2019 Belmont Stakes: Full-Card Analysis, Selections, and Tickets

Saturday is Belmont Stakes Day, and the folks at NYRA have come up with one of the best days of racing on the planet. The eight Grade 1 races boast a bunch of strong wagering opportunities (especially later in the card), and the day is headlined by the third jewel of horse racing’s Triple Crown.

I’ll get to that first, because I know that’s what a lot of people want to read about. #9 WAR OF WILL and #10 TACITUS will almost certainly be the two favorites in some order, and for good reason. War of Will’s lone losses on dirt have come because of troubled trips, while Tacitus didn’t disgrace himself when third in the Kentucky Derby and is bred to handle this 12-furlong distance.

A lot of people are picking chalky exactas, and I see why. With that in mind, though, there are two bigger prices I need to have on my tickets. #4 TAX was an also-ran in the Derby, but I’m throwing that race out completely. He drew a terrible post and didn’t get his preferred stalking trip over a wet track (which he’d never run on before). There’s much less early speed signed on here, and he could sit an ideal trip just off the pace. He’s bred to like this trip, being by Arch and out of a Giant’s Causeway mare, and I think he could bounce back in a big way.

I’ll also need to use #8 INTREPID HEART, and similar to Tax, I think you can draw a line through the last-out effort. Intrepid Heart didn’t break well in the Grade 2 Peter Pan and was never really in the race as a result. The blinkers go on, and I think he could be the one they’re chasing early. 12-furlong races like this are often won on the front end, and it wouldn’t surprise me if John Velazquez was able to dictate friendly terms going down the backstretch.

I’ll be using all four of those horses in some form or fashion, but what about the rest of the card? Well, I’ll be breaking down each race below, as well as offering several Pick Four tickets (there are three sequences, which start in the second, eighth, and 10th races) and a Grand Slam wager near the end.

Enough talk; let’s get on with the show!

RACE #1: We start off with a puzzling race, and given the six-horse field and how chalky the rest of the early Pick Five appears, many players will likely punch the “ALL” button. #5 PRINCIPLED and #6 POTOMAC strike me as the horses to beat, and I’ll be watching the board carefully. Potomac has run two big races in a row, but was claimed last time out by Carlos Martin. Martin may not be a household name, and he may only be hitting at about 10% on the meet, but he’s a capable horseman, and anything close to the last two efforts would make this one tough to beat.

RACE #2: It’s tough to trust many of the runners with lots of experience in this turf route, as they’ve had plenty of chances to graduate. Based on Beyer Speed Figures, #4 NO MANS LAND is the horse to beat, but his history of coming close and not getting the job done doesn’t inspire confidence.

I’m using him, but my top pick is actually #9 UNCLE ARTIE, who stretches out in distance and ran a decent race two back at Keeneland beneath Joel Rosario, who rides him again here. I’m also going to throw in 12-1 shot #8 THE MORMON MAULER, who likely needed his debut and could benefit from a big jockey switch to Luis Saez.

RACE #3: This is the Easy Goer, and the morning line man thinks this is a two-horse race between #4 OUTSHINE and #6 ALWAYSMINING. I prefer the former, who ran a very good second to the possible Belmont favorite two back and lost all chance at the start of the Wood Memorial. In addition to those two, I’m also throwing in #5 MAJID, who has won three in a row since going to the Rudy Rodriguez barn and seems like the main speed.

RACE #4: This is the Grade 1 Just A Game, and it’s the first of back-to-back races with short fields and a heavy favorite I just cannot get past. In this case, it’s #4 RUSHING FALL, a three-time Grade 1 winner and the likely lone speed in this race. I don’t see any other runner in here going with her to set up for the closers, and because of that, I think she wires the field for her eighth win in nine career starts.

RACE #5: It’s disappointing to see the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps only draw a field of five, especially given that the older mare division is quite strong. However, my best bet of the day is here, and it’s a horse that, as good as she is around two turns, has always hit me as even better around one.

#2 MIDNIGHT BISOU is even-money on the morning line, and anything above that would hit me as an overlay. She won the Mother Goose for fun here last year, and all indications are that she’s even better now. I think she’ll sit a perfect stalking trip in this short field, and such a journey would likely result in a fourth consecutive victory.

RACE #6: Now a Grade 1, the Jaipur has drawn some of the top turf sprinters in the country. This includes morning line favorite #8 WORLD OF TROUBLE, but while he merits lots of respect, he’s not my top pick. I don’t think he’ll be alone on the front end here, and that could set things up for likely second choice #6 DISCO PARTNER. He loves Belmont and likely needed his 2019 debut in the Shakertown, which could slightly inflate the price we get Saturday afternoon.

RACE #7: From a betting perspective, out of all the undercard races, I’m most excited about this one. This is the Grade 1 Acorn, and it features Kentucky Oaks winner #1 SERENGETI EMPRESS. I’m against her here, as I think it’s highly unlikely she gets gifted another perfect trip (as she did last time out).

#7 GUARANA is actually the morning line favorite, and while there’s a chance she’s good enough, this is only her second career start, and her lone race came over a sloppy, sealed Keeneland track. I want the second and third-place finishers from the Grade 2 Eight Belles, #4 BELL’S THE ONE and #8 QUEEN OF BEAS. Both are closers, and in a race full of speed, a pace meltdown seems likely. They’ll both be prices, and they’ll both be featured prominently on any multi-race exotics ticket I play.

RACE #8: Like the Jaipur, the Woody Stephens is now also a Grade 1, and I think Chad Brown holds a very powerful hand. #4 COMPLEXITY makes his 2019 debut after a long layoff, but he’s been working very well, and this seven-furlong distance should hit him right between the eyes. Meanwhile, stablemate #1 HONEST MISCHIEF would benefit from a fast pace, which seems very likely. The rail draw isn’t ideal, but he’s bred to be very good, and the last-out Beyer of 97 ties for the highest in this field.

RACE #9: Many would argue that the Grade 1 Met Mile is actually the best race on the Belmont Stakes Day program, and I can’t disagree. It features several of the top older horses in training, and I believe that, if one of the logical horses wins, that horse is in the driver’s seat for Horse of the Year honors at this point in the season.

#2 MCKINZIE has been pointed to this race for months. Bob Baffert could’ve shipped him to Dubai, but he kept him stateside, and when Baffert works backwards, he doesn’t lose often. This route should be perfect for him, and I think he’s definitely the horse to beat.

In multi-race exotics, I’ll also use #3 MITOLE and #7 FIRENZE FIRE. Mitole stretches out to a mile after successfully handling seven furlongs last month, while Firenze Fire looks like a world-beater at Belmont and certainly has home-course advantage. At any rate, this is a fascinating race, and I can’t wait to see how it plays out.

RACE #10: The Grade 1 Manhattan is the traditional lead-up for the Belmont, and this year’s renewal features #8 BRICKS AND MORTAR, likely the best turf horse in the country. He’s won four in a row, including two Grade 1 races, and if you want to single him, it’s understandable.

I loved #9 EPICAL before he was announced as a scratch, and I’m more than a bit bitter about not getting the chance to throw him in in hopes of him getting loose on the lead. If you’re looking for an alternative to Bricks and Mortar, I’d use #3 ROBERT BRUCE, who was beaten just a length in this race last year despite a strange trip. When he’s right, he’s very good, and he may not have cared for the wet turf course he got last time out.

RACE #12: They carded two races after the Belmont, and the first of those is a tricky optional claimer going long on the grass. I’m using the two bookends, and I think the most likely winner may be a square price.

That’s #10 BIRD’S EYE VIEW, who likes this turf course and has a substantial amount of back class. He’s run up against plenty of stakes-quality opposition, and I think his tactical speed will allow him to sit a perfect trip. I’m also going to use #1 PRIORITIZE, who almost certainly needed his last start and ran third in last year’s Grade 2 Hill Prince at this route.

RACE #13: We finish with the Grade 2 Brooklyn at the marathon 12-furlong distance. Unlike the Belmont, I think there may be a bit of speed signed on here, so my top pick is #6 ROCKETRY, who has shown a rare ability to make up ground going this long. He got very good near the end of last year, and if he channels that form, I think he’ll be the one they have to hold off late.

I’ll also use several of the other logicals, as #1 MARCONI, #2 CAMPAIGN, and #7 YOU’RE TO BLAME are all contenders in good form. This wound up a very intriguing betting race, and your guess is as good as mine with regard to which horse winds up favored.

MULTI-RACE EXOTIC TICKETS

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #2

R2: 4,8,9
R3: 4,5,6
R4: 4
R5: 2

9 Bets, $4.50

Either play it for cheap action early in the card, or punch it a few times to increase the potential payoff. I’m not sure how much this’ll pay, but I’ve at least left some room to beat a favorite or two early to squeeze whatever value I can out of the sequence.

$1 Grand Slam: Race #7

R7: 2,4,7,8
R8: 1,4,9
R9: 2
R10: 8

12 Bets, $12

I enjoy playing the Grand Slam at NYRA tracks when the payoff leg features a very heavy favorite. If you keep a chalk or two out of the money along the way, it’s essentially an enhanced-odds win bet (provided you get multiple tickets going, which is essential). That’s what I’m going for here, and hopefully I can get some value out of Bricks and Mortar in the Manhattan.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #8

R8: 1,4
R9: 2,3,7
R10: 3,8
R11: 4,8,9,10

48 Bets, $24

I like this sequence a lot. There are no singles in some big fields, and there’s room for some prices to shake things up. With how big the pool’s going to be, I had to take a swing here, and I’m happy with this $24 ticket that could pay stacks if Tax gets home.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #10

R10: 3,8
R11: 4,8,9,10
R12: 1,10
R13: 1,2,6,7

64 Bets, $32

The last two races of the card may get lost in the shuffle, but they’re good betting races that don’t have clearly-defined favorites. This makes the final Pick Four of the day a very attractive sequence, one where I’ve got plenty of coverage for a reasonable amount of money.

Saratoga Race Course Analysis, Selections, and Bankroll: 8/18/18

BANKROLL

BANKROLL: $534.20

Today’s card at Saratoga may be the best one of the meet to this point. Several of the top 3-year-old fillies in the country will be in action, and the card also boasts a number of intriguing races for 2-year-olds. There are plenty of great wagering opportunities on tap, and it’s a pleasure to handicap programs like this that reflect what Saratoga should always be: One of the last remaining cathedrals in horse racing.

FRIDAY’S RESULTS: Shang Shang Shang scratched scratched scratched, so our $20 cold double was refunded.

SATURDAY’S PLAY: I’m going to take a stand against #3 MIDNIGHT BISOU in the Alabama. She’s a very nice horse, but the distance is a big question mark, and I can’t endorse her at her likely price. I’ll play doubles starting and ending in that race that use #4 SHE’S A JULIE and #8 TALK VEUVE TO ME. My $8 doubles starting in the eighth single #6 RUSHING FALL, and my $4 doubles ending in the tenth use #3 NEOCLASSIC, #4 REFLECTED STAR, and #11 EXPECTED RULER (assuming, of course, that the race stays on turf). Additionally, I’ll play a $1 Pick Three starting in the eighth that uses those horses.

TOTAL WAGERED: $34

ANALYSIS/SELECTIONS

Best Bet: Rushing Fall, Race 8
Longshot: Noble Nebraskan, Race 2

R1

Azzedine
Causeur
End of an Era

#2 AZZEDINE: Drops further down the ladder after falling as a 7/5 favorite earlier in the meet. This doesn’t seem like a distinguished field, and it seems like one he’ll beat with his usual race; #8 CAUSEUR: Had an eventful trip last time out, so it’s easy to draw a line through that race. He has back races that would make him a contender here, and we may get a price given the recent clunker; #9 END OF AN ERA: Adds blinkers for his local debut after an OK performance at Delaware Park. The blinkers could get him more involved early, and the presence of speed rider Kendrick Carmouche could also signal that he’s going early.

R2

Standard Deviation (MTO)
Noble Nebraskan
Medina Ridge

#10 NOBLE NEBRASKAN: Is bred up and down for turf and has a solid series of works ahead of his debut. George Weaver can win with first-time starters, and we may get a price in what seems like a wide-open event; #9 MEDINA RIDGE: Is another bred to be a strong grass horse. He’s by War Front, out of a Smart Strike mare, and goes out for a barn that’s had success with firsters on turf; #6 SOUTHERN BRIDGE: Was fifth in his debut earlier in the meet, and was beaten just two lengths that day despite a wide trip. Improvement is logical at second asking for a patient barn. DIRT SELECTIONS: STANDARD DEVIATION, GOOSE DRANK WINE, PERCEIVED.

R3

Forge
Nigel’s Destiny
Helooksthepart

#1 FORGE: Did everything but win last time out in a very fast race for the level. He was claimed by Mike Maker that day, and he retains the services of jockey Javier Castellano; #7 NIGEL’S DESTINY: Is the only runner in this race with multiple wins at the seven-furlong distance. He was third behind a next-out winner in an allowance event downstate, and his last start for a tag was a win; #5 HELOOKSTHEPART: Didn’t fire last time out in a race several of today’s foes also exit, but is a closer in an event with plenty of early speed signed on. He may be past his peak, but the race shape will almost certainly benefit him.

R4

Ahead of Plan
Principled
Cromwell Avenue

#7 AHEAD OF PLAN: Has a purchase price ($475,000) that jumps off the page given his very modest pedigree. He’s worked well of late and figures to be tough if he runs to those drills; #2 PRINCIPLED: Is the other logical first-time starter. He’s by Medaglia d’Oro and out of Grade 2 winner Teen Pauline, who set the five-furlong track record here at Saratoga in her 2012 debut; #8 CROMWELL AVENUE: Didn’t do much running in his debut, which was won by an impressive 2-year-old named Nitrous. He didn’t have a great trip that day and could improve here at a price.

R5

Our Girl Abby
Tee Up
Richie’slilwildcat

#3 OUR GIRL ABBY: Got the dirty end of a photo finish last time out but has a right to turn the tables on that rival here. There’s lots of early speed in this race, and she’s shown an ability to rate; #6 TEE UP: Was the winner of that photo finish following a perfect trip and smart ride by Joel Rosario. A repeat isn’t out of the question, but Rosario’s in California and there’s much more early speed signed on today; #4 RICHIE’SLILWILDCAT: Has won two small stakes races and ships in for a prominent Midwest outfit. She’ll likely make the lead, and it wouldn’t be a shock if she wires the field, but she may have to work hard out of the gate to get to the front.

R6

Wild Medagliad’oro
Most Mischief
Fed Fever

#5 WILD MEDAGLIAD’ORO: Close well to be second in his debut after racing very wide most of the way. If there’s any hesitation here, it’s because he’s bred to go much longer (and ran like it in his unveiling), but this certainly seems like the weaker split of the same race (the fourth has the same conditions); #3 MOST MISCHIEF: Improved at second asking when third behind Nitrous despite a trip that didn’t do him many favors. He has an experience edge on this group, which could prove valuable; #7 FED FEVER: Was bet in his debut but raced very wide and likely wasn’t fully persevered with. He’s continued to work well and has every right to step forward with a start under his belt.

R7

Lovely La La
Hollywood Cat
Way Smart

#8 LOVELY LA LA: Was much the best in her maiden win downstate, and that day’s third-place finisher has since come back to win. The pedigree says two turns won’t be an issue, and speed’s always a plus on the inner turf course; #3 HOLLYWOOD CAT: Flopped when fourth as a 3/2 favorite earlier in the meet, but the turf course was very wet that day. If the ground is on the firmer side, she has a big chance to improve for a proven barn; #4 WAY SMART: May have moved a bit too soon last time out at this level, but still ran an OK third. She’s yet to run a truly bad race and has shown some flexibility in her running style.

R8

Rushing Fall
Thewayiam
Significant Form

#6 RUSHING FALL: Was very rank last time out and still only missed by a neck in what doubled as her first career loss. She wants to rate and should be able to do that behind several others in this field; #1 THEWAYIAM: Hasn’t run a bad race this year and was a good second in the Belmont Oaks. The rail draw isn’t ideal for a closer, but she was only a length behind Rushing Fall earlier this year at Keeneland; #4 SIGNIFICANT FORM: Was fourth in the Belmont Oaks in a race that may have been longer than she wants to go. The cutback in distance should help her, and she’ll likely be on or near the lead given her ample tactical speed.

R9

Talk Veuve to Me
She’s a Julie
Midnight Bisou

#8 TALK VEUVE TO ME: Chased Mia Mischief and Monomoy Girl earlier this year, but cruised in the Grade 3 Indiana Oaks and showed she could go two turns. This field isn’t heavy on tactical speed, and she’s worked really well here of late; #4 SHE’S A JULIE: Romped in the Grade 3 Iowa Oaks and is another that shouldn’t be too far back early. Take out the Fair Grounds races, and you’re left with a much better resume; #3 MIDNIGHT BISOU: Was second in the CCA Oaks, but had every chance that day and just couldn’t stick with Monomoy Girl. It seems like she struggles going further than a mile and a sixteenth, and I’m not sure this is the trip she wants.

R10

Brimstone (MTO)
Reflected Star
Expected Ruler

#4 REFLECTED STAR: Gets a tepid nod in a wide-open finale. He’s shown early speed and was claimed out of his last race (a weirdly-run event) by a barn that’s done great work this year with a fairly small outfit; #11 EXPECTED RULER: Just missed at 25-1 last time out against much better, and is a major player if he draws in off the AE list. His effort two back has aged well, as he was third behind next-out Grade 3 winner Sandy’z Slew; #3 NEOCLASSIC: Has won two of his last three, and in those wins, he topped many of today’s rivals. If there’s any hesitation here, it’s because he seems to prefer one-turn routes to two-turn trips, and he gets the latter here. DIRT SELECTIONS: BRIMSTONE, BITUMEN, CALIFORNIA SWING.

Saratoga Race Course Analysis, Selections, and Bankroll: 7/22/18

BANKROLL

BANKROLL: $968

You’ll notice a slight change to my analysis, as I’ve officially begun putting numbers next to the names of horses, just for the sake of clarification. This was a suggestion from a Twitter follower of mine, and I’m all for doing things that make my content easier to digest.

Periodic reminder: If you’ve got a suggestion, question, or comment, tweet me at @AndrewChampagne. I enjoy hearing from people who read my stuff, and you may even see a response to it in this bankroll blurb!

SATURDAY’S RESULTS: In one of a few “backwards exactas” in the pick box, Tee Up nosed Our Girl Abby in the fifth, which ruined our lone remaining double ticket following the scratch of Shape Shifter. We dropped $10.

SUNDAY’S PLAY: Given the rain that’s in the forecast, it’s worth a reminder that all plays in this section assume turf races stay there. With that in mind, I’ll dive into the early Pick Five and play the following $0.50 ticket that begins in the opener: 2 with 1,2,4 with 1,2,6 with 4 with 2,3,5,6,8. Singles TIED UP and ADULATION will likely be heavy favorites, but hopefully we can get a price or two home around them to make this pay a bit.

TOTAL WAGERED: $22.50

ANALYSIS/SELECTIONS

Best Bet: Tied Up, Race 1
Longshot: Stealth, Race 5

R1

Tied Up
Pure Praise
Northernstreetgal

#2 TIED UP: Has been off since an easy score against similar competition at Keeneland. A repeat of that effort would make her incredibly difficult to beat, and it’s tough to see anyone here challenging her early on; #7 PURE PRAISE: Rated well behind a slow pace last time out in her first start for Jeremiah Englehart. Her lone win came over a sloppy track, so she could benefit from any rain that hits the area; #6 NORTHERNSTREETGAL: Drops in class, comes back to the dirt, and has run her best races over wet tracks. She could hit the board at a bit of a price.

R2

Casse entry
Two Dozen Roses
Mott entry

CASSE ENTRY: #1A CHOCOLATE KISSES seems better meant than #1 TOY MOON, but either can win. The former is a half to top-notch turf horse Synchrony, and her dam won stakes races on both turf and dirt; #4 TWO DOZEN ROSES: Has a series of turf works, and her second dam threw Beholder, Into Mischief, and Mendelssohn. The five-furlong drills indicate she may want today’s distance; MOTT ENTRY: #2B GLAZE is bred to love this distance and could improve off of her debut, while main-track-only entrant #2 ROTATE has a chance if this is rained off the turf.

R3

No Need to Appeal (MTO)
La Moneda
Complicit

#1 LA MONEDA: Has turned into a sharp turf horse and won two in a row downstate in impressive fashion. Javier Castellano regains the mount, and anything close to her last-out effort would make her formidable; #2 COMPLICIT: Has improved with every start and followed up her two-back maiden score with a win last month at Belmont. She overcame a very slow pace in the most recent race, and this barn’s certainly formidable with turf routers; #6 DOLCE LILI: Looks much better if you draw a line through the Grade 3 Valley View, which was followed by a six-month layoff. She may benefit from a return to a two-turn route of ground. DIRT SELECTIONS: NO NEED TO APPEAL, RILEY’S CHOICE, LA MONEDA.

R4

Adulation
Cavallotto
Benefactor

#4 ADULATION: Drops in for a tag for one of the most well-known owners in Saratoga. The last two races weren’t great, but he’s been competitive against much better in the past and Javier Castellano hops aboard; #1 CAVALLOTTO: Prevailed against weaker company last time out at Belmont Park and may be going in the right direction. He’s 2 for 3 in dirt sprints, and he may be a bit of a price; #2 BENEFACTOR: Is another dropping way down in class, and he’s been gelded since trailing a much better group. He’s got plenty of early speed, and a repeat of his effort three back would likely get him a piece of this.

R5

Domain
Point to Remember
Stealth

#5 DOMAIN: Has finished second in a pair of swiftly-run races at Belmont Park and has a pedigree that says two turns should not be a problem. His 85 Beyer Speed Figure from the most recent race is the top last-out number in the field; #8 POINT TO REMEMBER: Is bred up and down for distance and should improve in his third start of the season. He may be a bit more forwardly-placed in this spot; #3 STEALTH: Completely missed the break in his debut and has earned two bullets for workouts since then. Ian Wilkes charges tend to move forward with experience, and this one could present real value in exotics.

R6

Ventry Bay
Fuel the Bern
Bam Bam Blu

#3 VENTRY BAY: Loves Saratoga and exits a strong race for the level where the winner and second-place finisher both won at next asking. Wesley Ward’s on a bit of a cold streak in New York, but this one has back form that more than fits; #8 FUEL THE BERN: Has found his form of late and cuts back in distance for the strong Danny Gargan barn. It helps that he doesn’t need the lead to run well, and he could get first run turning for home; #5 BAM BAM BLU: Romped in the slop at Monmouth last time out and tries turf here. His pedigree says he could like turf, and he certainly merits respect if this race gets moved to the main track. DIRT SELECTIONS: BAM BAM BLU, CHANGE OF VENUE, WIN WITH PRIDE.

R7

Golden Award
Big Birthday
Communal

#5 GOLDEN AWARD: Stepped forward in her second start, when she held on for second despite setting a very fast pace. She’s worked well since then, and she could benefit from the cutback in distance; #9 BIG BIRTHDAY: Ran well in her first start off the bench, finishing third in a sprint at Belmont Park. She could step forward in her second start back, and the outside draw could allow her to work out a trip; #4 COMMUNAL: Was second in a race that features many runners that also show up in this spot. This barn’s horses tend to need a race to get going, so it’s a good sign that she was ready right off the bat.

R8

Critique (MTO)
Dancing Breeze
Stainless

#5 DANCING BREEZE: Ran third behind La Moneda last time out in her first start since November. She was a good second in a $150,000 stakes race before going to the sidelines, and a return to that form would make her tough; #2 STAINLESS: Is Grade 3-placed and could benefit from what seems like a lot of early speed. This barn does well with horses coming off of long layoffs, and she may be going best of all late; #4 QUEEN MUM: Has never finished worse than third in four starts to date. She tries turf for the first time, and her 353 turf Tomlinson number says she could love it. DIRT SELECTIONS: CRITIQUE, STAINLESS, QUEEN MUM.

R9

Monomoy Girl
Midnight Bisou
Gio Game

#4 MONOMOY GIRL: Seems like the lone frontrunner in a small field, which is almost always a tough combination to beat. She seems to be getting better as she goes along, which is a scary thought since she’s a neck away from being 8 for 8; #2 MIDNIGHT BISOU: Aired by six lengths in the Grade 2 Mother Goose, which doubled as her first start for trainer Steve Asmussen. It was good to see her win while close to the pace, but these waters are much deeper; #5 GIO GAME: Was third behind Monomoy Girl in the Grade 1 Acorn, an effort validated when the second-place finisher came right back to win the Indiana Oaks. Her lone misfire came in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, and she may be on the improve.

R10

Competitionofideas
Compression
East Moon

#9 COMPETITIONOFIDEAS: Just missed last time out in a fast race for the level. The outside post is a bit of an issue on the inner turf, but she’s shown enough talent to indicate she could overcome it; #2 COMPRESSION: Was third in that same race despite not having much running room turning for home. She could easily improve enough to win this race, although she’s found trouble twice in as many starts, which is a concern; #10 EAST MOON: Finished an OK second in her first start going long and tries turf, which her pedigree says she could take to. If this race gets rained off the turf, she figures to be the one to beat. DIRT SELECTIONS: EAST MOON, KIDORO, THAT’S SPEIGHTFUL.

2018 KENTUCKY OAKS DAY: Analysis, Selections, and Tickets

One of the biggest racing weekends of the year is coming up at Churchill Downs. Friday is Kentucky Oaks Day, and, in keeping with a tradition started several years ago, I’ll offer race-by-race analysis, as well as a few multi-race exotics tickets once we get to the end. I think there are several live prices throughout the undercard races, and hopefully, we’ll pad the bankroll heading into Kentucky Derby Day.

One note before we start: This analysis assumes all races carded for the turf stay there (there’s a pretty good chance of rain Friday, though its potential effects on the Oaks Day card are unclear). If races get rained off the turf, those analyses (and any tickets containing those races) become obsolete.

Anyway, with all of that out of the way, let’s take a look!

RACE #1: The opener drew a short field of six, and the likely favorite is #6 GO GOOGLE YOURSELF, who won nicely at Keeneland last time out and boasts a win over this surface. She’s a logical favorite, and I’ll use her in exotics with two others. #5 AMERICA’S TALE ran two huge races late last year before trying stakes company, and this level’s probably where she wants to be.

I’ll also throw in #2 TURBO SHAFT, who’s 10-1 on the morning line. She won her first two dirt starts before a rough trip behind a very good filly last time out in a stakes race, and while this is her first dirt start around two turns, there’s plenty of stamina in her pedigree, and she could sit a dream trip off of a lively pace.

RACE #2: TVG’s Caleb Keller had it right when he said, “if a Chad Brown trainee beats you on turf, that’s your fault.” The barn is going great guns right now and saddles likely favorite #7 DABINETT, who debuted with a second-place finish at Keeneland. She’s a must-use (at least defensively), and I’ll also keep an eye on #9 PACHINKO, who makes her North American debut off a long layoff for trainer Brad Cox. Her pedigree says she wants distance, and she got it in France, where her last two starts came going 10 furlongs or longer. Any European getting Lasix for the first time is attractive (especially at 8-1 on the morning line), and the recent workouts indicate she’s got some speed.

Those are my top two, and for exotics purposes, I’ll also recommend #2 WILD N READY (who likely needed her most recent start at Keeneland) and #5 CHEEKY CHERUB (a big price with turf pedigree that tries grass for the first time).

RACE #3: This race may house a popular multi-race exotics single. That’s #8 BUGLE NOTES, who will likely go off much shorter than his 5/2 morning line. He fetched $825,000 at auction back in 2016, and for good reason, as he’s by Ghostzapper and out of a mare with a tremendous pedigree. He’s worked very well at Palm Beach Downs, and this doesn’t seem like the toughest maiden special weight event in the world. I can’t get past him on top.

If you’re looking for horses to use underneath, first-time starters #5 ENCINITAS and #10 SHARKY’S LEDGER could have some talent. Encinitas is out of a mare whose dam also produced the speedy Smoke Glacken, while Sharky’s Ledger is a half to Grade 2 winner Private Vow and could be a contender despite probably wanting more distance.

RACE #4: This turf route strikes me as a “single or use as many as you can” kind of race. #11 KRAMPUS is the morning line favorite, and justifiably so given his record, but the post is not encouraging. If he’s compromised by a wide trip, the race becomes wide-open. I think Ian Wilkes holds a pretty strong hand here, as he saddles 10-1 shots #4 FIFTH TITLE and #5 THATCHER STREET. The former is at his best on this turf course and ran well off the bench last time out, while the latter drops down in class and has plenty of tactical speed, which could give him a perfect trip in a race that doesn’t seem to have much pace signed on.

RACE #5: Stakes action commences here in the Grade 2 Eight Belles, which has drawn some talented 3-year-old fillies. It’s apparent there’s a lot of speed signed on, and for that reason, #6 GAS STATION SUSHI seems like the most logical winner. She came back running in last month’s Grade 3 Beaumont at Keeneland, and this race could have a similar setup to that event. The other appealing option from a pace standpoint is #3 MIA MISCHIEF, who showed she didn’t necessarily need the lead last time out at Oaklawn Park. She’s run well here in the past, and she could get first run turning for home.

RACE #6: This is the first Grade 1 of the weekend. It’s the La Troienne for older fillies and mares, and #3 ABEL TASMAN will likely be a heavy favorite. I’ll use her, but I don’t think she’s a cinch. This isn’t the long-term goal for these connections, and she may need a race given that we haven’t seen her since the Breeders’ Cup Distaff.

I think the must-use in this race is #8 MARTINI GLASS, who has gotten quite good over the past year. Remember when some “racing fans” tried to knock Songbird for only beating Martini Glass by a length in last year’s Grade 1 Delaware Handicap? Since then, this mare has won two graded stakes races and placed second in another Grade 1. She’s 6-1 on the morning line, and I think she’s got a big chance to spring the upset.

RACE #7: I’ll take a bit of a stand in the Turf Sprint, where I’m not crazy about the two morning line favorites. #7 VISION PERFECT ran a big one last time out, but that was at Gulfstream, a much different turf course than what he’ll see Friday, and #9 BUCCHERO draws poorly and may have developed a bit of a hanging habit. Of the two, I prefer the latter, since there’s a more consistent body of work there, but he’ll be more of a defensive use than anything else.

My top pick is #1 DELECTATION, who gets Lasix for the first time off a long layoff for new trainer Wesley Ward. She’s a three-time Group 3 winner overseas, and her then-connections thought enough of her to try her in a pair of Group 1 events against some of Europe’s best horses. I would be thrilled if we got the 6-1 morning line price.

Additionally, while I don’t think he can win, I’m intrigued by the presence of #4 RISER, and I think he’s a must-use on the bottom of your exacta and trifecta tickets. He hasn’t run since September, he’s never raced outside of the Pacific time zone, his lone race on turf was a dud…and he shows up on Oaks Day to run against a good group of turf sprinters? My thinking is that he’s probably going very well, and I doubt astute horseman Blaine Wright would ship in solely to see the sights.

RACE #8: We’ll kick off a Pick Four with the Grade 2 Alysheba, and I’m against a few horses that may take money. #4 BACKYARD HEAVEN ran a gigantic number last time out at Aqueduct, but that wasn’t a great field he beat, and I think he’s a bounce candidate. Additionally, #5 HOPPERTUNITY, while a hard-knocking horse every smart racing fan would love to own, may have lost a step off of his top form, and I think he’ll be overbet.

My top two, in order, are #3 ALWAYS DREAMING and #1 GOOD SAMARITAN. Always Dreaming hasn’t won since last year’s Kentucky Derby, but I actually thought his return was OK. He was close to a solid pace in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Mile and did well to hang on for second in a race that was likely shorter than he wants to go (he’s 0-for-3 in one-turn events). Improvement is logical second off the bench, and the return to a two-turn route of ground is a big, big plus. Meanwhile, if you draw lines through every 10-furlong race Good Samaritan has run, his record suddenly looks much, much better. It’s possible he may be best at this type of trip, and while the likely pace scenario doesn’t necessarily work in his favor, it won’t surprise me if he’s a few lengths closer to the pace than usual.

Finally, on wider exotics tickets, I’ll also use #8 AWESOME SLEW. I’m not crazy about him going two turns, but he always seems to run well, and his usual 98-102 Beyer Speed Figure (a span he’s hit in every start for more than a year) would likely put him right there if he can stretch out effectively.

RACE #9: Paging Churchill Downs: Why are you throwing an allowance into a Pick Four ending with the Kentucky Oaks? How hard would it be to put together an all-stakes Pick Four? I know the semantics of why tracks do this (perhaps the weather forecast played a role), but as a player, it’s incredibly frustrating, and from a marketing standpoint, wouldn’t it be easier to sell an all-stakes Pick Four? Swap this 10-horse field with the 11-horse Turf Sprint, and you’ve got a heck of a sequence, even with a heavy chalk in the third leg (more on her later).

OK, now that we’ve got that out of the way, I think this is a race where you could go many different directions. #2 ELECTRIC FOREST will probably be favored off of a solid debut win at Keeneland. She did it the right way, rating off of a fast pace before kicking home. If she steps forward, she’ll be tough. If she doesn’t, it’s anyone’s race, and I’ll focus on a few prices.

#1 SAINTS’ GIRL won two in a row before trying two turns last time out. She didn’t have a chance that day given the rough trip she had, but she’s back at a one-turn route here, which should be a big help. If you can forgive the last-out effort, 10-1 seems like too big a price, especially given the presence of Florent Geroux. Another 10-1 shot that interests me is #3 C P QUALITY, who overcame some trouble in her debut win at Oaklawn Park. She showed talent in the mornings leading up to that race, the local work since then is solid, and it’s worth noting that Gary Stevens has signed on to ride.

RACE #10: If she runs here, #11 RUSHING FALL may be the shortest-priced horse of the day, and for good reason. She’s 4-for-4 and has never really been tested, and while the post is less than ideal, it would likely take significant improvement from another horse in the Grade 3 Edgewood to knock her off. However, if Rushing Fall steps forward in her second start off the bench (which Chad Brown trainees often do), then I firmly believe the race is for second money. She is also entered in Saturday’s Grade 2 American Turf, though, and if she scratches, this race suddenly becomes wide open (and my Pick Four ticket goes out the window!).

If you’re looking for a price to throw into the exotics underneath (or a price to key in the event of Rushing Fall’s possible scratch), consider #7 TOINETTE, who has improved with every start to this point in her young career. She won at this distance last time out and has shown a strong turn of foot, which should help since there appears to be some speed signed on.

RACE #11: This is the main event. It’s the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks, and if you’re looking for a price, well…

Simply put, I’ll be stunned if a horse other than #10 MIDNIGHT BISOU or #14 MONOMOY GIRL wins this race. They seem head and shoulders above their fellow 3-year-old fillies, and these are the two I’ll be keying in on in multi-race exotics (specifically the Oaks/Derby double, where I’d advise using three or four Derby horses and playing the fewer combinations for more money). Of the two, I prefer Midnight Bisou given the likely race shape, and I’ll be pretty happy if we get 5/2 come post time.

It’s tough to recommend a longshot as anything other than exotics filler, but the 30-1 bomb I’m a bit intrigued by is #6 KELLY’S HUMOR. I think you can toss her races two and three back, as she had a rough trip in the Grade 1 Alcibiades and likely had some sort of medical mishap in the Grade 2 Golden Rod since we didn’t see her from then until April. She came back running in the Grade 3 Beaumont, and if the race falls apart (a possibility given that the riders of Monomoy Girl, #3 CLASSY ACT, #8 HEAVENHASMYNIKKI, and #9 TAKE CHARGE PAULA will all likely gun it out of the gate), I think she could get a piece of it at a big price.

PICK FOUR TICKETS

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #2

R2: 2,5,7,9
R3: 8
R4: 1,4,5,11
R5: 1,3,5,6

64 Bets, $32

This is built around Bugle Notes, and hopefully we can get a price or two home elsewhere to make this pay a bit. I spread a bit in the third and fourth legs to include “B horses” #1 KEEP QUIET (R4) and both #1 AMY’S CHALLENGE and #5 TALK VEUVE TO ME (R5).

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #4

R4: 1,2,4,5,6,8,11,12
R5: 3,6
R6: 3,8
R7: 1,9

64 Bets, $32

I added a number of “C horses” in the first leg, as I went pretty narrow elsewhere and could afford to buy some security. If you want to punch the “ALL” button, you can do that, but that would drive the ticket up to $48, which is a bit rich for my blood (it’s a two-day marathon, not a sprint!). I’ll use only my “A horses” in the Eight Belles, and I’m two-deep in the La Troienne and Turf Sprint.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #8

R8: 1,3,8
R9: ALL
R10: 11
R11: 10,14

60 Bets, $30

I can afford to buy the second leg because I’m so narrow elsewhere, so I’ll do that and hope for a price to knock tickets out of what figures to be a big pool. I’m leaving off a few contenders in the Alysheba (for reasons stated above), singling Rushing Fall in the Edgewood, and hoping for a logical result in the Kentucky Oaks.

Analysis, Selections, and Tickets: Kentucky Derby Preps and Pick Four Sequences, PLUS: A STRANGE Week

We’ll get to my analysis of the three Kentucky Derby prep races, and the Pick Four sequences that contain them, shortly. However, I first need to start out by saying…well, by saying that it’s been a REALLY weird week.

It started with a small right-wing blog picking up a letter that I wrote to WRGB, the Sinclair-owned TV station in my former hometown of Albany, N.Y., criticizing their airing of the company-wide message they were roundly panned for last week. This was not a political stance, but one coming from the point of view of a journalist with a conscience (yes, we exist). Naturally, this got contorted to their desired degree of spin, and that made for a number of interesting conversations with people.

As strange as that was, the truly bizarre stuff happened Thursday. Those of you who truly know me know the kind of person I am. However, over the past 13 months, I’ve had some fun on Twitter occasionally morphing into a character that took several forms depending on what was being discussed. Most of the time, I was puffing my ample chest out over a successful season at Saratoga, begging for Beemie Award consideration (hi, Jason), or otherwise doing my best to troll people I liked.

Some people picked up on what I was doing right away (oddly, most of them are fellow diehard professional wrestling fans who appreciate someone cutting a good promo!). However, thanks to several people I like and respect a great deal (likely much more than they want me to, in all honesty), I caught wind that my perception among certain horse racing people was that of a pompous buffoon who actually believed his own hype. That necessitated the below tweet, which you’ve likely seen by now.

If you think, for one solitary second, that I truly believe my own hype, you’re misguided. What you’ve seen over the past 13 months was a gimmick constructed thanks to a fateful conversation that I’ve mentioned before on this website. I came to the conclusion that, if certain people were going to believe I was an unbelievably strong personality (to the point of that being anything but a compliment), I was going to have as much fun with it as I could.

The “128 winners at Saratoga” stuff? That was inspired by “Married With Children” protagonist/American hero Al Bundy’s rants centering around “four touchdowns in a single game.” Since I’ve mentioned that, I feel the need to include this.

You’re welcome. Anyway, the “best to never win a Beemie Award” stuff, and all the posturing that happened there? That was entirely the result of much too much time spent watching professional wrestling with arrogant bad guys who always seemed to have the best lines at their disposal. With said “strong personality” at my disposal (and by the way, can you tell that was a REALLY bad choice of words by an unnamed person yet?), it was natural to portray this character as a rebel.

If you fell for that and thought that was a 100% accurate representation of me in real-life, that means I probably did a heck of a job with the gimmick, but it also means that I need to pull the curtain back. As I’ve told a few people over the past few days, I’m a slightly introverted nerd who has no problem with self-deprecating humor. I’m incredibly fortunate to have my job and the professional respect that I have for doing what I do, and not a day goes by where I don’t consider myself genuinely blessed to be in that position.

As the tweet above says, if what you’re reading is analysis, or my thoughts on a race, that’s me, as I am. If you think that the person pandering for Beemie consideration or doing a Santino Marella victory celebration is actually who I am, know that it isn’t. Many of you out there got the gist of what I was doing (including a few people that have done a lot for me simply by existing), but enough of you didn’t, so I needed to expound on that before we went further.

Now that we’re 700 words into this article, let’s dive into some Saturday analysis! We’ve got three Kentucky Derby prep races scheduled, and they all come within fun late Pick Four sequences at their respective tracks. I’ll take a look at all three, and we’ll go in alphabetical order of tracks, so we’ll start in New York.

AQUEDUCT

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #8

R8: 2,3,4,5,6,9,11
R9: 3,4,5
R10: 5,9
R11: 2

42 Bets, $21

As a heads-up, this ticket assumes that the 11th race stays on the turf. If it doesn’t, this ticket is rendered obsolete, as I don’t have a clue who wins if it’s run on the main track. However, for now, it’s a fun sequence that I think you can play for cheap.

The Grade 1 Carter Handicap kicks things off, and I thought this was the toughest race of the sequence. If you want to buy the race, I understand, but I only went seven-deep so as to keep the cost of the ticket down (if it chalks out, it won’t pay much). #2 ARMY MULE and #11 AWESOME SLEW figure to take most of the action, but I needed to use several others as well. That includes many logical contenders, as well as 20-1 shot #6 PETROV, whose recent slate looks much better if you can bring yourself to draw a line through that clunker two back. This is a flexible runner campaigned by savvy connections, and I needed him on my ticket.

The ninth is the Grade 3 Bay Shore for 3-year-olds going seven furlongs. #4 NATIONAL FLAG and #5 ENGAGE will take much of the money, but I thought #3 JUSTAHOLIC was intriguing at his 8-1 morning line price. He’s stepped forward in every start to date and topped a decent Todd Pletcher trainee last time out at Tampa. This barn has done terrific work with a limited number of runners, and it’s interesting to see them show up in this spot far from home.

The 10th is the Grade 2 Wood Memorial (and seriously, can we begrudgingly admit that the graded stakes committee got it right with the downgrade?). #5 ENTICED will be a popular single off of his win in the Grade 3 Gotham, and he could easily make it two in a row. However, I also needed to use #9 VINO ROSSO, who wants every bit of this distance and may have bounced last time out off of a career-best effort two back. We may get a bit of a price on him today, and it’s not inconceivable to think he’s sitting on a big effort.

The 11th is the aforementioned turf race, and if it stays on the grass, I think #2 ASTOUNDING will be tough to beat. He’s been running against much better horses since going to Jason Servis’s barn in 2016, and this spot represents significant class relief. His most recent effort wasn’t good, but that came on dirt off of a layoff. This is the route he wants, and if he gets a good trip, I think he’s going to be formidable (even at a short price). If he doesn’t win, I don’t know who does.

KEENELAND

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #7

R7: 2,5,7,10,12,13
R8: 2,8,10,11,12
R9: 1
R10: 4,10,11

90 Bets, $45

A few notes before we start: First of all, this ticket is obviously contingent on Keeneland running this card in the first place. I have no insider knowledge, nor have I ever claimed to, but if the winter storm barreling towards Kentucky is as bad as some forecasts are claiming, this could get dicey. Additionally, if the first leg comes off the turf, my ticket is irrelevant.

Good? Good. We’ll kick it off with the Grade 2 Shakertown, which has drawn a field of 14 turf sprinters. #13 DISCO PARTNER is the 5/2 morning line favorite, and I think he can win, but he’ll need to negotiate a trip from a tough post in his first start since the Breeders’ Cup to do so. I’m using many others as well, including #12 BOUND FOR NOWHERE, who’s 3-for-3 in America and was a credible fourth in last year’s Group 1 Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot. If you toss the effort two back at Deauville, he more than fits with this group, and I’ve got a tough time believing this Wesley Ward trainee will be 20-1 when the gates are sprung.

The eighth is the Grade 1 Madison, which is shaping up to be a tremendous race. It’s drawn Grade 1-quality fillies and mares and a field of 13, which makes things very tricky. I went five-deep and used most of the main contenders. My top pick is #11 AMERICAN GAL, who I think may have been the best 3-year-old filly in the country last year when healthy. She’s been off since a dominant performance in the Grade 1 Test, but she’s been working well for Simon Callaghan and has handled shipping east with aplomb in the past. If she’s right, I think she’ll be tough.

The ninth race is the Grade 1 Ashland, and it features one of the top 3-year-old fillies in the country. That’s #1 MONOMOY GIRL, who figures to be one of the favorites for next month’s Kentucky Oaks. There isn’t much other early speed in the race, and I think she’ll be able to dictate the terms all the way around. I respect #2 ESKIMO KISSES, but Monomoy Girl seems like a different kind of filly, and she’s an easy single for me.

We’ll finish with the main event, as the 10th is the Blue Grass, which doubles as the race that I analyzed for this week’s DRF Derby Countdown Weekly Guide. You can find my thoughts there (as well as my preferred single-race wagering strategy), but to summarize, I think #4 KANTHAKA is very appealing at a price. I’ll also use likely favorite #11 GOOD MAGIC, and I’ll defensively use #10 FREE DROP BILLY, just in case he returns to the form he showed last year at Keeneland when he won the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity.

SANTA ANITA

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #9

R9: 3,6
R10: 3,5,6,7,9
R11: 3
R12: 1,2,4,6,7,10

60 Bets, $30

I’ve got a gripe to address before we start. Santa Anita has three stakes races being run outside of this Pick Four sequence (not counting the Arabian race that ends the day), which ends with an optional claiming event. It’s still a juicy sequence that could pay more than it should given the possibility of several short-priced winners, but why the lack of an all-stakes Pick Four on a big day? I’m sure there’s a logical business reason for this, but from a fan’s perspective, this doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

Anyway, onward and upward. The ninth is the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby, and I’m not getting cute. I’m using #3 BOLT D’ORO and #6 JUSTIFY, like pretty much every other ticket on the planet. Simply put, I think these are two of the top four 3-year-olds on the road to the Kentucky Derby right now, and I can’t rationalize throwing anyone else in.

I’m spreading in the 10th, the Grade 2 Royal Heroine. I would really like #6 ENOLA GRAY and #9 SASSY LITTLE LILA if it was solely one of them running, but while I think either could win, the scenario of them speeding away early and getting run down is certainly possible. As such, I’m using a number of closers, including #3 BEAU RECALL, who was the very last horse I threw onto the ticket. I don’t like that she seems to enjoy running second or third, but this race sets up for her, as it does for fellow closers #5 THUNDERING SKY and #7 MADAME STRIPES.

I wish I could give you an interesting alternative to #3 MIDNIGHT BISOU in the 11th, the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks. However, I can’t do that. I think she may be the best 3-year-old filly in training right now, and the way she’s moving forward with every start leads me to believe she’s sitting on a big effort. The ample early speed in here is a plus, and I will be stunned if we get 6/5 on her at post time. If we do, I think that’s a considerable overlay.

As mentioned, an optional claimer ends this sequence, and it’s a tough betting race. If you’ve got the budget to buy the race, by all means do that. I settled on going six-deep, and while I used likely favorites #1 LASEEN and #2 PANTSONFIRE, I’m not in love with either. If I had to make a top pick, it’d be #7 THE TULIP, who lost her action two back and should be rolling late at a bit of a price following her win last time out. I also have to use 15-1 shot #4 MS WAKAYA, who’s run into some sharp horses in her prior tries going long on turf. She’s got some tactical speed, which isn’t abundant in this field, and I wouldn’t be shocked if apprentice jockey Franklin Ceballos boots her to the front early and sees how long she can stay there.