SARATOGA RACE COURSE: Analysis, Selections, and Bankroll (7/15/21; OPENING DAY)

BANKROLL

BANKROLL: $1,000

Happy Opening Day, everyone! I’m excited to be back for another year, and I’m looking forward to hopefully helping you have some fun times at one of horse racing’s last remaining cathedrals.

If you’re new, here’s how this works: All of my stuff will be available in print in The Pink Sheet and online at AndrewChampagne.com. I’m in California and work a day in advance to mitigate the time difference. Wednesday’s content will be online Monday night, Thursday’s content will be up Tuesday night, and so on.

In addition to my selections in the pick box and detailed analysis of every race, I’ll have this space, which offers room for some quick thoughts and a bankroll play for each day of racing. If you’ve got any questions or comments you want me to address, tweet me at @AndrewChampagne. I’m an easy guy to connect with, and I’m always happy to engage with folks who enjoy my stuff. Let’s make some money!

THURSDAY’S PLAY: We begin with a reminder that all action assumes races carded for the turf stay there, and that surface changes render tickets null and void. With that in mind, if the sixth race stays on the lawn, I love #2 ALBA’S STAR, who looks like the lone speed second off the bench and returns to a two-turn route she’s shown she loves. I’ll kick off the meet with a $25 win bet on that one.

TOTAL WAGERED: $25.

ANALYSIS/SELECTIONS

Best Bet: Lady Scarlet, Race 5
Longshot: Skyro, Race 3

R1

Wagon Boss
Grit and Glory
Charlie’sarchangel

#4 WAGON BOSS: Gets a tepid nod in a pretty wide-open lid-lifter. He beat a similar-level field last time out at Churchill and may get the type of stalking trip he’s shown he prefers beneath world-class jockey Joel Rosario; #7 GRIT AND GLORY: Has a chance to win the first race of the meet for the second year in a row. He’s got back races that are good enough to win this, and he’s shown he can rally late, which could come in handy in a race that appears to have plenty of early speed; #5 CHARLIE’SARCHANGEL: Finished a half-length behind my top pick last time out and has since moved to the barn of Robertino Diodoro, who’s very strong with new acquisitions. He may go favored, and he’s not without a chance, but he hasn’t won in a while and sure seemed like he lost with a perfect trip when we last saw him run.

R2

Speedometer
Zmuda
Microbiome

#9 SPEEDOMETER: Ran like a horse that needed her debut effort in last month’s unveiling at Churchill Downs, when she was third behind a good-looking winner that’ll take money in today’s co-feature. She’s a full sister to hard-knocking sprinter Nitrous, her experience should help her, and the outside draw should allow her to settle down a bit; #7 ZMUDA: Made a mild move to be fourth in her first start, and she did so for a barn whose first-time starters often need a race. Her work tab includes some fast moves at Keeneland, and she’s another eligible to move forward; #4 MICROBIOME: Hammered for $100,000 at auction last September and is working like a good horse. Pay attention to the track condition, as her pedigree (by Twirling Candy, out of a Smoke Glacken mare) says she’ll move up over a wet surface.

R3

Wudda U Think Now (MTO)
St. Joe Louis
Skyro

#9 ST. JOE LOUIS: Came north after a frustrating debut at Tampa Bay Downs and walloped a field that included a next-out winner. This is his first try out of the maiden ranks, but he’s bred to be a very good horse and it’s not like this field has any monsters in it; #4 SKYRO: Tries turf for the first time and has a bottom-side pedigree that says he’ll love it. His dam is kin to a horse named Jambalaya, who was one of the better turf routers in the country in his day, and this one’s shown enough talent on dirt to intrigue at his likely price; #7 SO SUAVE: Makes his U.S. debut off of a long break, but gets Lasix for the first time and is certainly in capable hands. His best races overseas came over firmer going, which may be the reason he was sent here after showing enough promise to be 4-1 in a Group 3 last summer.

R4

Gem Key (MTO)
Ocean Air
Big Bad Diva

#12 OCEAN AIR: Has run well twice at this level downstate and goes back to two turns, a configuration she won over in Florida. It sure seems like there’s a lot of early zip in this field, and I think she’s likely to be rolling late; #10 BIG BAD DIVA: Comes in off a freshening and will make her first start since March. She has tactical speed but doesn’t necessarily need the lead to run well, and she’s yet to miss the board in five career starts; #1 CLADDAGH’S RUN: Certainly moves up in class after several wins against claimers at Tampa, but there’s no denying she’s in good form and would benefit from a pace meltdown. Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez sees fit to ride for George Weaver, and nothing says she can’t get a piece of this at a bit of a price.

R5

Lady Scarlet
Solasta
Echo Zulu

#3 LADY SCARLET: Dueled through fast fractions in her debut, when she was second beaten less than two lengths and topped the third-place finisher by four. Her recent bullet drill over the training track jumps off the page, and between her experience and evident talent, I think she’ll be quite imposing; #6 SOLASTA: Sold for $300,000 at auction last year and sports several fast works over this track. She’s a half-sister to Grade 1-winning sprinter Mia Mischief, and everything here says she’s got lots of talent; #7 ECHO ZULU: Also sold for $300,000 a year ago and is by promising first-crop sire Gun Runner. Among her half-siblings are Grade 1 winner Echo Town and Grade 3 winner J Boys Echo, and if there’s any hesitation here, it’s because I think she may want a bit more ground.

R6

Courageous Girl (MTO)
Alba’s Star
Jazzy Lady

#2 ALBA’S STAR: Looks like the lone speed in this inner turf event, and that’s always incredibly dangerous. She set a pretty fast pace for the level last time out and was third behind a next-out winner. A return to two turns should help her, and she could sit a very easy trip; #11 JAZZY LADY: Was claimed back by Ray Handal last time and exits a win over a weaker group at Churchill. The outside post is far from ideal, but she overcame a funky trip when we last saw her, and Rosario’s presence is a plus; #10 TWO CENT TOOTSIE: Drops into restricted claiming company after knocking heads with solid state-breds in her two most recent outings. This sure seems like an easier spot, and perhaps she can use her tactical speed to clear most of the field going into the first turn. 

R7

Pletcher entry
Dack Janiel’s
Dust Devil

PLETCHER ENTRY: I prefer #1 ARHAM, who’s run several races fast enough to get the job done here. He tries two turns for the first time, and his pedigree says he’ll love that journey; #4 DACK JANIEL’S: Got pretty good late last year when third beaten two lengths in a Grade 2 on the Breeders’ Cup undercard. His most recent effort at Churchill was pretty good, and he’d certainly benefit from any moisture in the track (rain, not whiskey); #8 DUST DEVIL: Makes his first start for Bill Mott and does so while returning to two turns. He splashed home to a six-length score in his last two-turn outing and was most recently third in the same race my top pick exits. 

R8

Golden Pal
Jaxon Traveler
Rebel Posse

#3 GOLDEN PAL: Ran one of the most impressive races of the 2020 season here when he romped in the Skidmore Stakes at this route. We haven’t seen him since the Breeders’ Cup, but he’s working well ahead of his return and would be a handful if he’s ready to run; #9 JAXON TRAVELER: Looms the main danger and has not finished worse than second in seven career starts. He was a decent second on a synthetic surface last time out, and there’s every reason to believe turf won’t be a problem; #8 REBEL POSSE: Is undefeated in two turf starts and showed an impressive turn of foot last time out. If you believe Golden Pal needs a race, or that he could be compromised by a speed duel, this one makes sense as a price play.

R9

Pretty Birdie
Happy Soul
Cartel Queen

#1 PRETTY BIRDIE: Won her debut impressively, and if that day’s third-place finisher runs well in the second race, it could bode well for this Norm Casse trainee. She appears to have bounced out of her unveiling well, and she’d be a popular winner given the name on the “owner” line; #7 HAPPY SOUL: Romped in two races downstate for 2-year-old maestro Wesley Ward and will almost certainly go favored. This daughter of a horse I will not name (not until I get the same money everyone else is getting, Mattress Mack!) has shown precocity, but this seems like a far stronger group, and any regression would make her vulnerable at a short price; #9 CARTEL QUEEN: Adds blinkers after a professional victory last time out at Churchill. She’s fired back-to-back bullets ahead of her first try against winners, and seeing Tom Amoss and Irad Ortiz, Jr., at 12-1 is undoubtedly enticing.

R10

Ruse
Big Georges Kingdm
Clever Fellow

#12 RUSE: Stayed on well when pressing a very fast pace for the level in his first start since January. He adds Lasix for this race, and his lone two-turn effort saw him run a close-up second at Aqueduct; #10 BIG GEORGES KINGDM: Makes his turf debut and has a pedigree that says he’ll like the footing. He’s by Animal Kingdom, out of a Big Brown mare, and comes in off of back-to-back second-place finishes this past spring against OK groups on dirt; #8 CLEVER FELLOW: Will likely be a pretty heavy favorite given his connections, but I see several red flags. He’s been a beaten chalk in each of his last three starts, it’s his first time going two turns, and why have they waited until now to add blinkers? At his probable price, I can’t endorse him on top.

Analysis and Selections: Keeneland Opening Day (4/4/19)

I’ll be doing full-card analysis and selections for every day of racing at Keeneland this spring. Simply put, I noticed a number of people I like and/or respect diving into the public handicapper pool at this meet. If I can provide quality handicapping materials for free to my readers, while also scratching my itch for friendly competition, it’s a win all the way around.

I’ll have analysis and selections up 24-36 hours before post time, and I’ll be tracking my win totals and ROI for the whole meet on Twitter (@AndrewChampagne). There may also be more fun stuff in the works, and I’m looking forward to keeping you posted on that.

Enough talk: Let’s dive into the Opening Day program!

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Best Bet: Nayibeth, Race 1
Longshot: Storm Rider, Race 3

R1

Nayibeth
Nurse Maggie Sue
Baytown Babe

#13 NAYIBETH: Will be very tough if she can draw in off the AE list. Wesley Ward has his 2-year-olds primed for this meet, and there’s plenty of win-early pedigree here (her dam is a half-sister to Soldat, a multiple stakes-winner who was second in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf); #11 NURSE MAGGIE SUE: Comes in off a bullet drill from the gate on March 23rd and represents a barn that can win with debuting 2-year-olds at this meet. The presence of Jose Ortiz is another plus; #8 BAYTOWN BABE: Could have a say in the race at a price. Her most recent gate drill was the fifth-fastest of 27 at the distance that day, and her dam is a half to C P West, who was Grade 2-placed as a 2-year-old.

R2

Honey Bunny
La Femme Royale
Zena Rules

#3 HONEY BUNNY: Has won two of three this year (and 10 of 27 overall) and looms large as the likely favorite in this spot. She ran well when third beaten a head here last year, and this doesn’t seem like the strongest group for the level; #6 LA FEMME ROYALE: Certainly has to improve, but may inherit the early lead in what seems like a paceless race. The most recent workout here was strong, and she could be the one to catch turning for home; #2 ZENA RULES: Has a strong closing kick but seems to relish settling for minor awards. Her last start around one turn was a win, but that came against a very soft group.

R3

Storm Rider
Wild One Forever
Watch Cairo

#5 STORM RIDER: Makes his second start off a layoff in this wide-open maiden claimer and has a pedigree that hints he’ll love two turns. His second dam is multiple graded stakes winner Tweedside, and improvement off his late-running fourth last time out at Oaklawn would make him a factor at a big price; #14 WILD ONE FOREVER: Figures to be favored if he draws in off the AE list. He takes a big drop in class for aggressive connections, and would make his first start as a gelding if he runs; #3 WATCH CAIRO: Has also been gelded since his last effort, and is another going two turns for the first time. His race two back wasn’t bad, and Luis Saez is coming off of a stellar meet at Gulfstream.

R4

Taruca
Lewys Vaporizer
Turner Time

#9 TARUCA: Takes a big drop in class after running two so-so races at Fair Grounds. He’s won over this surface before, and the only time he started for a claiming price close to this, he found the winner’s circle at Saratoga; #13 LEWYS VAPORIZER: Is a feast-or-famine type, but must be respected if he draws in off the AE list. If he goes postward, he’ll likely be the main speed, and he can get brave if left alone on the lead; #2 TURNER TIME: Has won three in a row at Fair Grounds, but is just one for five outside Louisiana. Still, it looks like he’s in strong form, and Geroux riding back is encouraging.

R5

Frankincense
Instilled Regard
Admission Office

#5 FRANKINCENSE: Has a big shot to upset the heavy favorite given his last two outings (both wins at Fair Grounds). He’s closed well in a pair of races without much early speed, and they should be moving with some urgency out of the gate here. I doubt we’ll get the 20-1 morning line, but anything above 12-1 would be juicy; #2 INSTILLED REGARD: Makes his 2019 debut after spending most of 2018 running against Grade 1-caliber opponents. His best race almost certainly wins, but this race isn’t the goal, and he hasn’t won in a long time; #13 ADMISSION OFFICE: Merits a long look if he draws in. He hasn’t run since September, but was in good form last year, when he was first or second in all four starts.

R6

Ulele
High Regard
Mo Gayle

#1 ULELE: Gets the nod in a tough optional claiming event. There isn’t a lot of true early speed, and she was close to a solid pace when third against similar at Oaklawn. She may have the most natural speed here, and I think she could wire them; #11 HIGH REGARD: Almost certainly needed her last race in the Grade 2 Davona Dale and wasn’t helped by a bad stumble. Her form late last year was quite good, and she’ll be formidable if she can work out a trip from a subpar post; #6 MO GAYLE: Rallied to win her debut before running an OK third in her first start against winners. Her pedigree says two turns shouldn’t be a problem, and she’s flashed enough talent to be a must-use in the exotics at or near her 12-1 morning line price.

R7

Yes I Am Free
Abyssinian
Vivid Verse

#1 YES I AM FREE: Hasn’t done anything wrong to this point, having won both of his prior outings at Gulfstream. He rated a bit last time out in the Texas Glitter, but he’s also got enough tactical speed to establish position on the rail early in a wide-open renewal of the Palisades Turf Sprint where I’m trying to beat #12 BULLETIN; #9 ABYSSINIAN: Has improved with every start and faces the boys after a convincing score against optional claimers in February. Wesley Ward tends to keep sprinters on the right track, and if she gets an easy lead, look out; #2 VIVID VERSE: Cuts back to a turf sprint, and he’s 2 for 2 in such races to this point. A mile was likely too long for him, and improvement seems logical at a big price.

R8

Ipanema Beach
Miss Harry
Tolly Ho

#9 IPANEMA BEACH: Goes to Ben Colebrook’s barn and faces claimers for the first time. There were high hopes for this one at one point, and there’s enough back class here to hint that she’ll be formidable in the Thursday finale; #7 MISS HARRY: Was one-paced against slightly better in her first start in more than two months last time out. She may have needed that race, and she showed some talent in two Gulfstream races last December; #8 TOLLY HO: Gets Lasix for the first time following a maiden win on the synthetic at Turfway Park. There doesn’t seem to be much early speed in here, and if she can translate her synthetic speed to dirt, she could lead them a long way.

Analysis, Selections, and Tickets: Santa Anita Opening Day (12/26/18)

Greetings from 35,000 feet! I’m typing this from my flight back west, and the six-hour duration has left me plenty of time to analyze Wednesday’s Opening Day festivities at Santa Anita.

It’s a season of change at The Great Race Place. There’s a new announcer, a new racing secretary, and the lawsuit involving several members of the Stronach family looms large. Having said that, the Opening Day card is an excellent one that boasts plenty of wagering opportunities. I’ve got a pair of Pick Four tickets, and I think the large field sizes could ensure sizable payouts even if heavy favorites win a leg or two.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #2

R2: 2,3,5,6
R3: 7
R4: 3,7
R5: 1,6,8,9,10

40 Bets, $20

I wanted to put together an early Pick Five ticket. Having said that, I found the opener to be completely impossible, and from a betting standpoint, I want no part of it.

I’ll focus on the early Pick Four, which starts in the second. This is a claiming event for 3-year-old fillies, and I’m going four-deep to start. Of the three horses likely to take money, I most prefer #5 CHATTY, who takes a big drop in class and has shown an ability to rate a bit (which could come in handy in a race with lots of speed signed on). However, I also need to use #2 EMPRESS OF LUV, who improved in her first start for new trainer Andrew Lerner. Her form looks considerably better if you toss her Del Mar races, and I think 12-1 is a sizable overlay.

I can’t, however, get as cute in the third. This is a starter allowance, and I really like #7 I AM THE DANGER, who has not run a bad race since being claimed by Doug O’Neill earlier this year. This doesn’t seem like the strongest race for the level, and a repeat of the two-back race against similar foes would make him pretty tough to beat. He’s the 5/2 morning line favorite, and I’ll happily place a win bet if he’s that price come post time.

The fourth is the Lady of Shamrock Stakes for fillies going a mile on the grass. I’m going against morning line favorite #1 AMANDINE, who will likely take a lot of money based on her lone American start. She was impressive, but that race fell apart, and I don’t think she’ll get a similar setup. Instead, I’ll take the 2-3 finishers from October’s Grade 3 Autumn Miss, #3 MS BAD BEHAVIOR and #7 STREAK OF LUCK. I’m a believer in that race, and both fillies seem to be in career-best form.

Many may single #9 SCALPER in the fifth. He fetched $850,000 at auction earlier this year and has been working very well for Bob Baffert, and if he’s 7/2 come post time, I’ll eat your hat. Having said that, this seems like a solid group, and I need security in case he needs a race. Of the ones that have run before, I prefer #6 MO MISSISSIPPI, who seems in line to take a step forward for a trainer whose horses often need a race to get going. However, #8 ALLEVA cuts back from a route to a sprint, which is often very useful in a race with many first-time starters. 12-1 seems like too big a price, and in a race with a bunch of horses that haven’t run before, I need to have him on my ticket.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #7

R7: 5
R8: 2,3,7
R9: 3,9,12,13
R10: 1,4,5,6,10,11

72 Bets, $36

If you want to make this a Pick Five and single #5 DREAM TREE in the sixth (the Grade 1 La Brea), go right ahead. Personally, I don’t like the late Pick Five due to the increased takeout rate when compared to the early wager, and starting with back-to-back singles makes me a little nervous.

Instead, I’ll play a Pick Four, which is likely to draw a substantial pool. The seventh is the Grade 2 Mathis Brothers Mile, and I find it very hard to go against #5 RIVER BOYNE. He’s never lost at Santa Anita, and was a half-length away from becoming a Grade 1 winner in the Hollywood Derby at Del Mar. There’s plenty of speed to set up for his late kick, and his usual effort would beat these.

The eighth is the Grade 2 San Antonio, and despite a dearth of talent in the handicap division at this point in the year, this wound up being a very interesting race. #2 BATTLE OF MIDWAY and #3 DABSTER battled each other for nine furlongs in the Grade 3 Native Diver, and I need to use them both. However, I’m also using SoCal newcomer #7 GIFT BOX, who’s been working lights-out of late for trainer John Sadler. There’s a chance he’s best going one turn, but he should benefit from the early pace scenario, and if he runs to the work tab, he may be the one they have to hold off turning for home.

The ninth is the Grade 1 Malibu, and there’s a chance #13 MCKINZIE is simply better than his competition in here. I’m using him, but in the event he misfires on the cutback in distance, I’ve got plenty of coverage. I’ve always been a fan of #3 COPPER BULLET, and I was happy to see him come back running last month at Churchill Downs. This seems like the perfect spot for him, as well as the other two horses I have on my ticket. #9 AX MAN looked like a world-beater at times earlier this year and may be rounding back into form, while #12 KANTHAKA has never lost going seven furlongs and fired a recent bullet here at Santa Anita.

I’m six-deep in the finale, and I’m honestly not sure if that’s deep enough. #4 ACKER has won two in a row and may be in career-best form, but he’s no cinch. In fact, I think #5 TROJAN SPIRIT had a legitimate excuse when second to Acker last time out after a rough start. My six-horse spread also includes two big prices. #10 ICY STREET and #11 TAKI’S CHOICE have run competitive races on figures in the past, and I’m most interested in the latter. I think he needed the race last time out after a very long layoff, and trainer Phil D’Amato’s numbers with similar stock are strong. If we’re alive and he wins, it could make for a tidy score.

Analysis, Selections, and Tickets: Santa Anita Opening Day (12/26/17)

First and foremost, I hope you’re having a great holiday season with the people you love and care about. I’m huddled under several blankets typing this, as your resident handicapper/scribe is a converted Californian who’s no longer used to the winters of upstate New York!

One of the great treats of this time of year is opening day at Santa Anita. That card is coming up Tuesday and boasts nine races, including four of the graded stakes variety. I’ve got two multi-race exotics tickets that cover the entire program, and I’ll go through them all next!

$0.50 Pick Five: Race #1

R1: 9,10
R2: 3,6,9,10,12
R3: 6
R4: 2,3,4,8,10
R5: 4,8

100 Bets, $50

This ticket is built around the horse that will likely be the shortest price of the day. However, despite this “free square,” I think this Pick Five could pay handsomely.

I’m two-deep in the opener, and while I’m using morning line favorite #10 BIG BUZZ, my top pick actually breaks directly to that one’s inside. #9 FENGARI took a step forward in his first start going long, and he showed some early speed that day, which could serve him well in this spot. There doesn’t appear to be much early speed signed on, and top rider Javier Castellano (who’s in town on a one-day trip) could get an ideal trip on or near the lead in a very slowly-paced race. 5-1 seems like a square price given the likely race shape, and I could see the logic in singling him.

I’m spreading in the second race, which features a full field of 2-year-old maidens going seven furlongs. #12 CANDY CORNELL may be favored, as he exits a fast debut race at Del Mar where he was second despite most of his trainer’s runners needing a race or two to get going. He could be talented enough to win, but a bounce off of such an effort is far from impossible. The one to fear could be #9 AMERICAN RULE, a Bob Baffert trainee making his career debut following a string of fast workouts.

The single I mentioned is #6 COLLECTED in the Grade 2 San Antonio. Simply put, he seems better than the rest of this group, and if he runs the type of race he usually runs, he’ll be very difficult to beat. I respect the likes of #1 HOPPERTUNITY and #5 ACCELERATE, but Collected seems like a different kind of animal.

I thought the fourth race was the most difficult in the sequence. This is a maiden race for turf sprinters coming down the hill, and I want coverage. #10 SENSIBLE MYTH is a reasonable favorite, especially given the cushy outside draw and the continued presence of Flavien Prat. With that in mind, there are others that merit consideration. #2 CHICKATINI likely needed her debut and should step forward, #3 LADYBUG has experience and the running style that hints at downhill success, #4 SLICK TRICK is bred up and down for turf and has worked reasonably well, and #8 MAPIT has the pedigree to suggest the switch to turf will be a welcome one.

I’m two-deep in the payoff leg, and I’m not getting cute. I’m using #4 BIG GRAY ROCKET and #8 SPECTRE BOND, and they’ll likely be the top two betting choices. The former has been working well ahead of his first start in 14 months and may not have been too out of place in the Grade 1 Malibu later on in the card, while the latter makes his first start for new trainer Peter Miller and has hinted at potential from the get-go.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #6

R6: 5,8
R7: 1,3,7
R8: 6,8,9
R9: 2,5,8,11

72 Bets, $36

This is a very difficult sequence that, I believe, will pay out a healthy sum. I don’t have a single on this ticket, and hopefully, we can get this home.

The sixth is the Grade 2 Mathis Brothers Mile for 3-year-olds. I’m two-deep, and I think this gets off to a formful start. #5 BOWIES HERO and #8 BIG SCORE are the two likely favorites, and I’m using them both. The absence of Sharp Samurai leaves the door open for one of the horses that have chased him to win this, and I think one of them does.

The seventh is the Grade 1 La Brea for 3-year-old fillies. Many will have this figured as a two-horse race between #3 UNIQUE BELLA and #7 PARADISE WOODS, and I’m using both, but I think it’s unwise to sleep on #1 MISS SUNSET. She’s a seven-furlong specialist with seven wins in 11 lifetime starts, and while the rail draw is a bit of a problem, she’ll likely be more of a price than she should be due to the presence of the other two heavyweights.

The eighth is the Grade 1 Malibu, and while it may bite me in the rear end, I’m against the morning line favorite. #4 FAVORABLE OUTCOME ships west for Chad Brown, but I’ve yet to be floored by him this year. He earned a big number with his last-out win at Aqueduct, but he didn’t beat a ton that day, so I’ll try to beat him, especially at his likely price. I prefer #6 PAVEL (cutting back to a distance he should love), #8 DABSTER (who showed a new dimension last time out and should improve second off the bench), and #9 C Z ROCKET (who’s yet to be beaten and has worked lights-out since arriving at Santa Anita).

We finish with a real mess of a race in the form of a one-mile optional claimer on turf. #11 LAZZAM could be favored, but he wasn’t an automatic “use” for me. He’s had a lot of chances lately, and I almost put forth a ticket that didn’t have him on there. The redeeming factor for him, though, is a lot of early speed that’s signed on, which should lead to a favorable race shape. I’ll also use morning line favorite #5 SPANISH HOMBRE, as well as a few prices. #2 INCREDIBLE LUCK returns to his favorite turf course following a needed run off the bench, and #8 ACCOUNTABILITY has flexibility and boasts a last-out win here back in October.

Del Mar Opening Day Analysis, Selections, and Tickets: 7/19/17

Wednesday is opening day at Del Mar. The card is a good one, and it features something that’s been lacking in California of late: Full fields. Connections have saved plenty of bullets for California’s flagship summer meet, and while you can debate the merits of that (yes, this card is great, but I’m sure Santa Anita wishes they didn’t have to cancel days of racing due to low entries!), there’s no doubt that there are plenty of wagering opportunities coming up where the turf meets the surf.

I’ll go race-by-race and give my thoughts. If you’re interested in my Pick Five and Pick Four tickets, they’re at the end of this article (remember, Del Mar does not do an early Pick Four, just one at the end of the card). Let’s get started!

RACE #1: It won’t take long for me to go against a morning line favorite, because I do not like Getoffmyback in the opener. Astute readers may remember that beating Getoffmyback two weeks ago at this level at Santa Anita resulted in me scoring with a $393 Pick Five, and that field may have been worse than what he faces here. He stretches out, but has never hit the board in four starts going long.

I’m keying the horses surrounding him in the starting gate. Our Nation helped set a solid pace three back in his lone route race (which came against better horses), and he still hung on to finish a clear second that day. The class drop should help, and Flavien Prat staying on despite the misfire last time out is a good sign. Additionally, Papa Royale is a “lightbulb” play based off of a strong maiden win at Los Alamitos. He didn’t beat much, but his career record looks considerably better if you toss out the turf races he’s run, and this is a horse that could be figuring things out.

RACE #2: My first strong selection of the day comes here. We won’t get much of a price on Pedro Cerrano, who breaks from the rail for trainer Peter Miller, but there’s a lot to like. Yes, he comes in off a long layoff, but he’s been training very well at San Luis Rey, and because of the layoff, he’s protected in this $20,000 claimer. That’s usually a sign that a horse is doing very well, and given his 2-for-2 record at Del Mar, I think there’s reason to believe a big effort is in the offing. I’m singling Pedro Cerrano in all multi-race exotic wagers, and 2-1 may be a fair price if he runs back to his two local performances from last year.

RACE #3: This is a tricky allowance race featuring many horses with aversions to winning. Over Par likely would’ve been favored despite a 1-for-17 career mark, but he scratched Wednesday morning. If you want to spend some extra money and buy this race in multi-leg wagers, I won’t stop you.

I’ll hope that going two-deep gives me enough coverage. Accountability set a scorching past last time out at Santa Anita, and he should sit a much easier trip in this spot given the relative lack of early speed signed on alongside him. Additionally, Alsatian was a strong second in a $201,000 stakes race two back and has more tactical speed than he showed in his last effort. Hopefully, going three-deep will get me through this race.

RACE #4: The morning line man thinks this is a two-horse race between 9/5 favorite Classy Tune and 2-1 first-time starter Pretty Owl, who represents the Bob Baffert barn. I’m using both, but there are two others I’ll throw in at prices.

It’s great to see Tom Proctor back on the west coast, and he’ll saddle Slim Fit, who ran a strong second in her debut last month at Delaware Park. She dueled through fast fractions over what’s usually a slow track, and if she improves off of that effort (as Proctor-trained second-time starters often do), she’ll be one to respect in here.

I’m also going to use 10-1 shot Literary Critic, a first-time starter trained by Clifford Sise. This one is bred to be a runner. She’s by City Zip and out of a mare named Ain’t She Sweet. Ain’t She Sweet is by Storm Cat, which makes her a full sister to both 2009 Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic winner Life Is Sweet and 2004 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Sweet Catomine. Literary Critic boasts a solid, consistent worktab, and Sise has a sneaky record of late with debuting runners, so I think this one merits inclusion on your tickets.

RACE #5: The first 2-year-old maiden race of the meet is here, and it’s a doozy. Of the 11 horses (including one also-eligible) that are signed on to run, eight will debut in this spot. Morning line favorite Tyfosha chased a next-out stakes winner in her debut and looms large, but I don’t think she’s a cinch.

Bob Baffert, as usual, boasts a flashy first-time starter in the form of Just a Smidge, who’s been working well at Santa Anita. What’s interesting, though, is that Richard Mandella may have a precocious runner of his own in here. That’s Varanasi, a daughter of Jimmy Creed who fetched $385,000 at auction last September. The June 27th workout hints at major talent, and while Mandella’s horses usually get much better with age, anything close to that workout would make her a formidable foe on debut.

I also included Broome, who draws the rail but could have enough talent to overcome what can be a problematic post position for debuting runners. On paper, the pedigree (by Bellamy Road, out of a Closing Argument mare) doesn’t seem like much, but she hammered for a respectable $80,000 earlier this year and has worked pretty well for Peter Miller, whose barn is firing on all cylinders. A closer look at the pedigree reveals that her dam won a small stakes race as a 2-year-old, and she’s thrown a stakes-placed runner already (a filly named Katniss The Victor). If you’re playing a more budget-conscious ticket than the $48 one I have below, maybe you can stomach leaving her off, but I wanted her on it, as she’ll be a price and could possess considerable talent.

RACE #6: I’m very happy this race was the one between the Pick Five and Pick Four, because I was baffled by it when I looked at the form. This is a stakes-quality allowance race, and I could make a case for a number of runners in here.

Moonless Sky has been very impressive since switching to the Eddie Truman barn. She’s won four in a row, including a stakes race against state-breds. She tackles a stakes-quality field here, but she’s got more tactical speed than she showed last time, and 6-1 seems like a very square price on a horse that’s in career form.

The other horse that intrigues me is Family Meeting. Family Meeting is a multiple stakes-winner who had a horrible pace setup last time out at Gulfstream, yet was beaten less than a length. I also liked Frenzified a bit before she scratched.

RACE #7: The Pick Four starts here, and I think most of the talent lines up towards the outside. The two likely favorites (Gato Del Oro and Absolutely Stylish) come in off of maiden wins, and while I’m using both and either could win, I’m by no means married to either of them here.

Giant Expectations took a step forward in two starts at Belmont Park against New York-breds, and Magical Mystery could come flying late to overcome a bad post. I’ll use them both, but I’ll also throw in 12-1 shot Saint Dermot, a pace-dependent closer who could get a dream setup. There’s a lot of early speed on paper, and it could set up for a clunk-up closer to pick up the pieces late. Because of the possibility of that scenario unfolding, I want this longshot on my ticket.

Additional note: Tribal Jewel is on the AE list and needs two scratches to draw in. If one of the above horses scratches and he gets in the field, I’m substituting him in. The likely shape of the race is a concern, but he’s a consistent horse who hasn’t finished off the board in more than a year and won here three times last summer and fall.

RACE #8: This is the traditional opening day feature, the Oceanside Stakes. A full field of 14 3-year-olds will go a mile on the grass, and while a big field like this is usually not a spot to single in, I LOVE the lukewarm morning line favorite.

That’s Bowies Hero, who was last seen running fourth behind eventual Belmont Derby winner Oscar Performance in the Pennine Ridge. The race shape wasn’t kind to this closer that day, and he’s shown what he can do when he gets a pace to run at. He’s a two-time stakes winner that’s been running against much, much better horses, and there should be plenty of pace in front of him in this spot. I like him a lot in this spot, and if we get any sort of a price on him, that’s great.

RACE #9: This is the second 2-year-old race of the day, and fillies will go five furlongs. Unlike the fifth, which features an abundance of first-time starters, this race has some horses we’ve seen before, and I’m using a handful of them.

Likely favorite Spiced Perfection ran a solid second on June 16th, while Smiling Tigress has shown zip in the mornings since a likely-needed unveiling and Streak of Luck was bet before enduring a horrible trip in her debut last month. It wouldn’t be a shock to see any of these horses step forward, but given that none have been overly impressive to this point, I also opted to include a first-time starter…and in this case, she’s a big price.

Tapitha Bonita is 20-1 on the morning line, and the stats of the connections don’t exactly make you scream with confidence. However, the worktab she possesses has some strong moves. Her July 5th move was fifth-fastest of 34, her June 30th drill was fourth-fastest of 35, and her June 17th workout was seventh-fastest of 73. While her pedigree doesn’t jump off the page, and the $6,000 purchase price in January is low, she’s the third foal from the mare to race. Both of her predecessors are full siblings, and both are winners. Given this information, and the quality of the opposition here, I’m happy to throw her onto the ticket, especially at that price.

RACE #10: We end with a puzzler. This is a $16,000 claimer, and a few of these horses make you wonder why they’re running in this spot. Belisarius, for instance, was fifth in last year’s Belmont Gold Cup going two miles on turf…and now, he’s showing up in a $16,000 claimer going a mile on dirt?

I settled on going four-deep. My top pick is Preacher Roe, who’s protected by trainer Mike Puype off a long layoff. Puype excels with such moves, and this gelding’s starts at this level and against similar company have been some of the best of his career.

I’ll reluctantly use 3-1 morning line favorite Private Prospect. I’m not sure he’s capable of such a performance, but his best race certainly wins this (he was third in two Grade 3 races back in 2015), and he’s a candidate for Del Mar’s “ship and win” program, which I’m sure is part of the reason he’s here. Additionally, Shackleford Banks has won five of 11 career dirt starts and would benefit from a pace meltdown (which isn’t out of the question), and 8-1 shot Accelerant is a juicy price given that one’s affinity for two-turn routes of ground. If he repeats the race two back, where he won by more than five lengths, he’s a major player.

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$0.50 Pick Five: Race #1

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

64 Bets, $32

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$0.50 Pick Four: Race #7

R7: 5,6,7,9,10 (12 in case any scratch and that one draws in)
R8: 4
R9: 4,6,8,9
R10: 3,4,7,9

80 Bets, $40