Saturday, May 19, 2018

2018 Preakness Pick: Justify

Brushing the egg off my face after Goodonehoney flopped in the Black Eyed Susan on Friday and cost $50, "finding value" is the key to a Preakness Stakes where muddy conditions and a so-so field are all that stands between Justify having a shot at the Triple Crown.

A lot of people love to knock the champ.

"The Kentucky Derby was too grueling."

"Horse hasn't had a published workout since."

"He'll be too tired in the stretch and be gassed."

I'm not buying it.

Justify will win the 2018 Preakness.


Question is, how can I profit meaningfully in a race where the winner is going to pay 40-50 cents on the dollar?

The key, to me, is taking a stand against second-choice Good Magic, listed at 5-2 but will take a lot of late action and may go off at closer to 2-1. At 6:48 p.m. ET, we're going to find the bettors looking at this as a two-horse race. I have a different opinion.

Here's why Good Magic will finish "out of the money" and others will juice up the payouts on the exacta, trifecta and superfecta lines.

I've often lamented wagering or playing in handicapping contests against "the Chad Brown horse." They win about 30% of the time.

For those who don't follow the sport much, Brown is one of the world's top trainers. He had a reputation for being a wizard with turf horses, but you may recall that his horse, Cloud Computing, won the 2017 Preakness at 11-1. He's excellent at spotting his horses where they can win, and not one to tax his stable to take punchers' chances, as I see it.

So, one could argue that Brown simply thinks he's got the better horse than Bob Baffert's Justify.

Yet, Brown's announcement that Good Magic will bypass the Belmont Stakes in three weeks makes me questioning the horse's entry at all in the Preakness.

I suppose there's two sides of the coin -- heads says the connections feel they've got a fresh enough horse who can upset the apple cart and give his all in the Preakness, or tails says jockey Jose Ortiz is going to be under strict instructions to let Good Magic settle into the race mid-pack and hit the gas if the horse has energy, or tap the brakes so as to avoid injuring a $2 million winner who will shoot for more-lucrative riches in the Breeders Cup and, after that, the breeding shed.

Tails is the call. 


My projections and Preakness-specific plays to follow are influenced by the "race shape," or how the field of eight will stack up going into the back stretch. Sporting Chance holds the key. If he's on the lead and Justify stalks, we'll be in great shape. If he stumbles, well, back to the office on Monday morning to keep earning a living wage, so to speak.

The Field

  1. Quip (12-1): Third choice on the morning line at a high number tells us what the odds-maker thinks about the field. You'll hear a lot of the "wise guys" pick this one, citing that the horse is rested, has early speed and a great shot to sit just behind Justify and win in "ground-saving" (skimming the rail) fashion. Can he do those? Sure. Is he good enough to factor late? Not in my opinion. I give very little credence to winners of the Tampa Bay Derby, which is a Kentucky Derby prep race in early March at a track that's a cut below the prominent winter-circuit course on the other side of Florida -- Gulfstream Park. Todd Pletcher, who trains a ton of talented horses for wealthy connections, often goes that route. It's an easy way to pick up Derby points and be in the starting gate on the first Saturday in May. Quip's win at Tampa was against a weak field, and he faced tougher in the Arkansas Derby on April 14 and ran the same style of race but folded in the stretch to finish a non-threatening fourth. For my money, he's not quick enough to take the Preakness field wire-to-wire and could end up pinned along the rail and running at one pace. I'll use him 4th in the superfecta.
  2. Lone Sailor (15-1): This one should be the third choice. He's getting Irad Ortiz for the first time and ran a much better race than his eighth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby lets on. I've watched his trip in that race vs. #8 Bravazo's several times and merely think Lone Sailor got the worst of it, hemmed in along the rail and stymied when trying to shift out later on to make a run at the leaders. Granted, he's got only one win in nine lifetime starts (that was on a sloppy track, by the way), but if Justify and Good Magic begin to fade, I think we're going to see this one gobbling up ground late. Lone Sailor is my second choice and is key to all tickets.
  3. Sporting Chance (30-1): I have a soft spot for this D. Wayne Lucas trainee and believe that, by season's end, he'll be an extremely prominent factor as a 7-furlong sprinter toward the Breeders Cup. This one didn't make the Kentucky Derby but ran in the undercard that afternoon, finishing fourth in the Grade 3 Pat Day Mile. To me, and this is a significant point, the replay shows two things: Sporting Chance was keen, and absolutely hated getting mud kicked in his face. You can clearly see him turning his head several times, which to me indicates he was uncomfortable. If you look at how fast the early tempo was in the Pat Day (45 and two-fifths second for a half mile), Sporting Chance makes a lot of sense as the pace-setter this afternoon and one who might not be able to "get the distance" but carousel home to a fading third or fourth.
  4. Diamond King (30-1): The connections scratched out of the same Pat Day Mile and opted for this spot, so one could argue that the fresher Diamond King is a better play than Sporting Chance at the same odds, but I disagree. His two stakes wins were of far lesser caliber, and his prior race (Federico Tedesco Stakes at Laurel Park) doesn't match up here. Pass.
  5. Good Magic (3-1): I'll have double the egg on my face with this weekend's calls and concede that I was way wrong in taking a stand against once he wins, but only one Kentucky Derby runner-up has won the Preakness in the last 25 years, and the logic of entering here and already stating that he'll skip the Belmont, to me, is a bad sign. The horse took the off conditions in the Kentucky Derby, but I think the plan here is to sit fourth or fifth off the speed, try to save ground, and make one big run. We saw that he's clearly not as fast from the gate as Justify, though I guess if it's just "not Justify's day," Good Magic can win solely by class against weaker company. Betting wise, I'm outside the $100+ exacta budget and don't think it's worth playing a Justify-Good Magic combo that others will endorse. I'm using him strictly third and fourth on my tickets.
  6. Tenfold (20-1): I totally disagree with the morning line and think he should be the second-longest shot on the board. I respect trainer Steve Asmussen but think they're overshooting here with a son of super-sire (and former Preakness winner) Curlin after a fading fifth-place effort (vs. nine) in the Arkansas Derby where the jockey had to go to the whip far from home. Pass.
  7. Justify (1-2): Again, probably not a win-bet proposition, but if he goes off at the morning line, it could be the easiest 50% return on investment you get within a two-minute span. He's simply the class of the field who can get the lead and has already won twice on sloppy to muddy tracks, including in California, which is rare. Top selection. How about that for going out on a limb...said the guy who's always in search of playable long-shots. It's rare I like a favorite this month, and maybe it's buyer beware, but easily the class here.
  8. Bravazo (20-1): I backed him a bit in the Kentucky Derby and he ran a respectable sixth but never threatened. I thought he could hit the board two weeks ago and almost did, but he simply got a much cleaner trip than Lone Sailor, so his result looks better. He's probably not fast enough to be in the top two, but I'll use him third and fourth. With the wider post just outside of Justify, you might see jockey Luis Saez try and sit just off the champ's flank and hope to have some gas left for a shocking upset. I'm not concerned about fatigue, since trainer Lucas is a little older-school and never seems too worried about wheeling his horses back quickly. But I just think he's an "underneath" horse. Rounding out the trifecta and superfecta is the ceiling.

Probably Wagers


Later on I might cobble together a Pick 5 ticket going into this race, so check back this afternoon if you'd like. But, to me, the key to a successful wagering day hinges on Justify winning, Good Magic finishing no better than third, and either Lone Sailor or Sporting Chance finishing second.

I'm investing $54 in the race, but you can cut back on denominations and my "backup" tickets and probably still have some fun with $20-$25.

Good luck to those confiding in my selections.
  • $10 exacta 7-2 (Justify-Lone Sailor)
  • $4 exacta 7-3 (Justify-Sporting Chance)
  • $5 trifecta 7 with 2 with 3, 5 = $10
  • $2 trifecta 7 with 2 with 8 = $2
  • $1 superfecta 7 with 2, 3 with 2, 3, 5, 8 with 1, 2, 3, 5, 8 = $18
  • Backup selections, in case Justify fades to second
  • $1 trifecta 2 with 7 with 3, 5, 8 = $3
  • $1 trifecta 3 with 7 with 2, 5, 8 = $3
  • $1 trifecta 2, 3 with 2, 3 with 7 = $2
  • $1 exacta box 2-3 = $2
  • If Justify flops, then it's no dice for me. 

Pick 5 (Races 9-13) Tickets: Updated 2 p.m. ET

  • $1 Pick 5: 4, 8 with 2, 7 with 7 with 8 with 7 = $4
  • 50-cent Pick 5: 4 with 2, 4, 5, 7 with 1, 3, 7 with 2, 8 with 2, 7 = $24
  • 50-cent Pick 5: 8 with 2, 4, 5, 7 with 7 with 8 with 2, 5, 7 = $6

Thursday, May 17, 2018

2018 Black Eyed Susan Pick: Goodonehoney

Although it pays just a quarter of the purse of the Kentucky Oaks and is a grade below, I still treat the second leg of the "Filly Triple Crown" -- the Black Eyed Susan -- as a major stakes and will allocate a $50 bankroll, similar to two weeks ago, when turning that amount into a $400 day.

The field is much softer here, in my opinion, with a handful of three-year-olds who've put together some strong performances, albeit greatly inconsistent. There's only one filly with a graded stakes victory (#3, Coach Rocks, 7-to-2), while a few others have won lower-echelon stakes.

The inclement weather throws a wrench into my prospects to play multi-race exotics involving the Black Eyed Susan, shouldn't favor one horse over another. Recent form will hold much larger sway, as I see it, and so I'll build my wagering budget solely around this race and one runner in particular.

Goodonehoney is my selection.


This girl's opponents have a lot more experience, but seem of lesser quality than the Kentucky Oaks, and Goodonehoney's last race was the most visually impressive. She won on debut on March 24 at three-quarters of a mile in nearby Laurel Park before transitioning on April 21 to a mile-and-a-sixteenth and jumping up vs. stakes company, where she won stylishly.


What I liked most in watching the replay was how Goodonehoney responded in the stretch and appeared to accelerate and can switch leads, before finishing the race in a relatively snappy time for the closing eighth of a mile. To me, it looked like she had lots left in the tank and will have no problems getting the added distance on Friday at a mile-and-an-eighth.

Let's take a look at each of the 10 runners in the field before breaking down my wagers.

Field for the 2018 Black Eyed Susan 


  1. Tell Your Mama (20-1): She's 0-for-10 lifetime and looks one-paced. It's hard to endorse a maiden vs. stakes company, even when drawing a top jockey like Javier Castellano. Pass.
  2. Midnight Disguise (SCRATCHED): Disappointed she's out of the race, as several things turn me off here and I thought she'd take other people's money. 
  3. Coach Rocks (7-2): The morning-line favorite, and only graded-stakes winner, got a decent trip in the Oaks, save for some bumping at the head of the stretch. She very well could inherit the lead and save lots of ground along the rail, but visually I didn't like what I saw two weeks ago and find no published works since then. Maybe 4th if not too tired.
  4. Red Ruby (5-1): Sorta short odds for a horse whose trainer is 0-for-28 in graded stakes. She seemed to struggle in the Grade 3 Honeybee at Oaklawn in March. Maybe two months off and a hustling rider help, but another one, to me, whose ceiling is 4th.
  5. Mihrab (30-1): Call me crazy, but this long-shot from trainer Graham Motion is a legit contender. I thought about making her my top selection, but she's one who prefers to close from out of the clouds. One that I'd definitely keep my eye on later in the season with more experience, though speed ability's a question. Projecting she'll run 2nd or 3rd
  6. C.S. Incharge (15-1): I'll use her in my trifecta just to be safe but am concerned that she's a bit distance limited. If she's toward the lead early, maybe she hangs on late for minor awards, but her effort in the Ashland in April was a huge negative. Ceiling is 3rd or 4th.
  7. Goodonehoney (5-1): As the lone Maryland-bred, bettors may gravitate toward the hometown hero, but she's still a solid win proposition even if 7-2/4-1. I'm not familiar with the connections other than they're close to me near Monmouth Park, and sometimes think the local jockeys are at a disadvantage when the top national riders invade. Yet she completely dusted the 8 horse, Indy Union, by seven lengths a month ago and looks serious on video. Plus she's shown an ability to win on the lead or off the pace. Will win, finish second at worst.
  8. Indy Union (10-1): I considered her more seriously based on a few things on paper, but after watching the Weber City Miss hated how green she looked in her sixth lifetime start moving into the stretch. Second off a layoff may augur well, but I'm targeting 3rd or 4th at best.
  9. Sara Street (4-1): This one was my top selection in the Gazelle at Aqueduct on April 7 and lost that one by a half length and was gutsy. She'll be on the lead and carry the distance, but I just think Goodonehoney's a bit better, and if the pace is really hot she'll get passed by Mihrab and potentially others. Definitely useful in the 2nd, 3rd or 4th position in exotics.
  10. Stakes On a Plane (20-1): Also comes out of the Weber City but at one point got some eight lengths ahead of Indy Union and yet was passed by her at the finish. Local jockey Sheldon Russell will presumably let the outside speed clear, tuck in at the rail and hope to get a dream trip around Pimlico and that his horse likes thick mud kicked in her face. Pass.

Probably Wagers on $50 Bankroll

  • $10 Win 7 = $10
  • $5 Exacta Key Box: 7 with 5, 9 = $20
  • $1 Trifecta: 7 with 5, 9 with 3-6, 8, 9 = $10
  • $6 Black Eyed Susan-Preakness Daily Double: 7 with 7 = $6
  • $2 Black Eyed Susan-Preakness Daily Double 5 with 7 = $2
    • Using Justify as a strong single in the Preakness Stakes leg of the double.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Sad Over Broken Public Handicapper-NHC Ties

As I write, enjoying my coffee after an excessively long workweek and about to get in some errands before this afternoon's live contest at Monmouth Park, it's with some sadness that I lack the motivation as I normally would to decipher this week's four races for the Public Handicapper Challenge.

I've played it for about the past decade, and will continue to, and even served as an editor for a short while. You can't imagine how honored I felt a few contests back when site founder Scott Carson invited me to be one of the six elite to provide my insights on big national races each week. I had a blast doing it, especially as a one-time sports writer who gave up that career track in order to actually have off on evenings, Saturdays and Sundays.

The friend who introduced me to the circuit around '07-'08, Terry Flanagan, often says it's the purest form of handicapping skill out there, and I tend to agree.

There's no hedging. You can't buy multiple entries for yourself, your spouse and three pet poodles in a bid to stack the deck. Picks must be locked in at least an hour before post time.

One-time fill-in PH.com editor's laments
diminished allure of 2018 contest
You must pick winners, and at times choose between that 3-to-5 shot you love -- and whether the $1.20 notional profit is enough reward for your risk in a six-month tournament -- or forgo that selection for a horse that's going to pay closer to $30 if you think the gigantic favorite can misfire.

And there's no turning back once your pick's locked in.

Yet there's a major difference this season.


The winner (and I forget, but it might have been two at one point) will not get a berth to the National Handicapping Horseplayers Championship (NHC).

Some critics love to bash the actual value of an NHC berth, arguing that the takeout is too high and NTRA is using it more to fund other ventures such as political lobbying and salaries.

Say what you want about the NHC structure, but the allure to me is having to win your way into the tournament in order to have a shot -- sorta like grinding it out over a 162-game MLB or 18-month NHL schedule (who else thinks hockey season is eternal?) to get a chance to win the title.

That being said, this year's prize for the best "public handicapper" is a berth to the 2019 Horseplayer World Series (HPWS), held at the Orleans in Las Vegas in late March and a tournament where anyone can walk in off the street and pay $1,500 to enter.

Is a free HPWS berth worth kicking to the curb?

Certainly not, especially when the Public Handicapper's entry fee is $0. Plus it's a good venue for those of us who don't want to plunk down parimutuels all the time to assess our skills or work on our handicapping game.

There's something on the line...even when there's physically nothing on the line.

It's also a potential way to attract new players, where the industry should turn its focus.

So, what has happened? A thicker alphabet soup.


Well, the Daily Racing Forum now seems to own Public Handicapper, and has cannibalized the tournament circuit even more with the rollout of something called "The World Championship of Handicapping."

WCH's premise of a zero-takeout $1 million contest is likely a better venue for those who've argued that NHC's roughly 30% fee is egregious and cheapens the allure of that tournament, but again...it's a tournament anyone can enter.

WCH is a higher $5,000 price point than HPWS, but same deal for me in that you don't earn your way into the event.

Without belaboring the issue, the sad part is that DRF isn't even using Public Handicapper to give away a direct entry to its own event.

Unless I'm missing the connection, I'm not sure HPWS ties into WCH at all.

Then again the alphabet soup that the handicapping-tournament circuit has become since I got involved is enough to make one's head spin.

It's a big enough reason why as a part-time player with limited disposable hours I'll likely remain focused on the NHC.

I don't have the time to try and qualify for what's shaping up to be dozens of major national tournament. Therefore I primarily focus on one.

And, in a subtle way, DRF minimized the value of Public Handicapper participation by negating the one-time benefit of PH as a scoring event for the NHC Tour standings.

That being said, the two-three free hours I've got this morning will be better spent picking up flowers and necessary ingredients for tomorrow's Mother's Day dinner.

Friday, May 4, 2018

2018 Kentucky Derby Pick: Bolt d'Oro

On the heels of turning $50 into $400 with successful win and primary trifecta wagers in the Kentucky Oaks (and live to three runners in the Oaks-Derby daily double), one would think that my confidence is sky high going into the Derby, but the Run for the Roses is the proverbial crapshoot.

There's not another North American where you'll find 20 horses in the starting gate, plus I don't think I've hit a Derby winner since Street Sense in 2007.

Since then, I'd have had more success finding water in the Sahara Desert than in the Derby.

Yet it's no fun to be on the sidelines, and so I'll take another shot at two-minute glory.

Bolt d'Oro is my selection.


In a field this large, you're halfway home if your horse(s) can survive the first 100-200 yards and avoid getting slammed or cut off in the run into the first turn. Successful horses tend to accomplish that first, then get close enough to the pace without overheating or drawing off too soon.

And there's no more savvy a Derby jockey in the field than Victor Espinoza, who knows a thing or two about winning at Churchill Downs -- on California Chrome and American Pharoah in case you forgot.

Espinoza climbs aboard Bolt for the first time, which could be construed as a negative, yet I see it as an enormous plus for a horse that's quick enough from the gate to establish a two- to three-wide spot off of race favorite Justify's flank. From there, it's all a matter of whether Bolt's talented enough to close the deal and fend off the challengers.

For my money, his 8-to-1 morning line and late-Friday "live" odds of 9-to-1 signal that, as a win proposition, we're sitting on about a $20 winner per $2 wager.

Justify and Hofburg are my key "underneath" horses.


It's hard to knock a 3-to-1 horse like Justify, who boasts far greater "speed figures" than most of the field, yet he's also only had three lifetime starts and needed to win the Santa Anita Derby in early April to earn the points to qualify for the Derby.

I played him in a handicapping contest that afternoon, and his win in that race locked up my berth in the 2019 National Horseplayers Championship.

Yet there are chinks in the armor, the main ones being that primary contender Bolt d'Oro already qualified for the Kentucky Derby and was using the Santa Anita race as a tune-up and experimented with sitting back further behind the leader. I'm merely speculating, but it looked to me like Bolt just needed the experience, while the rest of what was a bad field let Justify have his way and made him look stellar.

Don't get me wrong, I do think he's a great horse, but front-runners typically don't win wire-to-wire at the Derby's mile-and-a-quarter distance; and so I think he hits the board, but underneath the winner.

Hofburg, meanwhile, is intriguing. You'll get every bit of his 20-to-1 morning line, but his first time against other winners -- the Grade 1 Florida Derby on March 31 -- was certainly good enough to put him in the mix at Churchill Downs.

Here's a little on where I stand with each horse and likely Derby-specific wagers I'll be making on my annual $100 bankroll.

The Field 

  1. Firenze Fire (50-1): I learned my lesson backing the great Lookin at Lucky in 2010 from the rail and he practically got run into it before finishing a game fifth. That was on a really talented horse, and I wouldn't put this one in the same category. Pass.
  2. Free Drop Billy (30-1): Post-comprised as well, but I thought his 3rd-place finish in the Bluegrass at Keeneland on April 7 offers signs here that he can follow the speed-ball Promises Fulfilled out of the gate, avert disaster and ride the rail and maybe hit the board. I'm using him to round out my exacta and trifecta tickets. Probably 3rd at best, but maybe 2nd with a totally clean trip around the inside rail
  3. Promises Fulfilled (30-1): Will be up front with Justify for about a half mile at most then fade. Complete pass.
  4. Flameaway (30-1): Outran Free Drop Billy in the Bluegrass, but is doomed if Promises Fulfilled gets a better break from the gate. Need-the-lead type. Speed, fade. Pass.
  5. Audible (8-1): I know that horses off the Florida circuit have done well here, and you're getting the best of Todd Pletcher's four, but I can't get past his post position. The five hole should be opportune, but in this case I think he has way too many early-speed horses to each side who could compromise his chances. Concerned he'll be far back and have a lot of ground to make up, I'm using him strictly for 2nd and 3rd.
  6. Good Magic (12-1): Not sure why the two-year-old Breeders Cup champ got such a high morning-line, but I think he's in the same boat as Audible, though I think he'll sit closer to the pace. Same deal, using underneath in 2nd and 3rd.
  7. Justify (3-1): Much as we saw with the over-hyped Oaks favorite Midnight Bisou, I've got questions about such low odds for a horse with only three lifetime starts on one track. This guy seems to run with great ease, but let's see him hold the speed at 10 furlongs and deal with 19 others breathing down his neck. Can win, and will use as one of three Derby keys. I just see him finishing third at best.
  8. Lone Sailor (50-1): 0-for-7 since winning last September at Saratoga in a sprint. Won't get the distance. Closer with not huge late kick. Pass.
  9. Hofburg (20-1): If trying to cash a big win ticket, this is the play. Last I checked he was 23-to-1 in the live odds, but that's misguided. His second-place run in the Florida Derby was checkered a bit by a suspect ride by the other Ortiz brother (Jose), who settled early toward the rear, made a visually impressive run in the backstretch and then, perhaps on heels of others, pulled back a bit and lost all momentum before re-rallying to finish three lengths behind Audible. He's a live long-shot that I'm using in the win spot on exacta and trifecta tickets. 
  10. My Boy Jack (30-1): Deep closer who, if he hits the board, will do so from 10-15 length back. Somewhat useful for third or fourth.
  11. Bolt d'Oro (8-1): Battle-tested horse who's making his third start off a layoff and gets a great post where he can factor if positioned off Justify's flank in to the first turn and backstretch. The critics may pan his efforts, but he was all guts in the San Felipe in early March and further back from a wide post last November in the Breeders Cup Juvenile. NJHorseplayer.com winner.
  12. Enticed (30-1): One-paced stalker and I've learned my lesson putting stock in horses who look good coming out of the New York winter circuit. Pass.
  13. Bravazo (50-1): On paper many will say "no chance." Yet I'm using him underneath on all tickets. The pluses are a Grade 2 victory (Risen Star Stakes), a real grinder's approach and a jockey-trainer combo that has won recently at big odds (Warrior's Club at 23-to-1 in the Commonwealth Stakes at Keeneland on April 7). Write off this D. Wayne Lukas horse all you want, and maybe he runs as poorly as he did in the Louisiana Derby, but I think he's going to hang around the leaders for awhile and you may hear his name called late. Maybe not to win, but certainly to finish in the top four. 
  14. Mendelssohn (5-1): Crushed the field in the UAE Derby in Dubai in late March, but runner-up Rayya's complete flop in the Kentucky Oaks is less than flattering for the second-choice based on morning-line odds. Now, he did win the Breeders Cup Juvenile Turf in November on U.S. soil (grass, technically) but I think he's going to be over-bet and lack value. I'll play defense and use him in the 3rd spot in the trifecta, but not a lot of confidence.
  15. Instilled Regard (50-1): No speed, not a great stalker. Pass.
  16. Magnum Moon (6-1): Will take money off back-to-back graded stakes scores, but he has shown little versatility beyond a front-end tactic and, if he gets the lead, will need to work extremely hard to get it before fading. Pass.
  17. Solomini (30-1): One-paced horse who's a cut below. Pass.
  18. Vino Rosso (12-1): See Enticed. Has three wins, but on the weak Aqueduct and Tampa Bay Downs circuit, a formula for Pletcher to satisfy owners who want to run in the Derby. I'm not buying, especially from far outside. Pass.
  19. Noble Indy (30-1): Similar to Magnum Moon in tactics -- needs to get to the front -- and not nearly as good a horse as a Big Brown who won from way outside. Pass.
  20. Combatant (50-1): Broke maiden at Churchill last October. Is 0-for-5 since and never threatened to win those. What changes today? Pass.

Probably Wagers on $100 Bankroll

  • $10 Win 11 = $10
  • $5 Exacta Key Box: 11 with 7, 9 = $20
  • $1 Exacta Key Box: 11 with 2, 5, 6, 10, 13 = $10
  • $1 Exacta Key Box: 9 with 2, 5-7, 10, 13 = $12
  • $1 Exacta Key Box: 7 with 2, 5, 6, 9, 10, 13 = $12
  • $1 Trifecta: 11 with 7, 9 with 2, 5-7, 9, 10, 13 = $12
  • 50-cent Trifecta: 7, 9 with 11 with 2, 5-7, 9, 10, 13 = $6
  • 50-cent Trifecta: 7, 9 with 2, 5-7, 9, 10, 13 with 10, 11 = $11
  • 50-cent Pick 3, Races 10-12: 5 with 6, 7 with 2, 5-7, 9, 11, 13 = $7

Saturday Morning Additions, Thoughts on Undercard/Pick 5 Sequence


If you're going over to Monmouth Park for the live racing or to bet the Churchill Downs simulcast, here's a few ideas for the Kentucky Derby undercard. 

Race 8, Churchill Downs Stakes
  • #7, Limousine Liberal (4-1) almost won the Commonwealth at Keeneland off a 5-money layoff and loves the Churchill surface and distance, and can win on a wet track. I'm keying him in small daily double and Pick 3 tickets and estimate he nabs 9-5 Imperial Hint (#3) late.
Race 9, American Turf Stakes
  • #14, Admiralty Pier (12-1) is my top selection, and perhaps strongest opinion today. Also racing second off a 4-plus-month layoff and should find himself in a good stalking position off the primary early speed, #1 Speed Franco. There's a lot of big-time turf trainers with runners who can win here, but AP showed promise as a two-year-old and can score at a price. I'm wagering on this one to win, boxing with Speed Franco in an exacta, and using as top of 50-cent trifecta ticket over 1, 3, 6 and 10.
Race 10, Pat Day Mile
  • #5, Mississippi (10-1) is a one-turn horse who tried his hand and finished a fading third vs. Derby contestants Audible and Hofburg in the Grade 1 Florida Derby on March 31. I love the cutback in distance and draw for a horse who'll press the pace. I'd be surprised to get the 10-to-1 morning line but am using solely in Pick 3 wagers. I've got some "backup" 50-cent Pick 3 tickets using the 1, 7 and 8 in this race as well.
Race 11, Turf Classic
  • #6, Arklow (12-1) gets the edge over #7, Synchrony (5-1) for me. I'm going "light" on this race, considering the complexity of the field and presence of 5-to-2 Beach Patrol (#10), who's the class of the field but hasn't run since the Breeders Cup in early November. The two I've sided with have two 2018 races under their belt and are formidable enough to upset. I'm boxing them together in a $2 exacta and will key them over the 1, 2 and 10 in $1 exacta.
Good luck to everyone this afternoon!

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

2018 Kentucky Oaks Pick: Monomoy Girl

I'll get back into handicapping-contest themes next week, particularly the Public Handicapper's end to its ties with the NHC, but in keeping with tradition will use my next few posts to assess the Kentucky Oaks and Derby.

My Derby selections will be up by Friday.

The Oaks tends to get short shrift, set off a little after 6 p.m. ET when the average sports fan is slogging through the afternoon rush. But if you're around the television on Friday afternoon or at a pub enjoying happy hour, the coverage starts on NBCSN at 5 o'clock.

Monomoy Girl is my selection to win the Oaks and certainly worth watching, particularly against second-choice Midnight Bisou, shipping in from the California circuit.

Monomoy Girl, NJ Horseplayer's
2018 Kentucky Oaks selection,
wins the Ashland on April 7
I'm generally not a "chalk" player, but in my opinion it's a two-horse race, though we'll try to cash in on a $50 bankroll, hoping to roll trifecta and superfecta winnings into Saturday's Derby card.

First a little bit about on the Oaks field of 14:
  1. Sassy Sienna, 15-1: A closer/stalker type who can pass fading horses at the longer mile-and-an-eighth distance. Comes off a win in Grade 3 Fantasy Stakes at Oaklawn, where the pace was blistering and she beat out another of today's runners (Wonder Gadot), basically by sitting closer to the front-runner. Ceiling is 3rd or 4th.
  2. Coach Rocks, 12-1: Won the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Oaks on March 31 after breaking the maiden in her prior, but I'm concerned about getting squeezed by the horse just to her outside who's a burner and may leave Coach Rocks in the dust early on. Think she'll have too much ground to make up vs. better horses, but could hit the board; 3th-4th candidate.
  3. Classy Act, 15-1: The pacesetter. She'll carve out fast fractions before fading before the stretch run, similar to her two Grade 2 tries at Fair Grounds this spring. Using 4th in the superfecta.
  4. Chocolate Martini, 12-1: I know I should put much more stock in a horse coming off a Grade 2 score, but I'm having a hard time supporting a horse that a solid trainer (Bret Calhoun) ran in three straight low-level claiming races. Current trainer Tom Amoss has her in sharp form, backed by two bullet workouts in April, but to me something's fishy. Pass.
  5. Wonder Gadot, 20-1: She has hit the board in 8-of-9 tries, including three wins, though the last was back in December at Aqueduct as a two-year-old. This Mark Casse trainee has burned a lot of bettors' money, winless in her last four at odds averaging 2-to-1. With a 20-to-1 morning line I sense that many will have enough and she'll go off even higher, but she's very useful on exotic wagers. If nothing else, she'll get a garden trip as a stalker just off the primary speed horse (#3) and seems to work hard. I'm using her 3rd and 4th on the trifecta, and also 2nd for the super.
  6. Kelly's Humor, 30-1: Passing entirely, which I may regret considering top rider Irad Ortiz is aboard, but zero confidence in this one.
  7. Rayya, 12-1: She finished second in the UAE Derby to one of the Kentucky Derby wiseguy horses, Mendelssohn, but I'm inclined to pass on a horse that I think's going to take too much money. You could argue that a second-place showing for this filly vs. boys in the UAE gives her an edge vs. her own gender again, but there are too many things she's trying for the first time here -- new trainer, first-time Lasix, first-time racing in North America. Pass.
  8. Heavenhasmynikki, 50-1: Will contest pace early for about 6 furlongs then fade. Pass.
  9. Take Charge Paula, 15-1: Seen enough speed and fade from this one to know she's a sprinter and not a router. She had every opportunity to put Coach Rocks away in the Gulfstream Park Oaks and couldn't with the lead in the stretch. Will use 3rd and 4th at most.
  10. Midnight Bisou, 5-2: The aforementioned California invader will take a lot of money off well-timed closing effort in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks, but I'm using her solely underneath in my wagers, as I think she's best as a closer and will need everything to go her way in order to run down the field late and win. Can she win? Certainly. Yet California-based trainer Bill Spawr is 0-for-14 with shippers (he generally keeps to the state) and just two of those finished in the money. For my money, percentages are too low as a win proposition, but use her under.
  11. My Miss Lilly, 10-1: Local rider Joe Bravo again gets the mount after riding Lilly to a win in the Grade 2 Gazelle at Aqueduct last month. But the field in that one was middling. I had second-place finisher Sara Street as a handicapping-contest pick in that race, and she almost won at 5-to-1; but both had to work hard to put home a 20-to-1 shot that day in a six-horse field. I'm using her solely on the superfecta ticket, fourth at best.
  12. Patrona Margarita, 30-1: She completed a small trifecta ticket for me in the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland last month, but finished third almost by default. I think she regressed over her last two. Pass.
  13. Eskimo Kisses, 15-1: I was impressed by the ground she gobbled up late in the Ashland, but even trying hard she was never going to catch Monomoy Girl in that race. I'm using her on the trifecta and superfecta tickets, primarily as a closer who can pick up a share late.
  14. Monomoy Girl, 2-1: For my money, she's heads above the field. I was at Keeneland and saw her Ashland performance in person; was a thing of beauty, as she secured the lead from the rail and never looked back. Looked like a paid workout. Visually, it was one of the most stunning performances I've ever seen, and I think her outside post isn't a concern. Two races back she came from seven lengths off the pace to win the Grade 2 Rachel Alexandra Stakes at Fair Grounds in February, and she even looked a bit green in the stretch in her fifth lifetime start. Tactically, I think Florent Geroux just needs a clean break from the widest post and can settle third or fourth off the leader and mow 'em down in the stretch. She's also capable as a front-runner, making her super versatile. I'm using her as a single on my tickets to win the 2018 Kentucky Oaks. 

Kentucky Oaks Wagers

Consistent with the $50 bankroll I've kept in year's past, my plays:
  • $10 Win 14, *if Monomoy Girl goes off at least 2-to-1
  • $2 Trifecta: 14 with 5, 10 with 1, 2, 5, 9, 10, 13 = $20
  • $0.50 Trifecta: 5, 10 with 14 with 1, 2, 5, 9, 10, 13 = $5
  • $0.50 Trifecta: 5, 10 with 1, 2, 5, 9, 10, 13 with 14 = $5
  • $6 Oaks-Derby Double: 14 with 11 (Bolt D'Oro) = $6
  • $2 Oaks-Derby Double: 14 with 9 (Hofburg), 13 (Bravazo) = $4
  • *Superfecta (cannot bet in 10-cent denominations via 4NJBets, hence scratching out this one) : 14 with 5, 10, 13 with 1, 2, 5, 9, 10, 13 with 1-3, 5, 9, 11, 13





Saturday, April 21, 2018

When Contest Handicapping and Trainer Intent Collide

Trainers are willing to lose a race from time to time.

Well, except for Chad Brown, at least when I "bet against." 

At those points, it's best for you to the sprint to the window and bet his entries.

Your house will be safe, so feel free to go "all in" and bet it on the Chadster when I'm chilly.

Seriously though...

"Trainer intent" has become a bigger angle in my handicapping, and can be for you, particularly in assessing today's "free" NHC Tour qualification tournament.

I have zero inside knowledge, but often consider why a trainer will picks a certain spot to run his or her horse. Once in awhile you'll get bits of information from an on-track interview on TVG, a track's in-house feed or on social media.

Yet otherwise, we're often left to speculate.

In the context of a handicapping contest, I usually try to identify the most-vulnerable favorites on the card and reasons behind those vulnerabilities, since the only way to make waves in a handicapping contest with over 2,000 entrants -- many shooting for huge long-shots -- is to find a credible few.

This morning was no different in preparing for the 12-race card, with one horse in particular meeting my core parameters -- an over-rested horse that's likely to be overbet and is using the current race to prep for an even bigger one.

Hawksmoor


This accomplished mare is making the first start of her five-year-old campaign in the Dahlia B at Laurel Park -- Race 7, scheduled to run at 4:10 p.m. ET.

This $100,000 stakes race will go one mile on the turf and has scratched down to 8 runners.

In my opinion, Hawksmoor will be sent off below her 7-to-5 morning line, probably in the 2-to-5 or 3-to-5 range. So bettors and contest players alike will be lucky to get about a dollar of profit for every two on a win wager.

I'm not averse to playing favorites in contests or in cash betting, but in this case I'll speculate that this race checks off a few boxes for trainer Arnaud Delacour:
  • Really soft field
  • Preferred surface (turf)
  • "Paid workout," e.g. a chance to pick up an easy $60,000 winner's share for owner Lael Stables, perhaps best known as the owners and breeders of the late, great Barbaro
  • Easy prep for a graded stakes race
Key "knocks": 0-for-5 in North American races outside of Belmont Park,
1-for-5 at the 1-mile distance on turf, and prepping for a bigger future race

Hawksmoor is entirely capable of a rout, even if not 100% on her game.

We're talking about a three-time graded stakes winner (Grades 2 and 3) who is three lengths shy of back-to-back Grade 1 wins last autumn at the prestigious Keeneland and Del Mar Bing Crosby meets. The last time we saw her was in late November, a length behind Off Limits in the Matriarch.

Rested...and Ready?


Hawksmoor was given more than two months of rest before returning to training on February 9, and she has consistently worked well leading up to today.

Her front-running style should play favorably under Julien Leparoux, one of the best turf riders in North America, and especially more with the scratch of 5-to-1 I'm Betty G, another gal who was sure to pressure the early pace.

There's a cheap sprinter shipping in from Penn National, but doesn't belong on the same track with Hawksmoor, who's nearing the $1 million mark in lifetime winnings in just three years.

One could argue that all of the other runners fit the same profile, though I'm willing to bet the connections are not as concerned with winning today's race so much as Hawksmoor coming out of it healthy and ready for the Grade 3 Gallorette at Pimlico on Preakness Day, as she's been nominated for that one along with several other top runners -- certainly better ones than in the Dahlia.

Broken Bridle Is Worth a Look


Figuring that Hawksmoor and the 6, 30-to-1 Tanya's Gem (the aforementioned Penn shipper), set the tempo, I'm playing a horse that should sit just off the pace, has been in the winner's circle before...

...and whose connections probably want to win the race.

Broken Bridle, the 7, fits the bill at odds of 12-to-1.

This five-year-old mare also is making her 2018 debut. She hasn't run since late August at Laurel, but has hit the board in 9 of 10 starts at that track and sports several snappy works in preparation for today's stakes try. 

She finished ninth of 10 in her lone stakes attempt, the Grade 3 Commonwealth Oaks in September 2016, but ran gamely and I sense is tuned up enough for local trainer Gary Capuano. 

And this is no Grade 3 field, except for Hawksmoor.

Broken Bridle is not only the kind of horse worth playing in a notional-money handicapping contest, as she'll likely draw minimal attention based on a so-so background, she's also a use on my Pick 3 and 4 wagers on the side.

No matter what happens in the Dahlia, I think it's important for horseplayers to think a little bit more about trainers' motivations for entering their horses and to consider that, often, the goal for today's race may be more about a better opportunity down the road. 

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Something Funny Happened Along The Way To Vegas

Hey, there's a lot of time to kill over a guys' weekend away from our families.

On the 75-minute drive last Friday from Cincinnati to Keeneland Race Course with @RedRockOrBust, trainer D. Wayne Lucas came up as one of our far-flung subjects of discussion.

You know, the type of exchanges you'll never hear at the dinner table or on the long, daily train or bus ride commute from work.

Anyway, horse racing was the center of most discussion, considering our plans for two straight days at the illustrious Lexington, KY, track and a visit to the Thoroughbred Center.

I had noticed in preparation for last Saturday's NHC qualification tournament on HorseTourneys.com that the Hall of Fame trainer with 14 lifetime Triple Crown wins -- Oxbow, the last, at 15-1 in the 2013 Preakness -- entered a few horses at Keeneland over the weekend.

Our discussion speculated on his motivations at age 82 after an immensely accomplished career, as well as those of owners who hire trainers (and there are few in the octogenarian ranks)...not to mention why tournament players like us would jump to play his runners.

The latter, especially so, considering Lukas' mere 2-for-90 in stakes tries since 2017 and that he's not winning at nearly the breakneck pace of his glory days of the 1980-90s.

Yet as fate would have it, Lukas' 23-1 Warrior's Club -- the second-longest shot in the nine-horse Grade 3 Commonwealth Stakes -- was the key to my earliest qualification ever to the NTRA National Horseplayers Championship.


I've earned my way into the 19th-annual NHC next February in Las Vegas, largely courtesy of Warrior's Club, but also 10-to-1 winner Spiced Perfection in the Evening Jewel Stakes at Santa Anita just 12 minutes after, and two short-priced favorites in the later stages of my contest.

My third-place HorseTourneys.com finish among 219 entries was good enough to get a shot at the $3 million NHC 19 and to put to rest any concerns about missing out for a third-straight year after qualifying for NHC 15 and 16.

Hey, Nothing Wrong With a Little Luck


"KEE 6" Contest Selections:
5, Conquest Windycity
4, Warrior's Club
The funny part is that Warrior's Club was merely an alternate contest selection after 15-1 Shut the Box, my top pick and a key in my contest preparation, was a pre-race scratch.

Yet, I had to make Warrior's Club a main contest play after subconsciously punching him as a single in the final leg of my separate Pick 3 ticket -- one that was worth $497 if he miraculously won the race.

In all honesty, I intended to use another horse -- one that ultimately did not hit the board in the Commonwealth Stakes. My contest card proves that, as I used Conquest Windycity in one of my two tournament plays.

Instead, Warrior's Club got a perfect trip under jockey Luis Contreras to pay $48.80 to win (capped at $42 for contest purposes). Not too shabby.

Karma Continues


The next (of 12) contest races vaulted me to the top of the leader board, as Spiced Perfection edged out vulnerable 2-to-5 favorite Show It N Moe It to win the Evening Jewel three time zones away.




The combined $29.60 of win and place earnings proved powerful, as several shorter-priced horses for the duration of the HorseTourneys.com contest made it difficult for people to make up ground.

Among them were two that I had, including 3-to-10 Monomoy Girl in the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland and 9-to-10 Justify in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby, a key Kentucky Derby prep.

Combined, those two winners provided me just $10.70 of winnings, but that proved enough to stave off the competition and lock up an NHC 19 berth.

So, Now What?


NHC 19 is still almost a full year away.

You may recall that my last post assessed the new NHC Tour points accrual structure and how it favors high-volume players.

Contemplating what I should do now that my NHC spot is assured, yet 10 months from now, I'll revisit that theme next time around.

A deeper reading of the rules structure uncovered some interesting opportunities, even for the weekend player like me who generally lacks the volume of play as full-timers on the NHC circuit.