Alameda County Fair Analysis, Selections, and Tickets: 6/15/19

I’ll be on-site for the first two Saturdays of the meet at the Alameda County Fair in Pleasanton, and I’m really excited about what’s ahead. I’ve gotten to know plenty of good people on the Northern California fair circuit, and it’s going to be a blast to be there doing the things I genuinely love to do.

I’ll be tweeting out videos and analysis during those cards, and I’ll also be assisting with a few other cool things the track is doing. Additionally, I’ll also be posting analysis of these Saturday cards here. I’m looking forward to the first Saturday card of fair season, and I think there are opportunities to score.

Enough talk; on with the show!

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #1

R1: 4
R2: 1,2,5
R3: 2,4
R4: 2,4

12 Bets, $6

I’m starting off with an economical look at the early Pick Four, which features three different breeds across the sequence.

We kick things off with a mule race, and I’ve singled #4 FAST PATSY B. She loves Pleasanton, and while she hasn’t won since this meet last year, her best effort almost certainly beats these. I’m hoping the recent near-misses drive the price up a bit, especially since morning line favorite #1 DASHING JACK is just 1-for-14 over this surface.

Arabians take center stage in the second, and my top pick is the second-longest shot on the morning line. That’s #5 MURPHY MHF A, who adds Lasix in her first start on this surface. She’s been running at Delaware and Sam Houston against much better horses, and she took a step forward last time out. I’m using likely favorites #1 WMA FANTOM A and #2 AURUM REX A, but the bigger price is my key horse.

I’m two-deep in each of the last two legs. In the third, I’ll try to beat #3 BRILLIANT RICHIE, who hasn’t shown anything on dirt and may be beatable because of that. I prefer #2 THISONESFORJAMES, who won here last year, and #4 RED CLEM, who has won three of five starts since going to the barn of Steve Sherman.

Finally, the fourth race is a maiden claiming event, and I think the two likely favorites are going to be tough. #2 MIND TRICK has run well on dirt in the past, while #4 PAITASKA has shown plenty of early speed and could be formidable if he’s left alone on the front end.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #6

R6: ALL
R7: 1,2
R8: 3
R9: 1,2,4,7

48 Bets, $24

Unlike the early sequence, I think the late sequence requires a deeper dive and deeper pockets. I’ve assembled a $24 ticket, and my single is a horse I’m really excited to bet.

The sixth is a very tough race to handicap. I can make cases for all six horses, many of whom haven’t run on dirt before and could easily just need a change in surface. Because of the short field (and because I’m not in love with the likely favorites), I have to buy the race, and in doing so, I’m hoping for a price to shake things up.

In the seventh, I’m focusing on the two inside horses. #1 GIMME SPACE may wind up being the lone closer in a race full of early speed, while #2 OUR MANEKI CAT has shown early zip and could take another step forward in his third career start. There isn’t much in the way of proven form signed on here, so I’ll settle for going two-deep and hoping that’s enough.

The eighth race is where I’ll take a stand, and I’m hoping to get the 4-1 morning line odds on #3 BIG BUZZ. His lone win came on dirt at Santa Anita, and while he’s bred to be a strong turf horse (he’s a full brother to Grade 3 winner Big Score, who has also placed in a Grade 1), there’s a chance he may have been a dirt horse all along. There’s plenty of pace signed on, and I really like him in this spot.

I’m going four-deep to finish things off. The finale is a maiden claimer, and I’m taking a stand against #5 LU CAT. He’s improved since going to Golden Gate, but his two dirt starts were far from impressive. I’ll try to beat him here, and if we do that, this ticket’s payoff potential increases significantly.

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.

My 2019 Hall of Fame Ballot; PLUS: Oaklawn Park Analysis, Selections, and Tickets (3/16/19)

In something that undoubtedly does not sit well with some members of racing’s establishment, I have a ballot for the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. It’s one of the great honors of my career, and it’s always a joy to analyze the finalists, fill out my ballot, and mail it back east.

Last year was the first voting cycle with a new election threshold of 50 percent, plus one vote. The 2018 class was also one of the smallest in recent memory, as voters elected just one thoroughbred (Heavenly Prize). Whether this was a one-off occurrence or an indication of a shift in voter behavior is something we’ll likely find out when the 2019 class is announced in late-April.

One year ago, I had three horses on my ballot (for an explanation on last year’s ballot, click here). Heavenly Prize was one. The other two were Blind Luck and Havre de Grace, who both show up again. Once again, they make my ballot. The former won 10 graded stakes races (six of the Grade 1 variety), while the latter won Horse of the Year honors in 2011, a season where she beat the boys in the Grade 1 Woodward at Saratoga.

Two horses showed up on the ballot for the first time. Like many others, I’m sure, I voted for Royal Delta, a two-time winner of the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic. By any measure, she’s one of the best female racehorses of the 21st century, and while her credentials may mean she doesn’t crack the top pantheon of Hall of Fame horses, she did more than enough to earn a plaque in Saratoga Springs. It’s a safe bet that she’ll be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

That’s the extent of my ballot, and I’ll go down the list of horses, trainers, and jockeys. If you’re a longtime reader of the site, you probably know I’m no huge fan of Gio Ponti. At some point, to be a Hall of Fame horse, you have to beat really good horses, and in my estimation, he never did that. Meanwhile, Rags to Riches showed up on this year’s ballot, and she may be a sentimental choice for some voters. However, one tremendous moment does not a Hall of Fame career make. Yes, her win in the Belmont against males was memorable, but she raced just once after that and never beat older rivals. That’s not enough for me.

As far as the humans are concerned, I have tremendous respect for the careers of Mark Casse, Christophe Clement, Craig Perret, and David Whiteley. If any of them are enshrined this summer, I won’t be raising a stink about it. Having said that, none of them particularly hit me as people who need to be in.

Of the group, Casse and Clement are closest to earning my vote, and with both horsemen still active with large barns, my opinions may be swayed in the coming years. I don’t think Casse’s done quite enough in the U.S. as opposed to Canada (remember, it’s the NATIONAL Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame), and Clement’s lack of a Breeders’ Cup win is a big strike against him. Those aren’t easy races to win, as Clement trainee Gio Ponti’s seconds to Zenyatta and Goldikova prove, but when we get to this point, the goose egg matters.

One or two more big horses likely puts Casse in. A win on racing’s biggest stage probably puts Clement in. However, at this time, I couldn’t bring myself to check the box next to either name. I respect that others may feel differently, and if I’m outnumbered, I’ll tip my cap and eagerly tune in to the induction ceremony to hear their speeches.

– – – – –

Saturday’s card at Oaklawn Park is a really good one. An 11-race program is on tap, and it features two divisions of the Grade 2 Rebel. The card has drawn not just Bob Baffert trainees Game Winner and Improbable, but several of the best older fillies and mares in the country as well.

There are two Pick Four sequences on tap, and I think both are pretty attractive. Let’s get to it!

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #1

R1: 1,2
R2: 1,4,6,9,10
R3: 3,6,9,10
R4: 5

40 Bets, $20

Like many others, I’m sure, I’ve singled a heavy favorite in the payoff leg. However, the first three races all hit me as wide-open affairs, and given field sizes, we may be able to extract value from the sequence.

We kick things off with a maiden special weight event, and I’ve used the two inside runners. #1 BREAKING NEWS ran very well in his debut before regressing a bit last time out, but the recent work indicates he’s coming back to form. Additionally, #2 MY LEGACY showed a lot of speed in his unveiling at Fair Grounds before fading to fourth, and should improve for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen.

The second race is one of a few races every season at Oaklawn that baffle me. It’s a 12-furlong starter allowance event, and, for obvious reasons, I felt the need to spread. If you’re looking for a bit of a price, #4 BIGSHOT LACEWELL showed speed in a similar event earlier in the meet, and this race seems very light on early zip. If he gets comfortable, he could make the 8-1 morning line price look like a real overlay.

Maidens will go two turns in the third race, and I also felt the need to spread a bit here. #3 PLUG AND PLAY almost certainly needed his debut, and he’s not bred to be a sprinter. He adds blinkers and stretches out to a two-turn route of ground he should love, and for that reason, he’s my top pick. However, if you’re going price-shopping, #6 KINETIC SWAGGER showed zip off the bench last time out in a race that doubled as his first outing since October. A logical step forward in his second start back puts him right there, and given the 15-1 morning line price, I need to have him on the ticket.

It could be a big day for trainer Bob Baffert, and it starts in the fourth race with #5 DESSMAN. He was last seen suffering a brutal beat in the Grade 2 San Vicente, when he was beaten a nose while earning a 94 Beyer Speed Figure. He does try two turns for the first time, but given that he’s a son of Belmont winner Union Rags, I don’t think that will be an issue. Anything close to either of his previous efforts likely puts him far clear of the rest of the field, and because of that, he’ll likely be a very short price (the 8/5 morning line actually seems a tad generous).

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #7

I’m going to do something a bit different. I think DRF Ticket Maker’s functions fit this all-stakes Pick Four sequence like a glove, so I used it to put together $14.50 worth of tickets.

Screen Shot 2019-03-14 at 11.56.06 PM

The sequence kicks off with the Grade 2 Azeri for older fillies and mares. The field is short on quantity, but long on quality, as it drew both #2 MIDNIGHT BISOU and #5 ELATE (among others). Unsurprisingly, I’m using them both, but I’m also going to lightly use a big price. For all of the talent in this race, there isn’t much early speed. Midnight Bisou is tactical, which will help, but I needed some coverage in case #1 TAPA TAPA TAPA is left alone on the lead. She’s certainly not as talented as the four Grade 1 winners in here, but if you subscribe to the notion that pace makes the race, she can’t be completely ignored.

The eighth race is the first division of the Rebel, and while I wish I could get cute, I don’t think #9 IMPROBABLE loses. To me, this is the weaker division of the race, and anything close to his last two races puts him in the winner’s circle. I am not a believer in #8 GALILEAN, who has beaten nothing in Cal-bred races and tries open company for the first time. If you’re looking for a price underneath, #2 LONG RANGE TODDY had a deceptively awful trip in the Grade 3 Southwest, where he was shuffled back along the rail multiple times yet still salvaged third money. I don’t think the rider change is a coincidence, and while I doubt he’s talented enough to challenge Improbable, I think he’s talented enough to merit inclusion on the bottom of exacta tickets.

The ninth race is the Essex Handicap. I’m using likely favorite #8 GIANT EXPECTATIONS, but I don’t think he’s anything close to a cinch. He’s not a great gate horse, which is problematic given that he likes to be on or near the lead, and even if he gets out well, he almost certainly won’t be alone going into the first turn. My top pick is #7 SNAPPER SINCLAIR, a hard-knocking sort with tactical speed that may be getting better as a 4-year-old. Additionally, I don’t think there’s ANY chance #9 RATED R SUPERSTAR is close to his 12-1 morning line price, given his solid third in the Grade 3 Razorback last month. He should get a favorable race flow, and I think he’ll be flying late. Finally, I’ll lightly use fellow closer #2 HENCE, who may need to step forward but has been working well and would also benefit from fast fractions.

The payoff leg is the second division of the Rebel, and it features Breeders’ Cup Juvenile hero #5 GAME WINNER, who makes his seasonal debut. I think he’ll be very tough, but I could at least see a scenario where a rival nips him. I really liked #7 OUR BRAINTRUST in the Grade 3 Withers, and he looked like a winner turning for home. However, he was soundly bumped multiple times by that day’s runner-up (I thought it was enough to merit a DQ, actually), and he hung as a result. He gets blinkers here for his second start around two turns, and I love that he’s taken steps forward with every race he’s run. Would another step forward be enough to beat Game Winner if that one is fully-cranked? Probably not. However, it’s not like that one has been working lights-out of late. If Game Winner needs a race, I’ll at least have a little bit of coverage with another runner in the field.

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

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

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

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

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

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

AQUEDUCT

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

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

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

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

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

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #8

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

63 Bets, $31.50

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

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

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

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

TAMPA BAY DOWNS

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

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

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

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

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

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #9

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

40 Bets, $20

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

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

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

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

TURFWAY PARK

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

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

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

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #9

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

64 Bets, $32

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FAIR GROUNDS

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

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

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

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

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #9

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

24 Bets, $12

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

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

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

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

GOLDEN GATE FIELDS

Derby Prep: El Camino Real Derby, Race #7

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

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

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

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

LAUREL PARK

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #7

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

60 Bets, $30

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

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

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

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

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