THE DARK DAY FILES: Trying to Make Sense of the 3-Year-Old Male Division

I was really, REALLY hoping I didn’t have to write this column.

You see, like pretty much everyone else, I’ve been hoping for months that a 3-year-old would separate himself from the rest of the division. Briefly, Always Dreaming did that, but he was knocked off the mountaintop just as quickly as he ascended it. Ever since the Preakness, the division has been shrouded in confusion, with big efforts often followed by duds that only serve to make things more difficult to decipher.

In what doubled as a dream come true for the NYRA marketing department, the three winners of the three Triple Crown races lined up in last Saturday’s Travers. Much like the last time this happened (1982), though, the race wasn’t won by one of those horses. West Coast, whose lone graded stakes win before the Midsummer Derby came at Los Alamitos against what would charitably be called a mediocre bunch, went wire-to-wire under Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith and earned the top Beyer Speed Figure of any 3-year-old router to this point in the season.

I’ll attempt to decipher the division here. Essentially, this acts as a quick and dirty summary of the main players, as well as what they likely need to do to emerge as a contender for the division’s Eclipse Award. I only considered horses that had won at least one Grade 1 race in 2017, which means horses like 2-3 Travers finishers Gunnevera and Irap, as well as Jim Dandy winner Good Samaritan, are out.

Disagree? Think I missed something? Shoot me a message, and I’ll be happy to discuss what I think.

West Coast

Claim to Fame: Beat the winners of all three Triple Crown races in the Travers.

Drawbacks: Hasn’t done much else to this point. He was visually impressive in both stakes wins earlier in the year, but he didn’t beat many quality foes in either spot.

Eclipse Chances: High. A win in either the Pennsylvania Derby (against 3-year-olds) or the Jockey Club Gold Cup (against older horses) would give him a resume very few in the division could match. Fun fact: If West Coast wins the award, this will mark the third time in the last five years that it has gone to a horse that did not win a Triple Crown race. Before Will Take Charge won in 2013 despite lacking such a win, the last thoroughbred to pull it off was Tiznow, who did so in 2000.

Always Dreaming

Claim to Fame: Won the Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby back-to-back, both by daylight.

Drawbacks: Has failed to win any of his three subsequent starts. I’m a bit higher on his Jim Dandy than most (he did salvage third over a very tiring track), but his Preakness and Travers efforts were lousy.

Eclipse Chances: Higher than you may think. As of this writing, no active 3-year-old can match his top-end wins, and even if he never runs again (which is possible, maybe even likely), there’s a chance he’ll end the year as this season’s only 3-year-old male with multiple Grade 1 wins on dirt. That would make him a popular “hold your nose” vote.


Claim to Fame: Won the Belmont, and did so in impressive fashion. He and runner-up Irish War Cry were well clear of the rest of the field.

Drawbacks: He’s only won twice, and while he didn’t run terribly in the Travers, he was fourth behind three horses that had previously combined for zero Grade 1 victories to this point in the season.

Eclipse Chances: Medium. There’s a chance he needed the Travers off a 12-week layoff, and a run in the Jockey Club Gold Cup would mean a chance at another Grade 1 victory at the scene of his greatest triumph to date. Such a win would give him two signature victories and would put him squarely in the middle of the conversation ahead of the Breeders’ Cup.

Oscar Performance

Claim to Fame: Has won back-to-back Grade 1 races, and is the only 3-year-old male in the country besides Always Dreaming with two such wins on his resume this year.

Drawbacks: He’s a turf horse.

Eclipse Chances: None most years, but this year, he’s got a shot. If ever there was a year for an unconventional winner of this award, it’s 2017, and a win over older horses would do wonders for his candidacy. He could get such a victory in the Grade 1 Joe Hirsch, provided his connections opt to bypass the Grade 3 Hill Prince, which boasts a similar purse and (likely) much less in the way of opposition. If he wins the Hirsch and runs well in the Breeders’ Cup (no easy task, since the Turf’s distance would be uncharted territory for him and the Mile is never an easy race to win), it would be impossible to keep him out of this discussion.

Classic Empire

Claim to Fame: When he’s right, he’s probably the best horse in this division in terms of pure talent. He won the Arkansas Derby, was the victim of a lousy trip when fourth in the Kentucky Derby, and just missed in the Preakness…

Drawbacks: …but he hasn’t been seen since. His connections had eyed the Pennsylvania Derby, but those plans fell through.

Eclipse Chances: Low. On one hand, if this horse hangs on in the Preakness, we’re probably not having this conversation (it’s at least much more concentrated in nature). On the other hand, how can one consider this horse a contender when he hasn’t raced since mid-May? Maybe he runs again in either the Breeders’ Cup or the Cigar Mile. Maybe he doesn’t and we’ve seen the last of him. If the latter is the case, it’s a real shame.

Practical Joke

Claim to Fame: Won the Allen Jerkens on Travers Day, and an argument can be made that he’s the best 3-year-old in the country at what he does.

Drawbacks: What he does is run one turn. He’s not the same horse going a conventional, two-turn route of ground.

Eclipse Chances: Low, and it’s no fault of the horse or his connections. If the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile was contested around one turn (like it will be next year at Churchill Downs), or if the Sprint was seven furlongs and not six, he would be in a great spot. However, he’s between distances and will need to overcome the lack of an ideal race on racing’s biggest weekend. A Sprint win would almost certainly vault him to the head of the class, and a Dirt Mile win would also be helpful, but if he loses either race and salvages the Cigar Mile or Malibu, would that be enough of a resume? I don’t think so.


Claim to Fame: Won the Grade 1 Haskell over a solid group, which included next-out Jerkens winner Practical Joke and next-out Shared Belief winner Battle of Midway. Earlier this season, he also captured the Louisiana Derby and Risen Star Stakes.

Drawbacks: Misfired in both the Travers and the Kentucky Derby, which were prime opportunities for him to show he belongs at the top of this division.

Eclipse Chances: Slim. Most years, he’d already be eliminated, counted out as a nice horse, but not one of the best. However, if he wins the Pennsylvania Derby, all of a sudden, we’ve got a horse that’s won two Grade 1’s, two Grade 2’s, and a lot of money. Is it unlikely? Yes, but then again, so was his Haskell win.

Cloud Computing

Claim to Fame: Reeled in Classic Empire in the Preakness, giving Chad Brown his first win in a Triple Crown race.

Drawbacks: He’s done nothing since then, throwing in two clunkers at Saratoga.

Eclipse Chances: Slim to none. If he comes back with a winning effort in a Breeders’ Cup prep race, we can more easily throw out the Saratoga races. However, those races were dreadful, and it’s tough to swallow something like that in this sort of a discussion.

Saratoga Race Course Analysis, Selections, and Bankroll: Travers Day (8/26/17)

BANKROLL: $851.50

Happy Travers Day, everyone! Before we get into the antics and shenanigans, I’d genuinely like to wish all of you luck. This may be the best wagering card we see all year in New York, and there’s no shortage of live longshots on the program.

That said, I have to chuckle at NYRA’s “no running” edict. As I mentioned last year around this time, all it apparently takes to turn some at the track into middle school hall monitors is one big day. No running? What about jogging, speed-walking, power-walking, or cantering? Where, precisely, is the line drawn?

FRIDAY’S RESULTS: We extended our winning streak in this section to three by maximizing value on Sunset Ridge. Our Pick Five connected for $1, our Pick Four hit for 50 cents, and our $40 investment returned $155 and change.

SATURDAY’S PLAY: Remember how I said there’s no shortage of longshots? I’ll play four horses to win and place, and it may only take one winner for it to be a profitable day. The horses I’ll put #5 to win and place on are as follows: KABANG (Race 2), PROFITEER (Race 5), WEST COAST (Race 11), and MOHICAN (Race 13).



Best Bet: Songbird, Race 6
Longshot: Kabang, Race 2


Good Magic
High North

GOOD MAGIC: Was a million dollar baby at last year’s Keeneland September sale, and for good reason. He’s by Curlin, and boasts a female family that’s one of the best you’ll ever see. He’s worked to that breeding and should be ready; HAZIT: Is another that’s bred to run and debuts for high-percentage connections. His dam was a graded stakes-winning sprinter, and he’s got every right to be precocious; HIGH NORTH: Is a half to Grade 2 winner Benner Island and has a pair of strong local workouts. Irad Ortiz likely had options, and he lands on this $230k yearling purchase.


Uncle Mojo (MTO)
Focus Group

KABANG: Has won three of his last four, with the most recent victory coming earlier this meet in a swiftly-run starter allowance. There’s some pace signed on here, which bodes well for this one’s late kick; FOCUS GROUP: Broke through at third asking last time out, graduation in a much longer race. Irad stays aboard for Chad Brown, and at least you know the distance shouldn’t be a problem; RICHMOND STREET: Ran a clunker last time out, but that was his second race off a long layoff, so it could’ve just been a bounce. His race two back was solid, and he ran well here twice last summer. DIRT SELECTIONS: UNCLE MOJO, HOLIDAY BONUS, SON OF A SAINT.


Strike Me Down

NEEPAWA: Was a fast-closing third in his debut, which came at this route. The post position is a problem, but of those that have run before, he boasts the most impressive effort; STRIKE ME DOWN: Is bred up and down to be a strong turf horse. His dam won a Grade 2 on turf and threw Grade 3 winner Golden Sabre, and this gray has turned heads in the mornings; CHIRPING: Ran a sneaky race in his debut, rallying late for fifth and showing he likely wants more ground. He gets that in this spot and can’t be ignored at a price.


Candid Desire

OSTROLENKA: Has run some of his best races since being claimed earlier this year by David Jacobson. He was a close-up second at this route against a solid sprinter, and the likely race shape sets up for a closer like him; STICKSSTATELYDUDE: Returns to the races after a nine-month break and has back class that must be respected. This is certainly shorter than he wants to go, but he did break his maiden going six furlongs here as a 2-year-old; CANDID DESIRE: Is another that merits a look given the likely shape of the race (not to mention his likely odds). He ran fourth to Stallwalkin’ Dude last time out after a brief freshening, and a quick look at the running lines shows he beat THREEFIVEINDIA (who could be the favorite or second choice here) three back.


Ray’s The Bar

CLOONTIA: Showed a new dimension last time out, rating well off the leader and rallying to win a lesser allowance race. He steps up in class, but this is a horse that likes to win, and these connections merit respect; PROFITEER: Hasn’t been seen since April, when he trailed in the Grade 3 Transylvania. It’s possible he just didn’t take to the Keeneland turf course, and he’s a major player if he runs back to his other grass races; RAY’S THE BAR: Almost certainly needed his 2017 debut, so I’m drawing a line through it. He’s been gelded since that effort, and he has significant back class.


Forever Unbridled
Going for Broke

SONGBIRD: Is the length of Beholder’s nose away from being undefeated and will go for her 10th Grade 1 victory here. No other rival has the early speed to go with her, and I think she’ll be incredibly tough to run down late; FOREVER UNBRIDLED: Is extremely tough on her best day. Remember, she was beaten less than two lengths by Songbird in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff, and while the race shape doesn’t figure to help her, she could come running late; GOING FOR BROKE: Made stablemate Carina Mia work last time out in the Shine Again, and that distance was shorter than she’s accustomed to going. She chased Songbird in last year’s Alabama and figures to get a piece of this purse as well.


Carina Mia
Highway Star

PAULASSILVERLINING: Has won four in a row, including the Grade 2 Honorable Miss earlier this meet. There’s a shocking lack of early speed signed on here, and she could sit a dream trip on or near a slow pace; CARINA MIA: Fended off a game stablemate at this route earlier in the month and could improve in her second start for Chad Brown. The issue here is that my top selection has beaten her in both of their prior meetings; HIGHWAY STAR: Is 3-for-3 going seven furlongs and chased Songbird and Paid Up Subscriber home last time out in the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps. If you’re looking for a longshot, you could do a lot worse than a horse that’s 7-for-11 lifetime (with one loss coming in a turf race).


American Anthem
Coal Front
Practical Joke

AMERICAN ANTHEM: Returns to New York for his first start since an easy win in the Grade 2 Woody Stephens on Belmont Day. He’s 3-for-3 around one turn, and a repeat of the effort we saw in June would make him very tough to beat; COAL FRONT: Is 3-for-3 and most recently took down the Grade 2 Amsterdam. He showed maturity that day, slowing down to take a breath after setting a fast pace and speeding up again to repel a late challenge. These are deep waters, but he’s given me nothing to knock so far; PRACTICAL JOKE: Missed by a half-length in the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational, finishing behind two horses that will contest the Travers. He won last year’s Grade 1 Hopeful at this route and has improved since then, but the rail draw isn’t ideal.


Mind Your Biscuits
Divining Rod

MIND YOUR BISCUITS: Has developed into one of the top dirt sprinters on the planet. His win in Dubai two back was sensational, and this seven-furlong distance suits him perfectly; DREFONG: Won both the Breeders’ Cup Sprint and King’s Bishop last year, but his 2017 season has not gone smoothly. He dumped Mike Smith in the Bing Crosby, and while horse and rider were fine, the workouts since then have been on the slow side. His best race probably wins, but can he channel that form?; DIVINING ROD: Came back running last time out in his 2017 debut, crushing an overmatched field at Laurel Park. He just missed in last year’s Cigar Mile, and he seems best of the rest here.


Money Multiplier

IDAHO: Was third behind two of Europe’s best horses last time out in a Group 1 at Ascot. Enable may be the best horse in Europe regardless of gender, while Ulysses is eyeing the Breeders’ Cup Turf. By comparison, this is a softer spot, and these connections can ship in and win these races; MONEY MULTIPLIER: Started his 2017 campaign in fine fashion last time out with a Grade 2 win at Monmouth. Improvement is logical second off such a long layoff, and this one was second to Flintshire in last year’s running of this race; ERUPT: Is a cut below Europe’s best, but he won the Grade 1 Canadian International last fall at Woodbine. His effort two back in Group 1 company was solid, and he’s a contender on his best day.


West Coast
Good Samaritan

WEST COAST: Has developed into Bob Baffert’s top 3-year-old colt after back-to-back stakes wins on opposite coasts. His running style suggests he’ll handle this distance just fine, and he gets my top pick in a very confusing renewal of the Travers; GOOD SAMARITAN: Beat the Derby and Preakness winners with an authoritative performance in the Jim Dandy, which doubled as his dirt debut. Figure-wise, that was a new career-best race by a considerable amount, and he could win with a repeat performance; TAPWRIT: Was last seen winning the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes in June. The layoff is a concern, as is the Haskell performance of Belmont runner-up Irish War Cry, but he’s trained well of late and can’t be ignored.


Lady Eli

LADY ELI: Was a surprise entrant in this race following her victory in the Grade 1 Diana. That win came after she and her stablemate (more on her shortly) broke through the starting gate before the race, and she’s strictly the one to beat; ANTONOE: Did not have a good day when last seen, breaking through the gate and sitting a strange trip. Still, she was only beaten a length by my top pick, and her win two back in the Just A Game was scary good; DICKINSON: May inherit the early lead by default. She misfired in the Diana, but her best race certainly gets her a share.


All About Voodoo

MOHICAN: Hasn’t run well in two local starts this summer, but I think you can toss both of those races. The race two back came off a long layoff, and his last-out effort came on dirt. Given the class drop, I think he’s live at a nice price; ALL ABOUT VOODOO: Showed speed earlier in the meet going much longer against a better group. The class drop is sensible, and keep him in mind if Focus Group (that race’s winner) comes back with a good effort in Saturday’s second race; PROGNOSTICATION: Had every chance at this level last time out, but was forced to settle for third in a so-so group. He’ll take money given the connections, and his best race puts him right there, but this may be a spot to shop around for some value.

Saratoga Race Course Analysis, Selections, and Bankroll: 8/16/17


BANKROLL: $819.75

I got in an interesting discussion online the other day about the current 3-year-old picture and the potential for an unconventional winner of the Champion 3-Year-Old Male Eclipse Award. Long story short, if Always Dreaming wins the Travers, he likely clinches the trophy, while Cloud Computing or Tapwrit would certainly have a significant (but not insurmountable) edge if one of them won the Midsummer Derby.

However, what if a non-winner of a Triple Crown race won the Travers? That opens the door for a horse like Oscar Performance, provided he steps up and beats older horses at the Grade 1 level. Additionally, what happens if a horse like American Anthem or Coal Front wins the Allen Jerkens and follows it up with a win in either the Breeders’ Cup Sprint or the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile? It’s a fascinating scenario, and the next domino falls in a week and a half at Saratoga.

MONDAY’S RESULTS: In short, ugh. Everything Magic lost a photo for second in the opener to a 45-1 shot, and one of the horses we keyed her with in exactas won. It was a painful way to drop $22.

WEDNESDAY’S PLAY: I’ll focus on the fifth race. #4 MY MR. WONDERFUL ran a big race in his debut last month, which was rained off the turf. I’ll key him in $4 exactas above and below #2 SICILIA SAL, #6 JOE’S SMOKIN GUN, and #10 TEN EYCK, as well as in $3 doubles that use #4 PADEN and #6 ROCKFORD in the sixth.



Best Bet: Claiborne entry, Race 7
Longshot: Paden, Race 6


Bishop’s Castle

MUTASAAWY: Cruised home last time out when crushing maidens at Parx and seems to have taken to hurdles like a duck to water. This seems like a fairly soft spot to try winners for the first time; KREMLIN: Figures to be the main speed in here. He set the pace earlier this meet against better horses and could be dangerous if he gets loose early on; BISHOP’S CASTLE: Lost the jock last time out at Parx but has run several solid races of late, including a win two back.


Powerful Ally

SPIETH: Tries two turns for the first time in his second start off the layoff, and the pedigree indicates that this is exactly what he wants. He’s worked well and should be prominent early; POWERFUL ALLY: Was an OK third earlier in the meet in his first start off a freshening. Jose Ortiz riding back is a big plus; D’AMBROSIO: Is another stretching out to two turns with the pedigree to embrace such a route. The rider switch to Castellano is notable, but he finished behind my top pick last time out when that one probably needed the race.


Motion entry
Fire Away

MOTION ENTRY: Both HOLIDAY STAR and STREET FASHION can win this turf marathon. The former is a multiple graded stakes winner, while the latter exits a stakes race at Delaware Park; MUQTASER: Was brilliantly-ridden last time out by Joe Bravo in a win at this route. Don’t be surprised if Jersey Joe sends him again, especially in such a small field; FIRE AWAY: Loves this distance and may have needed his race earlier this month off a freshening. He was beaten less than two lengths in stakes company that day and merits respect here.


Lady Constance
Jump for Joy
Dubb entry

LADY CONSTANCE: Has not won in a while, but that can be said of many in here, and this filly drops way down in class in this spot. Her lone try at anywhere close to this level was a tough-luck second two back; JUMP FOR JOY: Was a runaway winner last time out at Aqueduct, but that was almost a year and a half ago. Pletcher can get horses ready to run, though, and the fact that she is ineligible to be claimed today could speak volumes about the barn’s intentions; DUBB ENTRY: I prefer EASY WAY OUT, who graduated last time out after burning money twice at Aqueduct. The rider switch is a concern, but her usual effort puts her right there.


My Mr. Wonderful
Ten Eyck
Joe’s Smokin Gun

MY MR. WONDERFUL: Ran well in his debut last month despite the race being rained off the turf. The connections should get the desired route today, and improvement is logical at second asking; TEN EYCK: Doesn’t draw a great post, but is bred up and down to be a very strong turf horse. He’s by Freud and out of a City Zip mare, and he’ll likely be a square price; JOE’S SMOKIN GUN: Was a solid second two back on turf before running in the same race my top pick exits. The connections are cold, but a repeat of the two-back effort could easily get him a piece of this. DIRT SELECTIONS: MY MR. WONDERFUL, STOLEN PISTOL, JOE’S SMOKIN GUN.


Players Group entry

PADEN: Has run well against better horses going longer, one-turn route distances and ships in for a high-percentage barn. There doesn’t appear to be much early speed signed on, so don’t be surprised if he’s forwardly-placed; ROCKFORD: Generally runs the same race every time out and was a solid second earlier this month in his first start for David Jacobson. He’s another with tactical speed, and his best puts him right there; PLAYERS GROUP ENTRY: I prefer FULL SALUTE, who comes back to the dirt after a failed experiment on turf last time out. He won at this distance two back beneath Jose Ortiz, and that pilot returns here.


Claiborne entry
End Play

CLAIBORNE ENTRY: COMMEND is clearly the horse to beat here. He exits the Grade 2 Highlander at Woodbine, which was won by world-class turf sprinter Green Mask, and this spot represents significant class relief; END PLAY: Was beaten less than a length in a strong race for the level earlier this meet. He’s run well here in the past and generally runs the same race every time out; FEAR: Has won three of his last four and merits a longshot look. The lone defeat in that stretch was in a dirt race, and turf is clearly what he wants.


Damage Control
No Texting

MOBRIDGE: Beat a number of these rivals last time out and comes back at the level here. If there’s a concern, it’s that all three visible wins in the form were at Belmont, but note that he ran fairly well going two turns at Gulfstream earlier this year; DAMAGE CONTROL: Was beaten a length by my top pick last time out and didn’t have much pace to close into that day. If someone goes with that horse early, it could set up for this one; NO TEXTING: Was fourth in that common race, but was inexplicably rated that day after showing ample early speed in his previous six starts. Given that fact, the rider switch is no shock.


Sly Beauty
March X Press

SLY BEAUTY: Ran into runaway Schuylerville winner Dream It Is in her debut and jogged last time out. This barn is starting to turn strong efforts into wins, and this one could have plenty of talent; MARCH X PRESS: Closed like a freight train to win her debut earlier in the meet at this route. There should certainly be plenty of early speed in front of her; FAIRYLAND: Exits a Group 3 at Royal Ascot, and the blinkers come back on. If there’s a concern here, it’s the rail draw, which has not been kind in turf sprints this meet.


Borsa Vento

BORSA VENTO: Drops way down in class, and given the horrible trip, his last race is a throwout. He’s run well at this distance against better in the past, and I’ll give him another shot; IRST: Looked like a promising horse when second here last summer behind an eventual Grade 3 winner, but he hasn’t moved forward since then. The class drop should certainly help, as would a pace battle up front; BRITAIN: Has shown some zip since dropping to the maiden claiming ranks, but was a distant fourth at this level earlier in the meet. Still, he merits respect given the powerful trainer/jockey combination.

2017 Belmont Stakes Day Picks, Tickets, and Analysis (6/10/17)

With very little in the way of significant storylines, this year’s Belmont is most appealing not to the casual fan, or to the sports fan tuning in to see a Triple Crown attempt, but to the hardened horseplayer who goes in search of the elusive property known as value. With a field of 12 and no heavy favorite, this is an instance where that can certainly be found.

The question is, how do you find it, and what kind of knocks are you willing to forgive? Morning line favorite Irish War Cry’s best race is probably good enough to win this, but when he’s bad, he’s VERY bad, and he appeared to be going best of all with three furlongs left in the Derby before hitting a wall going into the stretch. Lookin at Lee is an honest, hard-trying horse who will be the only thoroughbred this year to run in all three Triple Crown races, but he hasn’t won in a LONG time, and deep closers seldom win the Belmont. Meanwhile, the saga involving Japanese invader Epicharis took a weird turn earlier this week, when it was revealed he’s battling an ailment in one of his feet, and he was scratched Saturday morning.

My top pick involves some forgiving, but there’s also plenty of nice things to say about him. That’s Tapwrit, who will attempt to give trainer Todd Pletcher his second win in a Triple Crown race this season and third career triumph in the Belmont. He’s by Tapit, who has sired the winner of this race in two of the last three seasons, and he runs like a horse who will appreciate as much distance as possible. When last seen, he was a non-threatening sixth in the Kentucky Derby, but he had plenty of trouble in that race, not unlike his run two back in the Blue Grass.

He’s by no means a top pick I’m in love with, but when Tapwrit’s right, he’s very good. He’s one of four horses I’ll be using in multi-race exotics, as I’ll also be including Gormley, Irish War Cry, and Senior Investment. Gormley has trained like a Belmont horse for months, while Irish War Cry’s prior strong efforts can’t be ignored and Senior Investment seems to be getting better and better with experience and added distance.

The Belmont anchors a phenomenal card in New York, one that features ample wagering opportunities and lots of star power. I’ve got three multi-race tickets below, as well as analysis, and without further ado…

$0.50 Pick Five: Race #1

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

20 bets, $10

This Pick Five is, essentially, a Pick Four. Songbird makes her 2017 debut in the payoff leg, the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps, and she towers over her competition. If I can get there and potentially turn a $10 investment into, say, a 10-1 price on Songbird (assuming the Pick Five pays $110), I’ll gladly do that.

Thebigfundamental will be a fairly short price in the opener off of two solid outings, but I couldn’t ignore Wild About Deb, who likely needed his last start off a long layoff. His best is quite good, as evidenced by three top-three finishes in graded stakes company (most notably a third-place effort behind Connect in the Pennsylvania Derby), and 12-1 is way too big a price.

I’ll take a similar approach in the second leg, the Easy Goer. West Coast seems like a solid favorite, and it definitely helps that he does not need the lead, as this race seems loaded with early speed. However, second-time starter Wicked Macho intrigues me. He didn’t have it easy in his debut at Churchill Downs, where he prevailed by a head over a next-out winner, and he’s worked lights-out since then for trainer Mark Casse. This is an aggressive spot, but there’s plenty to suggest this horse could be ready for the challenge. A quick look at his female family shows third dam Stick to Beauty, a stakes-winning blue hen whose presence is felt in the female families of Grade 1 winners Dayjur, Maplejinsky, Point of Entry, Violence, Tale of Ekati, and Pine Island.

The Brooklyn struck me as a two-horse race before the scratch of Send It In, which means Tu Brutus will be a very short price. I can’t go against him, despite Gary Contessa’s subpar record in graded stakes races on dirt in the past five years (he’s 0-for-28). Meanwhile, the fourth race of the sequence is the Grade 1 Acorn, and I spread out. Abel Tasman merits respect, for sure, but I can’t help thinking she may want more ground and/or two turns. She got a dream setup in the Kentucky Oaks, and this is a very solid group (even after the scratch of Tequilita).

That leads us to Songbird, whose lone defeat came in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Not only does she tower over this field on talent, but she also figures to benefit from the pace scenario, which is very light on early speed. This doesn’t figure to be a Pick Five payoff that’ll set records, but again, if I can get to Songbird and treat it like a win bet with enhanced odds, I’ll be very happy.

$1 Grand Slam: Race #7

R7: 7,8
R8: 1,5
R9: 5,8
R10: 3,4,7

24 bets, $24

For those not familiar with this wager, the Grand Slam is a bet where at least one of your horses in each of the first three legs must finish third or better. You then get paid if a horse you play in the last leg wins, and you can build up winning combinations along the way. For instance, this ticket I’m playing could potentially be alive for an $8 valuation to three horses in the Manhattan if each of the horses I use finishes in the top three of their respective races.

I don’t play the Grand Slam much, but cards like Saturday’s are good times to do so. Given all of the possible combinations, this will likely pay handsomely, especially if some favorites finish off the board.

American Anthem figures to be favored in the Woody Stephens, and I’m using him, but my top pick is Wild Shot. Wild Shot was on the Kentucky Derby trail for a while, but has shown to be much better in races contested around one turn. This was affirmed on Derby Day, when the son of Trappe Shot rated behind fast fractions and rolled home clear by four lengths in the Grade 3 Pat Day Mile. A similar setup could present itself here, as there’s lots of early speed signed on.

I’m going against morning line favorite Roca Rojo in the eighth, the Grade 1 Just a Game. I fail to see why she should be favored over horses like Dickinson (whose recent win streak includes a Grade 1 win over the brilliant Lady Eli) and Celestine (last year’s runaway winner who’s 2-for-2 in 2017). I’ll use Roca Rojo in the Pick Four for security, but here, I’ll stick with the other two I’ve mentioned.

Sharp Azteca is my best bet of the day not named Songbird. There doesn’t seem to be much early speed alongside him in the Met Mile, and I think he could shake loose and roll home. However, a longshot intrigues me underneath, and for that reason, I had to also use Tom’s Ready. His return off a long layoff was quite good, and his one race here at Belmont was a win in last year’s Woody Stephens. If someone goes with Sharp Azteca early and provokes a pace meltdown, or if Tom’s Ready simply improves in his second start of the year, I think this 15-1 shot stands a big chance of hitting the board and upping the potential payout.

Finally, I’ll go three-deep in the Manhattan to close things out. Time Test is 5-1 on the morning line but may be significantly less than that come post time. His European form is extremely sharp, and he likely needed his last race, which came off a 10-month layoff over a very wet turf course he probably didn’t care for. I’ll also use Dixie winner World Approval and Turf Classic winner Divisidero, the latter of whom could benefit if Beach Patrol, World Approval, and a few others set a fast pace.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #8

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

36 bets, $18

I think you can play a small ticket into a big pool and, potentially, come back with a nice score. I did include Roca Rojo simply because the ticket was pretty skinny elsewhere, and I singled Sharp Azteca. There aren’t any huge prices here, but the field sizes and guaranteed pool are such that, if this gets home, we could see a payout in the $200-$300 range. For an $18 investment, that’s just fine!

2017 Kentucky Derby Analysis, PLUS Three Pick Four Tickets

I’ve never been accused of mincing words, and I’m not going to start now. Friday was, um…NOT a good day for yours truly. On Twitter, I likened it to the start of the Drago/Rocky fight in Rocky IV, when the big Russian is beating the daylights out of the champ. Hopefully, Saturday is akin to the second half of the fight, where Rocky comes back, beats the giant, and ends the Cold War.

I’ll start by analyzing the main event, the 2017 Kentucky Derby. It’s one of the most wide-open renewals in recent memory, with every single horse seeming to have some sort of redeeming factor and massive flaw. You’re likely to get a square price on whichever horse you like, and the exotics wagers figure to be very enticing as well.

My top pick is Classic Empire. It’s by no means a top pick made with tons of conviction, or with a proclamation that he can’t lose. However, he overcame a tough trip to win the Arkansas Derby over a solid group. He was shuffled back, raced between horses most of the way around the track, and came flying late in such a way that it convinced most Saturday’s distance will not be a problem. If he can negotiate a comfortable trip (always the biggest ‘if’ in any Derby), I think he’s the horse to beat.

Having said that, I’ll be going five-deep in all multi-race exotics wagers I play. Three of the other horses are ones who will receive plenty of support at the windows. Always Dreaming is undefeated around two turns, McCraken loves Churchill Downs and should improve off the Blue Grass, and Irish War Cry’s record fits the mold of a Derby winner if you can toss his unconscionable clunker in the Fountain of Youth.

The fifth horse I’m using is my price horse, the one who would potentially make Saturday a very good day for me. That’s Tapwrit, and if you’re willing to throw out the Blue Grass, his huge price doesn’t make much sense. The 10-furlong distance should fit him like a glove given his pedigree, he’s won over a wet track before, and he turned in a flashy workout at Churchill last week leading up to the Derby. I want every bit of him at his likely price, even after his lousy race at Keeneland last month.

With all of that in mind, let’s shift gears to a few Pick Four plays for Saturday. These are posted with the same caveats as Friday’s: These tickets assume all races carded for the turf course stay there. If they get rained off, updated versions of my tickets (or advice to pass the sequences entirely) will be posted on my Twitter page.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #2

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

32 bets, $16

This isn’t an expensive ticket, and I really like this sequence. The first and third legs are strong betting races, and I’ve got confidence in the second and fourth legs. Flashy Jewel will likely go off shorter than his 8-1 morning line in the third, and I think he’s the lone speed horse in the race. Part of me wanted to single him, but Rocket Time possesses considerable back class and merits respect coming back to a track he loves.

The fifth race features a major spot play, assuming we stay on the grass. Forge ran a strong race in his American debut last month at Keeneland, which doubled as his first race since September. He’s run up against some very tough European competition, and he faces an optional claiming group that doesn’t appear very imposing. I’ll gladly take 7/2 if I can get it, although that’s another morning line that seems very generous.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #5

R5: 1
R6: 5,7
R7: 1,6

48 bets, $24

Forge starts off this sequence, and then things get tricky. Finest City and Carina Mia head this year’s Humana Distaff, which features some other strong sprinters, and I’m hoping I can skate through only going two-deep. I’m also only going two-deep in the Distaff Turf Mile following the scratch of Miss Temple City; Linda’s been working well for Ian Wilkes, and Roca Rojo goes out for Chad Brown.

This brings us to the Pat Day Mile, which gave me headaches of increasing intensity every time I looked at it. I can make cases for almost every runner in what’s now a 12-horse field, so I’m hitting the ALL button. I know I’m going to get some heat for this on Twitter, but the fact is that I have absolutely no confidence in any opinion I could present here, and given that I can come in well under my soft budget ($40) by using each runner, that’s what I’m going to do.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #9

R9: 2,4,7,10
R10: 2
R11: 2,6,8,9
R12: 5,14,15,16,17

80 bets, $40

In one of several animated Twitter discussions on Friday, I mentioned that I really like Pick Fours that act as glorified odds boosts on short-priced horses. Everyone wants to catch a big price, sure, but if you can take a heavily-bet favorite, single that horse in a Pick Four, and beat a favorite or two along the way, the sequence essentially turns into an odds boost. If said single is 4/5 and jogs after you play it to win, you won’t get much of a rate of return. However, if a $40 Pick Four ticket like this one hits and returns $300 or so, all of a sudden, you’ve turned that 4/5 into odds closer to 6-1. That’s value, and that’s my strategy here.

My single comes in the 10th race, the Churchill Downs. Masochistic burned me in his 2017 debut, but there are plenty of reasons to back him here. He’s easily the top early speed on paper, and if the track is playing to speed (as it often does on Kentucky Derby Day), he’s going to be very difficult to beat. This is not an easy sequence, and you need to single somewhere so as to spread in the other three legs. There are worse horses to do that with than a horse that could make an easy lead in a race without much other speed.

We dissected the Derby above, so I’ll go through the other two legs here. In the American Turf, I prefer closers Big Score and Good Samaritan, but if one of Oscar Performance or Conquest Farenheit gets away, they may be tough to catch. Meanwhile, in the Woodford Reserve, I most prefer Beach Patrol, although he’s no cinch in a wide-open betting race. Divisidero is 2-for-2 at Churchill, and both Bal a Bali and Enterprising (subbed in for the scratched World Approval) are good enough to win on their best days as well.