Analysis, Selections, and Tickets: Pennsylvania Derby Day and Oklahoma Derby Day

We’ll start things off with an unfortunate update. Those of you who dropped by the site last week read about the plight of fellow Saratoga handicapper Mike Jarboe, who at the time was going through some serious health issues. Unfortunately for all of us, Mike passed away a few days ago following a battle with pancreatic cancer.

A Facebook friend of mine started a fundraiser, with proceeds going to a pancreatic cancer research foundation. I’ve donated, and so have several friends of mine in the industry. If you’re able to donate, or want to find out more about the foundation’s efforts, click here.

Rest in peace, Mike. We love you.

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$0.50 Pick Four: Parx (9/23/17)

R8: 2,4,5,6,8,9
R9: 1,4,5,7
R10: 9
R11: 1,4

48 Bets, $24

Full disclosure: I’m aware of the high takeout rate at Parx, and if you don’t want to play the races from there based on that, I absolutely understand. With that in mind, this all-stakes Pick Four should boast a large pool, and this is an affordable stab at it.

If you want to end it singling Abel Tasman and West Coast (which I almost did), hitting the “ALL” button to start things off wouldn’t be a terrible idea. I used six of the nine horses entered, and the morning line favorite (Matt King Coal) was the absolute last horse I threw in. He needs the lead, and there’s a fair amount of early speed to his inside, so this race may not set up well for him.

The ninth is the Grade 3 Gallant Bob, and I thought this was a fun race. The entry of Petrov and Coal Front is a must-use, but I don’t think either horse is anywhere close to a cinch. Excitations and American Pastime are both logical alternatives, and I’ve also thrown in 15-1 shot Running Mate, whose record looks miles better if you draw a line through his lone two-turn effort in the Grade 3 LeComte. These connections mean business when they ship, and I had to have him on the ticket.

I singled Abel Tasman in the Grade 1 Cotillion. There are some solid horses signed on, but if the four-time Grade 1 winner runs her race, I just don’t see her losing. If you want a price underneath in vertical exotics, though, it wouldn’t shock me if Run and Go hits the board. She’s 2-for-2, and with Union Rags on the top of her pedigree, two turns should not be a problem.

West Coast should win the Pennsylvania Derby, and if he does so, he’ll be the unquestioned leader in the race for his division’s Eclipse Award. However, I also used Timeline, whose race in the Haskell was too bad to be true. If he runs back to either the Pegasus or the Peter Pan, I think he’s got a real shot to spring the upset. With that in mind, I doubled up rather than ending with two straight Bob Baffert-trained singles.

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$0.50 Pick Four: Remington Park (9/24/17)

R9: 1,4,10,11
R10: 3,8
R11: 3,8
R12: 2,5,7,8

64 Bets, $32

Sunday’s card at Remington Park is one of the biggest of the season. It’s anchored by the Grade 3 Oklahoma Derby, but there’s plenty of stakes action surrounding that race as well. The track’s put together one heck of a Pick Four sequence, and my ticket doesn’t have a single…well, single.

I’m not convinced 6/5 favorite Gianna’s Dream is a cinch in the opening leg. I’ve used her, but she sat a picture-perfect trip last time out and may not be alone on the lead. I’m also using likely second choice Emerald Pond, but my ticket includes longshots Joyous Thunder and Fazzle Dazzle as well. Both are very consistent horses that would benefit from a battle up front, and I think they’ll both be moving in the right direction when the real running starts.

Ivan Fallunovalot may be the shortest price in the sequence when he runs in the 10th. I almost singled him, but Wilbo is a serious sprinter that ran a good second behind Limousine Liberal two back at Churchill Downs. His best race would put him right there, and he’d benefit from others going with the favorite out of the gate.

The 11th is the Oklahoma Derby, and this was another near-single for me. Battle of Midway broke through with a very strong performance last time out at Del Mar in what doubled as his first outing with blinkers. He’s been a solid horse all year, and he may have put it all together late in his 3-year-old campaign. Still, I had to use Girvin, who’s a feast-or-famine type of horse. When he’s right, as he was in the Haskell, he’s a very good runner. When he isn’t, it’s not pretty to watch. Still, this is a much softer spot than the Travers was, and maybe he just doesn’t want to go a mile and a quarter.

The payoff leg features local favorite Ibaka, who’s won 13 of his 27 lifetime races and four out of five tries on this turf course. I used him, and I wouldn’t be shocked if he wins, but he won’t have it easy up front. I wanted coverage in case he goes too fast early on, as he did in the Oklahoma Turf Classic last October. The winner that day, Runandyrun, also shows up in this spot to run on his favorite turf course, and we may get a price on this stakes-winning closer given the recent form over tracks he probably didn’t care for. I’m also using Pacific Typhoon and Perfect to Please. Both Veronica Griggs trainees come in off of strong wins in local preps, and both have big chances in this spot.

THE DARK DAY FILES: Trying to Make Sense of the 3-Year-Old Male Division

I was really, REALLY hoping I didn’t have to write this column.

You see, like pretty much everyone else, I’ve been hoping for months that a 3-year-old would separate himself from the rest of the division. Briefly, Always Dreaming did that, but he was knocked off the mountaintop just as quickly as he ascended it. Ever since the Preakness, the division has been shrouded in confusion, with big efforts often followed by duds that only serve to make things more difficult to decipher.

In what doubled as a dream come true for the NYRA marketing department, the three winners of the three Triple Crown races lined up in last Saturday’s Travers. Much like the last time this happened (1982), though, the race wasn’t won by one of those horses. West Coast, whose lone graded stakes win before the Midsummer Derby came at Los Alamitos against what would charitably be called a mediocre bunch, went wire-to-wire under Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith and earned the top Beyer Speed Figure of any 3-year-old router to this point in the season.

I’ll attempt to decipher the division here. Essentially, this acts as a quick and dirty summary of the main players, as well as what they likely need to do to emerge as a contender for the division’s Eclipse Award. I only considered horses that had won at least one Grade 1 race in 2017, which means horses like 2-3 Travers finishers Gunnevera and Irap, as well as Jim Dandy winner Good Samaritan, are out.

Disagree? Think I missed something? Shoot me a message, and I’ll be happy to discuss what I think.

West Coast

Claim to Fame: Beat the winners of all three Triple Crown races in the Travers.

Drawbacks: Hasn’t done much else to this point. He was visually impressive in both stakes wins earlier in the year, but he didn’t beat many quality foes in either spot.

Eclipse Chances: High. A win in either the Pennsylvania Derby (against 3-year-olds) or the Jockey Club Gold Cup (against older horses) would give him a resume very few in the division could match. Fun fact: If West Coast wins the award, this will mark the third time in the last five years that it has gone to a horse that did not win a Triple Crown race. Before Will Take Charge won in 2013 despite lacking such a win, the last thoroughbred to pull it off was Tiznow, who did so in 2000.

Always Dreaming

Claim to Fame: Won the Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby back-to-back, both by daylight.

Drawbacks: Has failed to win any of his three subsequent starts. I’m a bit higher on his Jim Dandy than most (he did salvage third over a very tiring track), but his Preakness and Travers efforts were lousy.

Eclipse Chances: Higher than you may think. As of this writing, no active 3-year-old can match his top-end wins, and even if he never runs again (which is possible, maybe even likely), there’s a chance he’ll end the year as this season’s only 3-year-old male with multiple Grade 1 wins on dirt. That would make him a popular “hold your nose” vote.


Claim to Fame: Won the Belmont, and did so in impressive fashion. He and runner-up Irish War Cry were well clear of the rest of the field.

Drawbacks: He’s only won twice, and while he didn’t run terribly in the Travers, he was fourth behind three horses that had previously combined for zero Grade 1 victories to this point in the season.

Eclipse Chances: Medium. There’s a chance he needed the Travers off a 12-week layoff, and a run in the Jockey Club Gold Cup would mean a chance at another Grade 1 victory at the scene of his greatest triumph to date. Such a win would give him two signature victories and would put him squarely in the middle of the conversation ahead of the Breeders’ Cup.

Oscar Performance

Claim to Fame: Has won back-to-back Grade 1 races, and is the only 3-year-old male in the country besides Always Dreaming with two such wins on his resume this year.

Drawbacks: He’s a turf horse.

Eclipse Chances: None most years, but this year, he’s got a shot. If ever there was a year for an unconventional winner of this award, it’s 2017, and a win over older horses would do wonders for his candidacy. He could get such a victory in the Grade 1 Joe Hirsch, provided his connections opt to bypass the Grade 3 Hill Prince, which boasts a similar purse and (likely) much less in the way of opposition. If he wins the Hirsch and runs well in the Breeders’ Cup (no easy task, since the Turf’s distance would be uncharted territory for him and the Mile is never an easy race to win), it would be impossible to keep him out of this discussion.

Classic Empire

Claim to Fame: When he’s right, he’s probably the best horse in this division in terms of pure talent. He won the Arkansas Derby, was the victim of a lousy trip when fourth in the Kentucky Derby, and just missed in the Preakness…

Drawbacks: …but he hasn’t been seen since. His connections had eyed the Pennsylvania Derby, but those plans fell through.

Eclipse Chances: Low. On one hand, if this horse hangs on in the Preakness, we’re probably not having this conversation (it’s at least much more concentrated in nature). On the other hand, how can one consider this horse a contender when he hasn’t raced since mid-May? Maybe he runs again in either the Breeders’ Cup or the Cigar Mile. Maybe he doesn’t and we’ve seen the last of him. If the latter is the case, it’s a real shame.

Practical Joke

Claim to Fame: Won the Allen Jerkens on Travers Day, and an argument can be made that he’s the best 3-year-old in the country at what he does.

Drawbacks: What he does is run one turn. He’s not the same horse going a conventional, two-turn route of ground.

Eclipse Chances: Low, and it’s no fault of the horse or his connections. If the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile was contested around one turn (like it will be next year at Churchill Downs), or if the Sprint was seven furlongs and not six, he would be in a great spot. However, he’s between distances and will need to overcome the lack of an ideal race on racing’s biggest weekend. A Sprint win would almost certainly vault him to the head of the class, and a Dirt Mile win would also be helpful, but if he loses either race and salvages the Cigar Mile or Malibu, would that be enough of a resume? I don’t think so.


Claim to Fame: Won the Grade 1 Haskell over a solid group, which included next-out Jerkens winner Practical Joke and next-out Shared Belief winner Battle of Midway. Earlier this season, he also captured the Louisiana Derby and Risen Star Stakes.

Drawbacks: Misfired in both the Travers and the Kentucky Derby, which were prime opportunities for him to show he belongs at the top of this division.

Eclipse Chances: Slim. Most years, he’d already be eliminated, counted out as a nice horse, but not one of the best. However, if he wins the Pennsylvania Derby, all of a sudden, we’ve got a horse that’s won two Grade 1’s, two Grade 2’s, and a lot of money. Is it unlikely? Yes, but then again, so was his Haskell win.

Cloud Computing

Claim to Fame: Reeled in Classic Empire in the Preakness, giving Chad Brown his first win in a Triple Crown race.

Drawbacks: He’s done nothing since then, throwing in two clunkers at Saratoga.

Eclipse Chances: Slim to none. If he comes back with a winning effort in a Breeders’ Cup prep race, we can more easily throw out the Saratoga races. However, those races were dreadful, and it’s tough to swallow something like that in this sort of a discussion.

Belmont Park Analysis, Selections, and Tickets (6/24/17), PLUS: Betting the Ohio Derby on a Budget

After responses to an impromptu Twitter poll, I’ve taken a look at Saturday’s card at Belmont Park, as well as the $500,000 Ohio Derby. Unfortunately, the vote was conducted before strong overnight rain swept through Long Island, and as such, the Belmont card has been ravaged by scratches and races taken off the turf. If you came Friday or early Saturday morning, you saw Pick Five and Pick Four tickets that no longer apply. Below are my updated efforts, as well as an attempt to play the Ohio Derby on a $20 budget.

$0.50 Pick Five: Race #1, Belmont Park

R1: 1,4
R2: 6,7,8
R3: 1,3
R4: 2,3,5
R5: 10,12

72 Bets, $36

My opening leg single scratched due to the mud, and two races within the sequence (the third and the fifth) came off the turf. I’m going two-deep to start, using Kissin Cassie and Bellelarama (the latter of whom moves up significantly on a wet track). My original ticket had Giant Ending in the second leg, but I threw her out due to her recent poor race in the slop. I’m still three-deep there, and I likely have the three betting favorites.

We’re down to a field of four in the third race, and I think it’s a match race between Puca and Jewels N Rome. I added Shoot the Gap into the fourth leg (to go along with likely betting favorites Basic Hero and Won’t Burn), and I’m two-deep in the payoff leg. Frostie Anne has strong dirt form (especially if you toss her clunkers over the inner track at Aqueduct, which she clearly does not like), and Treatherlikestar won at first asking on dirt before trying races that were simply too tough.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #7, Belmont Park

R7: 3
R8: 6
R9: 3,5,7,8,9
R10: ALL

40 Bets, $20

I thought this was a great sequence when all races were projected to stay on the turf. However, the last two races (one of which is still on turf) are still extremely wide-open. If we can get a price home in one or both of those races, this could pay more than you think.

I was really looking forward to the seventh when it was on turf, as I didn’t like probable favorite Elenzee. We’re down to a field of four, and main-track-only entrant Broken Engagement looks very tough. There’s no other early speed left in the race, and I think he’ll have things all his own way on the front end at a short price.

The second of two back-to-back singles comes in the Saturday feature. The eighth race is the Wild Applause, and while some quality fillies have signed on, I think Rubilinda could be a different kind of animal. It’s not easy to rate at first asking, but this regally-bred daughter of Frankel did just that and won going away. Improvement is logical at second asking, and I think she could be a very nice turf filly for Chad Brown, who seems to have a barn full of them.

This structure allows us to spread in the last two legs, which is good because, as mentioned, they’re not easy. The two Chad Brown trainees (Call Provision and Converge) may be best in the ninth, but the former comes off a layoff and the latter is untested at this distance, so I opted for a bit more coverage. Meanwhile, the last race is complete and total chaos given the move to dirt. None of these horses have much in the way of proven form, so I’ve bought the race and will hope for a price if we can get to that point.


In handicapping the Ohio Derby, I took the approach that the Kentucky Derby is a complete throw-out for all horses who ran there. None of them ran well that day, for various reasons, and the wet track certainly didn’t make things any easier.

Girvin is certainly a logical favorite, and he’s my top pick and exacta key. His races prior to the Derby were pretty sharp, and much was made about foot issues he had leading up to that race. He’s worked well since the Derby, and most recently fired a five-furlong bullet drill on June 17th.

The other horse I’ll use in my bigger exacta play is Untrapped. He hasn’t won in a while, but I firmly believe he could sit a dream trip in this race. There isn’t much early speed, and he’s shown an ability to be forwardly placed. He’s a decent price (9/2) on the morning line, and he could produce some value in the exotics.

I’ll also throw in the three-horse entry of Talk Less, Vibe, and Game Over, as well as Blue Grass winner Irap. Of the entry, I most prefer Vibe, who has yet to run a bad race in four starts this season and whose speed figures are on an upward trend. I actually took a flyer on him two back at Charles Town, and he ran a sneaky-good race that day at 28-1 considering how much he struggled going into the first turn.

Meanwhile, I’m not crazy about Irap, who may be overbet given his perfect-trip win in the Blue Grass two back. However, with the relative lack of early zip signed on, there’s a chance he gets that trip again. As such, I need to at least throw him into my smaller exacta play.


$4 exacta box: 3,5 ($8)
$2 exacta key box: 5 w/1,2,3 ($12, $20)