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.

2018 BREEDERS’ CUP: Saturday Analysis, Selections, Betting Strategies, and Tickets

The 2018 Breeders’ Cup is upon us. While Friday’s program features races for 2-year-olds, Saturday’s slate focuses on older horses, and is headlined by the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic. World-class horses like Enable, Monomoy Girl, Abel Tasman, Accelerate, and others will be in action, and each race brings with it plenty of potential to make some money.

If you didn’t see my write-up of Friday’s card, it’s available here. This will follow the same template, as I’ll give A, B, and C horses, expound with some analysis, and provide tips for betting each individual race on a $20ish budget. At the end, I’ll dive into the multi-race exotics sequences and offer a few tickets for wagers that are likely to boast pools of several million dollars.

It’s a great betting program, and there’s a lot to decipher, so let’s get to it!

BREEDERS’ CUP FILLY AND MARE SPRINT

A’s: 13
B’s: 5,10
C’s: 8,11,14

We’ll start off the day with a favorite that seems very imposing on paper, for a variety of different reasons. It’s not exciting, and starting off with an 8/5 shot that will likely drift down towards even money won’t win me any awards for bravery, but #13 MARLEY’S FREEDOM seems much the best and should be bet as such.

Let’s approach this from a variety of different angles. Marley’s Freedom has won four in a row, and in that stretch, she hasn’t seriously been tested. Bob Baffert has her in career-best form, and the recent bullet workout indicates she’s fully loaded for this race. Furthermore, there appears to be a lot of speed signed on, and that should set up for this one’s closing kick. The outside draw is cushy, and while it wouldn’t necessarily be shocking if she lost, it would be a mild surprise.

If Marley’s Freedom doesn’t win, I don’t have a clue who does. I’m taking the stand that the race sets up for a closer, and because of that, my two B horses are ones that don’t need the lead. #5 GOLDEN MISCHIEF has won three in a row and turned in a very strong workout on Sunday (the best of 113 at the distance), while #10 HIGHWAY STAR is a closer that would benefit from the likely pace scenario. That one seems a cut below my top two choices, but if they go :44 for the opening half-mile, Jose Ortiz will be smiling widely aboard this consistent mare.

Two of my C horses are speed horses that need a lot to go right, but could hang on for a share. #8 MIA MISCHIEF has finished worse than second just once in 10 career starts, while #11 FINLEY’SLUCKYCHARM loves Churchill Downs and may have bounced last time out. Having said that, both need the lead to run their best, and the latter has misfired twice in her last three outings. I’ll also lightly use 20-1 shot #14 SHAMROCK ROSE, who capitalized when the Grade 2 Raven Run fell apart. The quick turnaround isn’t ideal, but she could get that race shape again, and if you’re playing tri’s and supers, she may be worth throwing on the bottom rungs of those wagers.

Betting on a Budget

I’ll key the chalk on top of my two B horses in exactas. Ideally, I’d like to key Marley’s Freedom in doubles, but the Turf Sprint is an absolute mess, so I’m trying to steer far clear of it.

$10 exactas: 13 with 5,10 ($20)

BREEDERS’ CUP TURF SPRINT

A’s: 14
B’s: 7,9,10
C’s: 2,4,5

Good freaking luck, folks! I found the Turf Sprint to be the toughest race of the entire Breeders’ Cup program, and there’s a real chance that I’m passing this race if the tote board isn’t displaying odds I like on my top choice.

I hate the post position #14 CONQUEST TSUNAMI drew, but he certainly looks like the controlling speed in this race. #11 WORLD OF TROUBLE has speed, to be sure, but Conquest Tsunami is lightning quick and cuts back to a distance that should be more to his liking. His only poor race for trainer Peter Miller was going much further than he wanted to, and if he can clear the field (which I think he can), I think he’s got a big, big shot.

If he doesn’t clear the field…well, then it’s anyone’s guess who wins. The two morning line favorites, #5 DISCO PARTNER and #9 STORMY LIBERAL, both have a history of not running as well outside of their home states (though the latter ran very, very well in Dubai earlier this year, his duds at Belmont and Hong Kong can’t just be ignored).

Stormy Liberal is a B horse for me, as are two European invaders that are prices on the morning line. #7 LOST TREASURE has hit another gear late in his 3-year-old season, as he’s put up three straight Timeform Ratings of 112 or higher coming into this race. Meanwhile, #10 HAVANA GREY would move way up if this race was contested over soft going (which seems likely). His form over firmer going is no great shakes, but he won a Group 1 over yielding ground at The Curragh two back and gets Lasix. Both Euros are 20-1 morning line, and while I think they’ll both drift down, anything 15-1 or higher would hit me as an overlay.

Disco Partner is one of three C horses. The second is #2 BUCCHERO, a consistent, hard-knocking sort that’s very easy to root for. He may be a cut below the top tier, but he always tries hard and is usually going the right way late. Finally, I’ll include #4 VISION PERFECT, strictly because Jason Servis is one of the top trainers in the country when it comes to turf sprints. He hits with 33% of such runners, and Javier Castellano’s presence can’t be ignored (especially considering he doesn’t ride much for this outfit).

Betting on a Budget

Conquest Tsunami is 6-1 on the morning line, and that seems fair. Anything above 9/2 would make him an OK win/place play, and 8-1 or higher would be a significant overlay. If not, I’m likely passing the race.

$5 win/place: 14 (conditional on him being 9/2 or higher)

BREEDERS’ CUP DIRT MILE

A’s: 1
B’s: 10
C’s: 6,9

Like many, I’m seeing the Dirt Mile as a two-horse race between #1 CITY OF LIGHT and #10 CATALINA CRUISER. The former is the only horse to top Accelerate to this point in the year, but comes in off of two straight defeats. The latter, meanwhile, is a perfect 4-for-4, and was last seen running away from a pair of Grade 2 fields at Del Mar this summer.

I’m siding with City of Light. The most damning reason is a statistic that will be cited ad nauseum between now and Saturday: Trainer John Sadler is 0 for 41 with Breeders’ Cup runners. To be fair, he had a few tough beats with Stellar Wind in the 2015 and 2016 Distaffs, but this isn’t an 0 for 7 or 0 for 8 stat. This is a significant sample size, and if I’ve got a reason to go against a Sadler trainee, I’m going to do it.

My thinking here is that Catalina Cruiser, as talented as he may be, hasn’t really beaten anyone. Yes, he beat Battle of Midway in the Pat O’Brien, but that one was making his first start since the 2017 Breeders’ Cup and absolutely needed the race. As Dirt Miles go, this race isn’t bad. City of Light is a two-time Grade 1 winner, and my two C horses exit what I feel was a live prep race (the Grade 3 Ack Ack at this route). Catalina Cruiser may be a freak, and I won’t be stunned if he beats me, but I’ll take slightly better odds on a horse that this distance should hit right between the eyes.

#6 SEEKING THE SOUL won the Ack Ack, and his connections were hoping he’d make the Classic. However, he wouldn’t have drawn in off the AE list, so they settled for running here. This is his favorite track, and he’d benefit from a fast pace. I also need to consider #9 GIANT EXPECTATIONS, who may have needed the Ack Ack coming off a six-month layoff. He has a tendency to find trouble, and that’s a red flag sometimes, but he could easily improve off of that effort, and his best would certainly be good enough to hit the board.

Betting on a Budget

I’ll key City of Light on top of trifectas that include my other horses underneath. Additionally, I’ll play a small, cold double singling both City of Light and a live longshot in the Filly and Mare Turf.

$3 trifectas: 1 with 6,9,10 with 6,9,10 ($18)
$5 double: 1 with 14 ($5)

BREEDERS’ CUP FILLY AND MARE TURF

A’s: 3,6,14
B’s: 10
C’s: N/A

I have very few hardcore tenets when it comes to the Breeders’ Cup, but this race emphasizes one of them: Never, ever, ever, ever bet against Frankie Dettori when he’s on a live turf horse.

Here, he rides #14 EZIYRA, who’s 15-1 on the morning line but may be considerably shorter come post time. She’s won four of her last five starts, and the lone defeat came in the Group 1 Yorkshire Oaks, when she was third behind an all-world talent in Sea of Class. She’s never finished worse than third in 11 career starts, soft turf will not be a problem, she likes this distance, and she’s got arguably the best turf rider in the world on her. 15-1 would be a ridiculous overlay, and anything over 8-1 would be more than fair.

The other two A horses are the two likely favorites. #3 WILD ILLUSION is a three-time Group 1 winner, while #6 SISTERCHARLIE has flourished since coming to America last summer. She’s a head away from being undefeated this year, and while she does stretch out in distance a bit, she’s won going similar routes of ground overseas, so I don’t see it as an issue. These favorites are legitimate, and I think they’re both must-uses in any multi-race exotics ticket you come up with.

Aidan O’Brien can’t be ignored here, as he saddles possible third choice #10 MAGIC WAND. She hasn’t won in a while but has kept tremendous company, running in Group 1 races in five of her last six starts. Here’s what I don’t get, though. Three back, she was fifth in the Group 1 Yorkshire Oaks. You know who was third that day? Eziyra. Eziyra is three times the price of Magic Wand on the morning line, and while a lot of that has to do with the O’Brien factor, it’s a ridiculous disparity. The bigger that is come post time, the more value this race has to this handicapper.

Betting on a Budget

I’ll box my top three horses in exactas and lean on Eziyra in a few other wagers. I’m splurging a bit compared to other races, but Eziyra is my price play of the weekend.

$2 exacta box: 3,6,14 ($12)
$1 exacta key box: 14 with 3,6,10 ($6)
$3 win/place: 14
$6 double: 14 with 5

BREEDERS’ CUP SPRINT

A’s: 5
B’s: N/A
C’s: 1,8,9

This race houses one of the easiest horses in the country to root for. That’s #5 IMPERIAL HINT, who will likely be a pretty heavy favorite. A horse christened by many as “a little rocket ship,” he ran second in this race last year and has since won four of five starts. His last two have been brilliant victories in Grade 1 company, and it certainly seems like he would need to regress for another runner to win.

That’s not to say he can’t lose, though. If Imperial Hint takes a step back, a number of others could potentially pick up the pieces. If the track is fair, and if closers are making up ground, #1 WHITMORE has a big shot to capitalize on a favorable pace scenario. There’s an abundance of early speed (as there is in most renewals of this race), and while the rail draw isn’t ideal, if the frontrunners post a sub-:44 opening half-mile, that could set things up perfectly for this Grade 1-winning closer.

#9 ROY H won last year’s renewal of this race, and comes in off a victory in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Sprint Championship. His best effort could absolutely win this race, but it’s fair to wonder if he’s lost a step from his brilliant campaign a season ago. He does have the right running style to succeed here, as he doesn’t necessarily need the lead in order to run well. Having said that, he may need to run back to last year’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint effort to get the job done here, and in his first start at this track, off of a few races that weren’t his best, I’m not sure that’s in the cards.

The other horse I need to use in vertical exotics is #8 LIMOUSINE LIBERAL, who loves this strip and is another that could be going well late. He’s won six of eight local starts, and while he may not be quite as talented as some others in this field, he’s done his best running at Churchill Downs and will be a bit of a price. I don’t think he wins, but it wouldn’t shock me if he closed late for second or third at a nice number.

Betting on a Budget

I’m going to try to keep Roy H out of the top two, as an exacta involving the two favorites won’t pay much. I’ll key Imperial Hint on top in exactas with the other two horses I’m using, as they should be big enough prices to make the wager pay reasonably well.

$10 exactas: 5 with 1,8 ($20)

BREEDERS’ CUP MILE

A’s: 5,7,8
B’s: 2,14
C’s: 1,4,10,13

The Breeders’ Cup Mile has taken a number of hits to it this year. Most notably, several top European runners that were pointed to the event (Alpha Centauri and Laurens, to name two) did not ship, and the American group of milers has largely been pretty subpar.

This is good news for gamblers, though, as the assemblage of runners makes for a fascinating betting race. Whatever horse you like is going to be a square price, and if you’re right, you’ll be in line for a nice score.

The thing that jumped out at me, in looking at this race, is a real lack of early speed. #5 OSCAR PERFORMANCE has capitalized on a number of these scenarios in the past, and there’s a chance he’ll once again be gifted an easy lead early on. He’s shown he can’t be left alone on the front end, but it certainly doesn’t seem like many others want to be on or near the lead early. If there’s a concern here, it’s that he may not like give in the ground, but given that he won’t be a short price, that doesn’t scare me.

Remember my Frankie Dettori mantra? That’s part of the reason #7 EXPERT EYE is one of my top picks. He’s competed against some of the best milers in Europe this year and gets Lasix for trainer Sir Michael Stoute. While it’s a bit concerning that most of his best efforts have come at seven furlongs (not a mile), this isn’t the best Breeders’ Cup Mile field, and he’s certainly good enough to win. I like #8 I CAN FLY for similar reasons, as she’s coming off a tough beat at the hands of top European runner Roaring Lion in the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II at Ascot. She’s another that gets Lasix in her first North American start, and she’s shown she can be effective over softer going, which is another big plus.

#2 NEXT SHARES seems to have realized his potential. After running second and third in a pair of Grade 1 events earlier this year, he’s won two in a row, and his win in the Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland was very good. I’m not sure he can repeat that type of performance, but he’s in career-best form, and that has to be respected to a certain extent. My other B horse is #14 MUSTASHRY, and I wanted to like him more than I do. He’s won five of his last seven starts and gets Lasix for Stoute, but the post is a killer and he’s clearly much better over firm ground than soft ground. If the turf course dries out, he’ll be a major player. If not, he’ll have a fair bit to overcome, despite what appears to be a world of talent.

Three of my four C horses are European runners. #1 ONE MASTER was a 47-1 upset winner of the Group 1 Prix de la Foret at Longchamp, while #4 POLYDREAM stretches out for Freddie Head of Goldikova fame and #13 GUSTAV KLIMT has spent most of his career earning minor awards in Group 1 races for Aidan O’Brien. Finally, #10 CATAPULT is a John Sadler trainee who’s won a pair of graded stakes races on the West Coast. It’s tough to be too enthusiastic about Sadler at this event given the previously-mentioned 0-for-41 mark, but he’s in career-best form and entering a wide-open race, so I couldn’t just ignore him.

Betting on a Budget

In multi-race wagers, I’m spreading. In vertical wagers, I’m gambling that Oscar Performance will get left alone and have every chance to earn his second Breeders’ Cup victory. I’ll use him in exactas above and below my A and B horses and hope I’m right.

$4 exactas: 5 with 2,7,8,14 ($16)
$2 exactas: 2,7,8,14 with 5 ($8)

BREEDERS’ CUP DISTAFF

A’s: 2
B’s: 10
C’s: 7,11

I’m supposed to see this race as a matchup between likely Champion 3-Year-Old Filly #10 MONOMOY GIRL and last year’s Eclipse Award winner, #2 ABEL TASMAN. I don’t. I respect Monomoy Girl and what she’s accomplished, but I love Abel Tasman in this spot, and I’m happy to explain why.

Yes, Abel Tasman’s run in the Grade 1 Zenyatta was absolutely horrible. With that in mind, though, a look at her running lines hints that something bigger was in play. She’s just 1 for 4 at Santa Anita, and the lone win was in an unremarkable maiden race. It’s a bit weird to say, but perhaps she just does not like Santa Anita as much as other tracks.

She needed her seasonal debut in the Grade 1 La Troienne, but her races two and three back were smashing. A return to that form would absolutely make her the one to beat, and it would make her 7/2 morning line price a significant overlay. Bluntly, I think she should be favored here, and I’ll be happy to plunk down my money if she isn’t.

I don’t even like Monomoy Girl for second in here. #10 BLUE PRIZE has gotten quite good, having won three in a row and four of her last five. She took an abrupt right turn in the stretch of the Grade 1 Spinster at Keeneland, but still held on to win that day beneath Joe Bravo, who rides her back in this race. She’s 3 for 5 at Churchill Downs, with two second-place finishes, and I don’t think she’s ever been better than she is right now.

My two C horses are the two 3-year-old fillies. Monomoy Girl merits respect. She’s never finished worse than second, she’s got plenty of tactical speed, and if she’s left alone, she could get brave. Meanwhile, #7 MIDNIGHT BISOU was put up to first in the Grade 1 Cotillion last time out and figures to be running well late. Having said all of that, I’m just not sold on the quality of this year’s group of 3-year-old fillies. #5 WONDER GADOT is seen as one of the top three or four in the division, and her two wins this year were both against restricted company in Canada. I suppose either of those two fillies could win, but if they do, a lot of my tickets will turn into confetti.

Betting on a Budget

This one’s pretty simple. While I’ll hedge a bit in my Pick Five ticket, from a single-race standpoint, I’m riding or dying with Abel Tasman and hoping that the Zenyatta was an isolated incident. I’ll play a cold double to my best bet of the afternoon, which should come as no surprise.

$20 double: 2 with 2

BREEDERS’ CUP TURF

A’s: 2
B’s: N/A
C’s: 12

We’ve come to my best bet of the weekend. It’s a popular one, and it’s not on a ridiculous price. In fact, #2 ENABLE may be the shortest price on the entire Breeders’ Cup program. Having said that, she is an extraordinary talent that provides star power to an event that desperately needs it, and I think she’ll be incredibly formidable in the Turf.

Enable has won back-to-back editions of the Group 1 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, the richest race in Europe. She’s done so over world-class groups that have included the likes of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf winner (#1 TALISMANIC), Sea of Class, and Ulysses (who would’ve been favored in last year’s renewal, but scratched the day of the race). No Arc winner has ever added this race, but she seems leaps and bounds better than this group, and she’d need to seriously regress in order for someone else to catch her.

The only horse that may be able to capitalize if this scenario unfolds, I think, is fellow European invader #12 WALDGEIST, who was beaten by a bit less than two lengths in the Arc. Before that, he had reeled off four consecutive wins in France, including one in the Group 1 Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud. He’s run well over soft going in the past, and conditioner Andre Fabre is no stranger to success on this stage.

Betting on a Budget

I’ll channel former TVG colleague Dave Weaver and put together an ice-cold exacta in an attempt to get some value out of Enable.

$20 exacta: 2 with 12

BREEDERS’ CUP CLASSIC

A’s: 1,6,7
B’s: 3,10,11
C’s: 4,9

I’m saving my biggest stand of the weekend for the weekend’s biggest race. This is the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic, and I’ve mentioned eight horses without talking about #14 ACCELERATE, the race’s 5/2 morning line favorite.

I respect what Accelerate’s done to this point in the year. However, I have major questions about the fields he’s beaten. The older horse division in Southern California has been sorely lacking in talent all year long. Yes, he beat #7 WEST COAST in the Grade 1 Awesome Again, but that was West Coast’s first start in six months, and by trainer Bob Baffert’s own admission, he didn’t have the horse fully cranked for that race. Am I supposed to be excited by wins over Mubtaahij, #8 PAVEL, and a running-way-too-far City of Light? Add in Sadler’s putrid record at this event, plus Accelerate’s inexplicable no-show in last year’s Dirt Mile (which, I may add, was contested at his favorite track), and I’ll happily try to beat him.

I understand this may be completely unexpected, but Bob Baffert has a powerful hand in the Classic. Now that you’ve all picked your jaws up off the floor following that stunning revelation, let’s look at #6 MCKINZIE and #7 WEST COAST. Both can win, though I prefer the latter since he’s shown he can run well at this distance. They’ll likely be this race’s second and third choices in some order, and justifiably so.

My other A horse is this race’s ultimate wild card. We all remember #1 THUNDER SNOW doing his impression of an angry bull at a rodeo during the 2017 Kentucky Derby, and when he’s bad, he’s REALLY bad. When he’s good, though, he’s one of the best horses in training. He may have ridden a track bias to his smashing score in the Grade 1 Dubai World Cup, but he’s also a Group 1 winner on turf, and he showed some flexibility when second in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup. At his likely price, I need him on my tickets.

#3 CATHOLIC BOY is an interesting case. He was terrific when smashing the field in the Grade 1 Travers, and by all accounts, he’s looked strong in the mornings. I’m not quite sure he’s fast enough to contend with my top three, but he’s in strong form, and at least we know he can get the distance. That last tidbit isn’t necessarily the case with regard to #10 YOSHIDA and #11 MIND YOUR BISCUITS, who both come into this race off of sharp wins at a mile and an eighth but are unproven beyond that route. Talent isn’t the question with regard to these horses. It’s strictly a matter of if they’ll get the distance, or if their closing kicks will be dulled a bit by the extra eighth of a mile.

My two C horses are fun ones to root for. #4 GUNNEVERA was a late-running second behind Yoshida in the Woodward, and the faster they go early, the more he’ll like it. That’s in stark contrast to #9 MENDELSSOHN, the well-traveled Aidan O’Brien trainee who held on for third despite pressing a ridiculously-fast pace in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. He was also second to Catholic Boy in the Travers, and it’s not inconceivable to think he’ll be the one they have to run down going into the far turn. How far he may be in contention after that, though, is anyone’s guess.

Betting on a Budget

No Accelerate for me, but the question is, how does one try to beat the favorite? I’m going to box my top three picks in exactas, and because he’ll likely be the biggest price of the trio, I’ll have a small win-place bet on Thunder Snow. Between this and all my multi-race exotics tickets that will not have Accelerate on them, if he loses, I want to be in position to make money.

$4 exacta box: 1,6,7 ($24)
$3 win/place: 1 ($6)

MULTI-RACE EXOTICS

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #4

R4: 2,4,5,7,9,10,14
R5: 1,10
R6: 3,6,10,14
R7: 5

56 Bets, $28

Spread, two-horse race, mini-spread (with my top pick being a 15-1 shot), then Imperial Hint to finish it out. Of the multi-race tickets I intend to play, this isn’t the one I’m most excited about, but if we get a price or two home in the first and/or third legs, this could still provide an OK return.

$2 Pick Six: Race #6

R6: 3,6,14
R7: 5
R8: 2,5,7,8,14
R9: 2
R10: 2
R11: 1,3,6,7

60 Bets, $120

I don’t usually play Pick Six tickets, simply because my fairly-small budget doesn’t allow for them. Having said that, this is a fairly economical ticket with three singles (two of heavy favorites, one of 7/2 second choice Abel Tasman) and a few “spread” races. If you’re a Pick Six player on a budget, or a group that wants a ticket they can split X different ways, this is the one I’d suggest.

$0.50 Pick Five: Race #7

R7: 5
R8: 2,5,7,8,14
R9: 2,7,10,11
R10: 2
R11: 1,3,6,7

80 Bets, $40

My two singles will be popular. My hope is that we’ll knock out some tickets in my spread races. Note that I did go a bit deeper in the Distaff on this ticket. This is simply because only going five-deep in the Mile gives me a bit of budgetary room.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #8

R8: ALL
R9: 2
R10: 2
R11: 1,3,6,7,10,11

84 Bets, $42

Simply put, if this goes big price, Abel Tasman, Enable, logical horse that isn’t Accelerate, this has the potential to pay big money. I’m six-deep without the favorite in the final leg, so if I’m alive, chances are it’ll be to a nice chunk of change (provided we can beat the favorite with a mid-priced alternative).

Saratoga Race Course Analysis, Selections, and Bankroll: 9/1/18 (Woodward Day)

BANKROLL

BANKROLL: $1,254.20

In any industry, one is prone to bonding with colleagues. Horse racing is no different, and I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by some extraordinary people over the course of my career. One of them is making his maiden voyage to Saratoga for Woodward Day, so it’s appropriate that I dedicate this section to him.

Danny Kovoloff is one of the kindest, most good-hearted people you’d ever hope to meet. He kept me sane for several years at a prior stop in my career, and was one of a few people I leaned on during a particularly rough situation about a year and a half ago. I owe him a lot, so here’s my request: If any of you readers out there run into him today, please ask him many questions about the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic, which doubles as his favorite race of all-time.

FRIDAY’S RESULTS: We were alive to OK will-pays in our doubles, but could do no better than third in the second leg and dropped $20.

SATURDAY’S PLAY: I think today’s Pick Four sequences are pretty attractive, and I’ll focus on the early one starting in the second race. My 50-cent ticket is as follows: 7,9 with 4,8,9 with 2,4,5,8 with 1,4,7. I’m trying to beat morning line favorite Weather Wiz in the payoff leg, and if that one fails to win, this could pay pretty well.

TOTAL WAGERED: $36

ANALYSIS/SELECTIONS

Best Bet: Raging Bull, Race 9
Longshot: Hence, Race 11

R1

Signalman
Frolic More
Fed Fever

#6 SIGNALMAN: Ran on late to be second behind an eventual graded stakes winner in his debut. He’s coming off a bit of a layoff, but he’s been working very well here for a barn that’s done well at the meet; #5 FROLIC MORE: Has been working lights-out here for a trainer that won with a debuting runner on Travers Day. If he runs to the work tab, he’s got a big shot to win first time out; #8 FED FEVER: Was bet a bit at first asking and finished well behind the promising Nitrous. He’s worked well since that race, and improvement seems logical at second asking.

R2

Platinum Prince
Zoot Suit
Natural Order

#9 PLATINUM PRINCE: Was claimed last time out by Robertino Diodoro, who has strong numbers with new acquisitions. He hasn’t won in a while, but he drops to run here for aggressive connections; #7 ZOOT SUIT: Hasn’t run in a while and drops in class, but he could be tough if he channels some of his back turf form. He’s got plenty of early zip and should be prominent early; #8 NATURAL ORDER: Cuts way back in distance, but has some back turf sprints that aren’t bad. This barn has done well with a limited number of runners this meet, and Franco sees fit to ride back.

R3

Business Cycle
House Limit
Brasstown

#4 BUSINESS CYCLE: Has run well in both of his career starts and looms large in this spot. His most recent race was his first outing since November, and any movement forward off of that race would make him incredibly tough to beat; #9 HOUSE LIMIT: Has been working very well ahead of his debut and draws well towards the outside. This isn’t the easiest spot in the world, but this barn’s gotten hot lately and must be respected; #8 BRASSTOWN: Makes his first start for Jorge Navarro after several outings at Woodbine. His lone dirt effort saw him check right out of the gate, which makes it an easy throw-out, and his recent works are sharp.

R4

Team Colors
Attribute
Night Prowler

#5 TEAM COLORS: Came flying late to miss by just a half-length last time out. He was claimed by Robertino Diodoro, and he could benefit from a race shape that figures to be kind to closers; #8 ATTRIBUTE: Certainly seems like the main speed in here, especially given the presence of aggressive rider Kendrick Carmouche. He chased a very talented horse home last time out, and he could overcome a pace that will likely be swift; #4 NIGHT PROWLER: Hasn’t won in nearly two years, but drops in class and adds blinkers for Chad Brown. He’ll likely get a pace to close into, and these are shallower waters than he’s used to.

R5

Plainsman
Uncle Sigh
Wooderson

#7 PLAINSMAN: Makes his first start following a trainer switch to Brad Cox. This is a pace play, as while he hasn’t won in a while, every other horse wants to be on or near the lead, which could set things up for this one to pick up the pieces; #1 UNCLE SIGH: Was second against similar foes earlier in the meet and generally runs the same race every time out. He may need to go early to secure position from the rail, but his best could certainly win this; #4 WOODERSON: Graduated earlier in the meet, and while he sat a perfect trip, he came home very quickly. Rachel Alexandra’s younger half-brother may be coming into his own, but he’ll likely need to go much faster early on.

R6

Noble Spirit
Noble Nebraskan
Spirit Animal

#2 NOBLE SPIRIT: Was a solid third in his debut going two turns, which is never an easy route to travel first time out. George Weaver saddles a pair of contenders in this race, and this one’s worked well since his unveiling; #7 NOBLE NEBRASKAN: May finally get a chance to run for Weaver after scratching several times earlier in the meet. He’s bred up and down to be a strong turf horse, and I’ve been waiting for him to debut for weeks; #3 SPIRIT ANIMAL: Was a distant fourth in an off-the-turf event, and every bit of his pedigree says he’s a grass horse, so I can draw a line through that race. This seems like the trip he wants, and these connections merit respect.

R7

Long Haul Bay
Uno Mas Modelo
Devils Halo

#6 LONG HAUL BAY: Ran terribly in a state-bred stakes race, but that was such a departure from his prior form that I’m ignoring it. I think it’s likely he bounces back to his early-season form, and if he does, he’s got a big shot in a wide-open event; #3 UNO MAS MODELO: Has won two in a row, including a swiftly-run allowance race earlier in the meet at a big price. Javier Castellano rides in this spot for a barn that’s hit with four of its 12 local runners this summer; #7 DEVILS HALO: Has won two of his three starts and has shown a lot of early zip. This is a class test, but he’s bred to get better with experience, and the outside draw could be a big help.

R8

Strike Me Down
Hizeem
Vegas Kitten

#4 STRIKE ME DOWN: Made a big middle move last time out against similar-level foes, only to be beaten a neck. He always seems to fire, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he shows a bit more early speed in this spot; #10 HIZEEM: Broke his maiden earlier in the meet and tries winners for the first time. He’s worked very well since that race and has a big shot, but he must negotiate a trip from the far outside post; #2 VEGAS KITTEN: Add blinkers for the first time after an OK showing at this level in late-July. His lone win came when he was close to the pace, and the blinkers could get him involved early on.

R9

Raging Bull
Therapist
Golden Brown

#3 RAGING BULL: Had a lot going against him in the Grade 2 Hall of Fame, but rallied and got up in the last jump over yielding going. The faster they go early, the more he figures to like it, and there’s some speed signed on here; #7 THERAPIST: Has won six of eight career starts, and while he’s beaten weaker groups in his last two outings, there’s a chance he’s peaking coming into this race. His flexibility is a plus, and he may be a bit of a price given the class jump; #4 GOLDEN BROWN: Prevailed in the Grade 3 Kent two back, where he beat eventual Grade 1 Secretariat winner Carrick. A dirt experiment in the Grade 1 Haskell didn’t go well, but this seems like the right level and spot for him.

R10

Chasing Yesterday
Restless Rider
Virginia Eloise

#7 CHASING YESTERDAY: Is the younger sister of Triple Crown winner American Pharoah and ran very well in her debut at Del Mar. Baffert and Smith mean business when they come to Saratoga, and she’s been working very well ahead of this Grade 1 event; #11 RESTLESS RIDER: Has done nothing wrong to this point, as she’s gone 2 for 2 with two daylight wins. She has a recent bullet work to her credit over the training track, and the outside draw could be a boost; #3 VIRGINIA ELOISE: Made up lots of ground in the Grade 2 Adirondack, where she missed by just a half-length. There’s a ton of speed signed on, and this one’s bred to want the additional distance some of her opponents may be dreading.

R11

Gunnevera
Seeking the Soul
Hence

#9 GUNNEVERA: Came back running against a much weaker group at Gulfstream in a prep for this Grade 1 event. He was second in last year’s Travers and won the 2016 Saratoga Special here, so the surface isn’t a problem, and there’s a chance he’s only getting better in his 4-year-old campaign; #10 SEEKING THE SOUL: Missed by a head last time out in his first start since January, but that race was not the goal. He’s worked very well since that race, and he figures to be going the right direction late; #5 HENCE: Is inconsistent and sometimes throws in dull efforts, but when he’s right, he’s quite good. He could clunk up for a piece of it in a wide-open renewal of the Woodward.

R12

Santa Monica
Onthemoonagain
Lady Montdore

#5 SANTA MONICA: Has won two of three starts since coming to North America, including the Grade 2 Dance Smartly. She’s taken steps forward in every one of those outings, and her best race would make her very tough; #3 ONTHEMOONAGAIN: Had a rough trip in her North American debut, where she did not get through along the rail. She should improve off of that showing, and her races in France indicate that the added distance won’t be a problem; #8 LADY MONTDORE: Romped at this route earlier in the meet in a race that doubled as her first start in 11 months. A bounce is possible, but she’s another that showed potential overseas and could simply be putting things together with experience.

2018 Belmont Stakes: Analysis, Selections, Tickets, and Unpopular Opinions

Let’s get one crucifixion-inducing opinion out of the way right now: If Justify loses the Belmont Stakes, thus failing to win horse racing’s Triple Crown, there’s a chance I make a LOT of money.

In my heart, I want Justify to channel Secretariat and guzzle the field with the type of performance where he could stop at King Umberto’s for a slice and a Jay Privman handshake going around the first turn, chow down on the backstretch, burp a few times around the far turn, and win by 20. If I’ve said this once, I’ve said it a thousand times: Horse racing needs stars, and if Justify can go from an unraced maiden to a Triple Crown winner in less than four months, he’ll ascend to a level few equines of the past century have reached.

From a gambling standpoint, though, I think it’s worth trying to beat him (as I also explained following the Preakness). The old gambling adage says to never bet a horse, as the favorite, to do something it’s never done before. The Belmont will be Justify’s sixth start in less than four months, and it will be contested at the grueling distance of a mile and a half against a sizable field, some of whom are bred up and down for this trip (more on two of them later). His Preakness wasn’t atrocious, but it was certainly a step back from his prior efforts. If he brings his Kentucky Derby form with him Saturday, maybe the race is for second. If he brings his Preakness form, where he edged two longshots by less than a length (one of which he dusted two weeks prior), then the race is much more wide-open than the odds board will say it is.

For those reasons, I think it’s prudent to take a swing against Justify in the Belmont. If Justify wins, I’ll consider my $40 money well-spent to ensure racing’s pantheon of greats opens its doors to another one, and I’ll cheer right along with the racing public. However, if one of the two horses I’m using in the all-stakes Pick Four wins, I stand to make, to quote former TVG colleague Todd Schrupp, racks on racks on racks (hi, Todd!).

We’ll dive into that Pick Four later, but first, we’ll talk about the races that comprise the early Pick Five. I like that sequence, and it’s one where you may be rewarded handsomely even without the presence of big prices. Let’s take a look!

$0.50 Pick Five: Race #1

R1: 1,6
R2: 2,3,6,7
R3: 4,6
R4: 3,7
R5: 3,9

64 Bets, $32

I don’t have singles on my ticket, and that’s by design. I think many of these races can be whittled down to just two horses, with the second being the most wide-open of the bunch.

I couldn’t get past the two likely favorites in the opener, as #1 LA MONEDA and #6 WAR CANOE look like the ones to beat. The former comes back to turf after a race she probably needed off the long layoff, while the latter outran her 38-1 odds when third in a state-bred stakes race last month and gets class relief here.

The second race is the Easy Goer, which last year was won by eventual champion West Coast. I can’t see a horse in here getting that good by year’s end, but it’s a solid group. #2 MASK looks imposing if you can forgive his clunker in the Grade 3 Pat Day Mile, which was in a bog off of a four-month break. I’m using him, but I don’t think he’s any sort of a cinch. #3 RUGBYMAN graduated by a city block last time out, #6 BREAKING THE RULES is 2 for 2 and bred up and down for distance, and #7 DARK VADER comes in off a lifetime-best effort in a classy optional claimer (the third-place finisher came back to win a Cal-bred stakes race).

Race #3 is the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps for older fillies and mares. #6 ABEL TASMAN is a must-use. She’ll be favored and appears to be working with a purpose since her seasonal debut, where she ran fourth in the Grade 1 La Troienne. We know she can handle Belmont, and Bob Baffert may have her fully cranked. However, I also need to use #4 PACIFIC WIND. She’s 2 for 2 since coming to the Chad Brown barn, and one of those wins came in the Grade 2 Ruffian. If you toss out last year’s Grade 2 Bayakoa over a quirky Los Alamitos surface, she’s undefeated on dirt, and I think she could give last year’s Champion 3-Year-Old Filly all she can handle.

The fourth is the Grade 1 Acorn. #3 MONOMOY GIRL may be the shortest-priced favorite on the card, and that includes Justify in the Belmont. She’s emerged as the top 3-year-old filly in the country, but I have enough reservations here to where I cannot single her and move on. I think she’s a two-turn horse, and her lone one-turn race on dirt, while a win, came over a soft field. The other one I need to have on my ticket is #7 TALK VEUVE TO ME, who ran really well when second in the Grade 2 Eight Belles. She was nearly five lengths clear of the third-place finisher that day, and I don’t think this distance will be a problem. The outside post helps her, and she’ll certainly be a playable price.

The payoff leg is the Grade 2 Brooklyn for older horses going a mile and a half. #9 WAR STORY won this race last year and has done tremendous work when placed in the right spots (also known as steering clear of Gun Runner). He was very impressive in this race a season ago, and a repeat effort would make him tough. The only horse I could see beating him is #3 HARD STUDY, who is a perfect 6 for 6 over fast dirt tracks and exits a runaway win in the Flat Out, which serves as Belmont’s local prep for this event.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #8

R8: 1,3,4,5,7
R9: 2,4,10,11
R10: 1,10
R11: 4,8

80 Bets, $40

Yep, not only am I tossing Justify, but I’m also trying to beat Mind Your Biscuits in the Grade 1 Met Mile. I’ll talk a bit more about that when we get to that race.

The eighth is the Grade 1 Just a Game, and I don’t have a clue. I spread pretty deep in here, and if I could’ve afforded to buy the race, I would have done so. Chad Brown’s got a few strong runners in here, as both #3 OFF LIMITS and #7 A RAVING BEAUTY could win. Depending on how the turf course is playing, though, #4 LULL could be dangerous. She’s the main early speed in this race, and Belmont’s turf course tends to be very kind to horses that are forwardly-positioned. If she’s allowed to dictate terms, she could forget to stop, and if that happens, we’ll start this wager off with a mild upset.

The ninth is the Grade 1 Met Mile, and as mentioned, I’m against #1 MIND YOUR BISCUITS. Yes, he ran a colossal race in Dubai, when he rallied from well back on a track that had been favoring speed for weeks. Having said that, his record at this distance isn’t great. He was second in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile last year, and he ran OK that day, but he actually lost ground to Sharp Azteca late, which isn’t what you want to see from a closer. The rail draw also presents a problem, and it’s not like there’s much early speed signed on.

I’m going four-deep without using that one, and my top pick is a big price on the morning line. That’s #4 MCCRAKEN, who’s perfect at this distance, has been pointed to this race for months by his connections, and could be sitting on a big performance second off of the long layoff. #10 BEE JERSEY seems like the main speed, and #11 AWESOME SLEW never seems to run a bad race, so I had to use them both. Finally, I threw #2 BOLT D’ORO on my ticket as well. If you toss out the Kentucky Derby, where he was not persevered with late, he fits with this group, and he’s been working lights-out at Keeneland since that effort.

I couldn’t get past the two Chad Brown trainees in the 10th, the Grade 1 Manhattan. #1 ROBERT BRUCE and #10 BEACH PATROL look like the best horses in here, and while the former can certainly win, I prefer the latter. The Grade 1 Turf Classic at Churchill Downs was contested over one of the wettest turf courses we’ve seen over the past several years, and Beach Patrol ran a game second in a race that doubled as his first start in six months while going shorter than he probably wants to go. This trip should be more to his liking, and if he’s fully-cranked, I think he’ll be tough to beat.

This brings us to the Belmont Stakes. You already know that I’m taking a stand against Justify. Instead, I’ll rely on top pick #4 HOFBURG, who’s bred up and down for this trip and had a ton of trouble in the Kentucky Derby, and #8 VINO ROSSO, whose one-paced style and distance-oriented pedigree make him a natural fit for this race. Perhaps they need Justify to regress, but if that happens and this ticket hits, it’s entirely possible we’re looking at a massive score by my modest standards.

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.