Racing Had Momentum After the Kentucky Derby. Now What?

In the aftermath of the Kentucky Derby, I firmly believed that there was a chance for racing to capitalize on mainstream attention.

Everyone was talking about it, and Maximum Security and Country House, forever linked by a disqualification among the most controversial in racing history, could lock up again in the Preakness. Such a rematch would be one of the most anticipated in the game, and the sport would have two weeks to market to an intrigued fan base eager to know more about it.

Swing and a miss.

Maximum Security is being held out of the Preakness. Country House got sick and is now being pointed to the Belmont. As a result, public interest for the Preakness is at a low, and the middle jewel of racing’s Triple Crown has a decidedly “meh” feel to it among prospective fans the sport cannot afford to lose.

Please don’t get that statement twisted. The Preakness could be a fun betting race, with lots of different directions to go in if you’re not crazy about likely favorite Improbable. Preakness week also features an array of high-quality races that provide plenty of attractive wagering options for handicappers like me (and, I surmise, like most of my audience).

However, the general public could not possibly care less about the makeup of the Preakness, nor could they care less about the cornucopia of graded stakes races on Friday and Saturday at Old Hilltop. Saying otherwise is naïve, at best.

Casual fans of the sport have likely heard of four or five horses over the past year and a half: Justify, Accelerate, City of Light, Maximum Security, and Country House. The first three are retired, and the other two are on the bench. Stars make racing much easier to promote, but when horses run less and less (due to radical changes in the ways horses are bred and managed), there has to be a fallback plan in place.

Therein lies a bigger problem nobody is talking about. While the debate following the Kentucky Derby was endless, vicious, and unnecessarily vile at times, debates about how to actually grow the game in the wake of it have drawn crickets on social media. It shows a distinct lack of focus on what should be the biggest focus in racing: Getting new fans, drawing them in, and educating them so they have the most chance of coming back.

What are we, as a sport, doing to ensure that such a plan is in place? This question holds doubly true now that two of the biggest racing days of the year are without any sort of a Triple Crown storyline. We can talk about concerts, and food trucks, and hat contests, and things that look pretty on social media, but how does any of that affect racing for longer than one afternoon? More bluntly, how does any of that affect handle, AT ALL?

Now that Maximum Security and Country House are both out of the Preakness, I challenge you to find a bigger public interest storyline than, “The Stronach Group wants to leave Pimlico behind and move the Preakness to Laurel.” Meanwhile, the Met Mile on Belmont Day could draw McKinzie, Mitole, and Coal Front, which for my money makes it the main event on that program (as opposed to a race for 3-year-olds going a distance they are not at all bred to handle). Tell that to the general public, and the response is, “why should I care?”

What are we, as a sport, doing to answer that question? We did a lot in the 72 hours after the Kentucky Derby to try to convince people that the DQ was either the right call or the wrong call. If we channeled half of that energy into actually marketing the sport the way it should be marketed, I’m convinced we’d see substantial results long-term. Combine that with breeding horses for stamina and soundness instead of pure speed, and we may actually have ways to market both the sport and the best horses in it.

It’s naïve to think the Preakness matters as much as it did to the novice racing fan before Maximum Security and Country House defected from the field. It doesn’t. We can be as positive and optimistic as we want about how it still holds historical significance as the second leg of racing’s Triple Crown, but such statements fall on deaf ears to a public conditioned only to care about the sport on its biggest days. That isn’t me being negative, or pessimistic. That’s a fact, one that racing has brought onto itself as top-notch horses transitioned from running 10 to 12 times per year a generation ago to running four to six times per year while their connections said, “We’re training him up to…”.

The answer to the, “now what?,” question should be, “well, this coming week has a lot of really good horses in action that you could see later this year.” Except it doesn’t. There are five stakes races Saturday at Belmont Park, and they boast a combined total of 31 entries. Only one of those races (the Man o’ War) will have more than six horses going postward.

I’ve worked in marketing at a number of different businesses. The keys to a successful campaign are capitalizing on momentum created from prior steps in the process. Racing had chances to do that this time around, and it didn’t.

I’m worried about how many more chances the industry will have to do that.

Country House, Maximum Security, the Kentucky Derby, and the Question Nobody’s Asking

“What is a foul that merits disqualification?”

Like everyone else, I’ve been struggling to wrap my head around what happened Saturday afternoon at Churchill Downs. It’s something we’ve never seen before: The winner of the Kentucky Derby was disqualified for interference during the running of the race.

As the social media age dictates, reaction to the decision has been mixed and loud, and it’s not expected to quiet down anytime soon. Many people I like and respect voiced support for the unanimous decision that disqualified Maximum Security and elevated Country House to the top spot. Many people I like and respect also thought it was a terrible, awful, no-good, very-bad call that disgraced the biggest race of the year.

My opinion is that the DQ was warranted. We can go on and on about this, but while Maximum Security didn’t bother Country House, his drifting nearly caused War of Will to clip heels, and Long Range Toddy was sandwiched as a result. Maybe neither horse was winning, and maybe Country House was never getting by, but I don’t think any of that matters.

However, I’m writing this not to take one side or the other, but to put forth an alternate hypothesis. With all due respect to the writers, handicappers, and pundits that have voiced their opinions…I don’t think it matters what any of us think of the decision.

Why? Because there’s a bigger elephant in the room nobody wants to address that was front and center Saturday afternoon.

“What is a foul that merits disqualification?”

Ask that question to officials in Kentucky, New York, Florida, and California, and you’re going to get four different answers. By the letter of the rules in each state, infractions that merit disqualification in one state don’t necessarily merit disqualification in another. This is even before the human element of the story comes into play (as a former TVG colleague states often, horse racing is the only sport where officials consult the athletes on whether or not to call a penalty).

If you bend or break the rules in any other sport, you know the penalty. If you’re a basketball player and you steamroll a defender whose feet are set, you lose the ball. If you’re a catcher on a baseball team and you inch up to where the batter has no chance to hit the ball, the batter gets first base. If you’re lined up on the football field and move before the ball is snapped, your team loses five yards.

“What is a foul that merits disqualification?”

Four states.

Four different answers.

One big problem.

A national racing commission is not the answer to horse racing’s abundance of issues. There are logical questions about who would run such a commission, and what groups would or would not be represented within it (any idea being floated around about this seems to shut out bettors; consciously done or not, that’s a big problem).

However, there is no reason why circuits cannot come together and implement one consistent code with regard to how races are ridden by jockeys and policed by stewards. At a time when racing is under a microscope for a variety of reasons, enacting such a code in the name of consistency, transparency, and fair play could only serve to benefit racing in any number of ways.

Gamblers would know what to expect in every single situation involving an inquiry or objection. Jockeys would know what not to do on the track, and how they would be punished for breaking the rules. The general public would see an effort to protect horses and riders, at a time when many concerned with safety are holding their collective breath every time fields go postward.

If circuits don’t trust one another (and let’s be honest, if they did, race scheduling would never be an issue), let the NTRA handle it. Put such a code into the guidelines of the safety accreditation process that every establishment goes through each year. If you’re a track, and you want that accreditation, you’re going to play by these rules. If you don’t want those rules in place, that’s fine, but members of the public are going to know where you stand and draw their own conclusions.

My issue isn’t whether or not Maximum Security deserved to come down. My issue is that there was no clear, concise answer about how to attack this situation. By the count of Horse Racing Nation editor Jonathan Lintner, it took 10 times longer to decide the outcome of the inquiry than it did to run the race. If there’s a code in place that everyone has to follow, from jockeys to stewards, there’s no subjectivity to the process, we all know what’s going to happen, and everything becomes much easier.

Following the race, one steward at Churchill Downs read a statement. She did not answer questions from the media or the public, and I do not have an issue with that. Stewards should not be spokespeople, just as referees should not speak to media covering their respective sports. Leave that stuff to the suckers in marketing and public relations (hi, Ed DeRosa!).

Having said that, in the scrum of unanswered questions involving such entities as Kentucky taxpayers, to the best of my knowledge, nobody asked the one question I wanted answered.

“What is a foul that merits disqualification?”

Your guess is as good as mine.

Isn’t that a problem?

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.