Anyone Hiring? Plus: Analysis, Selections, and Pick Four Tickets (3/9/19)

First, the unpleasant tidbit that you may have already heard: I’m out of a job.

Back in November, I was hired by MOAC, a blockchain company based in Silicon Valley. This came two months after my job at The Daily Racing Form was transitioned from full-time to part-time. Unfortunately, earlier this week, I was informed that the company had dissolved its marketing team. As such, for the second time in six months, I’m actively searching for work.

Please let me stress that this isn’t a funeral or a pity party. Due in large part to the best support system anyone could ever hope to have, I’m confident I’ll land on my feet. However, if you happen to be out there looking for a horse racing, content creation, social/digital media, and/or marketing professional, I’d love to chat with you. You can reach out either via Twitter or this site’s “contact” feature.

Regardless of external circumstances, writers will always write, and semi-professional horseplayers will always give opinions about playing horses in a semi-professional manner. That’s why I’m here. We’ve got three Kentucky Derby preps coming up this weekend, and I’ll also be dissecting the associated Pick Four sequences.

There’s a lot to go through, so let’s get to it!

AQUEDUCT

Kentucky Derby Prep: Gotham S. (G3), Race 10
Late Pick Four: Races 8-11

We’ll start off at The Big A, which features, for my money, the strongest renewal of the Gotham Stakes in many years. It anchors a terrific all-stakes Pick Four, and it features one of the most talked-about 3-year-olds in the country.

That’s #6 INSTAGRAND, who ships cross-country for Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer. How good was he as a 2-year-old? Based on Beyer Speed Figures, he likely doesn’t have to improve at all to beat this solid group, and any sort of improvement would make the even-money morning line look like a real overlay. He’s worked well of late, and while the added distance is always a question mark, his breeding suggests a one-turn mile will not be a problem.

As a handicapper, I want to find a reason to go against him, but I can’t. Simply put, I think he’s much more talented than the group lining up against him. There’s a lot of speed signed on, to be sure, but I don’t think he needs the lead in order to win. I think he’ll likely sit off the speed and be in prime position going into the turn. With that sort of trip, I don’t think he loses.

If you insist on trying to beat the chalk, the most intriguing alternative strikes me as #5 HAIKAL, who may be the race’s true lone closer. He hasn’t run particularly fast, but based on the pace scenario, he’ll likely have much more left in the tank late than most of the opposition. The faster they go early, the better he’ll like it, and because of that, the play may be a Dave Weaver-style “ice cold exacta” using Instagrand on top of this 6-1 shot.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #8

R8: ALL
R9: 2,7,8
R10: 6
R11: 3,7,12

63 Bets, $31.50

While Instagrand figures to be very tough to beat, I do think there’s value in the late Pick Four. I’ll try to get a price or two home along with my Gotham single to make this pay a bit.

We’ll be guaranteed to get to the second leg, as I’m buying the Grade 3 Tom Fool. I thought this was a confounding race with a foggy pace scenario and a vulnerable favorite. #3 SKYLER’S SCRAMJET ran well twice here earlier in the meet, but hasn’t won since this race last year and may not be the same horse. With a fairly short field of seven, buying this race doesn’t result in an overpriced ticket.

The ninth is the Stymie Stakes for older horses, and it’s drawn a fun field for the level. #2 SUNNY RIDGE can certainly win, as can the returning #8 VINO ROSSO, but I’m pretty intrigued by a price. That’s #7 SHIVERMETIMBERS, who has run in some tough races out west. A scan of his running lines reveals an abundance of graded stakes-caliber horses, and all three of his wins have come at this one-mile distance. I doubt we’ll get his morning line price of 12-1, but if he wins, it’s likely that a lot of Pick Four tickets get knocked out.

We’ll hope to be alive to three horses in the finale, the Busher Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. I’m taking a bit of a shot here, as I don’t like favorite #10 PLEASE FLATTER ME or second choice #11 ALWAYS SHOPPING. The former gets a huge class and distance test and likely won’t be alone in wanting the lead, while the latter is likely better going two turns and wants much further than this one-mile distance. Of the two Todd Pletcher trainees, I prefer #12 ORRA MOOR, who has been impressive in back-to-back wins at Gulfstream Park. I’ll also use #3 OXY LADY, who won at this route back in November, and #7 FILLY JOEL, who cuts back to one turn after showing two turns may be a bit further than she wants to go.

TAMPA BAY DOWNS

Kentucky Derby Prep: Tampa Bay Derby (G2), Race 11
Late Pick Four: Races 9-12

The Tampa Bay Derby serves as the main event on a terrific card. The race drew a field of 11, and I think it’s a great betting race because I don’t like the morning line favorite.

I acknowledge that #7 WIN WIN WIN was very impressive in winning the Pasco Stakes. However, that race fell apart, and I don’t think he beat much. He’s never been two turns, and at his likely short price, I’m going to try to beat him.

#4 DREAM MAKER, like most offspring of Tapit, likely needed some time to grow up. Judging by his smashing win last month at Fair Grounds, he’s come a long way from two duds in stakes company last year. If he builds off of that last-out effort, I think he’s the one to beat, and we may get a bit of a price given the large field signed on.

The early pace is going to be interesting. If #5 WELL DEFINED gets an easy lead, he’ll likely be tough to catch. His win in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis here was very good, and a repeat effort puts him right there. My slight hesitation here is due to the presence of #11 ZENDEN, who may be sent hard from the gate and could present some pace pressure. However, I need to have Well Defined on my tickets, just in case Zenden either doesn’t clear from his outside post or is rated in his first two-turn effort.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #9

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

40 Bets, $20

Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s much room for huge prices in this sequence, so I made an effort to keep the cost of my ticket down. Still, the field sizes involve hint that we could get a surprising return on investment if we cash.

The ninth is the Grade 2 Hillsborough for older distaffers on turf. I’m using the two likely favorites in #2 HAWKSMOOR and #7 RYMSKA. I do prefer the latter, as Hawksmoor may want a touch shorter than this nine-furlong distance, but these two certainly seem to be the class of this group.

The best betting race of the sequence is probably the second leg. It’s the Grade 3 Florida Oaks for 3-year-old fillies, and I had to spread. #5 CONCRETE ROSE and #10 STELLAR AGENT both have talent, but they’re also making their 2019 debuts. I’m most intrigued by #3 WINTER SUNSET, who’s bred to be a really nice filly and is 2-for-2 coming into her graded stakes debut.

After the Tampa Bay Derby, the finale is a $25,000 claimer on the grass. Likely favorite #5 TRUMPI’s record looks significantly better if you toss the races at Gulfstream Park, which boasts a surface that simply may not agree with him. He adds blinkers in his first start for Dale Bennett, and he seems like the horse to beat. I’ll also use #10 SIMMARDSTRIKE, who drops in for a tag and may relish the cutback from nine furlongs to a mile. The outside post is a problem, but he could be rolling late at a fair price.

TURFWAY PARK

Kentucky Derby Prep: Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3), Race 11
Late Pick Four: Races 9-12

It’s never easy to predict which horses will like a synthetic track, which makes the Jeff Ruby an incredibly tricky affair to handicap. The likely favorite is #10 SOMELIKEITHOTBROWN, who first came onto the scene winning a race at the wrong distance at Saratoga (never forget) and has since won the local prep for this race, the Battaglia.

He’s certainly good enough to win, and I need him on my tickets. However, there’s another I need to use, and it’s one of those “first-time synthetic” horses. That’s #3 FIVE STAR GENERAL, who figures to be the main speed in this race. He didn’t break well in the Sam F. Davis, but won two off-the-turf races in a row before that, including a stakes race at Aqueduct. They’ve clearly wanted to get on turf for a while, and that’s often a sign that a horse will like a synthetic track. Somelikeithotbrown may be better, but I need to use Five Star General in case he gets brave on the front end.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #9

R9: 1,8
R10: 3,5,6,11
R11: 3,10
R12: 1,6,7,10

64 Bets, $32

The Jeff Ruby is one of three stakes races in this sequence, which seems to present some value given the big fields and lack of heavy favorites (save for Somelikeithotbrown). Hopefully, my $32 ticket provides enough coverage.

We’ll start off with the Kentucky Cup Classic for older horses, and I’m using the bookends. #1 NUN THE LESS makes lots of sense given his two-back win over similar foes, and he’ll likely go favored, but my top selection is actually #8 LANIER, who seems like the race’s lone speed. He wants to go longer than he ran last time out, and I think he could get very comfortable on the front end. He was just a length behind Nun the Less two back, and that was with a respectable pace. If they go slower (and I think they will), this one could wire them at a fair price.

The second leg is the Bourbonette Oaks, and like the Jeff Ruby, it’s attracted several out-of-town shippers. My top pick is #5 INTO TROUBLE, whose lone start on a synthetic surface was a last-to-first score at Arlington in September. However, I do think there’s room for a price. #3 BIRDIE was very impressive last time out at this route, while #6 RED ROUNDER’s last race at Fair Grounds seems like a throw-out. Finally, #11 DIVA DAY is bred up and down for this trip and could improve off of a debut win at a big price for a top local barn.

We’ll hope to be alive to four horses to finish this off. #7 BYE BYE BULLY’S may be favored, but I don’t think she’ll be her 8/5 price given the large field. 5/2 or so seems much more likely, and while she could easily win, I can’t simply rely on her alone in the payoff leg. #1 GOLDEN LOCH had a wide trip when second at this route last time out, and second-time starters #6 LYNDA D and #10 SAILOR’S CAP could easily step forward here at big prices.

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.

CHAMPAGNE’S CAMPAIGNS: Justify, The Triple Crown, And a Realist Hoping He’s Wrong

Few fans of this game want a Triple Crown more than I do. Four times between 2003 and 2014, I went to Belmont Park begging for a coronation, and four times, I left dejected.

Funny Cide left his race on the training track several days before the race and was no match for Empire Maker, a horse who may as well have been typed into the “Belmont winners” table on Wikipedia the moment Toussaud was bred to Unbridled. Smarty Jones was the victim of something that most closely resembled an ambush, one that makes this handicapper do a double-take whenever a certain jockey-turned-commentator criticizes a ride. California Chrome was stepped on coming out of the gate, but quietly ran a gigantic race in defeat. He looked like a winner up until mid-stretch, when the Cal-Bred That Could finally ran out of gas after taking the sport on the first of two wild rides he’d orchestrate. Big Brown…well, we’ll never really know what happened there, and that proved to be the first domino to fall in one of the most fascinating stories in horse racing history (this Deadspin article is required reading).

I say all of this as a preface to a statement I don’t want to make. It’s one that goes against every fiber of my being as a racing fan, which every turf writer and broadcaster still is at heart. If the below statement is wrong, I will gladly endure the mocking on Twitter that I openly spurn most of the time.

Here goes. Inhale…exhale…Justify will not win the Triple Crown.

(ducks to avoid an onslaught of tomatoes, detached chair legs, and anything else that isn’t nailed down)

Can I come up now and explain myself? OK, good.

What Justify has done to this point in his career is nothing short of phenomenal. It isn’t just that he defied the Curse of Apollo, and it’s not just that he went on to add the Preakness Stakes this past Saturday. In less than 100 days, Justify has gone from an unraced prospect to the biggest name in horse racing, winning five starts in an era where top-level horses often need that 100-day period between races for such cardinal sins as running second or third in a Grade 1.

In this era of racing, horses do not do what Justify has done over the past three-plus months. Gone are the days where 3-year-olds would run six to eight times at two, and then have four or five starts before the Triple Crown on top of that. Present-day horses are bred to be “brilliant,” often being sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars based on “breezes” of one furlong long before they’ve fully matured.

Amidst this environment, Justify has won five races, three of the Grade 1 variety and two designated as American classics. That he has done so makes him an exceptional thoroughbred. That he has done so in slightly longer than it took Phileas Fogg to circumnavigate the globe in Jules Verne’s classic novel, “Around the World in Eighty Days,” puts him in different air than even the best horses we’ve seen in recent racing history.

That journey also makes him appear very vulnerable heading into the 2018 Belmont Stakes.

The obvious reason for not being high on Justify was his run in the Preakness, where he held off Bravazo and Tenfold to win by a rapidly-diminishing half-length. Yes, he had to match strides with the talented Good Magic early, but he did so through reasonable fractions over a very fast track. Those splits were significantly slower than the ones he endured two weeks earlier, and while the final time was sharp (a shade below 1:56 for the 1 3/16-mile distance), it’s worth pointing out, yet again, that the sloppy track consistently produced fast times all day long.

Justify earned a 97 Beyer Speed Figure Saturday, a significant regression from the 103 he earned in the Kentucky Derby (which, itself, was a slight decrease from the 107 number he was given for his win in the Santa Anita Derby). A 97 Beyer Speed Figure may not be enough in three weeks against a field that figures to include several horses freshened up since the Kentucky Derby. The likes of Hofburg, Vino Rosso, and fellow WinStar Farm charge Audible could all be waiting for another shot at Justify, and after Saturday’s step back, it’s tough to say there’s any reason for any of those colts not to try again. Bravazo and Tenfold are nice horses, but Bravazo was a distant sixth in the Kentucky Derby, and Tenfold didn’t even qualify to run in that event.

Furthermore, the Belmont Stakes will be Justify’s sixth race in less than four months. On its own, that’s daunting enough. Consider this, though: Justify will be running in that race, contested at the grueling distance of 1 1/2 miles, after barely holding on over second-tier 3-year-olds going five-sixteenths of a mile shorter, all with a picture-perfect trip. There are times where you can safely assume the Belmont distance won’t be a problem for a horse. This isn’t one of those instances.

One of my best friends in the game is Joe Nevills, and prior to the Kentucky Derby, he did a piece on the average winning distances of each Derby sire. Scat Daddy ranked eighth of 14 sires, with an AWD of just under seven furlongs. Meanwhile, Tapit, who has sired the last two Belmont winners and figures to be represented by Hofburg in this year’s renewal, was second on that list, and Curlin (the sire of Vino Rosso) checked in third. On its own, it’s not necessarily a damning statistic, but given what we saw Saturday and the trials and tribulations that come with running five times since mid-February, there are serious questions about whether this undefeated star can go 12 furlongs.

I would love nothing more than to be wrong about all of this. If Justify reveals himself as a superhorse and gallops home like fellow Bob Baffert trainee American Pharoah did three years ago, that’s just fine with me. Racing needs stars, and it needs them to run consistently over long periods of time. I say this next statement without a shred of hyperbole or exaggeration: If Justify was to pull off a sweep of the Triple Crown races after being an unraced maiden less than four months prior to the Belmont, it would be one of the greatest stories in the history of the game.

Unfortunately, what I saw Saturday at the end of the Preakness wasn’t a horse being eased to the wire like one with plenty in reserve. Mike Smith’s subtle easing of Justify as he came to the wire struck me as a move made to save a few drops of gas for another taxing race in three weeks, one where the competition figures to be considerably tougher (even with the likely absence of Good Magic in mind). As a fan, I crave a Secretariat-like performance, one that puts him in horse racing’s highest pantheon of four-legged immortals that boasts a gate opened just once in the past 40 years.

As a handicapper? I don’t think it’s happening.

2018 KENTUCKY DERBY DAY: Analysis, Selections, and Tickets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On with the show!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PICK FOUR TICKETS

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #2

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

60 Bets, $30

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

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #5

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

84 Bets, $42

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

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #9

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

72 Bets, $36

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