Analysis, Selections, and Tickets: 2018 Florida Derby Day, PLUS: A Disturbing Trend in Racing That Must End

Before we get into my analysis of Saturday’s Rainbow 6 and late Pick Four sequences at Gulfstream Park, I need to expound on something I’ve been witnessing more and more of as of late. It’s a plague on the sport we enjoy, and it needs to stop.

Earlier this week, the connections of Australian superstar Winx announced that the mare would not ship to Royal Ascot. All hell promptly broke loose on Twitter, with plenty of insult-lobbing from all corners of the world saying that Team Winx was ducking top-class competition.

Horse racing has a major problem, and this situation typifies it. We crave horses that turn into winning machines, ones that strut their stuff on a regular basis and leave no doubt about how good they are. However, when we get horses like that, we’re often very quick to tear them down.

I wrote at length about Wise Dan, who ran into this phenomenon when his connections opted to keep their turf buzzsaw on turf rather than try him on dirt. This is the same concept. Winx has mowed down all comers over the course of her 24-race win streak, including world-class horses like Highland Reel. Why can’t we simply appreciate her for what she’s doing and be glad that we’re seeing her do it?

In a bizarre twist, while some of us insist on this strange behavior, we also spend time building up horses that have lost. Zenyatta gained the most respect not for any of her victories, but in coming up short to Blame in her career finale. Many think Easy Goer was superior to Sunday Silence despite losing three out of four meetings with that rival. Heck, Bodemeister’s stud career was built not on his runaway win in the Arkansas Derby, but off of his LOSS in the Kentucky Derby.

To be fair, part of handicapping involves figuring out horses that can improve off of defeats, and ones coming off of wins that may be vulnerable. That’s part of the pursuit of value that every handicapper undertakes when dissecting a card. However, none of that has any bearing in assessing a horse’s accomplishments during that horse’s career.

Winx is great, and her bona fides are not lessened by her connections opting not to go to Royal Ascot. To those who hurled insults and think those connections owe anything to them beyond doing what they feel is best for their champion, shame on you. You’re pushing an ideology that results in no-win situations for the game, horses, and horsemen, one where champions somehow sully their reputations by not winning as authoritatively as fans think they should.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s take a look at Saturday’s Rainbow 6 sequence at Gulfstream. I’ll dissect the races involved, as well as offer a late Pick Four ticket that gives us a bit more coverage.

$0.20 Rainbow 6: Race #9

R9: 2,5,6,7,8
R10: 7
R11: 1,2,10
R12: 3,6,8,9,12
R13: 2,7,8
R14: 8

225 Bets, $45

If you’re going to play an economical ticket, I think you need at least two singles. I’ll take stands in the second and sixth legs, and hope that I’ve got enough coverage elsewhere.

The ninth is a maiden race going long on turf, and I wish I had the money to buy the race. I’m going five-deep, and while I’m using #7 ART COLLECTION (the 9/5 morning line favorite), I don’t think he’s any cinch, especially going to a cold barn. My top selection is actually #6 DAWOOD, who debuted going nine furlongs. That’s never an easy task, and rating well behind a slow pace certainly didn’t help. Dawood gets Luis Saez here, and he’s bred to be a good one. If he takes a step forward, he’s certainly good enough to win.

My first single comes in the 10th, an optional claiming event that’s drawn some classy horses. The one I really like is #7 READY FOR RYE, whose last race was too bad to be true. He’s shown plenty of ability, and if he’s back to his usual form, I think he’ll be tough to beat. He’s got enough tactical speed to sit close to the pace, and he may get first run turning for home beneath Jose Ortiz.

The third leg is the Grade 3 Honey Fox. #2 LULL and #10 ON LEAVE are both classy horses, but I also need to use #1 GLORY TO KITTEN, who has never lost over this turf course. She does take a step up in class, but I simply can’t throw a horse out that has never tasted defeat at Gulfstream.

The fourth leg is the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Oaks, and I’m taking the stance that this race sets up for a closer. My top pick (and not just because I used to work with a part-owner; hi, Drew!) is #9 PRINCESS WARRIOR, who prepped for this race with an OK effort in the Grade 3 Herecomesthebride on turf. Her record looks much better if you draw a line through the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, and I think she’ll come rolling late.

The 13th is the Grade 2 Pan American, and I’m three-deep. #8 SADLER’S JOY will be favored, and I’m using him, but I hesitate to single a deep closer in spots like these. I’m also using #2 BULLARDS ALLEY and #7 BIGGER PICTURE, and I’m surprised the latter is 6-1 on the morning line. He won the Grade 1 United Nations last year, and while he’s got a strong closing kick, it helps that he can also sit fairly close to the pace.

We finish things off with the Grade 1 Florida Derby, and I’ll hope to cap things off with a single. #8 AUDIBLE ran really well in taking the Grade 2 Holy Bull, and a repeat effort would mean another horse likely has to take a big step forward to beat him. I think he’ll be very tough in here, and hopefully, he can get this ticket home.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race 11

R11: 1,2,3,10
R12: 3,5,6,8,9,12
R13: 2,3,7,8
R14: 8

96 Bets, $48

I’m still singling Audible to end this sequence, but I’ll add a few horses before that in hopes of getting to the payoff leg. I’ll throw in #3 STORMY VICTORIA in the 11th, #5 DAISY in the 12th, and #3 HI HAPPY in the 13th. If you’ve got the money to add these horses into the Rainbow 6, feel free. I wanted to keep the cost of that ticket down to a reasonable level, though, and this was the compromise I came up with.

Analysis, Selections, and Tickets: Gulfstream Park, Santa Anita (2/24/18)

Now that my move from SoCal to NorCal is mostly complete, I’ve got some time to put pen to paper on some betting strategies for Saturday’s racing action. Gulfstream has a mammoth, 13-race card with three Pick Four sequences, while Santa Anita’s program is headlined by the return of Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint winner Stormy Liberal in the Grade 3 Daytona. Here’s how I’ll be playing!

GULFSTREAM PARK

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #2

R2: 5
R3: 1,8
R4: ALL
R5: 1,3,9

48 Bets, $24

If I had to guess, I’d say that my opening single in the early Pick Four will likely be the shortest price on the card. That’s #5 KING POWER, who certainly seems like the main speed in this bottom-level claiming event. If he’s allowed to dictate terms on the front end, I think he’ll be very tough to beat, and singling him allows me to spread elsewhere at a fairly-low cost.

The third is a two-turn event on grass, and I almost singled here as well. #8 GRACE’S DRAMA makes her second start off a long layoff, and her return came against much better horses. She showed some speed in a starter allowance before fading in a race she clearly needed, and this seems like a much softer spot for a horse that should be ready to progress. I reluctantly included morning line choice #1 PLEIN AIR, simply because there’s a fair amount of speed signed on that could set things up for her late kick, but Grace’s Drama is my top pick.

I have no such convictions about the fourth, an optional claiming race on the lawn where there doesn’t appear to be a standout. #2 BINGO KITTEN is favored, and his race two back was very good, but his recent dud can’t be ignored, and the claiming tag he’s entered with could be a red flag. I’m buying the race and hoping we get a price home.

The payoff leg is a maiden claimer for female sprinters, and I’m three-deep. #1 Y’ALL’s lone dirt race came in a tough straight maiden event, and she was a respectable fourth. The runner-up has since come back to win, and she’s a legitimate favorite. I’ll also use #3 QUICKLUCKYCOCO, who adds blinkers and has shown some life since dropping to this level three back, and #9 SENZA TE, who returns off a long layoff for Wesley Ward and sports several sharp drills at Palm Meadows.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #6

R6: 2,6
R7: 2,5,6,7
R8: 7,12,13
R9: 2,9

48 Bets, $24

I have no singles in this sequence, one that contains races with an average field size of 11 horses. If you hit, chances are you’ll get paid handsomely.

It starts with a minor stakes race, the Texas Glitter for turf sprinters. #2 BARBAROSSA has hinted at talent for Todd Pletcher and merits respect cutting back to one turn. I’ll use him, but I can’t ignore #6 REED KAN, whose lone turf race back in December was an excellent performance. That one seems like the main speed in here, and he could be the one they have to run down turning for home.

The seventh is a bottom-level claimer, and I found this race pretty tricky. I’m going against morning line choice #10 STARSHIP APOLLO, who’s on a four-race losing streak here and may prefer Gulfstream Park West. Additionally, while I used #5 MITOS Y LEYENDAS, 2-1 seems like a short price on a horse that hasn’t won since 2016. Of the four I’m using, the biggest price is #7 HORSE SPOTTER CARL, who won two back before getting off to a rough start last time out at this level. 15-1 seems like an overlay if you draw a line through that race.

I’m also going against the morning line choice in the eighth. That’s #9 FLIRTY, who takes a huge drop for high-profile connections after two misfires against straight maidens. I’ll try to beat her, and my top pick is #7 SOMEWHATOPTIMISTIC, who improved last time out in her second career start. She was beaten less than a length, and the top two finishers from that race have both come back to win. Further improvement in start number three would make her tough, and those 8-1 odds look juicy. I’ll also use second choice #12 TRUMP THAT and #13 SECOND ILLUSION, who missed the break in her debut but showed some life in rallying for third money.

The ninth is a turf route for older claimers, and it’s drawn a strong field for the level. I highly doubt we’ll get 5-1 on #9 RAY’S THE BAR, who was an impressive winner last time out on the drop in class. Jose Ortiz stays on, and I think he’ll probably be your post-time favorite. I’ll also throw in #2 MEGEVE, who ran two very good races two and three back before throwing in a clunker last time out. I can excuse that race, since he was marooned on the far outside with a short run into the first turn. He draws more favorably here in his first start for the strong David Fawkes outfit, and Luis Saez riding back is a plus.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #10

R10: 1,5,7,13
R11: 4
R12: 1,2,3,6,8
R13: 1,7,9,12

80 Bets, $40

In order to play this ticket for a reasonable amount of money, you need to single somewhere. The question is, where do you do it? The bookends of the sequence feature a number of first-time starters that will take money, the Hal’s Hope seems competitive, and the second leg is a claiming event with many horses that look similar to one another. If you’re right in taking a stand, though, you could be in line for a windfall.

The 10th is a maiden event for 3-year-olds going seven furlongs, and pedigree folks ought to be chomping at the bit. #5 BAIL OUT is a half to several graded stakes winners, and #7 RULER OF THE NILE was a million-dollar purchase at last year’s OBS sale. I’ll use them both, while also throwing in second-time starter #1 KING ZACHARY (who ran into Principe Guilherme in his debut) and #13 ARK IN THE DARK (who’s been working well at Palm Meadows for Kelly Breen and draws a cushy outside post).

My stand comes in the 11th. I’m far from crazy about it, but if I’m right on #4 ZEFIRO, I’ve got plenty of coverage elsewhere to potentially get paid. He was claimed last time out by Robert Dibona, who has run a smaller barn with great success over the past few years. His strike rate first off the claim is excellent, and note the presence of Javier Castellano, who doesn’t ride for him very often.

I couldn’t take any sort of a stand in the Hal’s Hope, and if you can, more power to you. #1 IRISH WAR CRY makes his 2018 debut, but it’s not like he HAS to win this event, and his best races have come around two turns. I needed coverage here, and my top pick is #6 MALAGACY, who almost certainly needed the race last time out going six furlongs. He didn’t run terribly that day, and he should be much more fit in this spot.

We finish with a real puzzler in the form of a maiden race for 3-year-olds going a mile on turf. #7 RHODE ISLAND and #9 VEGAS KITTEN are both first-time starters that will take money. I’ve used them both, but I much prefer two horses with experience, and one of them is a crazy price. #12 ROSE’S VISION will have to work out a trip, but he’s got plenty of turf form from last year and needed the race last time out. He could go off favored, and he’d be far from shocking. My big price is #1 TOP SECRET INDY, who debuted going a mile and was eased. However, Bill Mott’s horses usually need a race to get going, and the 316 turf Tomlinson number indicates he could relish the lawn. His second dam, Winendynme, was a multiple stakes winner on turf, and for all of these reasons, it wouldn’t be stunning if he took a major step forward in this spot. I have to use him, especially given his 20-1 morning line price.

SANTA ANITA

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #2

R2: 2
R3: 2,3,5,6
R4: 4,5,6,7
R5: 4,8

32 Bets, $16

Of the five sequences I’ve dissected, this is the one where I’m least optimistic about a huge payoff. It seems chalky on paper, especially if the likely favorite wins the feature, but maybe there’s a way we can extract some value.

I’m singling #2 GIFT OF A STAR in the second, a $16,000 claiming event. She comes back to dirt and drops in class, and her recent form looks much better if you cross out the turf races. This isn’t a stellar group, and this one’s usual dirt race should be good enough to beat this bunch.

I’m four-deep in both the second and third legs. The second leg is a sprint, and while I’m using likely favorite #5 HERE AND THERE and possible second choice #6 CLASSICO, I’m also going to throw in a few prices. #2 BEAR SKINNED drops in class a bit and has some competitive back form, while #3 CHROMIUM was claimed last time out following an uncharacteristic dud.

The fourth race is the Grade 3 Daytona, and it features the return of #7 STORMY LIBERAL. Trainer Peter Miller, though, saddles two others in here, and that makes me a bit apprehensive about the likely favorite’s chances. I’m using the other two Miller charges, as well as #6 PERFECTLY MAJESTIC, who could get an ideal setup rating off a hot pace beneath Kent Desormeaux.

The payoff leg features another possibly-heavy favorite. That’s #4 MONDAYMORNINGBLUES, who drops in for a tag for the first time. It wouldn’t be shocking if she won, but I also need to use #8 ALLIE’S LOVE, who’s been competitive at this level in two straight starts and draws a nice outside post. Whichever one of those two makes the lead should be tough to run down late.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #7

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

42 Bets, $21

By contrast to the early Pick Four, the late Pick Four could pay pretty well, even if shorter-priced horses find the winner’s circle. The fields are large, and that bodes well for the potential payoff.

We start with the seventh, and I needed to spread in this two-turn turf route. I almost punched the “ALL” button, but was at least able to whittle it down to seven horses in this 12-horse group. If you’ve got deeper pockets, buying the race may not be a bad idea, as it’s tough to separate this bunch.

The eighth is a maiden special weight event for older fillies and mares. #2 GET YOURSELF HOME is the morning line choice, but the relative lack of early speed she’s shown is a bit problematic. I used her, but I’m more focused on #5 ZILLINDA and #10 KARMIC AFFINITY. Those two have significantly more early speed, and, to me, they seem more logical.

I’m two-deep in the ninth, a classy optional claimer. #7 LIFE’S BLESSINGS will be a popular single, but I have to go deeper than just her. #5 POWDER got very good last fall, winning three in a row before a failed turf experiment. She’s working well ahead of her 2018 debut, and, on figures, she’s right with the likely favorite.

My single comes in the Saturday finale, the Wishing Well Stakes. #4 BENDABLE made her downhill debut last time out in the Grade 3 Las Cienegas and ran well, finishing second behind a classy mare. This seems like a softer spot, and she should be ready to take a step forward second off the bench. While I think she’s imposing, and while she’ll likely be a short price, I think there’s value in the exotics. #9 BARBARA BEATRICE, #10 ALGORITHMIC, and #11 MONGOLIAN SHOPPER all love this route of ground, and they’ll all be square prices that could shake things up by hitting the board.

Analysis, Selections, and Tickets: Holy Bull Day, Gulfstream Park (2/3/18)

Gulfstream Park’s Saturday card is a really fun one to handicap. In addition to the Grade 2 Holy Bull (which awards 10 Kentucky Derby points to the winner), there are also four other graded events on the docket, and the 12-race card contains three different Pick Four sequences. I’ve got three tickets I’ll dive into, and my best bet of the day ends one sequence and starts another. Let’s get to it!

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #2

R2: ALL
R3: 1,4,12
R4: 2,5,6
R5: 6

72 Bets, $36

There’s a Pick Five sequence that starts in the opener, but I want absolutely no part of it. From a handicapping perspective, the second race is a mess, and the first one’s not much clearer.

I’m buying the aforementioned second race, a starter/optional claiming event with many horses that seem to take turns beating one another and a few horses dropping in class. It’s tough to get excited about any of the eight runners in this race, and I’m hitting the “ALL” button, hoping a price kicks this off.

The third is a maiden claiming event going 7 1/2 furlongs on the grass. #12 CABIN JOHN is the 9/5 favorite on the morning line, but the post is dreadful given the short run to the first turn. I’m using him defensively, and my top pick is actually #4 GOING TO THE BEACH, who had a wide trip last time out and should sit a better trip in this spot. I’ll also take a swing and use #1 CREST OF EDEN, a horse bred to love the turf and one that should be forwardly-placed early on.

The fourth is the first graded stakes race of the day. It’s the Grade 3 Swale, and while it only drew a six-horse field, some promising horses showed up. #2 TRICKS TO DOO and #6 STRIKE POWER both come in off of impressive victories, and I’m using both, but don’t sleep on #5 PIVEN, especially given the likely race shape. Unlike many of these runners, Piven has shown an ability to rate, and that could be extremely useful given the seven-furlong distance.

I can afford to spread early, because my best bet of the day runs in the fifth. That’s #6 LITTLE BALTAR, who ran a gigantic race in defeat last time out. He broke from the far outside post in a field of 11, and because of that, he lost ground and had to make a premature move. He was beaten a half-length that day, but here, he gets a favorable draw and should be rolling late over his favorite turf course beneath regular rider Nik Juarez.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #5

R5: 6
R6: 1,2,4,5
R7: 3,4,6,9,11
R8: 1,2,3,10

80 Bets, $40

The way I’m constructing these tickets, if Little Baltar wins, I could have a big day. He’s a single on this Pick Four ticket as well, and that’s good because the other three races are far from easy.

The sixth is the Grade 3 Sweetest Chant. Trainer Chad Brown has two in here, and if he wins, it’ll be his seventh consecutive score in this race. I’m using both #4 DATA DEPENDENT and #5 SALSA BELLA, and I’ll throw in the 1-3 finishers from last month’s Ginger Brew as well. #1 THEWAYIAM was the winner that day, but #2 ANDINA DEL SUR raced incredibly wide in what was just her second career start, and she’s certainly eligible to improve off of that effort.

We’ll stay on the turf for the seventh, a tricky maiden event. Many of these horses are debuting in this spot, and my top pick is actually a first-time starter. That’s #3 MARCH TO THE ARCH, who’s bred to be a good one. His dam was a Group 2 winner on turf, and his second dam is a full sister to Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom. If he runs to his pedigree, 8-1 is a big overlay, but given all the unknowns in play, I felt a need to spread.

As if that race wasn’t tough enough, the eighth is another maiden race with many firsters. Nine of the 11 entrants are debuting in this spot, which makes for a very tough payoff leg to this sequence. #3 WISELY narrowly gets my top selection. He’s been working very well, and recently drilled with Cache, who was an impressive maiden winner recently. If his morning form comes with him, Wisely could very well be a horse to watch. If not, well, thankfully I’ve got the room to spread a bit.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #9

R9: 1,2,6,9 (13)
R10: 3,4,6,8
R11: 6,7
R12: 1,7

64 Bets, $32

This sequence has a guaranteed pool of $500,000, and chances are they’ll soar past it. I like this sequence a fair bit, as the field sizes are large and we could see a nice payoff even if four logical horses win.

The ninth is an optional claiming event, and my top pick is a price. That’s 8-1 shot #6 J. S. CHOICE, who I’ve been chasing for a while. He faltered badly last time out, and it’s safe to assume something went wrong because we haven’t seen him in five months. He’s been working well of late, and a repeat of either of his races two or three back against strong, stakes-quality horses would be good enough to put him right there at a nice number. One note: If #13 CONQUEST SANDMAN draws in off the AE list, I’d recommend using him, as his best race is good enough to get him home.

The first of three straight graded stakes races that end the card is the Grade 3 Forward Gal, and I’m against a favorite. #7 MISS MO MENTUM’s three wins came on turf, in an off-the-turf event, and over a very sloppy track. 9/5 seems like way too short a price, and I’ll try to beat her. #3 HEAVENHASMYNIKKI has long been highly thought of by her connections and has run like it, while #4 TAKE CHARGE PAULA won three stakes races last year and #6 VIOLENT TIMES and #8 MY MISS LILLY were both impressive debut winners.

The third leg is the Grade 3 Dania Beach, and #6 UNTAMED DOMAIN figures to be one of the shortest-priced favorites on the card. He was beaten just a length in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, which has proven to be a very live race. He’ll be a popular single, but I also have to use likely second choice #7 GIDU, who ran into a nice horse in his debut and came back to smash maidens at second asking in a very fast time. In case Untamed Domain isn’t fully-cranked (which is possible since the connections have mentioned Derby preps could be in his future), I want some security.

We’ll finish off the card with the Grade 2 Holy Bull. It’s unfortunate that #11 MISSISSIPPI will likely scratch, as I thought he was the best horse in the race (and one that would’ve provided a bit of value to boot). With him out, I can’t get too creative, as I think #1 ENTICED will be tough to beat. Everything about him says he’ll get better as he gets older, and he draws very favorably compared to other horses with some speed. I’ll also use #7 TIZ MISCHIEF, who was second to Enticed last time out and has been working well since arriving in Florida.

Analysis, Selections, and Tickets: Pegasus World Cup Day (1/27/18), PLUS Thoughts on the Breeders’ Cup Derby

Before I dive into extended race-by-race analysis of Saturday’s tremendous Pegasus World Cup Day program at Gulfstream Park, I wanted to expound a bit on what’s become a touchy subject in the horse racing community.

As reported by many sources, the Breeders’ Cup was entertaining the idea of a Breeders’ Cup Derby. The race would be restricted to 3-year-olds, and as a result of this race’s implementation, the Breeders’ Cup Classic would be pushed back to December.

I tweeted my thoughts on this idea a few days ago. If you didn’t see it, it’s below.

Grade 1 races are supposed to be difficult to win. They should mean something when a horse retires and goes off to stud, not be part of a culture where there are so many Grade 1 races that almost every decent horse gets a piece of the pie (especially in years where foal crops are declining). We do not need more Grade 1 races restricted to 3-year-olds, and we certainly do not need them scheduled near the end of the year, when those horses should be testing themselves against older company.

Standing pat, with the current setup as it was run in 2017, is clearly the solution preferred by a wide margin of racing fans. In fact, in spending time on Twitter, I failed to come across a single positive opinion of the Breeders’ Cup Derby. DRF colleague Matt Hegarty reported that the Breeders’ Cup board did not commit to any changes in their meeting Friday, and that’s a relief.

Now that we’ve gotten through that, let’s take a look at Saturday’s 12-race card at Gulfstream Park. It’s headlined by the world’s richest horse race, the $16 million Pegasus World Cup, which doubles as the final race of Horse of the Year Gun Runner before the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner retires to stud. That race goes as the finale, and there are ample wagering opportunities before Gun Runner and company hit the track.

I’ve got three Pick Four battle plans below the analysis, so if you’re solely interested in those, scroll down. However, with the big fields and juicy prices on tap, I felt each race deserved its own write-up, so that’s what I’m doing. Let’s get started!

RACE #1: Right off the bat, we have what I felt was the toughest race on the card. I’m grateful that Gulfstream carded this one as the opener, which puts it out of all three Pick Four sequences (although it does kick off the early Pick Five).

This is a maiden race for 3-year-old fillies going long on the turf, and there are some first-time starters with flashy pedigrees that bookend the full field of 14. #1 AMERTUME is out of a mare who’s a half to Grade 1 winner First Defence, and her female family traces back to all-time great broodmare Tousseau (who threw Empire Maker and Chester House, among others). Additionally, #14 TOUCH OF GRACE is out of a mare named Sealy Hill, who was one of the top horses in Canada in her heyday. She fetched $275,000 at auction and is trained by Chad Brown, but that post is a killer, and it’s tough to debut going two turns.

I’ll use them both underneath a few horses that have run before. #8 SPECIAL TRIP is my top pick. She was a good second last time out at Belmont, and while she hasn’t run in three months, the past two workouts show she could be sitting on “go.” I’ll also take a bit of a swing with #10 SHOW GIRL, who’s bred to go much longer than the six furlongs she went in her debut. Her recent turf works are lively, she should appreciate the added distance she gets here, and I think she’ll be bet down a bit from her 15-1 morning line. Finally, #12 SMART SHOT is the tepid 7/2 favorite on the morning line, and she was a solid third in her turf debut last month. She could win this, but that last race was a pretty big step up for her, so a bounce is also in question.

RACE #2: This maiden special weight starts the first of three Pick Four sequences. It’ll be contested at a tricky seven-furlong distance, and while that’s a tough route to debut at, two of the four horses I’m using are first-time starters.

#2 CACHE is working impressively ahead of her debut, and she’s bred to be a good one. Her second dam is a full sister to Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Spain, and this one fetched $500,000 at auction and has appeared to move forward in the mornings for Mark Hennig, who’s hit at an alarming rate with first-time starters of late. I’ll also use fellow debutante #3 TAKECHARGEDELILAH, a Todd Pletcher trainee that’s a half to stakes winner Mo Don’t No.

Of the ones that have run before, I prefer second-time starters #6 MUCHACHA UNO and #8 ROMANTIC MOMENT, both of whom are eligible to improve adding distance off of debuts much shorter than they likely want to go. I’m going against morning line favorite #9 COACH ROCKS, who has had plenty of chances and enjoyed a perfect trip last time out, only to get caught. If that one beats me, I’ll live with it.

RACE #3: This is the first graded stakes race of the day. It’s the Grade 3 La Prevoyante, and seven older mares will go a mile and a half on turf. In my opinion, this race houses the day’s most likely winner. Unfortunately, she won’t be any sort of a price.

#7 APPLE BETTY won a pair of stakes races last year going 12 furlongs, and in doing so, she dispatched several rivals she’ll line up against in this spot. Her tactical speed is a big plus, as is the continued presence of John Velazquez. Anything close to the form she displayed in the Grade 3 Dowager is good enough to win this, and she may even be able to afford a slight regression.

If you want to include another horse, I’d recommend #2 SUMMERSAULT, who’s done some of her best running over this turf course. She won three in a row here last winter/spring, and she may relish a return to her favorite track. However, she’d likely have to improve considerably to defeat Apple Betty.

RACE #4: We go back to the main track for this one, a maiden event with a field of 13 3-year-olds going a one-turn mile. There are some intriguing prospects here, but I think you need to use a shipper that may go off at a big price.

The post-time favorite will likely be #4 PERSONAL TIME or #13 LIFE’S A PARLAY. The first horse mentioned is Orb’s younger brother, and while he hasn’t done a ton of running to date, he could easily wake up with the addition of Lasix. Meanwhile, the outside horse is a second-time starter that ran well in his debut after a rough start.

However, don’t sleep on #10 ROSE’S VISION, who comes to Gulfstream off of a solid (albeit winless) campaign at Woodbine last year. There’s a chance he’s a turf horse in need of a race, but if he can run as well on dirt, his 15-1 morning line odds represent a considerable overlay. He was third behind Dixie Moon two back in a $226,000 stakes race, and if he really was in need of a race, why is he getting Lasix? I think he could be ready to run, and if he can run on dirt, he could shake up the exotics at a large number.

RACE #5: This is the male version of the opener, and it’s almost as wide-open as that race was. In my multi-race tickets, I’m five-deep, and I’ve sprinkled some prices in with the logical contenders.

#3 EMPIRICALLY is a logical favorite. He crossed the wire first in his debut, then ran against stakes foes in each of his next two starts before a brief freshening. His comeback race was fine, and he can win this, but I can’t feel confident trimming this down when he had a nice trip last time out against state-breds and couldn’t get the job done.

Additionally, #6 NEEPAWA exits stakes races at Woodbine and has worked well ahead of his 3-year-old debut, and #7 SARGEANT DRIVE was beaten less than two lengths at this level in his turf debut. They’ll both get bet, but I also need to use two prices. #9 PIANTAGRANE was second at this level last time out despite racing greenly, and #11 GUNNISON adds blinkers and has shown zip in the mornings since his last race.

RACE #6: We’ll shorten things up for the sixth, which is the Ladies’ Turf Sprint. While you probably need to use the two shorter prices drawn to the outside, their bad luck at the post position draw opens things up for a horse that may be a bit more of a price.

My top pick is #3 JUSTA LADY, who comes back to the turf after a lackluster showing in an off-the-turf race two months ago at Churchill Downs. Before that, she notched six straight top-two finishes, including a second behind Morticia in a stakes race at Keeneland. Her 2017 form is certainly good enough to win this, and she could capitalize on many others having to endure wider trips.

I’m not completely against #11 BRANDY’S GIRL and #12 BLUE BAHIA, both of whom are certainly talented enough to win this. Neither needs the lead, which helps, but they may lose significant ground going around the turn. I’ll use them, but Justa Lady is my key horse here, and I’m hoping we get the 6-1 morning line price.

RACE #7: Older horses will go postward in the Grade 3 Fred Hooper. This has attracted 11 milers, and this is another case where the race may set up for a 6-1 shot.

#8 TOMMY MACHO spent most of 2017 running against top-notch competition. A look at his running lines reveals names like Sharp Azteca, Mind Your Biscuits, Drefong, Mor Spirit, and Awesome Slew, and this spot is a significant step down in class. Furthermore, he does his best running at Gulfstream Park, having won stakes races at this level and route in each of the past two seasons, and this race should set up for a closer. He’s my top pick in here, and this may be another case where the large field inflates the prices we see come post time.

I’ll also, reluctantly, be using #1 TALE OF SILENCE. I usually don’t like betting closers on the rail, especially at his likely price, but he could get an ideal setup for his style given the abundance of early speed in this field.

RACE #8: The morning line man thinks this is a two-horse race, and I’m inclined to agree. It’s the Grade 3 W. L. McKnight, and I’m not going deeper than #5 BULLARDS ALLEY and #7 OSCAR NOMINATED.

The former ran well in defeat last time out, when he fell a head short in the two-mile H. Allen Jerkens. His 12-furlong form is evident, and on back class, he’s the horse to beat. Meanwhile, Oscar Nominated threw in a clunker last time out at Aqueduct, but he quietly earned more than $600,000 in each of the past two seasons, and his usual race would definitely give him a big shot.

RACE #9: The late Pick Four starts with the Grade 3 Hurricane Bertie, and it features a local favorite that will likely be a pretty heavy favorite. I’m using her, but there’s another in here that I find interesting.

#7 CURLIN’S APPROVAL is 7-for-11 at Gulfstream Park, and I might argue her best race here came in defeat last time out. She went a bit longer than she probably wants, but she still ran second behind a talented horse (Lewis Bay). She’ll love the cutback to a familiar distance, and if she runs her typical race, others would have to improve to beat her.

However, I’m also intrigued by #1 MARLEY’S FREEDOM, who was last seen running fourth in the Grade 1 La Brea. Unique Bella and Paradise Woods ran 1-2 in that race, so this spot certainly provides some class relief, and the presence of Mike Smith certainly doesn’t hurt. She’s 10-1 on the morning line, and I highly doubt we get that price come post time.

RACE #10: This is the Gulfstream Park Turf Sprint, and I can see this race playing out one of two ways. I think that either the likely favorite goes wire-to-wire, or he gets cooked and a closer picks up the pieces.

If a front-runner wins, that front-runner is most likely to be #8 PAY ANY PRICE. He’s a local favorite, and a distance specialist that has won eight of 10 starts at this distance. He’s an absolute rocket ship out of the gate, and he’ll look to defend his home turf against shippers from around the country.

If Pay Any Price does not win, I don’t think it’s another speed horse that takes the top prize. I think a closer rallies, and that could be one of #6 RAINBOW HEIR, #9 TOMBELAINE, or #11 BLIND AMBITION. Also, while I’m not crazy about him, #7 RICHARD’S BOY did beat Pay Any Price the last time they faced off, so I can’t completely ignore him. At any rate, Pay Any Price is my key horse, but I can’t discount the possibility of him getting worn down trying to make the lead.

RACE #11: We’ll stay on the turf for the South Beach Stakes. With a better draw, the favorite may have been a single for me. However, #11 CELESTINE is parked outside, so while I’m using her, it wouldn’t be shocking if she lost, especially with such a short run to the first turn.

My other two primary horses are #8 PERDONA and #10 STORM THE HILL. Perdona is a price on the morning line (15-1), but she got good in the middle of last year and may have simply hated Woodbine’s synthetic track. She’s got speed and should be forwardly-placed early on, and I’m banking on a return to her mid-2017 form. Meanwhile, Storm the Hill led turning for home last time out before settling for third. That was probably a hair longer than she wants to go, and this cutback should be just what the doctor ordered.

Celestine’s best race certainly wins this, but she’s been off four months and doesn’t draw well, so it won’t be stunning if she’s knocked off. In addition to the two I mentioned, I’ll also have a small piece of #9 STORMY VICTORIA, who was a close-up third behind the talented On Leave last time out. She may be at her best around one turn, but one smaller Pick Four ticket will have her on it.

RACE #12: Here we are at the Pegasus World Cup. #10 GUN RUNNER will be a heavy favorite, and rightfully so. If he’s right, he’s strictly the one to beat, and all indications are that he’s as good as ever heading into his final race.

Much has been made of the post position draw. Gun Runner didn’t draw particularly well given the layout of this route, which features a short run into the first turn. However, if he clears #9 TOAST OF NEW YORK, he should at least sit a manageable trip with regard to ground saved. He doesn’t necessarily need the lead in order to win, as he proved in the Woodward, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him sit just off the pace before pouncing turning for home.

The question is, can any of the frontrunners survive what could be a scorching pace? #4 SHARP AZTECA and #5 COLLECTED will almost certainly gun for the front, while #1 SINGING BULLET, #2 WEST COAST, and #3 STELLAR WIND may vie for the lead as well (and certainly won’t be far off the pace). Add in Toast of New York and #12 GIANT EXPECTATIONS, and you’ve got the makings of a potential pace meltdown.

Of those runners, I most prefer Collected. I understand his run in the Grade 2 San Antonio was not sharp, but I’m treating that race as a throw-out. He didn’t break well, and Mike Smith tried to rate him behind a very slow pace. He should sit his preferred trip today, and like Gun Runner, he may be better at a mile and an eighth than he is at a mile and a quarter.

Many handicappers have insisted on using #6 GUNNEVERA because of the aforementioned pace scenario, and I understand why. He’s a deep closer that loves Gulfstream and will be a big price. However, the closer I’m throwing on one of my Pick Four tickets in case of a complete meltdown is #7 FEAR THE COWBOY, who figures to be an even bigger price. I really liked his win in the Grade 3 Harlan’s Holiday, and that was his second graded stakes win of 2017 at this track. Tyler Gaffalione has ridden very well this meet, and I need to use him at least a little bit in case crazy fractions get posted.

PICK FOUR TICKETS

Early Pick Four: Race #2

R2: 2,3,6,8
R3: 7
R4: 4,10,13
R5: 3,6,7,9,11

60 Bets, $30

I’m trying to extract some value out of Apple Betty, who may be the second shortest price on the entire card. I’ve got some prices on this ticket, and I think there’s room for an early score here.

Middle Pick Four: Race #5

R5: 3,6,7,9,11
R6: 3,11,12
R7: 1,8
R8: 5,7

60 Bets, $30

The scratch of Game Over (who I’d previously used) makes this a more affordable ticket. I was tempted to single Tommy Macho, but ultimately decided I needed to use Tale of Silence as well given the likely race shape.

Late Pick Four: Race #9

I’m going to go a bit different with this. There’s a guaranteed pool of $1 million up for grabs, and I’ve got three tickets that total $40.

Ticket #1

R9: 1,7
R10: 6,8,9,11
R11: 8,10,11
R12: 5,10

48 Bets, $24

This is the main ticket, and if you’re only playing one, this is the one I’d suggest. There are no singles, but it’s a manageable $24 and it’s got the horses I really like on it.

Ticket #2

R9: 7
R10: 8
R11: 8,9,10,11
R12: 2,4,5,7,10

20 Bets, $10

This one singles my top picks in the first two races (Curlin’s Approval and Pay Any Price), while also opening things up a bit in the last two races. It adds Stormy Victoria in the third leg, while also throwing in West Coast, Sharp Azteca, and Fear the Cowboy in the Pegasus.

Ticket #3

R9: 1,7
R10: 7,8
R11: 8,10,11
R12: 10

12 Bets, $6

Finally, this is a skinnier ticket that singles Gun Runner in the Pegasus. It also adds in Richard’s Boy in the second leg, since he’s not covered on the other two tickets.

Long story short: If we can get the 7-8 double home in the ninth and tenth, we’ll be alive to everything halfway through the sequence. Even if Gun Runner wins the Pegasus, the large field sizes ensure that this won’t pay peanuts, and if we can hit it multiple times, that’s great.

Analysis, Selections, and Tickets: Gulfstream Park, Santa Anita (1/6/18)

We’ve come to the first Saturday of the new year, and with it come two intriguing programs at Gulfstream and Santa Anita. Gulfstream has an assortment of ungraded stakes races on the docket, while Santa Anita will host two graded events, one of which features Kentucky Derby points for the top four finishers. I’ve got two multi-race tickets at each track, so let’s get going!

GULFSTREAM PARK

$0.50 Pick Five: Race #1

R1: 10,11
R2: 2,3,6
R3: 3,5
R4: 3,5
R5: 4,7,8

72 Bets, $36

If you believe in the axiom, “Pace makes the race,” the outside two horses look like the ones to beat in the Saturday opener. There’s a lot of early speed signed on, and this race appears to set up for closers #10 FAN BASE and #11 LITTLE BALTAR. The outside posts give me some pause, but so many horses inside of them need the lead, and I think those runners will be backing up late.

I thought the second race was very interesting. I don’t like #7 ROYAL HOLIDAY or #8 ALIEN INVASION, both of whom may not want two turns. My top pick is #2 FLYING LIBERTY, who exits a minor stakes race and won at this route three back. I’ll also use #6 COMETIN, who likes this turf course, and I’m also throwing in #3 WICKED BOY, on the off chance he replicates his two-back effort beneath new jockey Jose Ortiz.

The third is the Limehouse Stakes, and I’m intrigued by #3 PIVEN, who ships in from Woodbine. Usually, that’s not an angle I like, but he’s been working very well lately, and if he runs to those drills, he’ll be very tough. I’m also using #5 EMPIRE POWER, who may be the controlling early speed in this short field.

I’m also two-deep in the fourth, where I’ll use a pair of class-droppers. #3 WHAT POWER last ran for a $35,000 tag and goes out for the red-hot Marcus Vitali barn, while #5 SPORTSCASTER has a number of solid races over this turf course and won in his last start at this level.

The payoff leg is the Glitter Woman Stakes, and I’m three-deep in what turned out to be a fascinating field. #4 CICATRIX and #7 ELEVENSES both romped in their debuts for trainers whose first-time starters aren’t always fully cranked, so they definitely merit consideration. I’m also using #8 FOXTROT SALLY, who may have simply not wanted two turns last time out in the Grade 2 Golden Rod. Javier Castellano’s presence is a positive, and we may get a bit of a price given the recent dud.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #8

R8: 5,6,10
R9: 8
R10: 3,6
R11: ALL

72 Bets, $36

With 42 entrants across four races, there’s plenty of room for this to pay pretty well, even if shorter-priced horses find the winner’s circle. The first three legs may be formful, but if we get to the last leg, we’ll hit, and hopefully for a nice chunk of change.

The eighth is a seven-furlong maiden race for 3-year-olds, and we may see some of these horses on the road to the Kentucky Derby. #6 LIFE’S A PARLAY debuts for Todd Pletcher, and this $725,000 auction purchase is bred to be a good one. With that in mind, though, some of the workouts are pretty slow, so I want a bit more coverage than just him. #5 COVE BLUE has shown ample early speed and should relish the cutback in distance, while #10 ORBED probably needed his debut and should improve at second asking, especially with the added furlong.

I’m excited for the ninth, as there’s a 9/2 shot I really like. #8 ANDINA DEL SUR rallied impressively in her debut, and that race has proven to be a live one given the next-out winners it has produced. Every part of her pedigree says she wants to go two turns, and there should be plenty of early speed in here to set up for the kick she showed in her unveiling. I’d be very happy if we got the morning line price.

Like most people, I think the 10th race, the Mucho Macho Man, is a two-horse race. #3 DAK ATTACK was one of the most impressive 2-year-olds in the country last summer before going to the sidelines, and #6 MASK was a sharp first-out winner for Chad Brown. I’d be pretty surprised if the winner wasn’t one of those two runners.

If we get through those three legs, we’re assured to hit this wager. I needed to buy the Saturday finale because I didn’t have a clue, and judging by the morning line odds, I’m not alone. The 7/2 favorite is a horse that has been beaten a total of 33 1/4 lengths in two lifetime starts. The 4-1 second choice trailed in his debut and was beaten more than 24 lengths at odds of 32-1. If you’ve got conviction, good for you. I certainly don’t, and if we get to this point, I’ll be rooting for pari-mutuel chaos.

SANTA ANITA

$0.50 Pick Five: Race #1

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

96 Bets, $48

My initial feeling is that the Pick Five sequence that kicks off with the Saturday opener could wind up a bit chalky. The bookends feature popular singles, and hopefully, we can get a price or two home in the middle legs.

At first, I wanted to play against #5 MIDNIGHT SWINGER in the first. She’s dropping in class after losing her last eight races. However, the more I looked at this race, the more I disliked her opponents. #8 ROAD TEST was beaten by that one two back, #2 TIZ ADORE is 1-for-12 and has had many chances to break through, and #9 QUINN MURPHY hasn’t won since being claimed this past summer. It’s a “hold your nose” single, but that’s where I’m going.

Singling twice allows me to spread elsewhere, and I need to hit the “ALL” button in the second race. This is a bottom-level claiming event featuring horses that seem to take turns beating one another. I can’t back any of these horses with conviction, so I’ll use all eight and hope for a price.

I’m also going pretty deep in the third. This is a maiden claimer, and I can’t get too excited about any of these, either. #8 PSYCHEDELICAT may go off favored, and his Beyer Speed Figures are such that I need to use him, but he’s 0-for-12 and has never so much as run second. Of the four I used, I most prefer #7 CONFIRMED, who just missed when dropping down to this level last time out, and #10 PATH OF EXILE, who drops down in class and is eligible to improve second off the layoff for trainer Michael McCarthy.

If #12 RANCOR had gotten a better post, she may have merited a single. She did everything but win in her turf debut at Del Mar, when she was a length behind next-out stakes winner Ippodamia’s Girl. A repeat of that race would make her tough, but she’s parked way outside, so I need to use two others. #1 PAVED was third that day, and #5 EVER SO TRUE exits the Grade 3 Jimmy Durante, where she was beaten just three lengths.

The fifth is the Grade 3 Sham for 3-year-olds, and it features one of the top Kentucky Derby prospects on the west coast. That’s #6 MCKINZIE, who was put up in the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Futurity. He’s worked very well since then, and if he runs his usual race, he’s going to be incredibly tough to beat.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #6

R6: 5,6,7,11
R7: 6,7,8,9
R8: 1
R9: 4,6,7,10,12

80 Bets, $40

I thought the Pick Five was pretty chalky. The late Pick Four? Not so much. I think this has the potential to pay very well, and my ticket spreads in three legs while singling a 6-1 shot in the other one.

We start off the sequence with a maiden claimer, and I’m not overly impressed by many of these runners. Of the four I used, the two I like most are #5 IMPECUNIOUS, who ships down from Golden Gate, and #11 KARMIC AFFINITY, who’s been working well ahead of her debut and draws a cushy outside post.

The seventh is the Grade 2 San Gabriel, and while the cast of characters may be a bit underwhelming, the evenly-matched nature of it makes for a fun betting race. I’m four-deep, and one horse I used figures to be a big price. #9 FREE ROSE ran just once in 2017, but he’s done very little wrong over the course of his career. That one race was a solid fourth in the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile, where he finished just two lengths behind Bal a Bali. If he’s right, I think he’s got a big shot.

My single comes in the third leg, a seven-furlong claiming event. #1 KISS MY LULU seems like the race’s main speed, and inside speed has been very good in these extended sprints so far this meet. I’m tossing the two recent races over Golden Gate’s synthetic surface, as she’s much better on conventional dirt. If she breaks well, she could get an ideal setup, and because of that, I really like her.

If we’re alive going into the finale, we’ll be five-deep. #10 INSTANT REFLEX isn’t a bad favorite, but she’s never run down the hill before, and that’s a major concern. I’ll use her, but I need coverage elsewhere. The longshot that has to be on my ticket is #7 PHANTOM PROTON, who was beaten less than four lengths in a fast race at this route two back before running into the talented Painting Corners last time out at Del Mar. There’s plenty of speed to set up for her late kick, and the presence of top downhill rider Corey Nakatani is a huge plus.