Add in that horses may need Lasix to run at the sport’s highest level due to the way horses are bred in 2021, and that several of those top-tier equine athletes have bled during races, and anyone who’s watching closely knows significantly more work is needed in order to ensure any consistency and integrity moving forward.

If Medina Spirit’s split sample comes back negative, I hope it’s a stimulus for the complete and total rebuild of post-race testing from coast to coast. I don’t care what it costs, nor what the hurdles are in instituting a nationwide system where all results can be trusted. If we can’t get this right when the entire world is watching, who’s to say we’re getting this right when it isn’t?

If Medina Spirit’s split sample comes back positive, I hope it’s a stimulus for a new era of stricter sanctions for trainers who cheat. Horses run for millions of dollars, and paltry fines that amount to change “supertrainers” might find between their couch cushions means the usual punishment doesn’t come close to fitting the crime. Meaningful fines and suspensions, ones that shut the door for assistants to step in as program trainers and allow a “business as usual” mentality, are long past due.

Optics matter. And if for horse racing doesn’t apply those two words to this situation on a national level, it casts doubt on if the sport ever will in a meaningful way.

Keeneland Analysis and Selections: 4/7/19

Best Bet: Kimari, Race 1
Longshot: Roan Like the Wind, Race 4

R1

Kimari
Palace Duchess
Secretly Wicked

#5 KIMARI: Fetched $152,000 at auction last summer and has worked well for 2-year-old maestro Wesley Ward. That gate drill, in particular, jumps off the page, and I highly doubt she’ll be as high as her 5/2 morning line; #10 PALACE DUCHESS: Is the other Ward trainee, and she runs for owner/Triple Crown-winning jockey Steve Cauthen. She’s from the first crop of Palace, and it’ll be interesting to see if his offspring can run; #7 SECRETLY WICKED: Turned in a strong four-furlong move a few days ago and gets Jose Ortiz for her unveiling. She may want a bit longer, but there’s reason to suspect this one can run a bit.

R2

Unstabled
Peekacho
Strut the Ring

#8 UNSTABLED: Romped at Turfway last time out, but may be even better on conventional dirt. He won two in a row over that surface late last year and could sit a perfect stalking trip; #7 PEEKACHO: Has won two of his last three and may be in peak form. He may be better on synthetic surfaces, but he did run an OK second at a similar route at Churchill last year; #4 STRUT THE RING: Settled for second in an off-the-turf event last time out at Fair Grounds. He won his other dirt route start earlier this year and may go off favored.

R3

Exult
Bar Harbor
Life Mission

#14 EXULT: Needs some luck to draw in, but merits respect if he does. He’s run well twice at Gulfstream, including a second behind a next-out winner last time out; #12 BAR HARBOR: Closed very well to be second in his debut for a barn whose debuting runners often need a race to get going. The post isn’t ideal, but a step forward will make him tough to beat; #6 LIFE MISSION: Ran well in several stakes races last year, but makes his 2019 debut off of a layoff. There’s a chance he’s simply better than this group, but if there’s a time to go against him, it’s here.

R4

Roan Like the Wind
Grove Daddy
Musical Man

#10 ROAN LIKE THE WIND: Hasn’t run in a while, but has shown early zip against better fields than what he’ll line up against here. Speed has been good at Keeneland, and I think he could lead them a long way at a nice price; #2 GROVE DADDY: Drops in for a tag for the first time and cuts back to one turn. His debut here last fall wasn’t bad, and the class relief should be a big help; #7 MUSICAL MAN: Generally runs the same race every time out and was an OK second against state-breds last month at Fair Grounds. His one-turn efforts haven’t been bad, and his versatility is a plus.

R5

Combination
My Sixth Sense
Mr. Ankeny

#5 COMBINATION: Adds blinkers on the ship-in from Gulfstream, where he’s run pretty well against some solid sprinters. The recent workouts are strong, and this barn is likely riding high after Imprimis’s win Saturday in the Shakertown; #7 MY SIXTH SENSE: Makes his seasonal debut off a considerable layoff, but he’s been working steadily and showed some zip as a 2-year-old. This sharp barn may have him ready to go here; #9 MR. ANKENY: Likely needed his 2019 bow and almost certainly will not be his 15-1 morning line price off of just one bad effort. His connections thought enough of him to try last year’s Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity, and this one-turn route should suit him better.

R6

Kulin Rock
Daddy’s Cozy
Battle of Memphis

#6 KULIN ROCK: Gets a tepid nod in a very difficult turf race. It’s tough to get too excited about a 1-for-13 entrant, but he was a very good third in the Grade 2 Mac Diarmida and could be in career-best form for Mike Maker; #8 DADDY’S COZY: Stands to be forwardly-placed at a big price off of a race he likely needed. Early speed isn’t too prevalent in this field, and recent workouts indicate he’s primed for a big one second off the bench; #7 BATTLE OF MEMPHIS: Graduated last time out at Gulfstream and faces winners for the first time. He hasn’t done much wrong to this point and could be ready for a step up.

R7

Mother Mother
Feedback
Queen of Beas

#2 MOTHER MOTHER: Comes east for Bob Baffert and, in doing so, gets away from Bellafina. Her main opposition is no joke, but this seems like the perfect spot for her, especially given her win in Kentucky last fall; #8 FEEDBACK: Scratched from the Grade 1 Ashland to run here and drew a cozy outside post. She has every right to move forward off of her most recent start and certainly merits respect; #3 QUEEN OF BEAS: Has won two in a row at Gulfstream and gets a class test here. Jose Ortiz stays aboard, and her two-back Beyer Speed Figure of 92 is the highest such number in the field.

R8

Regal Glory
Clause
Princesa Carolina

#9 REGAL GLORY: Won two in a row before finishing second in the Grade 3 Sweetest Chant at Gulfstream. That was her first route start, and she has every right to improve here for Chad Brown, who holds a very powerful hand here; #1 CLAUSE: Debuted with a smashing performance where she rallied from nine lengths back to prevail. The rail isn’t always the best post for a deep closer, but a clean trip would make her tough; #5 PRINCESA CAROLINA: Was second in the Grade 3 Herecomesthebride at Gulfstream despite rating behind a very slow pace. The faster they go early, the better this filly will like it.

R9

Bandon Woods
Runnin’ Ray
Passion Play

#9 BANDON WOODS: Gets a tepid nod in a finale that can best be described as befuddling. He showed some speed in his debut and has every right to relish the added distance he’ll get here; #1 RUNNIN’ RAY: Debuted with a solid second in the mud at Fair Grounds and is bred to go longer. He’s by Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense, and Joe Sharp trainees tend to improve with experience; #12 PASSION PLAY: Drew a horrible post, but has every right to improve off of his recent dud at Oaklawn. That may have been a bounce off of a strong race two back, where he was a tough-luck second behind a next-out winner.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– – – – –

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

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

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #1

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

40 Bets, $20

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

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

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

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

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

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #7

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

Screen Shot 2019-03-14 at 11.56.06 PM

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

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

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

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

Analysis, Selections, and Tickets: Santa Anita Opening Day (12/26/18)

Greetings from 35,000 feet! I’m typing this from my flight back west, and the six-hour duration has left me plenty of time to analyze Wednesday’s Opening Day festivities at Santa Anita.

It’s a season of change at The Great Race Place. There’s a new announcer, a new racing secretary, and the lawsuit involving several members of the Stronach family looms large. Having said that, the Opening Day card is an excellent one that boasts plenty of wagering opportunities. I’ve got a pair of Pick Four tickets, and I think the large field sizes could ensure sizable payouts even if heavy favorites win a leg or two.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #2

R2: 2,3,5,6
R3: 7
R4: 3,7
R5: 1,6,8,9,10

40 Bets, $20

I wanted to put together an early Pick Five ticket. Having said that, I found the opener to be completely impossible, and from a betting standpoint, I want no part of it.

I’ll focus on the early Pick Four, which starts in the second. This is a claiming event for 3-year-old fillies, and I’m going four-deep to start. Of the three horses likely to take money, I most prefer #5 CHATTY, who takes a big drop in class and has shown an ability to rate a bit (which could come in handy in a race with lots of speed signed on). However, I also need to use #2 EMPRESS OF LUV, who improved in her first start for new trainer Andrew Lerner. Her form looks considerably better if you toss her Del Mar races, and I think 12-1 is a sizable overlay.

I can’t, however, get as cute in the third. This is a starter allowance, and I really like #7 I AM THE DANGER, who has not run a bad race since being claimed by Doug O’Neill earlier this year. This doesn’t seem like the strongest race for the level, and a repeat of the two-back race against similar foes would make him pretty tough to beat. He’s the 5/2 morning line favorite, and I’ll happily place a win bet if he’s that price come post time.

The fourth is the Lady of Shamrock Stakes for fillies going a mile on the grass. I’m going against morning line favorite #1 AMANDINE, who will likely take a lot of money based on her lone American start. She was impressive, but that race fell apart, and I don’t think she’ll get a similar setup. Instead, I’ll take the 2-3 finishers from October’s Grade 3 Autumn Miss, #3 MS BAD BEHAVIOR and #7 STREAK OF LUCK. I’m a believer in that race, and both fillies seem to be in career-best form.

Many may single #9 SCALPER in the fifth. He fetched $850,000 at auction earlier this year and has been working very well for Bob Baffert, and if he’s 7/2 come post time, I’ll eat your hat. Having said that, this seems like a solid group, and I need security in case he needs a race. Of the ones that have run before, I prefer #6 MO MISSISSIPPI, who seems in line to take a step forward for a trainer whose horses often need a race to get going. However, #8 ALLEVA cuts back from a route to a sprint, which is often very useful in a race with many first-time starters. 12-1 seems like too big a price, and in a race with a bunch of horses that haven’t run before, I need to have him on my ticket.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #7

R7: 5
R8: 2,3,7
R9: 3,9,12,13
R10: 1,4,5,6,10,11

72 Bets, $36

If you want to make this a Pick Five and single #5 DREAM TREE in the sixth (the Grade 1 La Brea), go right ahead. Personally, I don’t like the late Pick Five due to the increased takeout rate when compared to the early wager, and starting with back-to-back singles makes me a little nervous.

Instead, I’ll play a Pick Four, which is likely to draw a substantial pool. The seventh is the Grade 2 Mathis Brothers Mile, and I find it very hard to go against #5 RIVER BOYNE. He’s never lost at Santa Anita, and was a half-length away from becoming a Grade 1 winner in the Hollywood Derby at Del Mar. There’s plenty of speed to set up for his late kick, and his usual effort would beat these.

The eighth is the Grade 2 San Antonio, and despite a dearth of talent in the handicap division at this point in the year, this wound up being a very interesting race. #2 BATTLE OF MIDWAY and #3 DABSTER battled each other for nine furlongs in the Grade 3 Native Diver, and I need to use them both. However, I’m also using SoCal newcomer #7 GIFT BOX, who’s been working lights-out of late for trainer John Sadler. There’s a chance he’s best going one turn, but he should benefit from the early pace scenario, and if he runs to the work tab, he may be the one they have to hold off turning for home.

The ninth is the Grade 1 Malibu, and there’s a chance #13 MCKINZIE is simply better than his competition in here. I’m using him, but in the event he misfires on the cutback in distance, I’ve got plenty of coverage. I’ve always been a fan of #3 COPPER BULLET, and I was happy to see him come back running last month at Churchill Downs. This seems like the perfect spot for him, as well as the other two horses I have on my ticket. #9 AX MAN looked like a world-beater at times earlier this year and may be rounding back into form, while #12 KANTHAKA has never lost going seven furlongs and fired a recent bullet here at Santa Anita.

I’m six-deep in the finale, and I’m honestly not sure if that’s deep enough. #4 ACKER has won two in a row and may be in career-best form, but he’s no cinch. In fact, I think #5 TROJAN SPIRIT had a legitimate excuse when second to Acker last time out after a rough start. My six-horse spread also includes two big prices. #10 ICY STREET and #11 TAKI’S CHOICE have run competitive races on figures in the past, and I’m most interested in the latter. I think he needed the race last time out after a very long layoff, and trainer Phil D’Amato’s numbers with similar stock are strong. If we’re alive and he wins, it could make for a tidy score.