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.