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 PH.com 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 PH.com 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 PH.com 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 PH.com 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

Friday, June 7, 2019

2019 Belmont Stakes Pick: Tax

The Triple Crown season wraps up with a mile-and-a-half race that none of these three-year-olds has experienced and likely won't again, running on the "Big Sandy" in the 2019 Belmont Stakes.

The race is completely wide open, in my opinion, and includes a few long-shots with a viable chance of upsetting Preakness winner War of Will (2-to-1 second choice) and favorite Tacitus (9-to-5) -- both perched outside in a field of 10.

In a bit of a coinflip scenario, and in the spirit of our tariff-happy president, Tax is my pick to win the Belmont Stakes.
"Tax will make you richer
than ever before.
"

Local trainer Danny Gargan isn't a household name like three-time Belmont Stakes winner Todd Pletcher, who'll saddle two runners and has a legitimate contender in Spinoff, but gets one of the best jockeys in the nation -- Irad Ortiz -- to ride Tax.

For my money, it's a significant rider switch and one that could pay dividends at 15-to-1 if Ortiz recognizes the value of securing the third or fourth spot down the backstretch and keeping Tax, a grinder type, close to front-runners who'll fade.

Speaking of money, I'll post my race-day wagers on Saturday, keeping to the normal $100 limit, in the event you want to circle back for some suggestions. As you know, the Maximum Security cost me a $1,000+ profit in the Derby, and my published Preakness wagers weren't winners, though my pick of the day at Pimlico won pretty easy and I had a $110 profit that afternoon. So I'm about even in Triple Crown races thus far.

In the meantime, here's my ranking of the full field of 10 in the 2019 Belmont Stakes. Feel free to comment below or Tweet me @NJHorseplayer.
  • #4, Tax (15-1): Toss the Kentucky Derby effort, where he was post-compromised and didn't show much in the slop. I wasn't a fan of him that afternoon, but think he's a potential win contender in the Belmont. Getting jockey Irad Ortiz is a notable benefit, as is a post with slow gate horses to the stalls on either side and cheap speed at the rail. I think he's going to be forwardly-placed and sit off Joevia, probably second or third unless Ortiz finds trouble, and could find himself on the lead at the mile mark, at which point it'll be a question of stamina. I think he's got enough distance pedigree to make it happen. Tax's win in the Grade 3 Withers, where he easily outran Belmont rival Sir Winston, was credible enough to fit here, as he took to the distance, withstood a slight check in the stretch, and gutted it out to the wire. I like grinder types in this race and am not sure we'll get 15-1, but will bet as a win contender. NJ Horseplayer selection to win the 2019 Belmont Stakes.
  • #6, Spinoff (15-1): This morning line is completely silly. Alright, as expected, Spinoff wasn't a factor in the Kentucky Derby. He got passed late by a 22-to-1 shot in the stretch of the Louisiana Derby and flopped in the Kentucky Derby with a wide post on a sloppy track that perhaps he didn't enjoy. But trainer Todd Pletcher gets top rider Javier Castellano on a horse who'll be toward the lead -- a tactic that works in the Belmont. The Louisiana Derby race was super productive, with War of Will, Sueno and Mr. Money in that field and all going on to big accomplishments. I may use Spinoff on a small ticket in the win spot but absolutely will have him across my tickets underneath. An upset contender who'll at least hit the board. The only drawback in putting him a peg below Tax is the lack of a stakes win (graded and non-graded).
  • #10, Tacitus (9-5): No doubt he'll go off as the favorite, but a hot early pace was a common thread in all of his races and I'm not sure Tacitus will get that in the Belmont. The widest post isn't much of a concern for a runner who'll likely sit midpack into the backstretch and look to make a mid-race move against the leaders. Another common thread is Jose Ortiz's aggressive rides. In his win in the Wood Memorial, Tacitus came in on runner-up Tax quite a bit in the stretch, though without much contact. It was more of a progressive move into Tax's space, steering his opponent tighter to the rail and holding on late. In the Kentucky Derby, he was jostled a bit early -- who isn't in a 20-horse field -- but settled and made a decent move to finish third by DQ, though I think he potentially fouled Master Fencer down the lane, interfering with his path. I think Tacitus is a must use on tickets, but I'm not picking him to win. Wouldn't shock me if he crossed the line first, but at some point, his good fortune -- like the perfect trip in winning the Tampa Bay Derby -- has got to run out. Using underneath. 
  • #9, War of Will (2-1):  It's hard to knock the only horse who's running in all three Triple Crown races. Will ran a valiant Kentucky Derby and good enough to hit the board if not win, though we all know what happened. Two weeks later he bounced back to win the Preakness at a dismissive 6-to-1, but in the polar opposite fashion of his race at Churchill, everything went Will's way in Baltimore as he won by a length and a quarter. That said, he beat a 64-to-1 shot who I think got lucky that day (Everfast) and won't be a factor here. This guy has guts and will attend to the pace, though I have doubts about his stamina at this point of the campaign, running his sixth grueling race in since Jan. 19 on a racetrack where experience helps. In that light, rider Tyler Gaffalione doesn't have a ton of experience on the big Belmont oval where timing your one big move is everything. I'll play him second through fourth on my tickets and wouldn't be surprised if he wins, but will keep him strictly underneath. 
  • #3, Master Fencer (8-1): I sense he'll go off below his morning line and as the third betting choice for those who dwell on the late run he showed in finishing in the top half of the Kentucky Derby field. One could argue he ran a better race than Belmont favorite Tacitus as it looked to me that he was bumped off stride a little as the latter one bumped him outward mid-stretch. It was a very credible race, so five weeks away from the track should help this Japanese import. The biggest questions for me are whether he'll try coming from the clouds again -- generally not a favorable Belmont proposition -- and if he's classy enough, sinning two races against weaker foes and getting into the Kentucky Derby by default when the winner of the win-and-your-in race in Japan wasn't Triple Crown nominated. I'll consider using him primarily at the bottom of my trifecta, and maybe the second spot of exacta bets.
  • #5 Bourbon War (12-1): As predicted, a wise-guy horse in the Preakness who showed little and in somewhat of a sign of desperation was trying blinkers for the first time. Trainer Mark Hennig removes the blinkers for the Belmont and gets Mike Smith, a three-time Belmont winner since 2010, though all those horses were more forwardly placed than what Bourbon War has shown in an unimpressive stakes campaign. Maybe the horse takes to a new jockey, but in my view it's a negative that his rider in the last five (Irad Ortiz) went to Tax. Pass.
  • #7 Sir Winston (12-1): At the least this is a similar path for jockey Joel Rosario, who spoiled California Chrome's Triple Crown bid in 2014 aboard Tonalist, who came out of the Peter Pan Stakes much as Sir Winston does this year. The difference is that Winston's tactically disadvantaged as a deep closer, which to me won't work other than potentially hitting the bottom of the board. Winston's three-year-old campaign has been far from impressive, with several off-the-board finishes in three Derby preps before an also-ran second in the Peter Pan, a 5-horse field that wasn't so good. I just don't see it happening for a horse whose two wins were at age two at Woodbine in Toronto. Pass.
  • #8, Intrepid Heart (10-1): The other Pletcher runner comes in off a so-so third (of just five runners) in the Grade 3 Peter Pan Stakes and is lightly raced. I'm not a fan of trainers making equipment changes in Grade 1 races. The addition of blinkers and addition of rider John Velazquez tells me he's likely to challenge War of Will for a better lead position into the first turn and could serve as a rabbit for Spinoff. If nothing else he'll be in it for a mile before fading. Pass.
  • #2, Everfast (12-1): I'm still a little sore over the Preakness Stakes outcome, where Joel Rosario settled his horse 18 lengths off winner War of Will in the backstretch before ambling home for a surprise second-place finish at 29-to-1. Yet if you watch the replay, this horse was never catching War of Will and, to me, got lucky. That and the Grade 2 Holy Bull effort are the only races that fit the profile of a horse that can hit the board in the Belmont, and for a horse that has never shown early speed I don't think the rider switch to Luis Saez helps. Pass.
  • #1, Joevia (30-1): This one's prep was a win in ungraded stakes at Monmouth Park vs. 3 others, including a runner that broke down before the stretch. That and his speed-and-fade in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial in April, won by Tacitus, tells me he'll be the rabbit for about three-quarters of a mile before bringing up the rear. Or, based on two wins on a wet track, connections will be doing a rain dance until the race is run. Pass. 


Friday, May 17, 2019

2019 Preakness Stakes Pick: Laughing Fox

After the Kentucky Derby stewards disqualified me out of cashing about a $1,300 profit two weeks ago, I'm hoping that my handicapping will be as strong and my fate much better for Preakness Day, where below I offer guidance on the late-Pick 4 sequence that culminates in Laughing Fox winning the second leg of the Triple Crown.

May the horse laugh like a fox while passing
all others in the Preakness, while I laugh passing
all others to cash big tickets at the windows.
The full horse-by-horse analysis is available in Wednesday's post, though my confidence in this 20-to-1 shot vs. two days ago is on the rise, after reconsidering my initial assessment that I'd have rather had an inside draw rather than post 11. 

In rewatching the horse's effort in the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes in mid-March, it was clear to me that being squeezed at the start, having to check in the final turn and looking somewhat uncomfortable on the rail suggests he'd rather sit wider off the fast early pace on Saturday, and jockey Ricardo Santana can let him relax before a big mid-race move before hopefully lumbering home at a big price.

My selections below key him in the first and second spots of the exacta and trifecta, and on the back end of daily double and Pick 4 selections. I'm also alive to a $142 payout on the Blackeyed Susan and Preakness double; so if Laughing Fox pulls it off, it should be a highly profitable day. 

The bankroll here is slightly less than $100 that I typically assign for the Triple Crown races, but if you're attending Monmouth Park or betting off track and have 20 bucks to burn, I'd say make a $2 win-place-show wager on #11 and consider the $1 "exacta-key box" -- ticket below (a $14 play). Regarding the latter, Laughing Fox would have to finish 1st or 2nd with any of 7 horses.

My play of the day is #4, Mitchell Road, in Race 10, the Gallorette Stakes. I think he'll take the field wire-to-wire, and am also bullish on #6 Gladiator King in Race 11, the Grade 3 Chick Lang, also in front-running fashion. Without further adieu, my Preakness Day late-Pick 4 sequence plays...

Race 10 (Gallorette Stakes): $25 Total
  • 50-cent Pick 4: 4 with 6, 7, 8 with 3, 5, 11, 12 with 1, 11 = $12
  • $5 daily double: 4 with 6 = $5
  • $2 daily double: 4 with 7, 8 = $4
  • $1 daily double: 4 with 3 = $1
  • $1 daily double: 2, 3, 9 with 6 = $3
Race 11 (Chick Lang Stakes): $13 Total
  • $1 trifecta key: 6 over 7, 8 over 1, 3, 5, 7, 8 = $8
  • $3 daily double: 6 with 3 = $3
  • $1 daily double 7,8 with 3 = $2
Race 12 (Dixie Stakes): $14 Total
  • $3 daily double: 3 with 11 = $3
  • $2 daily double: 3 with 1 = $2
  • $1 daily double: 3 with 1, 4, 5, 7, 12, 13 = $6
  • $1 daily double: 5, 11, 12 with 11 = $3
Race 13 (Preakness Stakes): $44 Total
  • $1 exacta key box: 11 with 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 12, 13 = $14
  • 50-cent trifecta: 1, 11 over 1, 4, 7, 11 over 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 11, 12, 13 = $18
  • 50-cent trifecta: 4, 7 over 1, 11 over 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 11, 12, 13 = $12

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Breaking Down the Broken Down Preakness Stakes

The Maryland Racing Commission may want to send its brethren at Churchill Downs some black roses for obliterating the caliber of the 2019 Preakness Stakes field, with none of the Top 4 from the Kentucky Derby making the trip to Pimlico, though as a service to the public I broke down all 13 entrants, listed in order of preference.

Similar to how I tackled the Kentucky Derby, here I'm listing the runners from 1-13 in order of preference, and based on extensive review of race video going back to each one's 2-year-old debut and trying to anticipate each horse's tendencies and prospects to win.

The morning lines set for each horse suggest that Derby runners Improbable -- the 5-to-2 favorite -- and War of Wills (4-1) are most logical, though I think each is beatable. I'll list each by "A" (can win), "B" (outside win chance, more likely 2nd-3rd), "C" (can it the board) and "Pass."

Feel free to share comments below or on my Twitter -- @njhorseplayer.

  • #1, War of Wills (4-1): Stalker who draws an easier rail than the Derby, should easily outbreak the horse in the two hole and looks like he’ll get a nice pace setup. Question for me is if he's got enough left in the tank after a grueling and near-catastrophic trip at Churchill. Wins in the Lecomte and Risen Star proved he can sit off the pacesetters -- and plenty of 'em in the Preakness and who can't win -- and pounce. Clear class edge over most others makes him one of the few "A" prospects in my book, despite questions whether he can get the distance, considering he didn't run well in the Louisiana Derby and faded in Kentucky.
  • #11, Laughing Fox (20-1): Complete dark horse that I think has a shot to win, and hence will make my second "A" selection. The more I watched his replays, the more impressed I became, as he's almost exclusively the most consistent runner in the field. He'll likely sit toward the back of the pack and look to time a move at about a half-mile. I was sorta hopeful he'd get an inside draw, which didn't happen, though with the primary speed horses breaking from the middle of the gate I think he can get away clean and get into a groove. He's another working off only two weeks of rest, after winning the $300,000 Oaklawn Invitational on May 5. It was a non-graded stakes race, though there's no shame for this guy in finishing behind Omaha Beach, Improbable and Country House in the wet Arkansas Derby. And this isn't too different a path his trainer took with Tenfold, who almost shocked in the '18 Preakness. A/B type who'll maybe be a win play for me and a must use underneath on all tickets. 
  • #4, Improbable (5-2): Anticipate he'll sit just off the speed and again stalk, and I think he gets away cleanly from the gate with a speed-ball to his left and a slowpoke to his right. Yet this one's starting to look like a cut below Grade 1. Not like any of the other Preakness runners look like it either, though he looked more convincing as a two-year-old than he did with the optimal trip in the Kentucky Derby, where he didn’t respond in the stretch when prompted. Was fifth across the wire but this close to being three more spots back. Probably a B as a safety net.
  •  #7, Alwaysmining (8-1): The speed-ball Maryland-bred that'll be the hometown favorite, and perhaps be overbet. I'm not buying, and will use him solely underneath. All of his wins were at Laurel Park, including at the end of his two-year-old campaign vs. Win Win Win in late-December, but since then he's faced some mega-cupcakes, including a 45-1 shot that finished second in a 5-horse black-type stakes field. I'd have given him a higher grade had he faced some credible horses to start 2019, or if he was the lone speed, but for my money he's going to be over-bet and not that good a value. Probably the most reliable speed, but see as B/C.
  • #5, Owendale (10-1): Best as a true closer, and can do so in an anticipated hot pace. A later starter as a two-year-old who won impressively from dead last in his third try and into no pace. This guy didn't do much afterward, as the connections tried him toward the front in a few races before realizing he’s a slower starter with the occasional late kick, as seen in winning the Grade 3 Lexington Stakes last month, where he made a sweeping 5- to 6-wide move before the stretch and got away easily. Wonder if he’ll be better suited to Belmont and is prepping for that. Could be in mix late, and I moved him up a bit anticipating a hotter Preakness pace. Did get trounced by Country House, War of Wills and others in earlier stakes though; a concern, but will include underneath on my tickets.
  • #12, Anothertwistafate (6-1): A stalker who was super impressive beating up on lesser foes at Golden Gate Fields in California and showed some ability in his two dirt starts -- second in both the Sunland (NM) Derby and Lexington, though in the latter he saved all the ground in the stretch and still couldn't keep up with winner Owendale. To me he's another that'll take a lot of play and is a borderline B/C, capable of a top-four finish but might have to work too hard from post 12 to get to his preferred place just off the leaders. 
  • #13, Win Win Win (15-1): I may regret being so fickle about a horse I used as a win prospect in the Kentucky Derby, but I really disliked his effort there. Whether he hated the Churchill oval and/or the muddy surface or not, I can't back him as a win contender in the Preakness the way he made up some ground early in the stretch and completely relented. Win Win Win gets a wide post and may have a tough time clearing the horses in the 10-12 holes, and I could see him belatedly running on for third or fourth but no better. C rating for a horse that I'm starting to think might be better served running at one turn (7-8 furlongs) after Saturday.
  • #2, Bourbon War (12-1): A little miffed what to make of this stalker-closer type. Probably most notable was his late-flying second-place finish to Code of Honor in the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream, but he was disappointing and all over the stretch in the Florida Derby, far behind Maximum Security and never a threat. I see him as being akin to Owendale and better pedigree than an Alwaysmining, though he's a C at best on my tickets. 
  • #8, Signalman (30-1): A stalker-closer who's surrounded by speed from the gate. He's 0-2 in stakes tries this year, including a lackluster Fountain of Youth and a wilting third in the Bluegrass, where he was tiring and all over the stretch, passed by Win Win Win, who had an awful trip and still passed late. Will be surprised if he's a factor at all. Pass.
  • #6, Market King (30-1): All-or-nothing speed horse who needed 5 tries to win his first race, then couldn't beat allowance foes -- at least 4 classes below the Preakness grading -- before finishing a way-distant third to Omaha Beach and Game Winner in the Rebel. He was in it for three-quarters of the Bluegrass before fading badly. Very hard to see. Pass.
  • #9, Bodexpress (20-1): Still a maiden, though strangely he's not the worst here. Sorta got lucky finishing second to Maximum Security in the Florida Derby, then challenged him from post 21 in the Kentucky Derby for about half the race before getting gobbled up and fading. Look cooked there. Figure he'll attend to the pace and may wear Alwaysmining down at most. Pass.
  • #3, Warrior’s Charge (12-1): If nothing else, he could get first dibs on the rail. After failing to break his maiden three times in sprints, he appreciated the stretch-out in his fourth lifetime try, but it wasn't anything visually impressive. Horse was stylish in his prep for the Preakness, but that was vs. claimers in a weak Oaklawn Park field. Rider will wing it and see what happens, though at that Warrior's Charge isn't particularly fast. Expect he'll get gobbled up halfway through and pack it in. Pass.
  • #10, Everfast (50-1): So, the connections thought to it to spend the money to get this bomber into the field at the last minute. Yikes! Complete pass for me. The horse has been very unimpressive overall, and caught a weak Holy Bull field in February to finish second at 128-1 odds. Completely buried next out in the Fountain of Youth and he has eaten the dust of many of these foes already. Should be triple-digit odds, though there might be too much money in the pools for that to happen. Goes off at 99-1 and connections say they had a Preakness runner.
I'll post my real-money wagers by Friday night or early Saturday morning after reviewing the exceedingly strong and difficult under-card, plus the Black Eyed Susan taking place on Friday.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

The Problem? Industry Will Learn Nothing From 2019 Ky. Derby

The 2019 Kentucky Derby outcome only feeds into credibility issues that the U.S. thoroughbred racing industry needs to resolve sooner than next year's Run for the Roses.

There's no better time to enact sweeping changes that give it a puncher's chance of survival in the gaming market favoring short attention spans, and to regain the faith of loyalists and show some semblance of integrity after Maximum Security's controversial DQ.

All that stakeholders want is a fair shake. Churchill Downs' stewards may have properly applied Kentucky's racing rules to the letter, but in the process made a subjective decision in the only "sport" I'm aware of that polls its participants to reach an outcome.

Unless mistaken, I don't recall New Orleans wide receiver Tommylee Lewis or coach Sean Payton being asked for input from NFL officials who missed a blatant interference call that kept the Saints from the Super Bowl. Presumed impartial bodies, the officials made a decision on their own after a video review without lobbying, as it should be.

Thoroughbred racing needs a national governing body ASAP. Enough with state-by-state regulation where what's OK in one jurisdiction isn't cool in another. We saw why yesterday, but unfortunately it's never going to happen, with dozens of state fiefdoms in a territorial war for survival of the fittest and really no one caring for the national welfare of the game or those that pump money through the betting windows and really are what keep it alive. Without bettors you have no sport.

Ah, The "Sport" of Kings 


It's almost impossible to offer unbiased perspective on the 2019 Kentucky Derby outcome, since thoroughbred racing really is not a sport.

Rather, it's a couture-driven gambling vehicle that spins an upper-crust persona, but with more variables than other forms of wagering and that is generally a losing proposition. Why?

  • The house keeps 15-25 cents of every dollar wagered. 
  • Trainers can teach expensive animals with minds of their own to run fast in circles but not always avoid natural tendencies to herd once the race gate opens. 
  • Tiny, oft-undernourished humans control equine vehicles 10x their weight at 35 MPH on sharp turns and with dirt kicked in their faces.
  • Consumers are in the dark on veterinary care. 
  • Owners, trainers and other insiders can wager, influencing outcomes. 
  • Racing has on old-boy network vs. outsiders feel -- the latter what I think came into play with Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott playing clean vs. the guy who broke in at Charles Town and wins at skeptically high rates at Monmouth Park and Gulfstream.

Sunday-morning quarterbacking the 2019 Derby and whether Maximum Spirit deserved to be disqualified the 17th place is useless, since those like me who saw a 150% return on investment go poof and have no recourse, even if the DQ'd connections appeal a stewards' decision that owner Gary West deemed "egregious." It all comes across as mere chest thumping or bitching.

Where Do We Go Now?


Twitter pissing matches or whining about spilled milk get us nowhere as a fan base. It definitely won't advance the industry's deep need for credibility.

Debate has some use, but what should come from Saturday's debacle is a move to a nationwide governing body that removes individuals states' biases and does what's good for the product, the human and equine athletes and the industry's shrinking base of wagering customers.

Every other professional "sport" that uses official reviews removes the participants' voice. NBA and NCAA basketball coaches and players don't look over the shoulder of referees reviewing the video of a play in question. Same goes for the NFL, NHL and MLB. Premier League coaches can't spend a few minutes lobbying an official to reverse a red-card decision.

Yet, in thoroughbred racing the biases are obvious -- jockeys get to weigh in on the proceedings, and stewards may have preconceived views of the backgrounds and reputations of a horse's trainer -- with a wagering public's money in the balance.

I've written about this before, focusing on California, which -- like all states -- has its own stewards' guidelines and rules' applications are highly inconsistent. Watch the 2018 Wicker Stakes vs. other rulings and you'll see. 

At the core, racing is gambling, nothing more. 

To be more credible, it needs a national set of rules that are transparent and applied consistently across U.S. race tracks. I'm calling on Churchill Downs to initiate the discussion, and for federal legislators and the NTRA to step in, working toward a national set of rules and enforcement.

At the least, it's a better proposition for bettors than leaving multi-million-dollar decisions (from wagering, earnings and horse-breeding perspectives to name a few) in the hands of a few state appointees.

Wounds of Saturday will heal, and most stakeholders in the game will move forward (e.g. Jason Service and Bill Mott were back in their stables bright and early getting back to business), though I have my doubts that those running the industry every will.

Sure, the game has advanced beyond the days of Kentucky Derby patrons raising their julep cups to jockeys whipping each other in the stretch as "boys being boys", to paraphrase the legendary Jerry Izenberg, but certainly this day smells nothing like roses for this horseplayer.



Saturday, May 4, 2019

2019 Kentucky Derby Pick: Maximum Security

After a sluggish Oaks effort where I had the entirely wrong front-runner (ended up being the winner Serengeti Empress instead of Motion Emotion), didn't like the runner-up (Liora) and my top choice -- Lady Apple -- was only third-best, we roll into the Run for the Roses extremely high on No. 7, Maximum Security.

After listening to way too many podcasts on the Kentucky Derby and making notes on all 19 runners' race replays back to their debuts, I think a lot of "experts" are overthinking it.

Maximum Security's the best and most versatile horse -- 4-for-4 lifetime, won a 6-furlong sprint on a sealed, muddy track where he patiently tracked the speed and pounced (and didn't mind having mud in his face) and had his way dictating a slow tempo in the Florida Derby, going over a mile in his first try.

He's capable of winning either on the lead or off any pacesetters and has a talented jockey, and I like the trainer's style of using his workouts more like a marathoner, using mile-plus drills to build endurance and setting up his horse to "cut back" to today's Derby race distance at a mile-and-a-quarter.

What won't be discussed on the NBC coverage -- too busy talking fashion, playing 35 Longines watch commercials and pretending to care who celebs like in the race -- is that many bettors are going to knock trainer Jason Servis. Skeptics will say his high win rates at Northeastern tracks are attributable to drugging his horses. Social media this week reflected such nonsense, but I think he's simply gotten a horrible knock, but has the best runner and in top form in the field. Reminds me of the skepticism toward California Chrome in the 2014 Derby.

With that in mind I intend to capitalize and hope to get 6-to-1 or 7-to-1 win odds, which would be a steal in a race -- as previewed in my earlier ranking of the field -- where I think, at best, 3 horses (Win Win Win and Improbable the others) are win propositions. As a result, I'll key Maximum Security in exacta and trifecta wagers. I'm allocating an affordable $49 specifically to the Derby, and $51 to multi-race exotics. And to be candid, I've resigned myself to the notion that Maximum Security will win, be beaten late by Win Win Win or Improbable, and if not, probably finish in the last 3. He's almost an all-or-nothing proposition, which is fine by me. Maximum Security is my top pick.

Kentucky Derby Wagers ($49 total)

  • $10 win 7 (Maximum Security) = $10
  • $4 exacta 7-14  (Maximum Security with Win Win Win) = $4
  • $2 exacta key box 7 with 5, 14 = $8 
    • key box means 7 needs to win or finish second, with Win Win Win or Improbable being the other first- or second-place horse
  • $1 exacta key box 7 with 8, 16, 17 = $6
    • a hedge where Maximum Security finishes Top 2 and backed up with my "B" selections (see last week's rundown of the field)
  • $1 trifecta: 7 with 5, 14, 17 with 5, 6, 8, 13, 14, 16, 17 = $18
    • here I'm banking on Maximum Security winning, with my B choices running second and using my B and C horses in the third-place spot
  • 50-cent trifecta: 14 with 7 with 5, 6, 8, 13, 16, 17 = $3
    • a "saver" ticket of sorts where Win Win Win has to win, Maximum Security has to finish second, and one of my B and C horses finishes third; sorta of an extended play on my primary exacta tickets, and a backup if it comes out 14-7 win and place 


Wagers Into the Derby ($51 total)


As I'm already part of a Pick 5 pool run by a friend, I've targeted Races 9-12 and am playing some small Pick 4, daily double and trifecta tickets on the races leading into the Kentucky Derby.

These are based largely on No. 12 Bricks and Mortar winning the Turf Classic (Race 11, 5:25 p.m.) and 12-to-1 Mr. Money pulling off the upset vs. prohibitive favorite Instagrand in the Pat Day Mile (Race 10, 4:28 p.m.).

I've also got a soft spot for a horse named Warrior's Club, who got me into this year's National Handicapping Championship by virtue of his 23-to-1 win in last year's Commonwealth Stakes and I think is in really good form and gets a fabulous set-up to track the early speed and win today's 8th. 
  • Race 8, Churchill Downs Stakes (2:45 p.m.) = $19 total
    • Warrior's Club (No. 7) is absolutely worth betting at 12-to-1. He gets a good spot to track speed-ball Promises Fulfilled (No. 6) just to his inside and may be able to fend off latecomer Whitmore (No. 12), a $2.5 million winner. 
      • $2 daily double: 7 with 5, 8 = $4
      • $1 daily double: 7 with 1, 2, 3 = $3
      • 50-cent trifecta: 7 with 6, 8, 12 with 6, 8, 11, 12 = $4.50
      • 50-cent trifecta: 6, 8, 12 with 7 with 6, 8, 11, 12 = $4.50
      • 50-cent trifecta: 12 with 6, 8 with 6, 7, 8, 11 = $3
  • Race 9, American Turf Stakes (3:37 p.m.) = $16 total
    • Avie's Flatter (No. 8) is my top choice at 6-to-1 odds. This is an extremely difficult race with a lot of talented 3-year-old turf stars. Look for No. 1 A Thread of Blue (3-to-1 favorite) to dictate tempo and Avie's Flatter to track and hang on late for the win. That'd be the best scenario for my Pick 4 wagers, where I must have the winners of Races 9-12 in order to cash. I'll spread out this race on my "bigger" ticket, and play a "backup" ticket for fun, where I use only my top two in this race, single the two favorites in the middle legs (Races 10-11) and spread in the Derby with my A-B-C horses.
      • 50-cent Pick 4: 1, 2, 3, 5, 8 with 7 with 2, 12 with 7, 14 = $10
      • 50-cent Pick 4: 1, 8 with 10 with 12 with 5, 7, 8, 14, 16, 17 = $6
  • Race 10, Pat Day Mile (4:28 p.m.) = $15 total
    • For my money, Mr. Money (No. 7) offers great value at 12-to-1. If you're at the track and he holds those odds, he's worth a win wager for sure. As I see it, this race has horses where trainers took their shots trying to make the Kentucky Derby but are placing their runners in more-realistic positions. The favorite, 6-to-5 favorite Instagrand, is case-in-point, having run so-so thirds in the Grade 3 Gotham at Aqueduct in March and the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby in April. Now, he could entirely run away with this race as trainer Jerry Hollendorfer's consolation prize for having to scratch his top reason for coming to Churchill -- Omaha Beach -- from the Kentucky Derby (he'd have gone off the favorite). But from what I saw in the Derby preps, Instagrand can be beaten if he's looked in the eye, and he's going to burn out with speed-ball Mr. Money Bags up front, giving a stalker type like Mr. Money to steal the race. Mr. Money ran competently against much tougher in the Breeders Cup Juvenile (4th place), Risen Star (decent 7th vs. some Derby contenders) and Louisiana Derby (game 5th). To me today's a softer spot, and so I'll use him in trifectas on the win and place ends, the latter in the event that Instagrand runs away with the race.
      • 50-cent trifecta: 7 with 8, 9, 10 with 4, 8-10, 13, 14 = $7.50
      • 50-cent trifecta: 10 with 7 with 4, 8, 9, 13, 14 = $2.50
      • $4 daily double 7 with 12 = $4
      • $1 daily double 7 with 2 = $1
  • Race 11, Turf Classic (5:25 p.m.) = $1 total
    • This is my least favorite race, and so I'm only playing a $1 daily double of Bricks and Mortar to Maximum Security in the Derby, just to say I hit it if things work out. If I hit on any of the above trifectas and/or Race 8 daily doubles I'll probably increase this to a $10 double and perhaps play some $1 doubles using the No. 2 Raging Bull in the win spot in this race and co-mingling Win Win Win and Improbable in the Derby, but otherwise am just "betting with my head" here.
      • $1 daily double 12 with 7
Best of luck whether you're betting or merely watching the race and have a rooting interest. It's admittedly not my favorite race of the year, but still a huge event -- one where I'll focus more on the socializing, food and bourbon.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

2019 Kentucky Oaks Pick: Lady Apple

It'll be hard to replicate last year's Kentucky Oaks, where I gave out the winner (Monomoy Girl), a $362 trifecta and $1,387 superfecta for anyone who paid attention, but it's impossible to go back-to-back sitting on the sidelines, and so here are my thoughts on Friday's wide-open three-year-old Derby for the fillies.

Whereas I made clear that Monomoy Girl was 2018's standout, the 2019 Oaks is much more wide open, and unlike several pundits I think 2-to-1 morning-line favorite Bellafina is beatable. Sure she has already earned $1 million-plus on the track and has 6 graded-stakes wins in 8 lifetime starts, but she's been feasting on short fields of cupcakes in California to start this season. She's an absolutely credible candidate to hit the board, but there's a ton of speed in the field and so I'm leaning toward runners that can settle and stalk the pace or make a deep late run.
Lady Apple could get it done
at a big price

Lady Apple, from post No. 3 and with a 20-to-1 morning line, fits the profile and is my selection to win the 2019 Kentucky Oaks. 

Granted, Lady Apple only raced at the Grade 3 level and has some clunkers in her past, but from all the replays I've watched of the entire field since their 2-year-old debuts, she's clearly coming into her own and has matured since her rookie season. 

As I see it, the key for her will to stay in touch with the pacesetters, save ground and find a seem in the stretch while others fade. She's a daughter of Curlin and very capable of getting the mile-and-an-eighth distance, and I think will be sent off from the starting gate at low-teens odds. I'll build my tickets around her.

Here's my analysis and selections, with a little bit on each of the 14 runners, based on my rankings:
  • #3, Lady Apple (20-1): Went 0-for-4 as a 2-year-old before breaking through on Feb. 7 in relatively easy fashion. Won that and her next allowance-level race on the front end, and won using more of a stalking tactic in the April 12 Fantasy Stakes at Oaklawn Park. Jockey Ricardo Santana sat 3-4 lengths off the speed and waited for a late seam in the stretch before his mount distanced herself from rivals toward the finish line. She'd have won by way more if not bottled up heading into the final turn, and I think she can replicate the effort in the Oaks at a price. I will bet her to win and use as my key in the exacta, trifecta and superfecta.
  • #8, Motion Emotion (15-1): I was a little skittish about making her my second choice, but for my money she's the speed of the speed and the most gutsy runner in the field. Like Lady Apple, she break her maiden until this year, and has since shown a flair for fast early fractions and, more importantly, being able to carry that speed at least a mile. She has really progressed as a three-year-old and isn't too far from being 4-for-4 this season. Once other need-the-lead types are unable to pass her heading into the homestretch, we'll see them quit as Motion Emotion battles in the stretch before fading, though she'll absolutely hit the board. Ceiling is 2nd, as happened when Lady Apple chased her down late in the Fantasy.
  • #2, Chocolate Kisses (20-1): Gave consideration as a win candidate, but not entirely sure what to make of this one. An out-of-control pace would favor this deep closer. Don't be surprised if she's behind by double-digit lengths at the half-mile point, though as shown in the Honeybee Stakes at Oaklawn, she's capable of coming from way out of the clouds. I think her odds are inflated by a weak effort in last month's Grade 1 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland, but if you watch the replay, she was far more forwardly placed, which I took more as a potential experiment to see how she'd handle being toward the early leaders. It backfired, but to me it's a toss and she's an outside win candidate if the clock reads about 45 seconds for the first half mile. Distance won't hurt her a bit, and I was torn but ultimately decided the ceiling is 2nd here. Definite use underneath on my exotic tickets. 
  • #4, Bellafina (2-1): Considered leaving her completely off my ticket, but she's clearly got talent -- just an awful post position inside of all the early speed. Jockey Flavian Prat's gonna have to aggressively send, in my opinion, and may become discouraged if forced to eat Motion Emotion's and others' dust for long early stretches of the race. A clean break and position will mean everything. Just not sold she's the short-priced favorite. I'd endorse a win bet at 3-1, but sense there's no value at the morning line and won't put her in the win spot. Using 2nd-4th.
  • #10, Champagne Anyone (6-1): I had a hard time narrowing down the next three, but think this one is the most proven stalker of the bunch. Her August 2018 maiden-breaker was a thing of beauty, weaving in and out of horses impressively after much trouble to win. Yet all of her 2019 stakes tries she was either too far back and has had to work extremely hard in the stretch. I think she'll make up ground on a fading pack and can see a belated 3rd-4th, as she won the Gulfstream Oaks at a shorter distance but would have been passed if it went another sixteenth.
  • #1, Out for a Spin (15-1): If she gets an unencumbered lane into the first turn, she'll be in the hunt, much as she was in winning the Ashland at 52-to-1 odds and in her three races prior. Gets a top rider in Irad Ortiz, though this is his first time aboard. I wonder about chemistry and the horse's ability to get the distance, but will play defensively at the bottom of my tri and super.
  •  #14, Restless Rider (6-1): Very promising as a 2-year-old, but I dislike that she drew alongside the leader in her last two races and couldn't pass the winner. Just think it's a really difficult post and she's going to have to motor from the gate for a decent spot. Ceiling is 3rd.
  • #13, Serengeti Empress (8-1): A need-the-lead type who was vanned off in her last prep. I'm taking a risk and leaving her off my tickets, but recognize she could hit the board if sound.
  • #12, Street Band (15-1): Not super impressed with Fairgrounds Oaks win. Seems like a plodder who benefited that day from ground-saving trip and outlasting another long-shot in the stretch. Not fast or gifted enough to factor here. Pass.
  • #9, Liora (20-1): Really gutsy in a November stakes win at Churchill, but couldn't follow up with a stakes win in her last three tries. Replays, to me, showed a horse who looked wilted at 8 furlongs. Going another panel on Friday isn't going to help. Off the board; pass.
  • #11, Jeltrin (15-1): Yeah, she won the Davona Dale at 50-1, but the time was slow and she'll be trying two turns for the first time. Could see in the early pace mix, but will fade. Pass.
  • #7, Jaywalk (8-1): Could be the early leader. Tons of early speed, but to me the 2018 Breeders Cup Juvenile champ looks completely dusted, losing her last 2019 Oaks preps to $105 and $106 winners. May hang on the lead for a bit but I think she's one who maybe would be better-served skipping this race and getting re-energized for Preakness weekend.
  • #6, Positive Spirit (30-1): A stalker who had success at Aqueduct but backed up in her last two Oaks preps, including an ugly finish at Fairgrounds in March. Couldn't win the Gazelle in April after dictating slow race, then faded. Can't see her hitting the board. Pass.
  • #5, Flor de La Mar (20-1): Bet against Bob Baffert at your own risk, but if this horse had some other trainer she'd be the longest shot on the board. Never posed a threat to Bellafina in her lone stakes try after sucking vs. optional claimers in her second lifetime start. Pass. 

Kentucky Oaks Wagers

I've generally kept to a $50 budget on the Oaks each year, but may "splurge" a bit more, including a superfecta ticket ($1 base wager makes it more expensive than the typical 10-cent offering) that runs this year's total to about $90. I just think it's a chance to score big with a horse that'll at least go off at about 12-to-1 by post-time.

Everyone enjoy, good luck, and feel free to comment!
  • $5 Win 3 = $5
  • $10 Show 3 = $10
  • $3 Exacta: 3-8 = $4
  • $1 Exacta Key Box 3 with 2, 4, 8, 10 = $8
  • $2 Trifecta: 3 with 8 with 2, 4, 10 = $6
  • $1 Trifecta: 3 with 2, 4, 8 with 1, 2, 4, 8, 10, 14 = $15
  • 50-cent Trifecta: 2, 4, 8 with 3 with 1, 2, 4, 8, 10, 14 = $7.50
  • 50-cent Trifecta: 2, 4, 8 with 1, 2, 4, 8, 10, 14 with 3 = $7.50
  • $1 Superfecta: 3 with 2, 4, 8 with 2, 4, 8, 10 with 1, 2, 4, 8, 10 = $27

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Breakdown of 2019 Kentucky Derby Field

*** UPDATES IN RED WEDNESDAY, MAY 1, 8 PM ET; MAY 3 w/HAIKAL SCRATCH ***

After watching just about every replay of the 20 horses in Saturday's Kentucky Derby, and recognizing the extremely unfortunate scratch of my second choice Omaha Beach, I'm calling on Maximum Security to win the 2019 edition. Shame on folks for passing up the chance to claim him out of a Gulfstream Park race in December. His versatility is a perfect for the Run for the Roses.

The decent post-position draw (#7) locks Maximum Security in as my A+ pick.

The only other "A" for me is Omaha Beach, who has won on fast and wet tracks, has better-than-average gate speed and showed versatility in his preps for the Derby.

Here's my up-to-date rankings from 1-20, incorporating Omaha Beach's replacement, #21 Bodexpress, who gets post 20 while horses from posts 13-20 shift one inward. These placings are based on my review of prep-race replays and pace setup. I'll list them by "A" (can win), "B" (outside win chance but more likely a 2nd or 3rd place ceiling), "C" (might hit the board) and "Pass". Post position and morning line now included.

Feel free to use the comment field for questions or hit me up on Twitter -- @NJHorseplayer.

  • #7, Maximum Security (8-1; A): Not shy of taking dirt/mud in the face or going wire-to-wire as he did convincingly in the Grade 1 Florida Derby. To me, a California Chrome-type with the quickness to get toward the front, and tactical skill to sit off the front-runners and pounce. Top selection, whether wire-to-wire or tracking from the 2 or 3 path.
  • #14, Win Win Win (12-1; B/A): Deep closer in his two stakes preps, a style that doesn't work too well in the Derby, but he's had misfortune, and I've reassessed his prospects based on reviews of his earlier sprint wins, including one at Laurel where got the lead in 45 second and then ran an 11.06-second eighth of a mile. Go back and watch his effort in the Bluegrass in April at Keeneland -- had good momentum into the homestretch but lost a few spots after having to hit the brakes, before he re-rallied to somehow get second behind dream-trip Vekoma. I think he's a must use underneath and can spice up the exotics ticketsI've elevated him to my second choice and possible win contender, and think he will have a real shot by getting the jump on Code of Honor from the post just to his left and sitting mid-pack.
  • Omaha Beach (A): Like Maximum Security, also won on fast and wet tracks. Arkansas Derby effort did it for me. Settled back to fifth after a strong start from gate, then made a bold, sweeping move past the leaders and gutted out a victory. Versatile enough to win. I think he exerts a bit of energy to get toward front, sits 3-4 lengths off the pace-setter and tries making a move halfway down the backstretch. Can win.
  • #5, Improbable (5-1; B): Only 11th on Derby qualifying points, but 2-year-old season was impressive and he's this close to having won two preps this year. Outgamed by Omaha Beach late in the Arkansas Derby. Curious tendency to turn head toward grandstand in stretch. Think he can compete if able to focus in the Derby, but putting in my second tier for now.
  • #17, Roadster (5-1; B): Figure he'll stalk the pace, much as he did in Santa Anita Derby to get to Louisville. Versatile, but Mike Smith opting for Omaha Beach a negative. Might upgrade only if Smith is named as a replacement rider but would still be my third choice.
  • #8, Tacitus (8-1; C/B): Dream trip to win the Tampa Derby but got an awful trip in the Wood Memorial yet somehow won that too. Gutsy fellow but think those he beat can turn tables in Kentucky.
  • #16, Game Winner (9-2; C/B): Dominated as 2 year old but had misfortune in his two starts in 2019. To me he looks more like a grinder who maybe wins if everything goes his way, though I don't like that he's shipping for the 3rd time in two months. Fatigue could be a factor.
  • #13, Code of Honor (12-1; C): Fountain of Youth win was into a ton of early pace and he sat in perfect stalking spot before winning at 9-1, then bounced in Florida Derby. Ceiling is 3rd or 4th.
  • #6, Vekoma (15-1; C, only with advantageous post): Got a good post. Seems to be quick from the gate, but just don't love him visually. Seems to run bowlegged and drifts a lot. Perhaps a pace force who hangs on for a minor award; just don't see as potential winner.
  • Haikal (C at best): Deep closer who looks a notch below Win Win Win in that category. Effort in the Wood Memorial worth watching, if for no other reason to see how guy doesn't quit, even after horrid traffic early. Closed a bunch to get 3rd but closing style doesn't usually win at Churchill on the first Saturday in May.
  • #4Gray Magician (50-1; Pass C at best): Took 4 tries to break his maiden, though he shows some versatility and got Rosario'd in Dubai prep. Could see him step a bit forward off that effort and will include in the 3rd spot in my trifectas. 
  • #18, Long Range Toddy (30-1; Pass): The sort of horse that would benefit from a Calvin Borel-like rail-skimming trip. Beat Improbable at a big number in the Rebel Stakes in March, but his three other efforts at Oaklawn were nothing to write home about. Just think he's a cut below.
  • #1War of Will (15-1; Pass): Seems capable of getting toward front and maybe hangs on for share. Will use underneath on trifecta and superfecta only. but rail draw keeps him off my tickets. I loved Lookin at Lucky several years back; total monster, but finished 5th from the first post, which is draw about 4-5 paths inside of the rail. Death trap. Has no choice but to gun it and exhaust himself, hoping to get out safely. 
  • #19, Spinoff (30-1; Pass): I might have him too high here after he lost to a 22-1 shot while having his way in the Louisiana Derby. Yet that was his first stakes try, so maybe he's still developing. Seems like a plodder who may be better suited to Belmont Stakes. Post a big detriment with others of similar racing style getting better post positions.
  • #2, Tax (20-1; Pass): May be "wise guy" horse on Derby day, but I'm not buying. Think he was fortunate to get his stakes win; Haikal was better but less fortunate that afternoon.
  • #10, Cutting Humor (30-1; Pass): Barely held on to win the Sunland Park Derby. Another shrewd Pletcher move to do enough to get a horse into the starting gate on May 4, but not buying.
  • #3, By My Standards (15-1; Pass): If nothing else, horse is responding to jockey Gabriel Saez. Yet not sold on 22-1 winner of the Louisiana Derby, and think post 3 is a difficult place to begin with War of Wills gunning for the front and other speed to the outside. 
  • #9, Plus Que Parfait (30-1; Pass): Was lucky in Dubai that jockey Joel Rosario rode Gray Magician 6-8 paths wide the entire race. Otherwise he wouldn't have won. Gray Magician better of the two.
  • #20Country House (30-1; Double Pass): Gets into the Derby starting gate on points, barely. Did nothing to distinguish himself as anything other than filler.
  • #15Master Fencer (50-1; Triple Pass): Japanese entrant who gets to the Derby by way of second-place finish in a prep race where the winner wasn't Triple Crown nominee. I guess folks like to say they had a horse run in the Kentucky Derby.
  • #21, Bodexpress (30-1; Quadruple Bypass): Sure, a game second in the Florida Derby, but how is a horse that has yet to win a race going to pull off a Big Brown and win from the difficult far-outside post?! No way. 
I'll post my real-money wagers on Friday night after a crazy workweek, and will also have thoughts on Friday's Kentucky Oaks, a race where I've had good success in two of the past three years.