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).

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

The 2018 Breeders’ Cup is upon us. The first of two days of action at Churchill Downs consists of five 2-year-old races, and several of the fields make for real puzzles.

This year’s analysis features insight on my top selections, as well as multi-race tickets for certain sequences and single-race betting strategies for those on a budget. There are prices that come in every year in these races, and hopefully, we’ll be able to catch a few of them.

Here we go!

BREEDERS’ CUP JUVENILE TURF SPRINT

A’s: 2,4,7
B’s: 8,10,11
C’s: 1,9

We kick things off with a race few people seemed to ask for, yet one that was miles better than the idea of a Breeders’ Cup Derby and an event staggered over several months (it is our duty as horse racing fans to never, ever, ever forget how dumb those concepts were). This race drew a field of 12, and many of the top contenders are ones coming from across the pond.

I’d be pretty surprised if the 9/2 morning line odds hold up on #2 SOLDIER’S CALL, because he seems like the class of the field. Through seven career starts, he’s yet to run a bad race, and he won a pair of graded stakes races before finishing a close-up third in a Group 1 at Longchamp in France. He’ll get Lasix in this race, which often moves European runners up considerably, and he should be in the mix from the get-go. If he runs the type of race he’s run in Europe, he’ll be tough to beat.

If he doesn’t, though, I think there’s room for a price. Of the American-based runners, I’m most interested in #4 STILLWATER COVE, who cuts back in distance after running a deceptively good race in the Grade 1 Natalma at Woodbine. She led going into Woodbine’s ridiculously long stretch, but faded to fifth in the final furlong. This distance, which she won at two starts ago at Saratoga, should be much more to her liking, and it doesn’t hurt that that day’s rider is back aboard in this race. She’s one of four in here trained by Wesley Ward, and his quartet also includes Royal Ascot winner #7 SHANG SHANG SHANG, who hasn’t run since that event. Having said that, she’s worked well ahead of her return to the races and certainly seems like one of the likely pace-setters in here.

Many of my secondary runners are European imports. Aidan O’Brien will saddle both #8 SERGEI PROKOFIEV and #10 SO PERFECT, and neither would be a shock (though I think it’s telling that Ryan Moore lands on the former following his Group 3 triumph at Newmarket). Having said that, the one I may be most intrigued by, especially given the likelihood for a softer turf course, is #11 QUEEN OF BERMUDA. On firmer going, this filly isn’t anything special. However, she moves way up on a wet turf course, and was just a length behind So Perfect earlier this year over “good to soft” going at Chantilly. Keep her in mind if the skies open up this week, especially given the presence of Flavien Prat and the chance that she’ll be a huge price compared to some of her fellow invaders.

Finally, while I don’t love morning line favorite #1 STRIKE SILVER or #9 CHELSEA CLOISTERS, I feel the need to at least use them as C horses. The former hasn’t run a bad race in three lifetime starts, but I’m not crazy about the race he exits at Keeneland (which seemed to fall apart late). Meanwhile, the latter has run well in her last three starts, but hasn’t won since her debut at Keeneland and almost certainly needs to step it up from a figure perspective.

Betting on a Budget

I’ll use Soldier’s Call in exactas above and below my A and B horses. Additionally, if the turf course comes up wet, I’ll throw an across-the-board bet on Queen of Bermuda, since her likely price will almost certainly be an overlay.

$2 exacta part wheel: 2 w/4,7,8,10,11 ($10)
$1 exacta part wheel: 4,7,8,10,11 w/2 ($5)
$2 WPS: 11 ($6)

BREEDERS’ CUP JUVENILE FILLIES TURF

A’s: 3,6
B’s: 4
C’s: 1,5,12

One of the heavier favorites of the weekend will run here. That’s #6 NEWSPAPEROFRECORD, the Chad Brown trainee that has looked exceptional in a pair of victories in New York. She has ample tactical speed in a race that otherwise seems pretty light on it, and from a Beyer Speed Figure standpoint, she towers over her American counterparts. Only two other runners in the field have Beyers of higher than 78, and she’s never run worse than that. A repeat of the Grade 2 Miss Grillo would make her tough, and improvement would make her very formidable.

Of the Europeans coming across the Atlantic to take her on, I most prefer #3 LILY’S CANDLE, who has improved with every start and most recently captured a Group 1 at Longchamp. She overcame a bit of trouble that day when rated off the pace, and she’s 2-for-2 at a mile, so we know the distance won’t be a problem. We’re likely to get somewhere close to the 8-1 morning line price, and that hits me as a bit of an overlay given the talent she’s shown.

The Euro that’s most likely to be bet is #4 JUST WONDERFUL, an Aidan O’Brien trainee that exits a Group 2 score at Newmarket. She’s shown a strong turn of foot, and her best race makes her a contender, but I’m concerned about the likely race shape. She may need more pace than she figures to get, and while the connections merit respect, I’m more partial to Lily’s Candle, who has shown more of an ability to be close to the pace.

If you have the budget to go deeper, there are a few potential prices to consider. #5 LA PELOSA rallied from way back to take the Grade 1 Natalma in her North American debut, while #12 SUMMERING has worked very well since a disappointing showing at Santa Anita and should be forwardly placed. Finally, #1 CONCRETE ROSE is 2-for-2 to this point in her career, and while I’m not crazy about the group she beat in the Grade 2 Jessamine, it’s not out of the question to think she’ll be fairly close to a moderate early pace given the rail draw.

Betting on a Budget

I’ll box my A and B horses in exactas, and throw those horses on top of the two longshots I put in my third tier in smaller exactas as a saver play.

$3 exacta box: 3,4,6 ($18)
$1 exactas: 3,4,6 with 5,12 ($6)

BREEDERS’ CUP JUVENILE FILLIES

A’s: 4,8
B’s: 2,10
C’s: 7

I found this race to be the most puzzling of the Friday quintet. None of the favorites give me too much confidence, and of the horses that will likely be bigger prices, only one really piques my interest.

That longshot is #8 SIPPICAN HARBOR, who has been training up to this race since a smashing win in the Grade 1 Spinaway at Saratoga. While the first quarter-mile of that race was swift, the interior splits actually weren’t that fast, so her last-to-first rally wasn’t entirely the result of a race totally falling apart. I wish Joel Rosario had kept the mount, but Irad Ortiz, Jr., is no slouch, and there’s a lot of speed signed on in a race with many runners that have questions about how far they want to go. If nothing else, this one will be going the right direction late, and that could be enough.

Of the shorter prices, the one I like most is #4 RESTLESS RIDER, who exits a win in the Grade 1 Alcibiades at Keeneland. She’s yet to run a bad race, and she’s bred to run all day long. Perhaps most importantly, she does not need the lead to run well, and she could get first run at the tiring pacesetters turning for home. She was second in the Spinaway behind my top selection, but the move to two turns could help her turn the tables in this spot.

My two second-tier horses are quite similar. #10 BELLAFINA is the likely favorite, and she’s done very little wrong to this point. She hasn’t come home particularly quickly in either of her last two starts, and that’s a concern in a race with plenty of other early speed signed on, but I suppose there’s a chance she could grind her other rivals into submission. Another one that will want to be on or near the lead early is #2 SERENGETI EMPRESS, who exits a pair of runaway wins for trainer Tom Amoss. She, too, went fast early in her last start, which she won by nearly 20 lengths, and it certainly helps that she’s shown she likes this track. However, she didn’t beat much at all in that race, and this is certainly a step up in class.

The other horse likely to take significant money at the windows is #7 JAYWALK. She went wire-to-wire in the Grade 1 Frizette, and did so in a sharp time, but I’ve got some doubts. She’s bred for speed, up and down, being by Cross Traffic and out of an Orientate mare, and I’m not sure she wants to go two turns. Furthermore, that track at Belmont played very quick and was extremely kind to early speed, so it wasn’t a shock that she got out in front and improved her positioning. She’s not completely without a chance, but 7/2 seems like an underlay.

Betting on a Budget

I won’t be playing this race too heavily, and I’ll be spreading in my pick four (which I’ll dive into later). I simply don’t have a ton of conviction, and thankfully, there’s no rule saying one HAS to play every race on a card. Having said that, if Sippican Harbor is 8-1 or higher, I’ll have a win/place bet on her and hope she can pick up the pieces.

$10 win/place: 8

BREEDERS’ CUP JUVENILE TURF

A’s: 3,5
B’s: 2,4,14
C’s: 1

The post position draw made this race very interesting. #14 ANTHONY VAN DYCK drew the far outside post, and while he may be talented enough to overcome it, there’s a chance he gets parked wide going significantly further than he has to this point in his career.

With that in mind, I’ll look to another European as my top selection. That’s #5 LINE OF DUTY, who has won two in a row for trainer Charles Appleby. He’s bred to go long and get better as he gets older, and true to form, he’s 2-for-2 going a mile or longer and has taken significant steps forward in every start. Lasix will be added, and the tactical speed this one possesses could mean a perfect trip at a nice price. He may drift down a few ticks from the 10-1 morning line, but anything at or above 6-1 seems fair.

My other “A horse” figures to be prominent early in a race that doesn’t seem to have much zip. That’s #3 MUCH BETTER, and while it’s been a while since Bob Baffert had a serious turf runner on his hands, this one could be any kind. After a nice maiden win at Del Mar, he tried two turns on turf and went very fast early on. Despite posting a :45 and change opening half-mile, though, he held well for second and was more than two lengths clear of the third-place finisher. He shouldn’t have to go nearly as fast early on, and he could get brave if he’s left alone beneath red-hot rider Drayden Van Dyke.

Anthony Van Dyck can certainly win, and I need to have him on my wider tickets. It’s tough to ignore three straight triple-digit Timeform Ratings, and Aidan O’Brien has to be respected with a good horse in good form. I’ll also throw in a pair of last-out Belmont winners. #2 UNCLE BENNY showed a new dimension in taking the Futurity and is bred to love the added distance, while #4 FORTY UNDER is 2-for-2 on turf (with both wins coming at a distance of ground).

If you have room in your budget, and want to throw in another price, you can do worse than #1 ARTHUR KITT. He chased a solid pace in a Group 2 at Newmarket last time out and gets Lasix here. His second behind eventual Group 1 winner Too Darn Hot two back was pretty good, and his price figures to be inflated given the last-out dud.

Betting on a Budget

While I’ll have Anthony Van Dyck on my pick four ticket, I’ll try to beat him in my smaller wagers. I’ll start $10 doubles with my two “A horses” and single my top pick in the Juvenile.

$10 doubles: 3,5 w/9 ($20)

BREEDERS’ CUP JUVENILE

A’s: 9
B’s:
C’s: 8,11

We arrive at the day’s main event, and it houses my best bet of the day. That’s #9 GAME WINNER, the likely favorite in the Juvenile. He’s 3-for-3 with a pair of Grade 1 wins to his credit, and he proved he could get this distance with a romp in the American Pharoah last time out. He’s worked well since that race, and he’d need to regress off of that effort to lose this race.

I’m going against #6 COMPLEXITY, who figures to be the second choice. Much like Jaywalk, he rode a speed-friendly track to a win in the Grade 1 Champagne, and there are distance questions given his pedigree. He shouldn’t be alone on the front end, and for that reason, I prefer others underneath.

The two I’d recommend using behind my top pick are #8 STANDARD DEVIATION and #11 CODE OF HONOR. The former had a sneaky-awful trip in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland. He didn’t break well, took tons of dirt going into the first turn, and had to set well off of a moderate early pace going a route that included a short stretch run. He did well to salvage third money, and unlike others, the distance won’t get him beat here. I think he has a real chance to outrun his odds and punch up some of the exotic payoffs.

Code of Honor, meanwhile, will likely be this race’s “wise guy horse.” He broke terribly in the Champagne, and rallied from last to be second behind Complexity. Trainer Shug McGaughey doesn’t rush his horses along, so the ambitious spotting is a huge vote of confidence. The post position isn’t ideal, but he’s worked well and has shown versatility, both of which make him one to respect.

Betting on a Budget

I’ll keep this simple and key my best bet on top of my two underneath horses in cold exactas.

$10 exactas: 9 w/8,11 ($20)

MULTI-RACE TICKETS

I’ll focus on the Pick Four starting in the Juvenile Fillies Turf. I can’t, in good conscience, offer a Pick Five encompassing all of these races. Such a single ticket would simply cost too much money, and I can’t give out a ticket I wouldn’t feel comfortable playing on my own. If you feel like constructing one within your budget, plug my A, B, and C horses into DRF TicketMaker, and that’ll spit out a number of different combinations you can pick and choose from. Having said that, here’s the Pick Four.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #6

R6: 3,4,6
R7: 2,4,8,10
R8: 1,2,3,4,5,14
R9: 9

72 Bets, $36

This ticket uses all of my A and B horses, and also uses a C horse in the Juvenile Turf (simply because he’s a big price and I can afford to throw him in). Game Winner will be a popular single, but if we can get a price or two home along the way, this could still pay pretty handsomely and set us up well going into Saturday.

Analysis, Selections, and Tickets: Stephen Foster Night, Churchill Downs (6/16/18)

Saturday night’s card at Churchill Downs is a good one. Five graded stakes races are on tap, and they comprise a special all-stakes Pick Five. I’ll take a look at the sequence in a bit.

Before we get there, though, I’d like to announce that, for the next few weeks, I’ll be writing columns on Mondays centering around various subjects that I’m passionate about. I figured this would be a fun project between now and the start of Saratoga, where I’ll look to defend my public handicapping title/look to prove that those six weeks were no fluke.

Quick tangent: If you have an idea for such a column, or just have any sort of feedback on what I’m doing, utilize the “contact” function this site provides. I’m honored that people take the time to read the content I produce, and I read every email I get.

However, now that we’ve got all of that out of the way, let’s get down to business. We need to get a stake for the summer, and the all-stakes Pick Five could provide one. Let’s get to it!

$0.50 Pick Five: Race #5

R5: 7
R6: 1,2,4
R7: 2,3,7,8,9
R8: 6
R9: 1,8,10,11,12,13

90 Bets, $45

The two singles on my ticket will be popular ones. I’ll try to get a price or two home around them, and if we do that, this could pay pretty well.

The sequence starts with the Grade 3 Matt Winn for 3-year-olds. The race has drawn Bob Baffert trainee #7 AX MAN, who figures to be very tough to beat. He may be the shortest price in the sequence, but it’s tough to imagine any other runner in this field challenging him early on. If he’s allowed to dictate terms early, I think it’ll be a tall task for any of his opponents to beat him to the wire.

The second leg is the Grade 2 Wise Dan, and it’s drawn a Breeders’ Cup winner. That’s #4 WORLD APPROVAL, but this race doesn’t start and end with him. His best race wins, but the clunker last time out dulls my confidence in him. I also have to use #1 DIVISIDERO and #2 SHINING COPPER. The former is undefeated in three starts at Churchill Downs and came back running last time out at Monmouth Park, while the latter may be the lone speed in the race and could get brave if he’s left alone on the front end.

The third leg is the Grade 2 Fleur de Lis. This race was won by Forever Unbridled a year ago, but the 2018 renewal has no such standouts. I’m going five-deep because I need plenty of coverage. If #3 BLUE PRIZE runs back to last year’s Grade 2 Falls City, she probably wins. If she doesn’t (and that race was easily the best one she’s ever run), it’s anyone’s race, and the five horses I’m using reflect my relative lack of confidence.

I have no such lack of confidence in the fourth leg, which doubles as the card’s main event. It’s the Grade 1 Stephen Foster, and while I was against #6 BACKYARD HEAVEN in the Grade 2 Alysheba, I’m all-in on him in this spot. He was exceptional that day, and among those he beat in that race was Hoppertunity, who came back to win the Grade 2 Brooklyn on Belmont Stakes Day. He should get a dream trip on or near a modest early pace, and if he brings that type of effort to the track Saturday night, I think he’ll be incredibly formidable.

We’ll finish things off with the Grade 3 Regret, and this is the epitome of a “grass grab bag.” This is especially true because many of the major players have drawn far outside posts, which opens the door for wide trips. If you’ve got conviction earlier in the sequence, or deeper pockets than what I’ve got, you may want to buy the race and give yourself some security. I’m six-deep, and I sincerely hope that’s deep enough. However, giving out a ticket much more expensive than this one goes against what I’m trying to do. I still like this ticket, and if it hits, there’s a chance we can make a nice chunk of change.

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.

2018 KENTUCKY DERBY DAY: Analysis, Selections, and Tickets

Saturday is Kentucky Derby Day at Churchill Downs, and amidst the pride and pageantry of the event is a bevy of wagering opportunities. As I did with the races leading up to the Kentucky Oaks, I’ll have race-by-race analysis, as well as three Pick Four tickets down at the bottom of the page (for the Oaks Day write-ups, click here).

It wouldn’t be fair to bury my Derby analysis, so I’ll spend some time dissecting that race up here at the top. As much as I want to go against #7 JUSTIFY, and as much as I feel that 3-1 is a short price to take on a horse that’s run three times, I think he’s the horse to beat if he runs back to his Santa Anita Derby effort. By all indications, he’s done everything right since that race, and while many factors could get him beat (I’m most concerned with how he’ll react to such a large field given that he’s faced just 14 others in his three starts to date), I don’t think the distance will be a problem.

As you can probably infer, I don’t think Justify’s a cinch, or anything close to that. I’m using him on my tickets, but I’ve got two other “A horses” and three “B horses” for exotics purposes. The value on the board could come with #6 GOOD MAGIC, who makes his third start in this form cycle. A similar pattern led to his runaway score in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and I like that he’s run well in races with very large fields. Nothing can replicate the environment the Kentucky Derby presents, but here’s a fun stat: While eight horses in this field have won races with fields of 12 or larger signed on, Good Magic’s the only horse in this field to have won two such events (additionally, he ran a close second in the Grade 1 Champagne, which also drew 12). At his likely price, I need him on my tickets.

I also need to use #14 MENDELSSOHN, the runaway winner of the UAE Derby. Yes, he probably rode a bias to that victory, but he also boasts a win in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. He had some adventures getting to Churchill Downs, and much has been made of trainer Aidan O’Brien’s struggles in this race, but with the right trip beneath all-world rider Ryan Moore, Beholder’s younger half-brother could be the one they have to catch turning for home.

My three “B horses” are all trained by Todd Pletcher. #5 AUDIBLE, #16 MAGNUM MOON, and #18 VINO ROSSO are all talented, but I think they’re a cut below my top three. Audible and Vino Rosso would certainly benefit from a pace meltdown, while Magnum Moon figures to be close to the pace. All three have a chance on their best days, but they may need perfect trips, which are tough to come by in a 20-horse field.

The main horse I’m leaving out is #11 BOLT D’ORO, and it isn’t for a lack of talent. I think he’s a very solid horse, but I’ve noticed a trend in his two-turn races. He doesn’t seem to be a fan of passing horses late, so where he turns for home is usually where he finishes. In that sense, he’s a lot like 2013 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Mucho Macho Man, who also had a high cruising speed and was tough to reel in if he hit the top of the stretch in front, but often hung when he had some work left to do at that point. I just don’t think Bolt d’Oro will be in front turning for home, and 8-1 seems short on a horse that hasn’t crossed the wire first since October, doesn’t it?

With that in mind, let’s go through the 11 races leading up to the Derby. One reminder, and it’s the same one that was present in the Oaks preview: Even though there’s a chance of rain in the forecast, these analyses assume that all races carded for the turf stay there.

On with the show!

RACE #1: I’ll look to start off the proceedings with a bit of a price. #2 SHARE THE UPSIDE is 5-1 on the morning line, and I think he’s got a chance to be a very good 3-year-old. His debut win at Oaklawn was strong, as he dueled through fast fractions and moved away well late. That race was validated when the runner-up came back to win, and there doesn’t seem to be much other early speed signed on.

The favorite and second choice will likely be #5 CROSSWALK and #6 ONCE ON WHISKEY, and they’re well-meant. I’ll use them both in exactas with my top pick, and if the track is wet, I’ll also throw in 15-1 shot #4 ARTICULATOR, who has done his best running when the skies have opened up.

RACE #2: This morning line puzzles me. #2 SUMMER LUCK and #1 GRAY SKY are 5/2 and 3-1 respectively, and they’re a combined 3 for 49. Needless to say, I’m not a fan of either horse, and I’ll focus on two others drawn toward the outside.

#6 BIG GRAY ROCKET is my top pick. He went to the Al Stall barn earlier this year and has run against a number of strong horses. The added distance should be to his liking, and I think he’ll be flying late. I’ll also be using #7 SUPER DERECHO, who may inherit the early lead by default. He lost all chance at the break in his last start, and he may be the one they have to catch turning for home.

RACE #3: This is another spot where I’m against several horses that may take money. #8 LOOKIN AT LEE, of course, ran second in last year’s Kentucky Derby, and #5 SONNETEER ran in that race as well. However, they’re a combined 4 for 37, and I hate betting horses like that.

I prefer the other two likely choices. #4 HOLLYWOOD HANDSOME was a good second two back in the Grade 2 New Orleans Handicap, while #6 IRISH FREEDOM may simply hate Santa Anita and could relish the surface switch for new trainer Brad Cox. On wider tickets, I’ll also throw in #3 LANGDARMA, who could outrun his odds if he repeats his two-back effort.

RACE #4: I can’t get past two runners in here. I’m most impressed by #3 DING DONG DITCH and #9 IRISH TERRITORY, and that’s the pair I’ll rely heavily on. Both likely needed their returns off of long layoffs, but repeats of their races two back would make them tough to beat. Irish Territory is my top pick, as that effort was a runner-up finish behind Catholic Boy in the Grade 3 With Anticipation at Saratoga.

I’ll throw #2 MIDNIGHT TEA TIME and #4 UNBRIDLED REBEL underneath. The former showed some talent in his debut before going to the sidelines, while the latter was a close second in back-to-back races at Gulfstream Park.

RACE #5: The big story in this allowance is the return of #8 MCCRAKEN, who is using this race as a prep for next month’s Grade 1 Met Mile. He’s my top pick, but this clearly is not the goal, and it wouldn’t be stunning if the three-time graded stakes winner tasted defeat here.

The other horse I think you need to use is #6 BEHAVIORAL BIAS, who was a close-up fourth in the Grade 3 Commonwealth last time out. I think he’ll like the extra furlong he gets in this race, and he may be a bit of a price to boot.

On wider exotics tickets, I’ll also use #1 SIEM RIEP, #9 DAZZLING GEM, and #10 ROYAL SQUEEZE. Royal Squeeze ran the best race of his career at this route. It was against weaker company, but at his likely price, I need to have him in some capacity, just in case the return to his favorite track wakes him up.

RACE #6: Graded stakes action starts here with the Grade 1 Humana Distaff. Many runners in here exit the Grade 1 Madison at Keeneland, and while I’m using that race’s winner (#1 FINLEY’SLUCKYCHARM), I actually prefer a filly that ran a colossal race in defeat.

That’s #8 AMERICAN GAL, who was making her first start since last summer. She was sent to the lead, raced through wicked fractions, and was beaten just a neck. As mentioned leading up to that race, I felt she may have been the best 3-year-old filly in the country last year when she was healthy, and she could very well move forward off of her Madison performance.

Finley’sluckycharm certainly fits here, and I’ll use her. I also need to throw #5 LEWIS BAY onto my wider tickets. She showed a new dimension in the Madison, when she came flying late and missed by a head. If the pace proves hot, she could be the main beneficiary.

RACE #7: Good freaking luck, folks. This is the Grade 2 Distaff Turf Mile, and the race is completely wide open. I’ve gone seven-deep in the middle Pick Four in this race, and if you can narrow it down further than that, more power to you.

Most of the speed is drawn to the outside, and the main pace threat is likely favorite #11 LA CORONEL. However, she’s no cinch, as longshot #10 PSYCHO SISTER has one way of going and could make it difficult for the Grade 1 winner to clear. If the pace gets fast, it could set things up for the likes of #1 MADAM DANCEALOT, #7 RES IPSA, and #9 ON LEAVE, all of whom could come flying late as the race falls apart.

I also need to use a few others. #2 THUNDERING SKY has tactical speed and is drawn well compared to the other pace factors, #5 DREAM DANCING had a very wide trip last time out and gets Javier Castellano, and I’ll reluctantly throw in #3 DREAM AWHILE, simply because I can’t allow myself to be knocked out of a wager by a Chad Brown-trained turf horse in a wide-open race given how hot that barn has been lately.

RACE #8: This is the Grade 2 Churchill Downs, and it’s drawn one of the top sprinters in the country. That’s #3 IMPERIAL HINT, whose lone loss in his last seven starts was a close second to Roy H in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint. His 2018 debut was a fine prep for this race, and there’s a chance he’s much the best. That being said, his one start at Churchill Downs was horrible, and he won’t be alone on the lead.

Because of these facts, I’ll also use #7 LIMOUSINE LIBERAL, who likes Churchill Downs as much as any other horse in training. He won four stakes races here last year, and he could sit a dream trip just off the speed. If he gets that sort of trip, he could make the 4-1 morning line odds look like an overlay.

RACE #9: The Grade 2 American Turf starts off an all-stakes Pick Four ending with the Kentucky Derby, and it’s a doozy. I can’t fault the logic of those going very deep in this race (or even buying it), but since I’m trying to put together an affordable ticket, I’ll take a bit of a stand and go two-deep.

My top pick is #11 UNTAMED DOMAIN. This was one of the best 2-year-old turf horses around last year, and he was beaten just a length by Mendelssohn in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. He likely needed his first race back, and the Tampa Bay Derby is a complete throw-out because Untamed Domain is not a dirt horse. I think we’ll see him on his A-game Saturday, and those last two races mean we may get a bit of a price.

The other horse I have to use is #3 THREEANDFOURPENCE, who accompanied stablemate Mendelssohn to the U.S. and will be ridden by all-world jockey Ryan Moore. He’s been competitive with Mendelssohn on turf and gets Lasix for the first time, and like Untamed Domain, he’s not a dirt horse, so that thumping last time out in Dubai is easy for me to ignore.

RACE #10: The Grade 3 Pat Day Mile drew a strong field, including a few runners that wouldn’t have been ridiculously out of place in the Kentucky Derby. The 14-horse field should ensure bettable prices all around, although I’d be pretty surprised if my top selection went off at his morning line price.

That’s #8 MASK, who was getting rave reviews following two straight impressive wins to start his career. He was briefly sidelined with an injury, and while he hasn’t run since January, anything close to the form we’ve seen would make him a major player. I doubt we’ll get 4-1, but 5/2 or so wouldn’t deter me from betting him.

In case Mask needs a race, I’ll also use #1 NATIONAL FLAG, who is 2 for 2 this season and exits an impressive win in the Grade 3 Bay Shore. He may need a better break than the one he had that day, but he’s a certain contender with a clean trip, and if Mask doesn’t show up, National Flag strikes me as the most logical winner.

RACE #11: I’ll end this portion of my analysis by taking a stand against the likely favorite in the Grade 1 Turf Classic. That’s #10 BEACH PATROL, who won a pair of Grade 1 races last year and was second in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. He makes his first start of 2018 here, and he’ll likely be a heavy favorite.

Having said that, I have serious reservations about him. He’s at his best going much longer than this nine-furlong distance, and there’s a chance he needs this race off of a six-month layoff. I’m leaving him off of my Pick Four tickets and solely opting to use him in saver doubles that end in the Kentucky Derby.

My top pick is #7 SYNCHRONY, who’s gotten exceptionally good since Joe Bravo hopped aboard two starts ago. He most recently won a Grade 2 at Fair Grounds, and while he’s got a strong turn of foot, he’s also shown a bit of tactical speed and shouldn’t have to rally from out of the clouds.

I’ll also use #3 KURILOV, who exits a key race won by next-out Grade 1 winner Heart to Heart, as well as #6 ARKLOW, whose turf form looks much better if you toss his two New York races from last summer. I’m hoping Beach Patrol isn’t fully cranked and wants to go longer, and if I’m right, the potential for a nice late Pick Four payoff goes way up. Speaking of which…

PICK FOUR TICKETS

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #2

R2: 6,7
R3: 3,4,6
R4: 3,9
R5: 1,6,8,9,10

60 Bets, $30

There are no singles, but I’m narrow enough early to be able to spread in the payoff leg. Perhaps McCraken wins and makes that strategy look foolish, but if he’s simply using this race to stretch his legs, I want to get paid.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #5

R5: 6,8
R6: 1,5,8
R7: 1,2,3,5,7,9,11
R8: 3,7

84 Bets, $42

This one starts where the early one ends, and I’ll opt for a different, “A-only” approach to kick it off since I absolutely need to spread in the third leg. I wish I could hit the “ALL” button in that race, but barring a significant scratch, I can’t do that and give out a ticket that stays within a reasonable budget, so this will have to do.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #9

R9: 3,11
R10: 1,8
R11: 3,6,7
R12: 5,6,7,14,16,18

72 Bets, $36

The philosophy here is pretty simple. If I can get to the 20-horse Kentucky Derby, I feel confident that I’m going to hit for a decent sum of money (especially if one of my non-Justify horses wins the main event). Between field sizes, the massive pool we’re likely to see, and the lack of Beach Patrol on my ticket, even a somewhat formful set of results could lead to a big score, and with the time between the Turf Classic and the Derby, such a scenario would leave me plenty of time to be nervous before the Run for the Roses.