Saturday, July 20, 2019

Haskell Pick (If It Ever Runs): Everfast

I waited to post thoughts until after Monmouth Park management made a not-to-surprising debacle out of its biggest and most profitable racing day.

Saturday's turn of events doesn't surprise me one bit, in that Monmouth had a few days to follow the lead of Saratoga and three other Mid-Atlantic peers and reschedule and/or run an abbreviated morning or twilight program, and instead doubled-down on an awful hand, insistent on running a 14-race card in a 110-degree-plus heat index.

The error wasn't so much because of the heat itself, but because selling out to NBC to broadcast on a Saturday instead of the usual Sunday was not only going to hurt attendance and handle. It also put it into an enormous safety spotlight in the wake of 30 racing fatalities at Santa Anita Park during the spring meet. Others that I respect also tweeted for days that Monmouth should have postponed.

Rather, it only drew more negative attention and turned off paying customers after events in California sullied the sport. Santa Anita's ownership group has basically done everything in its power to sabotage the racing product to be able to cash in on the extremely valuable land. It's my opinion their concern about safety is halfhearted at best.

So in that context, a venue like Monmouth Park had decisions to make, and made the wrong ones and further dented its credibility by insisting on full steam ahead. Now, you've got annoyed patrons, unwanted attention and tons of questions about what the heck's going on there.

Anyway, enough of that. With the adjusted 8:05 p.m. scheduled post time for the Haskell, I had a little more time to dig into handicapping the race, assuming it still goes off as planned. If you're still planning on playing the race, or can use the delay as an opportunity to catch out what could be a decent twilight all-stakes card of 5 races, here's a little info on the 7-horse Haskell.

I'll rate them in my order of preference, from best to worst.

#6, Everfast (10-1): I get that this guy's 1-for-12 lifetime, and this isn't a pound-the-table call, but a repeat of his Preakness runner-up finish will be good enough to beat a blazing field where you can poke holes in each of the front-runners. The Pat Day Mile on May 4 will prove to be a key 3-year-old race. Winner Mr. Money would have been my bet-the-house pick if entered in the Haskell, but instead he went and romped in the Grade 3 Indiana Derby last Saturday night (hint to Monmouth Park and the Oceanport town council). Runner-up Hog Creek Hustle impressed in winning the Woody Stephens on June 8 at 18-to-1. Everfast finished fifth in the Pat Day, but I sense was more forwardly-placed than preferred in a one-turn race that's shorter than the Haskell, and should relish both the added distance and fast fractions. I like the rider switch to the patient Julien Leparoux. Everfast will be prominent on my tickets and is my selection to win the 2019 Haskell Invitational, rolling late.

#7, Maximum Security (8-5): I really wanted to back this guy as my top choice, and he could very well be the best in the field and win, but I'm worried that he could struggle if he doesn't get the lead position through the first turn. Max has a win from off the pace, but that was in a sprint on the mud in his second lifetime start against way softer company. Like most of the other fast starters today, it's unclear whether he'd take to sitting mid-pack, say, and getting dirt kicked in his face. I'm more inclined to think he's got to be able to withstand 22, 45 and 1:09-type fractions through the first three quarters of the race plus outlast everyone to the wire. Trip-wise I think he'll be right there to see who's first to the finish line, but he'll fade a bit late and get passed by a closing Everfast. I'll use him in the win spot on some tickets, but otherwise underneath in the second and third spots at worst.

#1, King for a Day (5-2): The slipper's on the other foot for the King this time, breaking from the rail draw that's unfavorable today with so many front-runners in the race. His win in the Pegasus vs. Maximum Security was legit, though he caught a horse who almost tossed the jockey at the start, and still had to gut it out to win. It'll be interesting to see whether jockey John Velazquez sits chilly from the gate and reserves energy for a later, closing-type run or engages the early speed. I'm not worried about him getting the jump on #2 Joevia early on, but rather getting pinned in by two horses with no chance of winning -- #3 Spun to Run and #4 Bethlehem Road. Switch posts with Max and I may give the nod here, but drawn inside, I sense it's either speed-and-fade and hold on for a minor award, or a mid-pack effort where he passes the faders. Using second through fourth, just not in the win spot.

#5, Mucho Gusto (2-1): Alright, he's going to be the post-time favorite, and I get that Bob Baffert has won more Haskell titles and eaten more at Max's Hot Dogs than me, but I went back and watched the Sunland Derby as it was the one two-turn race where Mucho Gusto faced fast fractions. In that prep for the Kentucky Derby, he broke sharply and cleanly from the inside post, rode the rail around and started to wilt after putting up a 1:09.3 for three-quarters. In my opinion, his two wins coming into the Haskell (both Grade 3 races in California) look stylish on paper, but were in comfortable fractions that he won't see here. Tactically I see him trying to get the jump on Maximum Security, which could happen. I just have questions about stamina as two of his two losses were both at a mile-plus. I'm not as high as a win prospect here, but will use defensively in the exacta, trifecta and multi-race exotics.

#3, Spun to Run (15-1): There's a lot to dislike, including a 4-month layoff, first-time blinkers and climbing a half-dozen rungs up the class later into Grade 1 stakes competition. Yet local jockey Paco Lopez can be an asset, knowing how to ride this course. Fourth-place ceiling.

#1, Joevia (10-1): Alright, alright. I shouldn't knock the third-place finisher from the Belmont Stakes, but he got the easiest of trips -- slow fractions, unchallenged, rode the rail all the way around -- and still couldn't close the deal. Past performances reflect he's generally always near the lead, but in my opinion those were underwhelming slow races, and I could see him bouncing badly off the Belmont and therefore will leave him off my tickets.

#4, Bethlehem Road (20-1): Sorry, can't consider a credible play off a 23-length loss in the Grade 3 Ohio Derby in a six-horse field. We'll hear his name for about half the race before he fades into obscurity and returns to races at Parx where he belongs. Pass.

Probable Wagers

I don't intend to put much money into this race, as I don't think it's that good a bet. That said, here's a few ideas I'm considering -- all trifectas. I'll likely use Everfast and Maximum Security in the Pick 5.

$10 trifecta 6 with 7 with 1, 5 = $20
$3 trifecta 1, 7 with 6 with 1, 5, 7 = $12
$2 trifecta 1, 7 with 1, 5, 7 with 6 = $8 (the latter two to maybe break even on three trifecta plays)

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Grade 1 Diana Tops PH Contest Card

After taking a collar last weekend in three races, I'm eager to get back in the win column on a 4-race Public Handicapper slate that's highlighted by the shortest yet most intriguing race -- the Grade 1 Diana Stakes on the first weekend at Saratoga Race Course.

There are some serious champions in the field, though my Preakness Stakes pick of the day -- Mitchell Road -- returns to the track and I think has a strong chance for an upset win.

There's also a pair of races at Arlington, outside of Chicago, with Race 7 -- the Arlington Handicap -- looking a lot tougher to handicap than the Hatoof Stakes (Race 5). The fourth is a so-so field of Grade 3 talent at Woodbine in Toronto.

After surviving the Belmar 5 this morning, I'm hoping a day of some ocean and beach put me in the zone for picking some winners. Let's find out.

Arlington Park, Race 5: Hatoof Stakes, 4:38 p.m. ET

Selection: #2, Delta's Kingdom (5-1)
Alternates: #4, Indigo Gin (8-1); #6, Princess Carolina (5-2)

Two scratches reduce this to only a mildly interesting 7-horse field. There's nothing majorly scientific about my choice of Delta's Kingdom. She faced tougher on June 15 in the Grade 3 Regret at Churchill Downs and ran a decent 5th vs. 10 others and outran today's favorite, Princess Carolina. It was her first try vs. stakes competition, and this looks like a softer spot facing other horses who mostly beat older, softer fields. Delta Kingdom may be late early on, but should be strong late.

Woodbine, Race 8: Ontario Matron Stakes, 4:50 p.m.

Selection: #4, Giovanna Blues (20-1)
Alternates: #7, Niigon's Bay (6-1); #8, Katie Baby (5-2)

I liked the alternates above enough to use in a small exacta box with Giovanna Blues, a long-shot on paper. Yet if you dig a little you'll find that she's a decent horse on synthetic tracks (2-for-4) and had a good 2019 debut vs. similar-level stakes competition, finishing 6th only beaten about 2 lengths. Two really aggressive workouts since tell me she's perhaps in good form for her second start with a trainer I admittedly don't know. I generally don't like closer types at the mile-and-a-sixteenth distance on this track, but believe Giovanna's a major upset prospect. She has also gotten support on the odds, listed at 13-to-1 as of 3 p.m. ET.

Arlington Park, Race 7: Arlington Handicap, 5:46 p.m.

Selection: #5, El Picaro (9-2)
Alternates: #7, The Great Day (6-1); #9, Callum Road (9-2)

I think this'll be one of the more-formful races of the four this afternoon, but didn't like 7-2 favorite Bandua's post position, as he's going to have to work to clear some front-runners to establish a decent position. I think he runs the risk of getting hemmed in, and instead landed on Chilean shipper El Picaro. He ran a decent sixth in both his U.S. and 2019 debut at Churchill on June 15. The competition that day in the Grade 2 Wise Dan was more serious than this, and a sharp June 29 workout suggests jockey Jose Valdivia Jr. has a live mount who may be comfortable on the lead if needed. I'd prefer him to be on the front end, as I think Arlington's turf is more challenging for closer types. We'll see, but either way I think he could go higher than his 9-to-2 morning line.

Saratoga, Race 9: Diana Stakes, 5:46 p.m.

Selection: #3, Mitchell Road (8-1)
Alternates: #4, Sistercharlie (8-5); #6, Homerique (5-2)

The intrigue in a field of six that includes four trained by Chad Brown is who takes the lead. I love these tactical types of races. The three inside horses all seem to want the lead, and I sorta think Brown entered 15-to-1 rail horse Thais as a rabbit for his other runners, namely #2 Rushing Fall, who's on the verge of breaking $2 million in winnings and has lost just once (by a neck) in nine lifetime races. She's serious for sure, though I think we may see jockey Javier Castellano sit patiently and stalk the stablemate. Mitchell Road is the X factor. Though she won the Gallorette wire-to-wire on May 18, the race prior at Fairgrounds showed Mitchell Road can rate a bit. I think jockey Jose Lezcano will try and beat Castellano to the punch for the position just off Thais' flank. If he's able to do that, I think we've got a shot at an upset vs. some very prominent turf runners.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Stars and Stripes Selections in Public Handicapper Contest

Hopefully everyone had a safe and enjoyable July 4 celebration!

This week the Public Handicapper editors give us a challenging Pick 4 sequence at Belmont Park, capped off by a Grade 2 Suburban that's stacked for the Stars and Stripes Festival.

I'm skipping the first one -- Race 7, the Belmont Oaks Invitational -- as I've got no feel for a 9-horse field with three European shippers and one from Japan, and where one of trainer Chad Brown's trio (5-to-2 favorite and speed ball Newspaperofrecord) is vulnerable and may be a setup scenario for his other two runners, neither of which I love. I'll skip on making a selection there.

Otherwise here's my thoughts on Races 8-10, including my pick of the day -- #10, Cordmaker, in the Suburban -- who has a chance to blow up the tote vs. a prohibitive 9-to-5 favorite.

Belmont, Race 8: Nerud Stakes, 5:05 p.m.

Selection: #3, Warrior's Club (10-1)
Alternates: #4, Nicodemus (6-1); #8, Pat On the Back (4-1)

My half-dozen readers will know I've got a thing for Warrior's Club, who got me to February's National Horseplayer Championship (NHC) with a 23-1 win last April at Keeneland. Yet this guy is 0-for-10 since -- somewhat alarming, though I like his post position and that I think he's freshened (2-month layoff) and could secure the rail pretty easily. If he's not within two lengths of the lead coming into the stretch, he's cooked and we'll know early whether he's got a chance to win. Outside of #9 Promises Fulfilled (the 2-to-1 morning line favorite), I think there's not much legitimate early speed in this 9-horse field. The widest draw hurts his chances, as he'll really have to gun for the lead. Lower-caliber horses like #5 Killybegs Captain and #6 Bon Raison (both 15-to-1) may gun it too, setting up a scenario where whichever of the four horses closest to the rail gets an opportunity for a golden, ground-saving trip and wins. Tactically, Warrior's Club is best-suited, with rail horse Majestic Dunhill a dead closer, #2 New York Central more of a stalker type, and #4 Nicodemus somewhere in between. Public Handicapper players have Warrior's Club at half his morning line, but I think real-money bettors will toss this D. Wayne Lucas trainee and we could get 10-to-1. Warrior's Club is an honest runner that's 5-for-32 lifetime, including 2 wins at today's distance. A modest early tempo that makes it harder for the closers to make up late ground puts Warrior's Club right in the mix.

Belmont, Race 9: Belmont Derby, 5:44 p.m.

Selection: #5, Plus Que Parfait (15-1)
Alternates: #13, Digital Age (9-2); #12, Demarchelier (6-1)

I'm not going to overthink this one -- a 14-horse field with several serious turf runners at a mile-and-a-quarter. As much as I panned this guy in my Kentucky Derby analysis, I'm going with long-shot Plus Que Parfait this afternoon, trying turf a second time after his third-place debut on the grass last July at little-known Ellis Park in Kentucky. From there it took two more tries to get his debut win on dirt, followed by the usual silliness of anyone with a half-decent horse campaigning their horse for the Kentucky Derby, whether suited for the dirt of not. This guy got into the Run for the Roses by virtue of a win in Dubai in March, then ran a better-than-expected 8th of 19 in the Derby. He got a full four weeks of rest from published works after that and has since posted two on turf that signal he'll eventually be pointed full-time to the grass and will be fresh here. The horse he beat to the wire in the Derby -- Win Win Win -- did similar, impressively winning (albeit at a shorter distance and vs. less-accomplished horses) a black-type stakes on July 4 on the Belmont turf, and at 4-to-1 odds. Based on the Public Handicapper odds (as of 11 a.m. ET) of 16-to-1, I'm pretty confident Plus Que Parfait will at least hold his 15-to-1 morning line, and at that rate I'm willing to take the plunge on a horse who faced much tougher (Maximum Security, War of Will, Country House, Hog Creek Hustle...Win Win Win) than his turf-focused foes, including the Chad Brown runners.

Belmont, Race 10: Suburban Stakes, 6:18 p.m.

Selection: #10, Cordmaker (12-1)
Alternates: #4, Marconi (6-1); #3, Rocketry (8-1)

Catholic Boy is rightfully the clear favorite (9-to-5) -- $2 million winner, top-flight victories on turf and dirt, rail draw today off a relatively easy win on the grass on Preakness Day. Yet the pace is going to be honest at today's mile-and-a-quarter distance, with my alternate selection Marconi on a three-race winning streak and a horse that maybe has finally figured things out after a fruitless three-year-old campaign and will be breathing down Catholic Boy's neck. I really like an outsider here -- 12-to-1 Cordmaker, who's completely dead on the Public Handicapper board at about 30-to-1. I'm shocked that 4x the number of people like #11 Pavel instead. Cordmaker is an off-the-pace invader from Maryland for little-known (to New York players) trainer Rodney Jenkins, who shrewdly picks his spots if based on 6 wins in 14 tries this year when shipping from his Laurel-Pimlico base. Cordmaker comes into today off a 7-furlong win on June 16 at Laurel vs. Race 8 entrant Majestic Dunhill and with a better trip would have won the Grade 3 Pimlico Special on May 17. In that race the horse got completely bottled up and made an eye-catching 8-wide run in the stretch before simply running out of room; he finished third vs. Tenfold. This afternoon he draws wide on Belmont's quirky 1.25-mile configuration but moves with ease, and I think will benefit by following also-ran early pacemaker #9 Realm out of the starting gate. To me, this son of Curlin has a major chance for an upset. Completely surprised the PH editors didn't give this one a closer look, and that contest players have basically dismissed. All the better for me, I suppose. Ideally he's going to sit midpack, get into his stride and come rolling home late.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Wetting My Whistle on Queen's Plate Day

After going winless in my Public Handicapper contest plays last Saturday, my attention is turned to Woodbine in Toronto, where the feature is the $1 million Queen's Plate, headlined by a promising three-year-old named Avie's Flatter.

I'm going elsewhere in that one, landing on a 15-to-1 shot that's got some sneaky good efforts in his past performances, and am making Wet Your Whistle my top play in the race prior. I'm an enormous Caribou Club fan and respect his 7-to-5 odds in the Highlander (Race 9), but think he's not necessarily a 6-furlong horse and will want more distance.

We'll see. Without further adieu, my four selections this week, along with a Pick 5 ticket for the Race 9-13 sequence, since I spent the time handicapping the contest card.

Woodbine, Race 9: Highlander Stakes, 4:51 p.m.

Selection: #7, Wet Your Whistle (10-1) -- Won, paid $9.60
Alternates: #2, Caribou Club (7-5) -- fifth; #1, Extravagant Kid (6-1) -- second

One of my favorite horses, Caribou Club is every bit of 7-to-5. Seven lifetime victories, including three Grade 2 wins from June to January, but didn't handle the course in Dubai in March while finishing last of 13 in a $2 million stakes vs. top sprinters. That one's a complete toss -- maybe he also didn't like the travel -- but other than this being a soft Grade 1 field, I have doubts whether Club will like this short a distance and if his closing kick will be effective. That's why I'm turning to Wet Your Whistle. Clearly he's making a major perceived jump in class, but in a field this small where I think 4 of the 9 runners don't stand a chance, I'm willing to back a horse who seems to be learning to settle and had great late kick his last two races vs. softer foes. Perhaps the light bulb has finally turned on for this 4-year-old gelding, who is certainly going to get enough early speed to chase and I think will sit midpack before wheeling home at a price. Alex Cintron makes the trip for Maryland-based trainer Mike Trombetta, who is only 1-for-20 winning graded stakes in 2019, but has a live one here coming off two bullet workouts at Fair Hill. Just too many doubts about El Tormenta bouncing off a top effort in a Grade 2 win earlier this month, and am tepid on the rail horse.

Woodbine, Race 10: Queens Plate, 5:36 p.m.

Selection: #7, Federal Law (15-1) -- 7th; tired late
Alternates: #1, Desert Ride (8-1) -- 5th; #14, Avie's Flatter (5-2) -- 2nd place

It wouldn't surprise me in the least if one of my alternates wins. Avie's Flatter is a deserving favorite off of two restricted stakes wins in Canada last fall and a Grade 3 victory in the Transylvania at Keeneland in April on turf. Particularly in a mile-and-a-quarter race, the wide draw bothers me a bit, however, for a horse that I anticipate wants to be toward the early mix and may need to go a little faster than normal early to secure a good stalking position. In instead landed on Federal Law, who's 11-to-1 on the odds board and showed good tactical ability at times, almost beating Avie's Flatter in November in a good optional-claiming race and winning a 7-furlong Ontario-bred race last month at Woodbine. To me the question with him is whether European jockey Jamie Spencer gets Federal Law to settle into a good stride midpack. If he can, then I think we've got a live long-shot. If not, and the horse is all geeked up and headstrong at the start, my chances of a win decrease. Think Desert Ride's a serious contender here too, as she ran a second faster in her Woodbine Oaks win on June 8 than most of the other boys today ran in their prior races.

Woodbine, Race 12: C$67,500 Allowance, 6:54 p.m.

Selection: #9, Viewfinder (5-1) -- 8th; never really involved
Alternates: #10, Tricky Magician (10-1) -- 7th; involved early, swallowed up; #4, Split My Pants (4-1) -- Won, paid $8.20

I really wanted to make Tricky Magician my top choice, but think the half-year layoff could be a detriment for a three-year-old making is first start of 2019 vs. seasoned foes. I'll use him on my Pick 5 ticket, but not as my top choice. That selection goes to the horse to his inside, Viewfinder. This 4-year-old Michael Keogh trainee makes his second start of the year after a solid off-the-pace third at the same level on June 2. On paper, to me it looks like he made tremendous progress in each race since July 15 and is a horse that's maturing and capable in a deep field. There's a lot of speed in this race, so I'd look for Eurico Da Silva to sit toward the rear, save ground, and make a big late charge.

Woodbine, Race 13: C$62,500 Optional Claimer, 7:23 p.m.

Selection: #12, Killag Katie (8-1) -- 4th after bad start
Alternates: #2, Silent Respect (8-1) -- 7th; also bad start; #3, Sanity (7-2) -- 3rd; lost by about 3

Thought hard about using Silent Respect as my top choice, but think Da Silva has another horse here that he can let comfortably get into stride before surging late to win. I think the horses in gates 5-11 are going to gun for the lead; all are front-runners, letting Killag Katie move toward the rail early and draft behind the front-runners. Tactically I think we're in a better position than Silent Respect, whose rail draw I see as that 4-year-old filly's only detriment. Sanity wouldn't surprise me as the favorite, but I didn't like that mare's last two one-paced efforts.

Pick 5 Play: I'm dabbling in the 20-cent pick 5 that starts with Race 9; believe it'll cost me $19.20

  • 2, 7 with 1, 7, 14 with 8, 11 with 4, 8-10 with 2, 12

Friday, June 21, 2019

Ollie's Candy a Lock in Wilshire: Public Handicapper Picks

A week after nailing a $13.80 winner and three of my alternate selections won their races, this weekend's Public Handicapper card isn't nearly as strong as last week's that featured an intriguing Stephen Foster Stakes evening card at Churchill Downs.

The editors had the unenviable task of slim pickings, and nothing looks all that great on the U.S. thoroughbred circuit, eventually settling on the Grade I United Nations from Monmouth Park, a pair of stakes at Santa Anita and our first time this contest seeing Canterbury Park in Minnesota. All four are on turf, and here I'll do my best to give you identifying likely win prospects in the first three.

I'm likely to pass on the Canterbury race, contingent on weather and my completely lack of familiarity with and interest in that track.

On the season I'm 6 for 27 with a bankroll of +$75.30 on notional $2 win wagers. That's good for 11th nationally of 2,764 players registered and sixth best among NHC Tour players.

Monmouth Park, Race 11: United Nations Stakes, 5:28 p.m.

Selection: #1, Bigger Picture (3-1)
Alternates: #4, Focus Group (2-1); #2, Channel Cat (7-2)

The deeper I dug, the less I really loved anyone here, though Bigger Picture with Monmouth's top rider Joe Bravo is very playable. I don't expect to get 3-1, but think 2-1 or 5-2 is realistic and am not about to kick a $6-$7 win mutuel to the curb as others lose a mythical $2 stabbing in a field where chalk should prevail. With about 25% of selections made, Todd Pletcher trainee Channel Cat is 2-1, consistent with what PH editors Scott Carson and Chris Larmey have said on their weekly podcast about players loving that trainer's horses. Granted, the four-year-old has room to grow vs. more-seasoned horses here [e.g. Bigger Picture is 8], but his ceiling thus far has been two overnight stakes victories at so-so tracks. Bravo puts BP in a great stalking position and gets his 14th win in 41 starts.

Santa Anita, Race 6: Snow Chief Stakes, 6:33 p.m.

Selection: #5, Carnivorous (12-1)
Alternates: #4, Irish Heatwave (3-1); #3, Prodigal Son (12-1)

This isn't a very good race either, and I've got somewhat unusual reasons for backing a 12-to-1 shot who has never run more than 6.5 furlongs let alone Saturday's mile-and-an-eighth distance. The favorite, 5-to-2 Our Silver Oak, isn't worth that price with a 1-for-10 lifetime record, so I'm looking elsewhere. Trainer Jonathan Wong is a monster in Northern California at Golden Gate Fields, but here he's going up against the top SoCal trainers, including three Doug O'Neill runners. Carnivorous is one of 'em. He ran just eight days ago, which gives me some pause, but his two turf tries (second- and third-place finishes vs. $80,000 open claimers; most of Saturday's foes ran exclusively vs. state-bred horses) showed a liking of the grass, and I love sprinters going first time two turns who've shown tactical ability. Abel Cedillo rides, coming down from Golden Gate and a really good turf rider there, plus 30% in 57 starts on grass. If Cedillo can get him to settle behind apparent speed-and-fade types, I think Carnivorous -- with a 4 lb. weight break since last time -- can be first one across the finish line as the others gasp for air and flatten out. The 19-to-1 odds on as of about 11 p.m. ET on Friday are silly. Well worth the shot.

Santa Anita, Race 8: Wilshire Stakes, 7:36 p.m.

Selection: #1, Ollie's Candy (5-1)
Alternates: #3, Simply Breathless (6-1); #4, Poster Girl (12-1)

It's quite possible Ollie's Candy routs this crew. This isn't a good field. Most of the horses in posts 6-11 aren't playable for me, including co-third choice #11 Tapped, as 6-to-1 is way too short for a five-year-old with two lifetime wins, both on dirt, and that last won in January 2017. Completely not my cup of tea. On the other hand, Ollie's Candy is a four-year-old making her second start this year after a seventh-place (of eight) finish in the Grade 1 Gamely on May 27, a race where replay confirms the jockey hand-rode the horse about the entire race, let her get into a stride before she made up incremental ground very late in the stretch and galloped out well past the other runners, including the powerful Vasilika, who's the gold standard in California. Two bullet works since that race indicates Ollie's Candy's ready to fire, with rider Kent Desormeaux riding a fresh and talented horse who's cutting back in distance and I sense is completely fit. Amazing she's 5-to-1; would be a steal at that price, akin to free money.

Canterbury Park, Race 6: Mystic Lake Mile, 8:52 p.m

As of Friday evening, I'm passing on this race. Too many variables -- a track I never play, 14 horses entered and chance of showers and thunderstorms that could take the race off turf.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Key Weekend Stakes Picks

[Updated Sunday morning with results; Green indicates winner on $2 win mutuel payout]

Despite the chance of jinxing myself for the rest of 2019's Public Handicapper contest, and in the event a racetrack's searching for a racing analyst with a self-effacing style, I'm going to make every effort to break down -- for all 8 of my readers -- the top four U.S. races each weekend as determined by the PH editors.

The format's simple -- a notional $2 win bet, hopefully, to inform your handicapping and also in a bid to advance my current 14th-place standing in a contest with over 2,700 players and the top NHC Tour member gets a free berth to the NHC next February in Las Vegas.

This weekend's plays include three stakes at Churchill Downs and one at Monmouth Park -- an interesting turf sprint where almost half the runners belong to trainer Jason Servis, who has Maximum Security lined up to run on Sunday in his first race back since the Kentucky Derby DQ.

Monmouth Park, Race 10: Honey Bee Stakes, 5 p.m.

Selection: #4, Eyeinthesky (6-1) -- Finished 4th; lost irons at start
Alternates: #3, A Bit of Both (3-1) -- Paid $5.40; #2, Golcanda (scratched)

Nothing deep here. I think A Bit of Both is fastest, setting the pace for two other Jason Servis runners and the rest of the field. Yet I'm not willing to give the win nod, trying turf for the first time. Eyeinthesky gets the dream trip just off Bit's flank, and a repeat of the 5-furlong win at Gulfstream in January is good enough vs. these. Eyeinthesky also has a win at Aqueduct in a $100,000 stake at a slightly longer distance, done on the front end. So I think he's among the more tactical here on a track that plays fast.

Churchill Downs, Race 6: Wise Dan Stakes, Grade II, 8:37 p.m.

Selection: #9, Inspector Lynley (6-1) -- Scratched
Alternates: #15 (AE), Parlor (10-1) -- 4th at 33-1; #11, March to the Arch (6-1) -- Paid $23

The winner's coming from the outer posts. I think #4, Hot Springs (10-1), will be overbet as a horse who's 4-for-5 at Churchill and who's quick enough to secure a spot behind runaway leaders Siem Riep and Itinthepost -- the latter could be favorite, but I think is using this first race since August as a tuneup for longer and bigger races later this year. I think both can wilt, and Inspector Lynley is good enough -- and reunites with jockey Jose Ortiz -- and ran well vs. Bricks and Mortar in the Muniz at Fairgrounds in March before winning small stakes at Aqueduct in April. His effort in the Dixie on Preakness Day was disappointing vs. Admission Office, who finished a close second to Catholic Boy, but I'm speculating AO's effort was a top one that'll be tough to repeat, and he couldn't catch a horse (a great one, though) who hadn't run in a long time. Lynley grinds out a win here.

Churchill Downs, Race 8: Grade 2 Stephen Foster, 9:47 p.m.

Selection: #8, King Zachary (12-1) -- 10th of 12, stunk up the joint
Alternates: #4, Seeking the Soul (4-1) -- paid $11.20; #3, Runaway Ghost (20-1) -- 8th of 12

This race isn't my cup of tea but I think an honest early pace sets up for a stalker-closer type at a mile-and-an-eighth. I don't have pound-the-table conviction about King Zachary, but think he's very playable second time off a long layoff that saw him end 2018 with a bad Pennsylvania Derby in September and a decent fourth in the Travers. This one has punched above his weight, but in his second start as a 4-year-old has found a spot where he can track the speed and hope to make it three wins in five tries on the Churchill oval. His 2019 debut in a $100,000 optional-claimer, going a one-turn mile, may be sufficient enough of a warmup for trainer Graham Motion, who has a slightly positive ROI with horses second time in his barn and gets Javier Castellano.

Churchill Downs, Race 9: Grade 3 Regret Stakes, 10:19 p.m.

Selection: #5, Hard Legacy (8-1) -- paid $13.80
Alternates: #11, Princess Carolina (4-1) -- 8th of 11; #10, Gamblin Train (10-1) -- 7th of 11

If trainer Norm Casse and jockey Julien Leparoux see what I see, Hard Legacy will be forwardly placed in an 11-horse field that lacks tempo. It's a bit of pace-handicapping for me here, as I'm less inclined to use tepid favorites Winter Sunset and Varenka, who don't seem particularly fast from the gate and will stalk what I'm anticipating as a dawdling pace.

Replays of Hard Legacy's last two so-so stakes tries showed a horse wrangled back twice to sit mid-pack, where she looked uncomfortable and was subjected to wide trips, including 5-6 off the rail in the Appalachian at a soft Keeneland in early April. If she inherits the lead and can lope around the backstretch in slow fractions, I think she'll have enough in the tank to hold off the closers. Otherwise, #11, Princesa Carolina, gets a dream stalking trip and scores.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Wagers for Belmont Stakes Pick 4 Sequence

Allocating a $97 bankroll to the Pick 4 races ending with the 2019 Belmont Stakes, my fortune hinges on three horses not in the third leg of the Triple Crown -- Hog Creek Hustle in the Woody Stephens (Race 8), Coal Front in the Met Mile (Race 9) and Bricks and Mortar in the Manhattan (Race 10).

A win by Hog Creek Hustle and I may not care much who wins the Belmont.

About two-thirds of my bets are connected to Race 8, a 7-furlong sprint featuring 11 runners in what, to me, looks like a wide open race. Hog Creek Hustle plays prominently, as I think his runner-up finish in the Pat Day Mile -- a race where I made Mr. Money my pick of Kentucky Derby day -- exemplified this horse relishes one-turn races, and I think Mr. Money's going to prove better than today's runners.

Hog Creek Hustle's connections took a shot at the Kentucky Derby trail, finishing a game and late-running second to Preakness Stakes winner War of Will in the Grade 3 LeComte in mid-January before another similar fourth-place run in the Grade 2 Risen Star. His jockey in those two races (Florent Geroux) is more of a sit-and-pounce type, whereas today the horse reunites with southeastern-based rider Corey Lanerie, who rode him to a pair of two-year-old victories and more forwardly so in last month's second-place Pat Day Mile. To me, the cutback to seven furlongs is perfect, and I'm willing to stake my success this afternoon to #8 Hog Creek Hustle. I'll use him prominently, with #1 Honest Mischief and #11 Wendell Fog in small "saver" tickets.
When talking Hogs on Belmont
Day, it starts and ends with our
most beloved Hogg

Race 9, the Metropolitan Handicap, is the real feature today -- best race on the card, though I'm not as enamored with some of the runners. I think the winner comes from the inside three posts, and I landed on 6-to-1 Coal Front (#1), who isn't the sturdiest horse (been sidelined several times, including a 14-month layoff from Sept. 2017-Nov. 2018), but he's 3-of-3 since, including wins at three distinct distances (7 furlongs, 1 mile and a mile-and-a-sixteenth). I think he's going to hold his morning-line odds, and if he wins he'll spice up multi-race-wager payouts. I'm exclusively playing two Pick 3's starting with this race, one with my stronger picks and the other spreading out a bit more for coverage.

I'm going back to the well as I did on Derby Day with #8 Bricks and Mortar in the turf feature -- Race 10, the Manhattan. He'll be a single on most of my tickets, with #1 Raging Bull in my savers. The scratch of front-runner Epical is significant, in my opinion, and could entice second-choice, #10 Channel Marker (9-2), to forge to the front and try to win it on the lead and set slow fractions, in essence trying to lull Bricks and Mortar to sleep. Yet that strategy didn't work in the Turf Classic on Derby Day, and I think it won't here on a turf course that should play a bit firm. Bricks and Mortar is a bit of a "free square" in my Pick 3 and 4 tickets, so if he doesn't win many of my bets will be shot.

Unless I score something nice with my Race 8 daily doubles and trifecta wagers, I'm going light on the Belmont, since Tax is a tepid win selection for me -- the opposite of my bullish sentiment toward Maximum Security in the Kentucky Derby, and my analysis as War of Will as best in the Preakness. I will only play a small exacta and trifecta, and will mainly increase the increment a bit if I score decently on Race 8-10 wagers.

Good luck to everyone playing this afternoon on what's a gorgeous day for the Belmont Stakes!

2019 Belmont Stakes Day Wagers ($97 Bankroll)

Race 8, Woody Stephens Stakes, 7 furlongs on dirt (4:04 p.m. ET post) = $66 Total

[Wager with dollar value, selection = total out-of-pocket cost]
$4 daily double: 8 with 1 = $4
$1 daily double: 8 with ALL = $9
$1 daily double: 1 with 1, 2, 3, 9 = $4 (saver ticket)
$1 daily double: 11 with 1, 2, 3 = $3 (saver ticket)
50-cent trifecta: 8 with 1, 11 with 1, 4, 6, 9, 11 = $4
50-cent trifecta: 1, 11 with 8 with 1, 4, 6, 9, 11 = $4
50-cent trifecta: 1, 4, 6, 9, 11 with 1, 4, 6, 9, 11 with 8 = $10
50-cent Pick 4 (my "Hog" single): 8 with 1, 2, 3, 7, 9 with 1, 8 with 4, 6, 9, 10 = $20
50-cent Pick 4 (first saver ticket): 1, 4, 6, 9, 11 with 1 with 8 with 4, 6 = $5
50-cent Pick 4 (second saver): 1 with 1, 2, 3 with 8 with 4, 6 = $3

Race 9, Metropolitan Handicap, 1 mile on dirt (4:46 p.m. ET post) = $14 Total

$3 Pick 3: 1 with 8 with 4, 6 = $6
$1 Pick 3: 1 with 1, 8 with 4, 6, 9, 10 = $8

Race 10, Manhattan Stakes, 1.25 mile on turf (5:36 p.m. ET post) = $8 Total

$3 daily double: 8 with 4 = $6
$1 daily double: 8 with 6 = $1
$1 daily double: 1 with 4, 6, 9, 10 = $4

Race 11, Belmont Stakes, 1.5 mile on dirt (6:37 p.m. ET post) = $9 Total

$1 exacta key box: 4 with 6, 9, 10 = $6
50-cent trifecta: 4 with 6, 9, 10 with 6, 9, 10 = $3