Kentucky Derby Preps, Pick Four Tickets, and Standing Up for a Friend: 2/16/19

At my heart, I’d like to believe I’m a good person. I think most people that have met me and gotten to know me would conclude that, and I’m always going to attempt to do the right thing (regardless of if that’s the easy thing).

It’s in this vein that I’m going to attempt to decipher something that happened to a friend of mine last weekend. Mind you, I was away most of the day Saturday, so I’m seeing and hearing this second-hand, but if I’ve got this right, it’s one of the dumbest things I’ve heard since the heyday of the Breeders’ Cup Derby (disclaimer: if I don’t have this right, please correct me in the comment section or via email).

The friend in question is Gulfstream Park track announcer Pete Aiello. Whether or not he wants everyone else to know this or not is unclear, but Pete’s one of the best people I’ve met in racing. He’s a jolly, fun-loving guy without a mean-spirited bone in his body, and he doesn’t need me defending him in this instance (though I’m doing it anyway because it’s my website and I feel like it).

Last Saturday’s draw at Gulfstream Park was a mandatory payout in the Rainbow Six, and here’s where things get weird. According to tweets from Pete, someone from Gulfstream Park called the booth prior to the Saturday finale, gave him a range of payouts in the Rainbow Six, and told him to pump up those totals. Like a good soldier, Pete did what he was told.

As he did this, the Gulfstream Park simulcast feed, per several outraged members of the horse racing Twitterverse, did not show the payouts next to the horses in question. This has happened multiple times in previous mandatory payout situations, with tracks either being too slow to provide this information or, if you’re more conspiracy-minded, willingly withholding the information in question.

Whatever you believe about the track is one thing. I don’t know what goes on in those circles. If you want to be angry about the track not showing will-pays on its simulcast feed, go right ahead. It’s 2019. That this technology does not exist (or, even worse, if it exists and is not employed) is puzzling.

However, as in way too many situations in racing, the messenger was vilified. In this case, that was Pete, and some on Twitter went so far as to blame him for the situation. Here are several steps that show why this is a bad, bad idea.

Step 1: One of Pete Aiello’s superiors relayed information to the booth.

Step 2: Pete Aiello relayed that information to the audience.

Step 3: Pete Aiello does not control the Gulfstream Park simulcast feed.

That third step is the one that’ll kill you. As I’ve mentioned, Pete doesn’t need me to defend him, and if he’s angry at me for doing so, I’ll apologize to him, via phone, in the voice of Snitsky yelling, “IT WASN’T MY FAULT!,” after kicking a baby into the crowd. Having said that, I’m always going to stick up for the good guys, especially when those good guys have done a lot for me.

Anyway, now that I’ve gotten an unasked-for defense and an obscure wrestling reference out of the way, let’s focus on Saturday’s racing, shall we? We’ve got a pair of Kentucky Derby prep races on tap, as well as a few interesting Pick Four sequences at Fair Grounds and Laurel Park that I’ll take a crack at.

FAIR GROUNDS

Derby Prep: Risen Star Stakes, Race #12
Late Pick Four: Races 9-12

We’ve got a full field of 14 signed on for the Risen Star, even after the scratch of #13 KINGLY, who’s headed to Golden Gate Fields for the El Camino Real Derby (more on him, and that race, later). Many runners in here exit the Grade 3 LeComte, which was won by #14 WAR OF WILL. That post position is a real problem, and while he might be good enough to overcome it, I’m looking elsewhere on top.

My top pick is #8 OWENDALE, who has come into his own as a 3-year-old for trainer Brad Cox. He’s taken substantial steps forward in each of his starts this season, and while he’s got tactical speed, he doesn’t need the lead to run well, and that’s a big plus.

War of Will will be on most of my tickets as well, and I’ll also throw in a pair of bigger-priced entrants. #1 PLUS QUE PARFAIT didn’t break well in the LeComte, and did enough before that to merit a second chance. Finally, #3 MR. MONEY was fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and has been working well for Bret Calhoun. A logical step forward in his 3-year-old debut could put him right there at a price.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #9

R9: 2,5,9
R10: 9
R11: 1,9
R12: 1,3,8,14

24 Bets, $12

I’m going to try to play this sequence pretty cheaply. I think there’s room to make some money with an economical ticket, and I’ve built mine around a single that is perfect over the Fair Grounds turf course.

The ninth is the Grade 3 Mineshaft Handicap for older horses. I’m going three-deep to start things off, and my top pick is #2 HARLAN PUNCH. When he’s good, he’s really good, and trainer Brad Cox is running hot right now. I’ll also throw in #5 LONE SAILOR and #9 FLAMEAWAY, both of whom come in off of layoffs ahead of their 4-year-old debuts.

The tenth is the Grade 3 Fair Grounds Handicap, and I’m not getting cute. #9 SYNCHRONY is 3-for-3 at Fair Grounds and ran two sensational races here a season ago. There’s plenty of pace in here to set up for his late kick, and I highly doubt he’ll be the 3-1 morning line price come post time. If he is, that will merit a win bet.

The 11th is the Grade 2 Rachel Alexandra, and the race took a big hit when #10 CHASING YESTERDAY did not ship in for trainer Bob Baffert. With her out of the picture, the likely favorite is #9 NEEDS SUPERVISION, who has won three in a row. I’m using her, and I’ll also throw in #1 MOLTO BELLA, who was impressive last time out and boasts a much more impressive resume if you draw a line through the Grade 2 Demoiselle over Aqueduct’s demanding, slow surface.

GOLDEN GATE FIELDS

Derby Prep: El Camino Real Derby, Race #7

Handicapping synthetic tracks isn’t really my strength. Having said that, this is a heck of a betting race, with a 13-horse field and a morning line favorite I don’t like.

That’s #9 KINGLY, who ships up to Northern California for Bob Baffert. He hasn’t done much wrong, having won at first asking and run second in his first start against winners. His best could be good enough to win this, but at his likely price, I’m going to take a swing against him.

The likely second choice is #4 ANOTHERTWISTAFATE, and if I can get 5/2 odds, I’ll happily take them. He’s been very, very good in two starts over this track, and for how big the field is, there isn’t much speed signed on. I think he could sit a dream trip, and if he’s left alone on the front end, he could be very tough to run down late.

I’ll use that one with a pair of Santa Anita shippers. #5 THE CREEP ran very well in his lone start on synthetic, when he ran second to Sueno in the Gold Rush Stakes, and he’ll likely be a price because he hasn’t won in a while. Additionally, #7 EAGLE SONG won twice over synthetic tracks in Ireland, and if that form carries over, he could have a big say in the outcome.

LAUREL PARK

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #7

R7: 2,3,11
R8: 2,6,7,13
R9: 1,2,3,4,10
R10: 4

60 Bets, $30

Laurel Park’s Saturday card is a fun one. The late Pick Four boasts a trio of stakes races, two of which are graded, and I think there’s room to make some money here despite a likely short-priced favorite in the last leg. Note: If you saw this Friday night or early Saturday morning, the ticket has been modified following scratches.

The seventh is the John B. Campbell Stakes, and it took a hit with four scratches Saturday morning. I’m going three-deep, and without much early speed in the race, #2 JOHNNY JUMP UP could sit an ideal trip on the front end. He’s won two in a row, and I think he’ll be the one they have to catch turning for home.

The eighth is the Grade 3 General George for older male sprinters. 2018 General George winner #13 SOMETHING AWESOME is back to defend his title after a failed run in the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup, and I’m using him, but I prefer another closer on top. That’s #6 STILL HAVING FUN, who loves this distance and attracts Flavien Prat (who’s in town for the day).

The ninth is the Grade 3 Barbara Fritchie for older fillies and mares, and I thought this race was completely wide-open. #1 SPICED PERFECTION makes her first start for Peter Miller after being privately purchased following her win in the Grade 1 La Brea, but she’s never run outside of California, and I’m not exactly sure what she beat last time. I’m five-deep, and I really, really hope I’m deep enough.

I spread in the first three legs because I felt I could single with confidence in the Saturday finale. This is an allowance event, and I think #4 VELOCITA BRILLANTE may be the shortest price in the entire sequence. She’s won two in a row and was very sharp last time out. This field doesn’t appear to be that strong, and trainer Claudio Gonzalez is hitting at a 28% clip this meet as of this writing. I’ll try to get some prices home in the first three legs before relying on the chalk to finish things off.

The Sam F. Davis, a Rainbow Six Mandatory Payout, Three Pick Fours, and an Interlude: 2/9/19

Before we do a deep dive into the Sam F. Davis, the mandatory Rainbow Six payout at Gulfstream Park, and three other multi-race sequences at tracks from Florida to California, I’m going to attempt to wade into the deep water and go through some stuff that’s been lingering in my subconscious for a week. If you want to scroll down past the next several paragraphs and resume reading at the section marked “TAMPA BAY DOWNS,“ feel free to do so. If you do, though, know that you’re missing the most bizarre “thank you” I’ve ever written.

As those who know me well can attest, I’m cursed, and I’m only half-joking. My mind rarely stops, and sometimes, what it conjures up are some of the weirdest, most whacked-out things known to mankind. There are times where this has worked (every journalism award I’ve ever won), times where it hasn’t (one major track pushing for me to be fired; you’re all going to want to hear that story when I can tell it), and times where the reactions I get generally puzzle everyone (me going into “pro wrestler cutting a promo” mode, as I’m prone to do).

Last Friday was one of those times. I’d just come back from dinner at Vinnie’s, the local dive bar in my neighborhood that prides itself on cheap burgers, bright TV’s, and a juke box with long songs designed to tick people off when you buy them with the “advanced priority” option (my go-to is the 12-minute version of “Papa Was a Rolling Stone”). Before cranking out a 2,700-word column, I took to Twitter.

 

24 hours later, I looked, and that tweet had more likes than anything else I’ve ever tweeted. Please understand that this, for lack of a better phrase, scared the hell out of me.

I beat everyone at Saratoga in 2017, less than six months after being told by someone that I had no use to him/her as any sort of a handicapper. I’ve won awards for the work that I’ve done with several different outlets. I’ve been different combinations of fortunate, proud, and successful at a lot of different things…and me calling myself an old fart who needs help was what got the most attention.

Being scared was the short-term reaction. Some in horse racing genuinely believe that I’m a joke who isn’t to be taken seriously, and I’m sure that group includes some pretty high-profile people. However, what I ultimately realized, in the aftermath of that tweet, is that I’ve got the support of way more people than I ever thought I did.

I can’t really go into too much depth about why that means as much as it does right now (it’s a long story for another time and place). Suffice it to say, though, that when I digested everything, I was pretty moved. I’m not in the horse racing business full-time anymore, so nobody’s paying me to write this stuff. This is a labor of love for me, and between the response to that tweet and the stats I’ve seen on my website, I’ve realized that I’m a very blessed person. I have some value to people who read my stuff, and any writer will tell you that that’s an incredible thing.

To everyone who read this (and those that scrolled down to the next section and are only catching this paragraph by accident), thank you. Now, let’s get to work!

TAMPA BAY DOWNS

Derby Prep: Sam F. Davis Stakes (Grade 3)
Late Pick Four: Races 9-12

The Sam F. Davis Stakes headlines the Saturday card at Tampa Bay Downs, and Kentucky Derby points are on the line. The race drew a field of 10, and it’s headlined by #3 KNICKS GO, who ran second in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile behind Game Winner.

Knicks Go can certainly win this race. His clunker in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club is excusable given the sloppy track he ran on, and he’s working well ahead of his 3-year-old debut. Having said that, there’s a lot of speed in this race, and while Knicks Go doesn’t need the lead to run well, I think he’ll be up close to a very fast pace.

I’m looking elsewhere for my top pick, and I landed on #8 SO ALIVE, a Todd Pletcher trainee that will likely go off much shorter than his 5-1 morning line price. He boasts a win over the Tampa Bay Downs surface, and he’s shown a strong closing kick. His final pre-race work was a bullet earlier this week, and it’s never a bad thing to have Javier Castellano in town to ride.

In addition to those two, I’ll also use a price on some of my wider tickets. #10 STILL DREAMING is a half-brother to Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist, and he stretched out with authority last time out at Laurel Park. The post position is definitely an issue, and he almost certainly has to step up, but logical improvement and some racing luck puts him right there for a piece of it.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #9

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

60 Bets, $30

The late Pick Four features three stakes races, and it starts with the Suncoast for 3-year-old fillies. I found this race positively confounding, and I had to spread in order to be at all comfortable with getting out of the first leg. Had Rymska’s connections not opted for the Grade 3 Suwanee River at Gulfstream instead of the Endeavour, I’d have hit the “ALL” button, but I had to chop a few horses off the ticket to save money.

Rymska scratching actually opens this sequence up a bit for me, because I don’t like the new favorite. #6 HAWKSMOOR certainly has speed and back class, but she hasn’t run since October, hasn’t won since 2017, and figures to see some opposition up front. My top pick is #2 GET EXPLICIT, who got pretty good near the end of last year, and I’ll also throw in #4 MONTE CRISTA. That runner is a price, but something clearly went wrong two back and her 2019 debut came off a three-month layoff. She showed serious ability last summer, and anything close to the 12-1 morning line would hit me as a considerable overlay.

I’ll go two-deep in the Sam F. Davis (though I’ll likely save with Still Dreaming in doubles), and I’ll go three-deep in the payoff leg. This is a claiming race for older horses going two turns on the turf. I’ll use the two likely favorites, #1 ADIOS NARDO and #6 HUNTSTOWN, as well as #4 AT THE READY, who has run very well over this track, would benefit from a pace meltdown, and could give us some value at anywhere close to his 8-1 morning line price.

GULFSTREAM PARK

$0.20 Pick Six: Race #7

R7: 2,4,5,9,12 (15)
R8: 2
R9: 2,3,4,7,9
R10: 3,5
R11: 4,5,6,8,9
R12: 5

250 Bets, $50

The handicapping puzzle of the day at Gulfstream is the Rainbow Six, which boasts a mandatory payout. Naturally, the folks in Hallandale Beach have put together some incredibly difficult events to decipher, and if you hit, I think you’ll get paid handsomely.

Right off the bat, we have an overflow field in a maiden claiming event. As usual in a race like this, there isn’t much in the way of proven form signed on, so I felt the need to go five-deep. One note: If one of my horses scratches, that opens the door for #15 CROWN ROMANCE to draw in. If that’s the case, I need to have him on the ticket, hence the parentheses above.

The eighth, however, seems much more clear-cut. #2 REAGAN’S ODYSSEY has burned some money of late, but was a good second last time out at this level and goes to the barn of Audrey Maragh, which has been on a hot streak of late with horses first off the claim. I think she’s considerably best in here, and we need to single somewhere given my self-imposed budget, so that’s what we’ll do.

The ninth is a maiden special weight event for 3-year-old fillies, and it starts the late Pick Four (note: if you want to play my last four legs, it would be a $25 Pick Four ticket). This is another spread race for me, as several in here are stretching out in distance. My top selection, though, is a juicy 6-1 on the morning line in her turf debut. That’s #2 EBULLIENT, who’s bred up and down for the lawn and gets Lasix for trainer Michael Matz.

The tenth is a loaded allowance race headlined by a pair of 3-year-olds that could be on their ways to bigger things. The morning line favorite is #3 GLOBAL CAMPAIGN, who was a very impressive debut winner for Stanley Hough. The close second choice is #5 STANDARD DEVIATION, who misfired in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile after running a sneaky-good third in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland. Some may single one or the other, but I’m playing it safe and going two-deep.

The eleventh is the final spread race on my ticket. It’s the El Prado Stakes, and there may be a lot of tickets out there that buy this race. That’s how difficult it is, and for an ungraded stakes race, it drew a very strong field. #5 MR CUB was a close second behind Pegasus World Cup Turf winner Bricks and Mortar last time out, and I’d be stunned if he went off at his 9/2 price. The big price I need to use, though, is #4 SIDING SPRING, whose best races have come over this turf course. He’s simply a different animal in Hallandale Beach, and even though he’s lacking a bit in figures, I need to have him on the ticket.

I hate singling in the last leg of a ticket like this. However, there’s a filly in the finale that I like a fair bit, and she’ll likely be a bit of a price. #5 SUNNY DALE ran evenly in her career debut going two turns last month, and I think she’ll take a big step forward at second asking. John Servis’s horses tend to improve with experience, and she’s bred to be a very good turf horse. It’s tough to debut at two turns, so I’ll take a shot against #1 CAFÉ AMERICANO (the likely favorite). If that one beats me, so be it.

OAKLAWN PARK

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #6

R6: 1,2,11
R7: 1,5,8
R8: 9
R9: 4,5,7,9,10,11

54 Bets, $27

For the second Saturday in a row, Oaklawn’s late Pick Four is a doozy. I’m building it around one horse I really like, and I’m hoping we get a price or two home around that one to make this pay a bit.

The sixth is a $20,000 claiming event. The entry trained by Robertino Diodoro figures to be tough, but I like #11 DOCTOR LEE best. He was fourth against a much better field last time out, and he won three straight races not long ago. 6-1 seems like a square price, and anything close to that would certainly entice a win bet.

I’m also going three-deep in the Saturday feature, the King Cotton Stakes for older sprinters. I can’t get too cute in here, as I’m using the three likely favorites. If #1 WILBO is ready to go off of the long layoff, I think he’s the horse to beat. He won this race last year and has done some of his best running in Hot Springs. He boasts a steady work tab ahead of his return, and I think trainer Chris Hartman (who’s 0 for 13 at the meet as of this writing) could get off the duck in a big, big way.

My single comes in the eighth, an allowance event for older fillies and mares. That single is #9 SPRINGDETTI, who has been working lights-out for trainer Norman McKnight. McKnight is hitting at a 27% clip this meet, and if this mare runs to her works, I think she’ll be very tough.

I’m happy I could single with some degree of confidence in the eighth, because the Saturday finale is a mess. It’s a maiden claimer with a full field, and it includes several runners dropping in class. #10 AUGIE is the likely favorite, and if he’s ready, he probably wins, but he hasn’t run in almost 11 months. If he’s not ready, I have no confidence in much of this group, so I’ll include five others to buy some security.

SANTA ANITA

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #11

R8: 6
R9: 1,3,4,6
R10: 3,5,8,9
R11: 3,5,7,10,11

80 Bets, $40

We’ll finish things off with Santa Anita, and I’ll start with a bit of a rant. The opening leg of the sequence is an optional claiming race for 3-year-olds going six and a half furlongs. Sunday’s feature is the Grade 2 San Vicente for 3-year-old sprinters going seven furlongs. Why was Saturday’s race even carded, especially with the San Vicente struggling for entries? My head hurts.

Several runners in this field likely would’ve taken some play in the latter race, and I’ve singled one of them. #6 MUCH BETTER was part of a contested pace in the Grade 3 Sham, which was won by the fast-closing Gunmetal Gray. That one ran OK when second in the Robert B. Lewis last weekend, and I think Much Better will run…well, much better, on the cutback in distance for Bob Baffert and Mike Smith.

The ninth race is the Grade 2 San Marcos, and while the West Coast turf marathon contingent isn’t any great shakes, I thought this was a fascinating betting race. #3 CHICAGO STYLE and #4 EPICAL will take money, but the former does his best running at Del Mar, and the latter takes a big step up in class and may have to work for the early lead. My top pick is actually #1 UNAPOLOGETIC, who runs for red-hot trainer Bill Spawr, and I’ll also use European invader #6 SEJO, who gets Lasix for the first time after hinting at some potential last year in France.

The tenth is a claiming race for older horses, and your guess is as good as mine with regard to who will be favored. #9 HONEYMOONZ OVER gets that distinction on the morning line, and I’m using him on the drop in class, but the barn is ice-cold this meet, so it’s not like he’s a cinch. Of the bigger prices, #3 CRAZY UNCLE RICK caught my eye. He takes a massive drop out of the allowance ranks to run here, and the last time he ran for a tag on dirt, he jogged. This may wake him up, and if he wins, there’s a chance plenty of tickets get knocked out.

We finish with a maiden race for fillies going down the hill. Naturally, there isn’t much proven hill form signed on (what fun would THAT be?), so I’m spreading and hoping to catch a price. The possible bomb I used here is #10 SPANISH CHANNEL, whose debut was far from bad for an outfit whose firsters tend to need their initial outings. Kent Desormeaux hopping aboard is noteworthy, as is the odds disparity with other runners from that race. #11 SETTLE IT beat Spanish Channel by just a half-length that day, yet the latter is three times the price. I’m hoping Spanish Channel gets ignored, because I think she deserves just as much attention as anyone else in this spot.

Kentucky Derby Preps and Pick Fours: 2/2/19 (Aqueduct, Gulfstream, Santa Anita, and Oaklawn)

For my money, the road to the 2019 Kentucky Derby truly kicks off Saturday, with three prep races scattered across the country. Aqueduct hosts the Grade 3 Withers, Gulfstream Park has the Grade 2 Holy Bull, and Santa Anita boasts the Grade 3 Robert Lewis.

I’ll be profiling each of these prep races in-depth, and I’ll also be taking looks at each track’s late Pick Four sequence. The Derby preps are fun races, the Pick Fours are fun sequences, and I think you can find ways to spend your Saturday cashing some good-sized tickets. In addition, following a Friday night request from the one and only Vic Stauffer (and several other Twitter followers), I’ll also have a ticket for the late Pick Four at Oaklawn Park.

Enough talk; on with the show!

AQUEDUCT
Kentucky Derby Prep: Withers (Grade 3), Race 9
Late Pick Four: Races 7-10

The Withers drew a field of seven, and on the surface, it doesn’t seem like an A-list prep race. Having said that, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad betting race. In fact, I think this may be the best betting race of the preps because of the likely race shape.

Of the seven runners here, five have shown that they want to be on or near the lead on dirt, and one comes in with more credentials on a synthetic track than on dirt. The lone outlier is #6 OUR BRAINTRUST, who stretches out to two turns for the first time and has shown an ability to rate. He was a good second in the Jerome last time out behind the talented Mind Control, who won last year’s Grade 1 Hopeful. That day’s third-place finisher was well-beaten, and since that race, he’s been transferred to the barn of Mark Casse, who is hitting at an excellent rate first off the trainer switch. Our Braintrust is 6-1 on the morning line, and I hope we get that price.

The morning line favorite is #1 TAX, who outran his odds when third in the Grade 2 Remsen. I’m not quite sure why he was 17-1 that day given his pedigree (which screams that he wants to go long), but he ran well when finishing behind Maximus Mischief and Network Effect. The possibility of a bounce is there, and he may be close to a fairly strong early pace, but a repeat performance at the same route would make him pretty tough to beat.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #7

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

48 Bets, $24

Admittedly, I don’t play Aqueduct a lot. The fields are usually short, and the surface is sometimes on the quirky side. However, I love this Pick Four sequence. There are several big prices on my ticket, and if you can solve the puzzle, I think you’ll be in line for a nice score.

The seventh is a $10,000 claiming event for older horses. #2 T LOVES A FIGHT drops back down in class, to a similar level he won at two starts ago. His best race is certainly good enough to win, but given how bad his misfires are, I can’t single him with confidence. I also need to use likely second choice #4 PROFESSOR SNAPE, who led every step of the way last time out after being claimed back by Gary Gullo. He loves Aqueduct, and Gullo seems to get the best out of him.

The eighth is a confounding betting race, and I felt the need to spread. It’s an optional claiming event, and I think several big prices could potentially win it. #5 HOKULEA has run well at this route this meet, #7 FLEET IRISH drops in class, and #10 NEW YORK HERO was too far back last time out after winning two in a row late last year. I’ve used some shorter-priced horses, sure, but if there’s a race where a big price comes in in this sequence, I think it’s this one.

The Withers is the third leg, and the finale is a $16,000 claimer that features many horses light on recent form. #2 HOT MESA was an impressive winner last time out, but he’s shown nothing that says he can repeat that performance in his first try against winners. Instead, I’ll use #4 I LOVE JAXSON, who likely gets a fast track after two duds on off going, and #7 QUEST FOR FIRE, who drops to what’s likely the appropriate level and figures to be the main speed while adding blinkers for Ray Handal.

GULFSTREAM PARK
Kentucky Derby Prep: Holy Bull (Grade 2), Race 11
Late Pick Four: Races 9-12

The central question in the Holy Bull is this: How good do you think #8 MAXIMUS MISCHIEF is? If you buy the hype, he’s possibly a multi-race exotics single. If you don’t, the race becomes a fascinating kaleidoscope of up-and-coming horses traversing Gulfstream’s 1 1/16-mile route (which features a short stretch that often helps frontrunners).

I don’t hate Maximus Mischief, but this seems like the right spot to go against a heavy favorite. His Remsen win was solid, and it resulted in the latest high Beyer Speed Figure for the son of Into Mischief, but they went pretty slow early on. He’ll certainly need to go faster against this group, which features at least five other horses that figure to be sent out of the gate. A sub-:23 opening quarter isn’t out of the question. Can he go that fast early and have something left late in his first start over this track? Maybe he can, but I don’t think that’s a scenario where you want to be all-in on a short price.

I wasn’t huge on #6 MIHOS’s win in the Mucho Macho Man last month. I thought he sat a dream trip in a race where the pace collapsed. Having said that, such a scenario could easily come about once again here, and if the track isn’t overly speed-favoring, I think he’s got a big shot to mow them all down once again. He’s improved with every start to this point for a very talented horseman in Jimmy Jerkens, and it never hurts to have the services of Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez.

I also need to use #2 FEDERAL CASE. Like Mihos, I wasn’t blown away by his last-out win going a mile. He stalked a slow pace in a short field and prevailed by a neck when heavily favored in his first start for Todd Pletcher. However, he’s trained lights-out since that race, one he may have needed off a bit of a freshening. He doesn’t necessarily need the lead, and his sustained running style could be a fit in a race with tons of speed up front.

If you want to throw Maximus Mischief into multi-race exotics, I can’t disparage that too much. If I was making top-three picks (as I do for The Pink Sheet every summer), he’d be third, and I can see scenarios where he wins. Perhaps he’s a legitimate horse that can overcome the likely pace scenario and continue on the road to Louisville. However, I’ll take a small swing against him on most of my tickets, including this one…

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #9

R9: 4
R10: 4,5,8,9,11
R11: 2,6
R12: 1,3,5,7,8

50 Bets, $25

The late Pick Four features three graded stakes races and a mess of a finale with many first-time starters. I’m using a popular single in the first leg, and I’m hoping to get a price or two home along the way on a reasonably-sized ticket.

My best bet of the day comes in the ninth, the Grade 3 Forward Gal for 3-year-old fillies. I thought #4 FEEDBACK was the best 2-year-old filly I saw on dirt all meet last summer at Saratoga. She’s been on the sidelines since a dominant debut win in August, but she’s been working well for Chad Brown and comes up against a field that, I think, came up extremely light for the level. She may not need to move forward at all off of that performance to beat these, so I’ll single and move on.

The second leg is the Grade 3 Swale, which drew a field of 11 3-year-old males going seven furlongs. There’s a ton of early speed signed on here, and as a result, my top pick is #9 ZENDEN, one of the few horses in here that doesn’t need to be on or near the lead in order to run well. This trainer-jockey combination has been lights-out at the meet, and the horse has done nothing wrong to this point. It’s a good field, so I felt the need to spread, but if the race collapses for this 8-1 shot, it’ll significantly raise the potential for a nice score.

After going two-deep in the Holy Bull without using Maximus Mischief, we’ll look to finish off the sequence by spreading in the finale. Only two of the 11 entrants have experience, so I can’t zero in with any confidence. #1 HONEST MISCHIEF will likely be favored given the tremendous pedigree (by Into Mischief, out of Honest Lady), but the rail draw isn’t ideal for a first-time starter, and other debuting runners in here are working well, too. I also needed to use 30-1 bomb #3 SKY SOLO, who at least showed significant early speed in his debut at Laurel Park. I needed to spend the extra $5 to put him on the ticket on the off-chance he moves forward off of that debut (which isn’t out of the question, judging by a solid work January 30th).

SANTA ANITA
Kentucky Derby Prep: Robert B. Lewis (Grade 3), Race 6
Late Pick Four: Races 7-10

Heads up: Rain is in the forecast for Saturday in Arcadia, so plan for an off track. Also, because the Lewis drew just a six-horse field, they kept it out of the late Pick Four (although it’s in the Rainbow Six, which boasts a mandatory payout).

I can’t get too creative in the Lewis. #5 MUCHO GUSTO seems like the lone serious speed in the race, and I think he’ll be all alone going into the first turn. If he’s allowed to dictate terms like that, it could take a career-best performance from one of the other runners to top him. That doesn’t mean he can’t lose, but I do think it’s unlikely.

I respect #6 NOLO CONTESTO, who graduated last time out after the rider lost an iron in his December debut. He’s been training very well and has the pedigree to move forward as he gets older. He’s my second selection, as I’m going against #4 GUNMETAL GRAY. Yes, that one’s rally in the Grade 3 Sham was visually impressive, but they crawled home that day, and that race’s heavy favorite (Coliseum) failed to fire. I think Gunmetal Gray has serious talent, and that he may be a serious factor in other prep races down the line. However, this one doesn’t seem to set up for him, and I can’t use him on top.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #7

R7: 3,5,6,8
R8: 5,9
R9: 7
R10: 1,5,10

24 Bets, $12

This didn’t strike me as the most intriguing multi-race sequence of the day. I feel there’s a free square in the ninth, and that the finale has three likely winners most tickets will include. Having said that, it seems like a spot where one can play a $12-$16 ticket and hope for a return in the $80-$100 range. Considering the likely odds of said free square, that’s not a bad value play.

The seventh is a maiden claimer, and the morning line screams, “WE HAVE NO IDEA WHO’LL BE FAVORED.” In this case, my sentiments mirror those of Jon White. I’m four-deep without using the top two choices on that line, and I’ll give #5 TOBY TIME another shot on top. I liked him a bit in his debut against maiden special weight foes, and he ran like he needed the race when chasing a sharp runaway winner. Chuck Treece’s first-time starters often need their unveiling, and these are shallower waters.

The eighth is a maiden event for 3-year-olds. #5 MY MANDATE comes back to dirt after just missing going down the hill, and he seems like the main speed in the race. He’s probably the most likely winner, but I needed to use #9 YOUNG PHILLIP as well. He boasts a steady string of five-furlong workouts for Phil D’Amato, and his pedigree says he’ll love a wet track. The outside draw is a plus, and Heriberto Figueroa has been riding very well this meet. 10-1 seems like way too big a price on that one.

The ninth is the Grade 2 San Pasqual, and I can’t get past #7 MCKINZIE. After the retirements of City of Light and Accelerate (ugh), I think he’s the top older dirt horse in the country going a route of ground. His Malibu win was exceptional, and while I respect the solid, consistent #8 BATTLE OF MIDWAY, that one may have to run his best race since the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile to top the runner to his inside.

We finish things off with a claiming race for older sprinters. I’m using the three morning line favorites, and my top choice is #1 CANDYMAN GARRET. It’s safe to assume something went wrong on September 1st at Del Mar, because we haven’t seen him since then. He’s got several strong works on the tab for Jeff Mullins, and if you toss that clunker, his form looks much, much stronger. If he’s ready to go, I think it’s likely he wires the field.

OAKLAWN PARK
Kentucky Derby Prep: None (though there IS an Oaks prep!)
Late Pick Four: Races 6-9

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #6

R6: 1,2,4,5
R7: 1,2,3,6,9
R8: 4
R9: 2,6,7,8

80 Bets, $40

I can see why so many people wanted to hear my take on this, because this sequence is HARD. Even with a worthy favorite in the Saturday feature, this could still pay well given that the other three legs are awesome betting races.

The sixth is a claiming races for older horses going a mile. It drew a full field of 12, and I think the divide between the contenders and non-contenders is pretty significant. Of the four I’m using, I’m most intrigued by #5 SECRET HOUSE, who seems like the main speed in a race that doesn’t have much of it. He drops down in class, thumped a similar-quality field two back at Churchill Downs, and ran well in several races here last year.

The seventh is an optional claimer that drew what seems like a strong field for the level. My top pick is a bit of a price, although I think the 10-1 morning line is going to come down a bit. #6 GETTYSBURG has won two in a row for Chris Hartman and has lots of early speed. Joe Bravo should be able to negotiate a friendly trip, and if speed is holding, I think he could be very tough at a bit of a price.

The eighth is the Martha Washington for 3-year-old fillies. There’s a lot of speed signed on, and it just happens that the morning line choice is one of the race’s few closers. That’s #4 SUNSET WISH, who’s won three in a row for Michael Stidham and was impressive in a stakes race at Delta last month. Two turns hasn’t been a problem for her, and further progression would make her very tough to beat.

We’ll finish with a tricky maiden event that, like a few other races in this sequence, will go with a full field. I’m four-deep, and #8 C DUB is my top selection. He’s shown plenty of speed, seems to be coming into this in good form given the work tab, and makes his first start as a gelding. However, I also think #7 KANSAS CITY ZIP is incredibly live at a price. He debuted running an OK fourth in a fast race for the level, and then was bumped after the start going longer last time out. This barn is off to a good start at the meet, and logical forward progression would put him right there.

2019 Pegasus World Cup Day: Analysis, Selections, and Tickets (1/26/19)

Saturday is Pegasus World Cup Day at Gulfstream Park, and with it comes an incredible card with an awesome wagering menu. There are three Pick Fours, plus a pair of Pick Fives, and there shouldn’t be any shortage of opportunities at value.

I’ll have full-card analysis in the form of several multi-race wagers (the early Pick Five, and the middle and late Pick Fours). If you came here Friday night or early Saturday morning, you saw analysis for a track that wasn’t hammered by rain. Unfortunately, the skies have opened up, which means I had to make some changes.

Enough chit-chat; let’s get down to business!

$0.50 Pick Five: Race #1

R1: ALL
R2: 9
R3: 4
R4: 3,4,7,10,13
R5: 4,7

70 Bets, $35

If you want to play the early Pick Four, I think you can do so very cheaply. Here, we’re buying the first leg (an off-the-turf maiden race) in hopes of getting a price up to spice up the potential payoff.

I’ll take my first stand of the day in the second race. This is an optional claiming event, and I really like #9 SOUPER WISH. If you toss his race three back, which was his first outing in 17 months, he’s never run a bad race, and it helps that the second-place finisher from his last-out win came back to win himself. He’s 4-1 on the morning line, and I’d see that as a pretty significant overlay (anything 5/2 and up would entice a pretty significant win bet).

The third race is the Gulfstream Park Turf Sprint, which I hope they rename since it’s now off the turf. Unfortunately, I can’t see anyone beating #4 WORLD OF TROUBLE, who will likely be the shortest price of the day against a very small field. This was a much more intriguing race on turf, and I think it’s now a “free square” in any multi-race exotics you play.

The fourth is a puzzling maiden special weight event for 3-year-olds going a mile. I’m going five-deep, and I’m making the conscious decision to throw out #6 SAMARONTI, the 4-1 morning line favorite. DRF’s workout reports say that he hasn’t been working as impressively as stablemate #10 HIGH AMPLITUDE, who I’m using but in no way in love with. Of the ones I used, I most prefer the one that may be the biggest price. That’s #7 TRIPWIRE, who ran well against stakes company at Woodbine and has every right to move forward on dirt. We know the distance won’t be a problem, and the experience edge could be a big plus.

If we’re alive going into the fifth, we’ll be two-deep to finish it off. This is the Ladies’ Turf Sprint, which is now off the turf. I’m going two-deep and using #4 CHERRY LODGE and #7 RAZORBACK LADY, both of whom have shown talent (and substantial early zip) in prior dirt starts. Like the third leg, this was a much more intriguing race on the turf (where I thought #2 MIZ MAYHEM had a big shot at a nice price), but this is what we’re left with.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #5

R5: 4,7
R6: 1,5,9,12
R7: 2,4,5,8
R8: 9

32 Bets, $16

My aim here is pretty simple. I’m trying to get to one of my best bets of the day in the last leg, and hoping we can get a price or two home before that one to make this pay a bit.

This starts in the fifth race, which I’ve profiled above. If you want to buy the race, the ticket is still a reasonable $40, but I’ll attempt to keep the cost down and use the same two horses that finish off my early Pick Five.

The sixth is the South Beach Stakes for older fillies and mares, and thankfully, this is still on the turf. The short run into the first turn makes things difficult for likely favorite #12 ROAD TO VICTORY, so I need to go a bit deeper. My top pick is actually #9 DOLCE LILI, who comes back to the turf and got pretty good last year for Bill Mott. With the turf course wet, I’ll substitute #1 FIRE KEY for the scratched #13 CAPLA TEMPTRESS, as that one has run her best races over turf courses with give in the ground. I’ll also use a big price in the form of #5 LOVER’S KEY. She takes a big jump up in class, but loves this route of ground and may be flying late for a barn that’s enjoyed a very strong meet to this point.

The seventh is the Grade 3 Hurricane Bertie. I’m using the four likely favorites, but while #4 SHAMROCK ROSE may be tough, I don’t think she’s unbeatable. There isn’t a ton of early speed in here, which could set things up for either #5 BLAMED or #8 STORMY EMBRACE to steal it on the front end. If there’s a speed duel, #2 DREAM PAULINE could also be running late, and if she runs back to her win in the Grade 3 Sugar Swirl, she may be tough to hold off.

All of this leads to the eighth race, the Grade 3 La Prevoyante. Making a morning line is an incredibly difficult, thankless job, but I think the morning line man got this one very, very wrong. #9 SANTA MONICA is the 7/2 second choice on the morning line, and if she goes off much above 2-1 or 5/2, I’ll be shocked. She ran well against top-notch competition all year last year before a dud in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf, and her lone race at this 12-furlong distance was a very impressive win at Keeneland last spring. I’m not crazy about the rest of this field, and I’ll take a stand here. If Santa Monica doesn’t win, I lose.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #9

R9: 6,8
R10: 2,4,8,9
R11: ALL
R12: 3

80 Bets, $40

And now, the fun starts. This Pick Four is hard, but if you hit it, I think there’s a chance at a real financial windfall.

We’ll start in the ninth, the Grade 3 Fred Hooper. This race suffered a major defection earlier in the week, as #1 COAL FRONT is expected to scratch. I’m going two-deep, and my top selection is the other Todd Pletcher trainee, #8 COPPER TOWN. I’m throwing out the Grade 1 Cigar Mile, and if he runs back to his races before that, he’ll be formidable. I’ll also use #6 AZTEC SENSE, a win machine trained by Jorge Navarro who cuts back to one turn. #4 BREAKING LUCKY was originally on my ticket, but he’s not the same horse on a wet track, so I’ll throw him out and add another horse in the second leg.

The tenth is the Grade 3 W. L. McKnight, and I think it sets up for a frontrunner. As such, my top selection is #8 HUNTING HORN, who’s shown some speed in the past and gets some class relief after chasing Enable twice late last year. I’ll also use #2 SOGLIO and #4 ZULU ALPHA, in addition to #9 HUNTER O’RILEY, who would be way too big a price at 20-1. He comes off a long layoff, but has been working steadily and is a first-time gelding who has run well at this distance before.

That brings us to the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Turf. This may not be the strongest Grade 1 for the purse it’s offering, but it’s an incredibly difficult betting race. #2 YOSHIDA is the horse to beat, but this may be a hair further than he wants to run. I can make cases for eight or nine of the 10 horses in this race, so I’ll happily buy it and hope for a price.

And with all of that said and done, we’ve reached the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup. #5 ACCELERATE burned me in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and maybe it’s foolish to go against him again. Having said that, #3 CITY OF LIGHT beat him on the square at this distance in last year’s Oaklawn Handicap, and I’d argue that his Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile win was more impressive than Accelerate’s Classic triumph. The off track is an unknown, but he’s bred to like it (a 413 off-track Tomlinson figure gives me some confidence). I’m backing him in hopes of a mild upset, and if we cash, chances are it’ll be for a nice chunk of change.

My 2018 Eclipse Awards Ballot: Selections, Explanations, and Abstentions

That the very fabric of horse racing didn’t burst apart at the seams when I was given an Eclipse Award ballot as a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters is a minor miracle, but here we are. This is my second ballot as an NTWAB member, and like last year, I’m proud to share it, along with my reasoning for several categories.

A screenshot of my ballot is below.

Screen Shot 2018-12-30 at 8.43.03 PM

As I’ve already written, Justify would’ve been my Horse of the Year regardless of what Accelerate did. He’s getting a bad rap because of what American Pharoah did in 2015, and I don’t think that’s right. I respectfully disagree with Accelerate voters who believe beating older horses is important (in large part because this crop of older horses may have been historically awful). I have no respect for logic containing the belief that we need to de-emphasize the Triple Crown, especially when those espousing that were begging for a Triple Crown winner just four years ago. That logic is inconsistent and best and outright hypocrisy at worst.

Many of the other categories were pretty simple for me, though I found myself casting two “hold my nose” votes. I believe the Female Sprinter category shouldn’t exist, especially given the last two years. Unique Bella won last year despite a single Grade 1 win going short (and against restricted company to boot). This year, I voted for Shamrock Rose given her Breeders’ Cup victory. Marley’s Freedom had a case, and she may have been best in the Filly and Mare Sprint given her exceptionally-wide trip, but I can’t vote for her when she didn’t win the big one.

Male Turf Horse was another head-scratcher. I went with Stormy Liberal, given his Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint win and exceptional campaign that also included a tough-luck second in Dubai. I know that may not be popular with some given his distance limitations, but with all due respect, it’s not like any other American horse consistently got a distance of ground this year, either. In fact, had Heart to Heart hung on in the Shoemaker Mile, he may very well have gotten the nod from me here. He’d have had three Grade 1 wins at three different tracks. Alas, he didn’t, and I couldn’t put him higher than third.

With that, we move to the abstentions. I can’t ever see myself voting for the Steeplechase category. I don’t follow that division closely, and I won’t bring myself to cast an ill-informed vote that counts just as much as that of a jump-racing enthusiast. I know I’m not alone in feeling that way, and I wish there was a better solution.

In that same vein, the Owner category has turned into nothing short of a mess. Partnerships have done a lot of good for a lot of people in the sport. Having said that, when we don’t know what stake each owner has in a horse, how can we effectively judge any of them? Is a man who owns 25% of four one-time Grade 1 winners a better owner than one who owns 100% of a four-time Grade 1 winner? How are we to judge these situations when zero transparency exists?

As I mentioned in a previous article, Sol Kumin reached out to me last year and gave me some information on his enterprise. I appreciate that attitude, and I wish more owners had it. Personally, I want partnership information readily available so that we can adequately judge the merits of the owners involved. Until that happens, or until the partnership craze dies down, I cannot see myself casting a ballot in this category.