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

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

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

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

$0.50 Pick Five: Race #1

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

70 Bets, $35

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

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

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

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

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

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #5

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

32 Bets, $16

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

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

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

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

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

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #9

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

80 Bets, $40

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

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

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

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

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

ANALYSIS, SELECTIONS, AND TICKETS: Stars and Stripes Day, Belmont Park (7/7/18)

Saturday is Stars and Stripes Day at Belmont Park, and it marks the beginning of the end of Belmont’s spring-summer meet. Some of the best horses on the grounds will be in action, and several stakes races drew shippers from as far away as Europe. I’ve got several multi-race tickets, and there’s a chance we’ll be able to build a nice stake ahead of the upcoming Saratoga meet. Let’s get to it!

$0.50 Pick Five: Race #1

R1: 4
R2: 2,5,6,7,9
R3: 8
R4: 1,3,5,6
R5: 5,6,7,8

80 Bets, $40

This ticket is built around a pair of horses that will likely be consensus singles. However, if we can get a price or two home around them, this could return a healthy sum.

The first single comes in the opener, a maiden race for 2-year-olds. That’s #4 SOCIAL PARANOIA, the lone entrant in this field with experience. He was a close-up second last time out behind Fully Loaded, who came back to win an allowance event Friday at Gulfstream Park. Any improvement off of his debut would make the 6/5 morning line favorite tough to beat.

The second race is an optional claimer that could double as a minor stakes race almost anywhere else in the country. #6 BREAKING THE RULES is the tepid morning line favorite, but he’s no cinch, and there are a few mid-level prices with big shots. #2 LIFE IN SHAMBLES ran against some tough competition at Aqueduct last winter, while #9 STREET VISION is 2 for 2 since being claimed by David Jacobson. I think both are must-uses in what strikes me as a fascinating event.

The third race, however, seems much more clear-cut. #8 AMERICAN GURU will likely be a heavy favorite, and for good reason. He’s a nose away from being undefeated, and based on the numbers, he’d have to regress pretty significantly off of his last two starts for the others to have a shot.

The fourth is a turf route contested at the 10-furlong route we’ll see in two Grade 1 races later on in the program. #5 RED KNIGHT seems logical, but all of his wins came against state-breds, so I can’t simply single him and move on. A horse that intrigues me at a bit of a price is #1 COUNTY COURT, who won impressively two back before rating in a paceless event in May. A return to the two-back form would make him a contender, and at 6-1 on the morning line, he could knock out plenty of tickets.

The payoff leg is a tricky allowance race, and you’ll want to go as deep as you can. #6 NIGEL’S DESTINY is the morning line favorite, but steps up in class off of a win over a weak field. I’ll use him, but I prefer #8 MR. DOUGIE FRESH, who was a close-up second in a fast race for the level last time out. Additionally, #7 FALLINGINLOVEAGAIN is worth a look at a big price. He won first time out (albeit against weaker foes), has been working well since coming to New York, and attracts Javier Castellano.

$0.50 Pick Five/Pick Four: Race #6/#7

R6: 3,6
– – –
R7: 1,2,4
R8: 1,3,4,5,6,10
R9: 8
R10: 3,4,7

108/54 Bets, $54/$27

There’s no lag time, as we end one Pick Five before quickly starting another. Important note: The Pick Five is only available through one ADW website. If you prefer to play a Pick Four, simply act as though the sixth-race selections don’t exist (which chops the ticket price in half).

The sixth race is the Grade 3 Dwyer, and I’m not getting cute. #6 MENDELSSOHN is my top pick, as I simply think the Kentucky Derby is an absolute throw-out. He was eliminated at the start, and he will be tough if he breaks cleanly here. I’ll also use #3 RUGBYMAN, who adds blinkers after a tough beat in the Easy Goer on Belmont Stakes Day.

The seventh is the Grade 2 Belmont Sprint Championship. #1 LIMOUSINE LIBERAL and #2 WHITMORE are world-class sprinters, but the horse to bet may be #4 SHAFT OF LIGHT, who cuts back after a tough beat in the Grade 3 Salvator Mile. For such a high-profile sprint, there isn’t much early speed signed on. If Shaft of Light gets out early, he could be tough to catch when the real running starts.

The eighth is the Grade 1 Belmont Oaks, and this struck me as the best betting race on the card. You’ll get a price on whatever horse(s) you like, and I felt the need to go deep. The longshot of the group is #3 PAVED, who’s 12-1 on the morning line but runs like a horse that will appreciate the 10-furlong distance. She’s got enough tactical speed to not be too far back early, and if she shows the late kick she displayed in the Grade 2 Honeymoon, she’ll have a big shot.

My single comes in the ninth, the Grade 2 Suburban. Bob Baffert has two in here, but while #5 DR. DORR is the morning line favorite, I prefer #8 HOPPERTUNITY, who’s 2 for 2 at Belmont and won the 2016 Jockey Club Gold Cup at this route of ground. His lone loss this season came over a speed-favoring track in the Grade 2 Alysheba, and even if he’s lost a step at age 7, I think he’s the horse to beat if he fires his best shot. He’s 9/2 on the morning line, and I’m hoping we get that price.

The payoff leg is the Grade 1 Belmont Derby, and I’m going three-deep. #7 CATHOLIC BOY and #3 ANALYZE IT finished 1-2 in the local prep for this race, and both could win, but European shipper #4 HUNTING HORN looks very dangerous. He’s improved with every start to this point in his career, and his recent Group 3 win was incredibly impressive. I’m always partial to European shippers adding Lasix, as he does, and I need to have him on my tickets.

ANALYSIS, SELECTIONS, AND TICKETS: Queen’s Plate Day at Woodbine, Mandatory Rainbow 6 Payout at Gulfstream

Some may consider the time between the Belmont Stakes and the start of Saratoga and Del Mar to be a bit slow, but Saturday’s got ample opportunity for a handicapper to make a big score. It’s Queen’s Plate Day at Woodbine, and there’s also a mandatory payout in the Rainbow 6 at Gulfstream Park. I’ve got a ton of tickets below, and with a little bit of luck, we’ll be able to connect with a few and have a big day!

WOODBINE

$0.20 Pick Five: Race #2

R2: 1,5,9
R3: 2,4,6
R4: 2,5,9
R5: 1,4,5
R6: 7,8

162 Bets, $32.40

Yep, handicapping Woodbine means we get to dabble in 20-cent exotic wagers. This isn’t something that could work at all tracks, but at Woodbine, the concept is tremendous. Most people play for this denomination, so the payoff isn’t nearly as low as you’d expect, and you can get meaningful coverage without breaking the bank.

This Pick Five is a tough one, and it begins with a 2-year-old race. Mark Casse has a very strong hand, as #1 SOUL PLANET and #5 LIMONAIA are both logical contenders. I’m also going to use #9 CON ARTIST, who debuts for the Mike Maker barn and sports a flashy half-mile drill on June 23rd. This one may need a bit more ground, but if the most recent work is any indication, she can run a bit.

The second leg is the Charlie Barley Stakes, and I’ve gone three-deep. #4 MACHTREE is a logical favorite off of two strong races on the synthetic main track, but I don’t think he’s a cinch, and he may not even be the most well-meant entry from the Mark Casse barn. I’ll also use #6 RIDE A COMET, who’s undefeated on turf, and #2 BLUEBLOOD, who may have needed the race two back and figures to be prominent early.

The third leg also starts off a Pick Four (more on that later), and #5 ERADICATOR is a sound favorite. He drops way down in class and ran well two back at this level, but his lone win came against a suspect group last October, so I can’t have a ton of faith in him. I’m also including #2 SCRAM CRACKER, who may have figured things out given his recent score off a long layoff, and #9 SOUTHERN GREATNESS, whose record looks much better if you toss the turf races and solely focus on synthetic form.

The fourth leg features a full field of 14 maidens, and this is far from easy. In my Pick Four, I went five-deep, but in an effort to keep this ticket affordable, I whittled my coverage to a trio of horses. #1 BETH’S AURORA responded to the drop in class last time out, while #4 STORMY SUMMER cuts back after showing early speed last time out and #5 MAXIXE is another that should be prominent out of the gate.

The payoff leg is the Grade 2 King Edward, and I’m taking a bit of a stand in this wager (though I’m hedging a bit in the Pick Four, as you’ll see). I respect #3 TOWER OF TEXAS, but his two wins in the last year have come against much weaker groups. In fact, the winner of his last race, #7 CARIBOU CLUB, has turned into one heck of a turf horse, and he’s my top pick. Caribou Club has won four of his last five races, yet is somehow triple the price of Tower of Texas on the morning line. If he’s 6-1 come post time, I want all of it. Additionally, I’ll throw in #8 DELTA PRINCE. Royal Delta’s little brother turned into a strong turf horse last season, and while the long layoff is a bit of a concern, Jimmy Jerkens seems to have this one sitting on a big race, judging by the recent workouts at Belmont Park.

$0.20 Pick Four: Race #4

R4: 2,5,9
R5: 1,4,5,8,12
R6: 3,4,7,8
R7: 2,3

120 Bets, $24

As mentioned, this sequence starts midway through the Pick Five. With that in mind, there’s a lot of overlap, but also some room to add a few horses I didn’t have the budget to use in that sequence.

I’m using the same three horses in the fourth, but adding two in the fifth. #8 FASHION FLIRT has been working very well, but goes out for a trainer that’s winless to this point in the season. This doesn’t appear to be the strongest group, so I at least want to use her in SOME fashion. Additionally, #12 DANCE READY drops in for a tag for the first time. She’s got some speed, and the presence of Eurico da Silva is a plus.

In the sixth, I’ll throw in Tower of Texas, as well as #4 FIRST PREMIO. First Premio is a Mark Casse trainee whose form looks much better if you toss the two dirt races. Simply put, he’s a turf/synthetic horse. The last-out win at Churchill was good, although he stalked a pretty slow pace that day, and while this is a class test and we may not get much value, I did need to throw him in.

The seventh race appears to be a split of the second, as the conditions are exactly the same. In case you haven’t figured it out, I think Mark Casse could be in line for a colossal day, and I’m using both of his runners here. #2 SAILING BY and #3 SI SI TEQUILA can both build on their debuts, and while I’m using a few others in the late Pick Five, those are the horses I consider primary win threats.

$0.20 Pick Five: Race #6

R6: 7,8
R7: 2,3,4,6
R8: 5,7,8
R9: 2,4,6
R10: 4,10

144 Bets, $28.80

I’m solely using my two top picks in the sixth, but I’m spreading in the seventh, since I’ve got room in the budget to do that. I’m throwing in #4 IT’S VENGEANCE, a first-time starter from the Roger Attfield barn, and #6 TRULY HONORED, who ran well first time out. The former may want a bit more distance given the pedigree, and the latter is wheeled back pretty quickly, but this at least gives me a bit more coverage.

The third leg is the Grade 2 Dance Smartly for older fillies and mares. I cannot get past the three likely betting choices in here. #5 HOLY HELENA won last year’s Queen’s Plate, while #7 INFLEXIBILITY and #8 SANTA MONICA ship up for trainer Chad Brown. I think this trio is pretty far above the rest of the field, and I’ll be pretty surprised if another horse wins.

The fourth leg is the Grade 1 Highlander, a turf sprint that’s drawn a fun field. I had to use #2 IMPRIMIS, but while he’s undefeated, he’s never gone beyond five furlongs, and I’m not sure how he’ll like the long stretch at Woodbine. With that in mind, my top pick is #6 LONG ON VALUE, who came back running last time out and ran well here in last year’s Grade 1 Woodbine Mile. Additionally, I’ll throw in #4 HOLDING GOLD, who was caught very wide last time out in the Grade 2 Jaipur and could improve at a square price with a better trip.

This brings us to the main event, the $1 million Queen’s Plate. There are 16 runners, but I’m only going two-deep, and one of the ones I like figures to be a price. My top pick is #10 TELEKINESIS, who has done very little wrong to this point in his career and was a strong winner of the Plate Trial. Mark Casse seems to have been eyeing this race all along, and he could sit a perfect stalking trip just off the pace. The other one I need to use, though, is #4 STRIKE ME DOWN, who’s bred up and down for this distance and has taken a definite step forward as a 3-year-old. That one is 10-1, and given the pedigree (by Tapit, out of a Smart Strike mare), I must use him. If he wins, he’ll drive up the value of this sequence significantly.

GULFSTREAM PARK

$0.20 Rainbow 6: Race #9

R9: 6,7,8,9 (same)
R10: 2,9,10 (or 2,9)
R11: 15 (or 1,4,9,10,13)
R12: 1,2,3 (same)
R13: 8 (same)
R14: 1,4,5 (or 1,5)

108 (or 240) Bets, $21.60 (or $48)

As you can see, there are two different tickets given out. There’s a logical reason for this, as there’s an also-eligible in the third leg that strikes me as a real standout. If that one runs, I think it’s a single. If it doesn’t, that’s a race where you want coverage.

We’ll start off with a maiden claimer, and I don’t like the form of any horse in here that’s run before. I’m using four first-time starters, and of the quartet, I’m most intrigued by #7 BARGAINAIRE, who’s been working pretty well for trainer Ralph Nicks. Nicks can get a horse ready to run first time out, and 4-1 seems like a slight overlay.

Things don’t get much more visually appealing in the second leg, another maiden claimer. This time, they’re going long on the turf. My two primary horses are #2 FRIEND ZONE, who drops down in class, and #9 SPANISH DUDE, who debuted going long (never easy to do) and has several works indicating some potential. On one ticket, I’ve also used #10 ASSERTION, who’s 0 for 15 and drew poorly but seems like a much better horse on turf than on dirt.

The third leg is a pivotal one. If #15 DREAM SATURDAY runs, he’ll likely be a pretty heavy favorite, and for good reason. He won three in a row at this level before being claimed and running over his head in the starter allowance ranks, and while the low-percentage barn is a concern, he doesn’t need to be much to best this group. If he doesn’t run, though, I’m spreading, using five horses in what seems like a wide-open event. If forced to name a top selection, it’d be #13 JERSEY STREET, who’s a bit of a price (10-1) on the morning line. His three starts on non-boggy tracks since the claim have been solid, and he was an OK second at this level last time out.

The fourth leg is the Grade 2 Princess Rooney. Longtime horse for course #1 CURLIN’S APPROVAL will be a short price, and I’m using her, but on figures, she’s taken a bit of a step back from her 2017 form. Her best race wins this, but I can’t just single her against a decent group. #2 MS LOCUST POINT ran against top-class foes in the Grade 1 Madison two back before catching a mess of a track at Pimlico, while #3 MY MISS TAPIT is undefeated going one turn and merits respect.

In the fifth leg, though, I have no such reservations about singling a heavy favorite. That’s #8 X Y JET, who did everything but win last time out in Dubai. It’s taken him a while to get right, but trainer Jorge Navarro has him going in the right direction, and if he’s himself in this spot, everyone else is running for second money.

The payoff leg is another maiden claimer, the third in this sequence. My two primary horses are #1 ALLURSTRA, whose race two back against better wasn’t terrible, and #5 TALKING POINT, who took a step forward last time out and gets Tyler Gaffalione. On one proposed ticket, I’m also using #4 XIROMA, who ran well off the layoff last time out but may want a bit longer than this six-furlong distance.

Analysis, Selections, and Tickets: Stephen Foster Night, Churchill Downs (6/16/18)

Saturday night’s card at Churchill Downs is a good one. Five graded stakes races are on tap, and they comprise a special all-stakes Pick Five. I’ll take a look at the sequence in a bit.

Before we get there, though, I’d like to announce that, for the next few weeks, I’ll be writing columns on Mondays centering around various subjects that I’m passionate about. I figured this would be a fun project between now and the start of Saratoga, where I’ll look to defend my public handicapping title/look to prove that those six weeks were no fluke.

Quick tangent: If you have an idea for such a column, or just have any sort of feedback on what I’m doing, utilize the “contact” function this site provides. I’m honored that people take the time to read the content I produce, and I read every email I get.

However, now that we’ve got all of that out of the way, let’s get down to business. We need to get a stake for the summer, and the all-stakes Pick Five could provide one. Let’s get to it!

$0.50 Pick Five: Race #5

R5: 7
R6: 1,2,4
R7: 2,3,7,8,9
R8: 6
R9: 1,8,10,11,12,13

90 Bets, $45

The two singles on my ticket will be popular ones. I’ll try to get a price or two home around them, and if we do that, this could pay pretty well.

The sequence starts with the Grade 3 Matt Winn for 3-year-olds. The race has drawn Bob Baffert trainee #7 AX MAN, who figures to be very tough to beat. He may be the shortest price in the sequence, but it’s tough to imagine any other runner in this field challenging him early on. If he’s allowed to dictate terms early, I think it’ll be a tall task for any of his opponents to beat him to the wire.

The second leg is the Grade 2 Wise Dan, and it’s drawn a Breeders’ Cup winner. That’s #4 WORLD APPROVAL, but this race doesn’t start and end with him. His best race wins, but the clunker last time out dulls my confidence in him. I also have to use #1 DIVISIDERO and #2 SHINING COPPER. The former is undefeated in three starts at Churchill Downs and came back running last time out at Monmouth Park, while the latter may be the lone speed in the race and could get brave if he’s left alone on the front end.

The third leg is the Grade 2 Fleur de Lis. This race was won by Forever Unbridled a year ago, but the 2018 renewal has no such standouts. I’m going five-deep because I need plenty of coverage. If #3 BLUE PRIZE runs back to last year’s Grade 2 Falls City, she probably wins. If she doesn’t (and that race was easily the best one she’s ever run), it’s anyone’s race, and the five horses I’m using reflect my relative lack of confidence.

I have no such lack of confidence in the fourth leg, which doubles as the card’s main event. It’s the Grade 1 Stephen Foster, and while I was against #6 BACKYARD HEAVEN in the Grade 2 Alysheba, I’m all-in on him in this spot. He was exceptional that day, and among those he beat in that race was Hoppertunity, who came back to win the Grade 2 Brooklyn on Belmont Stakes Day. He should get a dream trip on or near a modest early pace, and if he brings that type of effort to the track Saturday night, I think he’ll be incredibly formidable.

We’ll finish things off with the Grade 3 Regret, and this is the epitome of a “grass grab bag.” This is especially true because many of the major players have drawn far outside posts, which opens the door for wide trips. If you’ve got conviction earlier in the sequence, or deeper pockets than what I’ve got, you may want to buy the race and give yourself some security. I’m six-deep, and I sincerely hope that’s deep enough. However, giving out a ticket much more expensive than this one goes against what I’m trying to do. I still like this ticket, and if it hits, there’s a chance we can make a nice chunk of change.

2018 Belmont Stakes: Analysis, Selections, Tickets, and Unpopular Opinions

Let’s get one crucifixion-inducing opinion out of the way right now: If Justify loses the Belmont Stakes, thus failing to win horse racing’s Triple Crown, there’s a chance I make a LOT of money.

In my heart, I want Justify to channel Secretariat and guzzle the field with the type of performance where he could stop at King Umberto’s for a slice and a Jay Privman handshake going around the first turn, chow down on the backstretch, burp a few times around the far turn, and win by 20. If I’ve said this once, I’ve said it a thousand times: Horse racing needs stars, and if Justify can go from an unraced maiden to a Triple Crown winner in less than four months, he’ll ascend to a level few equines of the past century have reached.

From a gambling standpoint, though, I think it’s worth trying to beat him (as I also explained following the Preakness). The old gambling adage says to never bet a horse, as the favorite, to do something it’s never done before. The Belmont will be Justify’s sixth start in less than four months, and it will be contested at the grueling distance of a mile and a half against a sizable field, some of whom are bred up and down for this trip (more on two of them later). His Preakness wasn’t atrocious, but it was certainly a step back from his prior efforts. If he brings his Kentucky Derby form with him Saturday, maybe the race is for second. If he brings his Preakness form, where he edged two longshots by less than a length (one of which he dusted two weeks prior), then the race is much more wide-open than the odds board will say it is.

For those reasons, I think it’s prudent to take a swing against Justify in the Belmont. If Justify wins, I’ll consider my $40 money well-spent to ensure racing’s pantheon of greats opens its doors to another one, and I’ll cheer right along with the racing public. However, if one of the two horses I’m using in the all-stakes Pick Four wins, I stand to make, to quote former TVG colleague Todd Schrupp, racks on racks on racks (hi, Todd!).

We’ll dive into that Pick Four later, but first, we’ll talk about the races that comprise the early Pick Five. I like that sequence, and it’s one where you may be rewarded handsomely even without the presence of big prices. Let’s take a look!

$0.50 Pick Five: Race #1

R1: 1,6
R2: 2,3,6,7
R3: 4,6
R4: 3,7
R5: 3,9

64 Bets, $32

I don’t have singles on my ticket, and that’s by design. I think many of these races can be whittled down to just two horses, with the second being the most wide-open of the bunch.

I couldn’t get past the two likely favorites in the opener, as #1 LA MONEDA and #6 WAR CANOE look like the ones to beat. The former comes back to turf after a race she probably needed off the long layoff, while the latter outran her 38-1 odds when third in a state-bred stakes race last month and gets class relief here.

The second race is the Easy Goer, which last year was won by eventual champion West Coast. I can’t see a horse in here getting that good by year’s end, but it’s a solid group. #2 MASK looks imposing if you can forgive his clunker in the Grade 3 Pat Day Mile, which was in a bog off of a four-month break. I’m using him, but I don’t think he’s any sort of a cinch. #3 RUGBYMAN graduated by a city block last time out, #6 BREAKING THE RULES is 2 for 2 and bred up and down for distance, and #7 DARK VADER comes in off a lifetime-best effort in a classy optional claimer (the third-place finisher came back to win a Cal-bred stakes race).

Race #3 is the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps for older fillies and mares. #6 ABEL TASMAN is a must-use. She’ll be favored and appears to be working with a purpose since her seasonal debut, where she ran fourth in the Grade 1 La Troienne. We know she can handle Belmont, and Bob Baffert may have her fully cranked. However, I also need to use #4 PACIFIC WIND. She’s 2 for 2 since coming to the Chad Brown barn, and one of those wins came in the Grade 2 Ruffian. If you toss out last year’s Grade 2 Bayakoa over a quirky Los Alamitos surface, she’s undefeated on dirt, and I think she could give last year’s Champion 3-Year-Old Filly all she can handle.

The fourth is the Grade 1 Acorn. #3 MONOMOY GIRL may be the shortest-priced favorite on the card, and that includes Justify in the Belmont. She’s emerged as the top 3-year-old filly in the country, but I have enough reservations here to where I cannot single her and move on. I think she’s a two-turn horse, and her lone one-turn race on dirt, while a win, came over a soft field. The other one I need to have on my ticket is #7 TALK VEUVE TO ME, who ran really well when second in the Grade 2 Eight Belles. She was nearly five lengths clear of the third-place finisher that day, and I don’t think this distance will be a problem. The outside post helps her, and she’ll certainly be a playable price.

The payoff leg is the Grade 2 Brooklyn for older horses going a mile and a half. #9 WAR STORY won this race last year and has done tremendous work when placed in the right spots (also known as steering clear of Gun Runner). He was very impressive in this race a season ago, and a repeat effort would make him tough. The only horse I could see beating him is #3 HARD STUDY, who is a perfect 6 for 6 over fast dirt tracks and exits a runaway win in the Flat Out, which serves as Belmont’s local prep for this event.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #8

R8: 1,3,4,5,7
R9: 2,4,10,11
R10: 1,10
R11: 4,8

80 Bets, $40

Yep, not only am I tossing Justify, but I’m also trying to beat Mind Your Biscuits in the Grade 1 Met Mile. I’ll talk a bit more about that when we get to that race.

The eighth is the Grade 1 Just a Game, and I don’t have a clue. I spread pretty deep in here, and if I could’ve afforded to buy the race, I would have done so. Chad Brown’s got a few strong runners in here, as both #3 OFF LIMITS and #7 A RAVING BEAUTY could win. Depending on how the turf course is playing, though, #4 LULL could be dangerous. She’s the main early speed in this race, and Belmont’s turf course tends to be very kind to horses that are forwardly-positioned. If she’s allowed to dictate terms, she could forget to stop, and if that happens, we’ll start this wager off with a mild upset.

The ninth is the Grade 1 Met Mile, and as mentioned, I’m against #1 MIND YOUR BISCUITS. Yes, he ran a colossal race in Dubai, when he rallied from well back on a track that had been favoring speed for weeks. Having said that, his record at this distance isn’t great. He was second in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile last year, and he ran OK that day, but he actually lost ground to Sharp Azteca late, which isn’t what you want to see from a closer. The rail draw also presents a problem, and it’s not like there’s much early speed signed on.

I’m going four-deep without using that one, and my top pick is a big price on the morning line. That’s #4 MCCRAKEN, who’s perfect at this distance, has been pointed to this race for months by his connections, and could be sitting on a big performance second off of the long layoff. #10 BEE JERSEY seems like the main speed, and #11 AWESOME SLEW never seems to run a bad race, so I had to use them both. Finally, I threw #2 BOLT D’ORO on my ticket as well. If you toss out the Kentucky Derby, where he was not persevered with late, he fits with this group, and he’s been working lights-out at Keeneland since that effort.

I couldn’t get past the two Chad Brown trainees in the 10th, the Grade 1 Manhattan. #1 ROBERT BRUCE and #10 BEACH PATROL look like the best horses in here, and while the former can certainly win, I prefer the latter. The Grade 1 Turf Classic at Churchill Downs was contested over one of the wettest turf courses we’ve seen over the past several years, and Beach Patrol ran a game second in a race that doubled as his first start in six months while going shorter than he probably wants to go. This trip should be more to his liking, and if he’s fully-cranked, I think he’ll be tough to beat.

This brings us to the Belmont Stakes. You already know that I’m taking a stand against Justify. Instead, I’ll rely on top pick #4 HOFBURG, who’s bred up and down for this trip and had a ton of trouble in the Kentucky Derby, and #8 VINO ROSSO, whose one-paced style and distance-oriented pedigree make him a natural fit for this race. Perhaps they need Justify to regress, but if that happens and this ticket hits, it’s entirely possible we’re looking at a massive score by my modest standards.