Friday, May 19, 2023

Preakness Stakes: It's Time To Perform

I'll be quick. There's nothing incredibly appealing about the 2023 Preakness other than Kentucky Derby champion Mage has as good a chance as any to run for the Triple Crown in three weeks in the Belmont.

This year's Preakness field scratched down to 7 (from 8) and Mage goes off as the 8/5 morning line favorite. No argument when considering the field includes a 50-1 shipper with a low-level stakes win in California and a Maryland bred that's 20-1 and boasts a few non-graded stakes wins at Laurel Park.

No excuses if Mage can't beat this field, which doesn't really feature anyone particularly fast.

I'll take a shot on a horse that Mage beat in a maiden race in Florida in February.

Perform, breaking from post 6, is 15-1 and may not trade at such high odds considering the short field, but I think he could hold in the double digits and provide value.

The call here is that Perform is a later-blooming three year old who has much upside. The horse easily broke his maiden at Tampa Bay Downs in March, then rose in class to a non-graded stakes win at Laurel Park on April 15 where he was compromised several times in the stretch, shifted in and out throughout the stretch and exploded late for a narrow victory. I played him in handicapping contests on both occasions and believe he's at least the second-best Preakness prospect. 

No crazy Preakness plays. I'll likely keep it simple and wager $50 to win. Not going to overthink it.

Otherwise, here's a few other horses I like in the Pick 5 sequence. No pound-the-table calls, though I'll play a straight daily double into the Preakness, using 5-1 third choice #8 Wonderful Justice in Race 11 (J.W. Murphy Stakes) with Perform. It'll be a $5 wager. 

50c Pick 5 (Races 9-13): 1, 3, 8 with 3, 5, 6, 11, 12 with 4, 10 with 8 with 6 = $15

Saturday, May 6, 2023

Derby Day Wagers (Updated With Forte Scratch)

It's Derby Day and time to put all of that race replay watching and analysis to work!

Scroll down to the May 2 post for my full rundown of the field for today's Kentucky Derby. Above that you'll find a few horses I like in the Derby undercard starting with race 8, which starts the "Pick 5" wager where bettors can pick multiple horses but need winners of races 8-12 for a huge score. Ticket cost is a multiplier effect; so my combination of horses cost me $36. The nice part about Pick 5 is it can be played for a 50-cent denomination. I'm probably better of putting that $36 elsewhere but can't dismiss the allure of a big payout and being right once in my life on these wagers.

I've allotted a $150 bankroll but maybe you can cherrypick some for yourself and scale back the base wagers, skip the Pick 5, etc. Top 3 selections in the sequence (a decent score if even only one wins):
  • Race 8 (2:46 p.m. ET, Pat Day Mile): #13, Damon's Mound (20-1)
  • Race 9 (3:40 p.m. ET, Great American Turf): #5, Johannes (15-1)
  • Race 11 (5:27 p.m. ET, Turf Classic): #3, Wolfie's Dynaghost (10-1)
Otherwise, I've settled on #14, Angel of Empire (8-1), as my Kentucky Derby winner. I'll sprinkle in a few other horses into my trifecta ticket. Here's all my bets:

Race 8: $5 win-place #13, Damon's Mound ($10); $1 daily double 9-13 with 4, 5 ($10); 50-cent Pick 5: 9, 12, 13 with 4, 5 with 6, 7 with 3, 5, 8 with 14 ($18)

Race 9: $10 win #5, Johannes; $5 exacta box 4-5 ($10), 50-cent trifecta 2, 11 with 2, 4, 5, 11 with 1, 2, 4, 5, 11 ($9); $1 Pick 3: 4, 5 with 6 with 3, 5, 8 ($6); $2 daily double 4, 5 with 6, 7 ($8)

Race 10: $1 trifecta 6-7-ALL ($7); $3 daily double 7-3 ($6); $1 daily double 6 with 3, 5, 8 ($3)

Race 11: $5 win-place #3, Wolfie's Dynaghost ($10); $1 exacta key box 3 with 5, 8, 10 ($6); $1 trifecta box 3-5-8 ($6)

Race 12 (Derby): $10 win #14, Angel of Empire; $1 exacta key box 14 with 5, 13, 17, 22 ($8); $1 trifecta 14 with 5, 17, 22 with 5, 13, 17, 22 ($9)

Thursday, May 4, 2023

Horses to Watch in Derby Pick 5 Sequence

In addition to the Kentucky Derby analysis provided below, here are a few horses I like in the Pick 5 sequence ending with the Run for the Roses.

Race 8, Pat Day Mile
  • Top Selection: #13, Damon's Mound (20-1): The 14-horse field is fairly unimpressive. After watching all career race replays for each horse, this guy's first two stood out, to me, as potentially tops in the group. Boasts debut win last July at Churchill Downs that was eye-popping. Followed that by winning Grade 3 Saratoga Special in August, but after that is what's suspect. Trainer put Damon's Mound in two-turn race where he competed but tired. Then a 7-month layoff to 2023 debut in a turf sprint in mid-April at Keeneland. Can only assume goal was to discover what the horse likes, and to me it's sprinting at one turn. Will either sparkle or finish last. High reward vs. risk. Using with horses 9 thru 12 in exotics. Winner comes from the outside.
Race 9, American Turf Stakes
  • Top Selection: #5, Johannes (15-1): Normally not a fan of turf horses from California, but this one has taken extremely well to the lawn after three dirt tries and scored dominant and visually captivating wins at three distances. Jockey Umberto Rispoli ships east with the horse and didn't have to ask one bit for effort. Maybe most impressive was win on quirky downhill turf course where Johannes was jostled, checked and surged with ease thru traffic to win going away. Just looks like an intelligent horse who gets a great stalking post just outside my close second selection, #4, Talk of the Nation (10-1). There's no chance the latter goes off more than 5-1 IMHO but there's still value. The favorite, #11, Carl Spackler (3-1) may be overbet based on his wins and by Caddyshack fans. But if you look at horses he beat last out, only one of the next six finishers broke his maiden and the others remain winless. Talented, but got a soft field that day. May do $10-type 4-5 exacta box. 
Race 10, Churchill Downs Stakes
  • Top Selection: #7, Cody's Wish (4-5): Not a particularly compelling betting race. Only concern here is horse making his first start of 2023 after winning the Breeders Cup Dirt Mile in early November. Enters winning 7 of last 8 and the only loss was second by a neck. The last four were without lasix, which is why I give the edge here over #6, Tejano Twist, who's clearly on the rise and I consider a win contender. Nothing creative; using these two and maybe #10, Endorsed, in Pick 5 ticket. 
Race 11, Turf Classic Stakes
  • Top Selection: #3, Wolfie's Dynaghost (10-1): Fun betting race since there's no standout. Speculating that jockey John Velazquez sets this runner for the lead and think he's got the stamina for the 9-furlong distance. Runner up of Wolfie's win on March 25 scored at big odds next out in the Elkhorn at Keeneland, which signals this guy beat a credible runner that day. Will use in exotics with #5, Up the Mark (4-1), and #8, Santin (9-2); the latter ran against Wolfie's in March and faceplanted out of the gate before finishing a game fourth. Is 2-for-2 at Churchill and can certainly beat this field. 
Main 50-cent Pick 5 ticket (Races 8-12): 9, 12, 13 with 4, 5 with 6, 7 with 3, 5, 8 with 14, 15: $36

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

An Angelic 2023 Kentucky Derby?

(Updated 5/6/23, 930a ET for scratches of Practical Move, Lord Miles, Continuar, Skinner and now Forte)

Kentucky Derby analysis is as much a crapshoot as predicting the NFL draft. 

Much as the Houston Texans destroyed months or even a year of "experts" 2023 NFL mocks by first drafting a QB and then trading up to the No. 3 pick, a lot can happen once those Churchill Downs gates just before 7 p.m. ET this Saturday to destroy overprognostication. 

It's best to take each of those distinct events for the entertainment value...and with a grain of salt. The same goes for consuming my analysis, though to me this feels a lot like 2007, one of my more successful Derby forays. 

Toss reason out the window and recognize the Run for the Roses is a one-off crapshoot of up to 20 starters, many with no shot and merely vehicles to fulfill some thoroughbred owners' dreams to say they had a Derby starter. Sure, 80-1 Rich Strike got extremely lucky last year, but he went 0-5 in subsequent stakes starts and his jockey is back to riding the lesser racing circuits. 

There are a lot of similar types entered this Saturday, but I suppose that's what makes it fun.

Now, I'm still a little bitter about Rich Strike running down my horse (Epicenter) in the stretch last year AND about top selection Maximum Security's DQ from first in 2019 but will give it another try in picking a winner. 

This year I give the slight edge to Angel of Empire over Forte. Both will be prominent on my tickets and likely paired with Tapit Trice and a few long-shots "underneath" as part of the trifecta box.

I'm not saying those horses will amount to 2007's top three -- Street Sense, Hard Spun and Curlin; all legends -- but much as two-year-old champ Street Sense was let go 16 years ago at almost 5-1, there are similarities to Forte, who is the 3-1 favorite but has more than his fair share of doubters. I speculate you could see 4-1 or 9-2, which is worthwhile as a win-bet proposition.

Here's how I rank the field, with thoughts on each horse. The pace may not be as testy as in years past, considering there doesn't seem to be need-the-lead types who'll set blistering fractions or elite speed runners like Justify. I see this as a more grind-it-out where my top three could outlast the field.  


#14, Angel of Empire (8-1): Trainer Brad Cox bring a runner with humble beginnings (maiden debut win at Indiana Grand last August, followed by two allowance races) but which has greatly matured with impressive back-to-back wins in the Risen Star and Arkansas Derby. Flavien Prat was his 5th jockey in six starts for the last victory and rides again. Gets decent enough post, has won on dry and wet surfaces and has been dismissed in his last three races (18-1, 13-1 and 9-2). Don't sleep on this one.

Trifecta Prospects

#5, Tapit Trice (5-1): This is the consummate Todd Pletcher horse -- get easy wins under a horse's belt at Aqueduct, Gulfstream (optional claimer on Feb. 4) and Tampa Bay Downs (Grade 3 on March 11) to build confidence ahead of running for the roses. Can run all day, but more of a "B" selection considering recent competition. Really had to grind out Toyota Bluegrass win at Keeneland in April vs. Verifying, who's in the Derby but is way too short at 15-1 for a runner whose ceiling is an optional claiming win. I wouldn't be shocked if Tapit Trice wins, but this $1.3 million buy may go off as the favorite with top rider Luis Saez. Using in trifecta box for sure but not as a top-choice winner.

#22, Mandarin Hero (20-1): Well, got second horse (Lord Miles) to scratch in order to reach the starting gate. I'll sprinkle into trifecta and superfecta wagers as, to me, it takes a lot to ship from Japan to the U.S. in a five-week stretch and be as game as he was finishing second by a nose in the Santa Anita Derby to Practical Move. Might be the best Japanese horse of the bunch, despite Derma Sotogake's gaudy UAE victory.

#17, Derma Sotogake (10-1): Begrudging underneath play on tris and supers, but won't back Japanese horses winning the Derby until I see it. Always a lot of hype that day will come, yet winning preps like the UAE Derby don't mean much for my money. Being a pacesetter could help chances.

Egregious Longshot to Use Underneath

#13, Sun Thunder (50-1): A horse with blinkers the first time in a Kentucky Derby seems strange, but not an act of desperation if you watch replays (my primary source of handicapping the Derby) and notice that no horse has been ridden worse than this guy. Closer types don't often suit the Derby and help to explain this one's trouble lines the past three ; but to me there's enough to go on here to at least use this bomber in my trifecta and superfecta plays. Finished 2nd to Angel of Empire in the Risen Star, where he got stuck behind foes before making a nice move in the stretch before getting passed late. The Louisiana Derby a month later saw similar as jockey Brian Hernandez again ran the horse into traffic before finishing fifth. Just sense Hernandez has to get lucky at some point, just not enough to win. 

Mudder Prospects to Consider If Track's Sloppy

#3, Two Phil's (12-1): Won the Street Sense Stakes stylishly (say that 3x fast) as two-year-old on sloppy going at Churchill Downs late last October. Failed to progress much first two tries in three-year-old campaign but ran Jeff Ruby Steaks field off its toes at Turfway Park on March 25 and should be near the early pace. Might have seen the best of him that day, but the combination of synthetic and wet surface wins makes him a consideration if Churchill's a messy surface on Saturday.

#16, Raise Cain (50-1): Dusted the field in the Gotham on March 4 at Aqueduct on a sealed muddy track against weak competition but clearly loved the wet going. Pass if Churchill is fast.

#4, Confidence Game (20-1): Seems like a one-turn (mile distance or less) horse to me but relished the slop in winning the Rebel. Yet hasn't seen the track since that Feb. 25 victory and he's a cut below.

Taking a Pass

#1, Hit Show (30-1): Draws dreaded rail. Stalker and second-tier Brad Cox horse who needed to show something in the Wood Memorial on April 8 and got outgamed by a 59-1 shot to the finish line.

#2, Verifying (15-1): Morning line is way too low. See notation above. Yet to win stakes race.

#6, Kingsbarns (12-1): Later-starting 3-year-old for Todd Pletcher. Is 3-for-3 lifetime including Grade 2 Louisiana Derby win but, again, another you might want to bet this summer rather than now.

#7, Reincarnate (50-1): Needed 4 races to break maiden at Del Mar in late November under trainer Bob Baffert. This guy hasn't done much for new trainer Tim Yakteem. Looks like one-pace filler.

#8, Mage (15-1): Will be wiseguy horse on the TV broadcasts for good second vs. Forte in Florida Derby, but loses top current jockey and I think was ridden hard that race and still couldn't prevail. Sense you're getting underlay (between 9-1 and 12-1), which isn't worth it in 20-horse field.

#11, Disarm (30-1): Nothing stands out. Alarmingly needed six months off after two-year-old win at Saratoga. One-paced runner. Of course I've been beaten a bunch by Winchell Thoroughbreds-owned runners from the sire Gun Runner, but I'll stand against.

#12, Jace's Road (50-1): A very hard-ridden third in the Louisiana Derby to secure this entry. Not a sharp gate-breaker. Can see getting beat to the punch by Practical Move among early pace then quitting.

#18, Rocket Can (30-1): Little to suggest more than a midpack finish. Confidence Game showed more guts when head-to-head in stretch of late-November race, and I thnk the Holy Bull win that followed in early February was a bit of smoke and mirrors, struggling to hold off second- and third-place finishers that went off at 34-1 and 58-1. Looked standing still vs. Forte in Fountain of Youth. Love trainer Bill Mott but not here.

#21, Cyclone Mischief (30-1): Earns spot in starting gate by virtue of Practical Move's scratch due to minor illness. Ceiling is optional claiming win in early January, the one time he got Lasix. Some early lick, but not much else.

#23, King Russell (50-1): Third alternate enters after Continuar's trainer scratched his horse, citing dissatisfaction with fitness. Not using.

Scratches (as of 5/5/23, 10a ET)

#9, Skinner (SCR): Is 1-for-6 lifetime and grinding out enough points for connections to say they attended the 2023 Kentucky Derby. Lost to Practical Move twice when looked in the eye. Why would Saturday be any different?

#10, Practical Move (SCR): Not enamored with some of the tin cans he beat in California, but advantage here is his ability to break sharply. Knock is inexperienced Derby rider Ramon Vasquez, yet if he gets out of the starting gate clean and works toward the lead, I've seen enough to suggest Practical Move is a determined sort who won't quit. Held off Japanese shipper and Derby second alternate Mandarin Hero, who I think is sneaky good and a play underneath if drawn into the field. Love the determination from Practical Move, but more of a "B" or "C" type pick in my plays.

#15, Forte (SCR): Five-race win streak started with the Hopeful last Labor Day weekend at Saratoga and included the Breeders Cup Juvenile championship in November, then he started the 3-year-old campaign by romping in the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park on March 4. Analysts shouldn't dismiss his next-out win in the Florida Derby, which many criticized as not the most stylish. Yet the horse didn't need to win that race to enter the Derby starting gate and still won with a wide late run and not tons of prompting. Edge vs. Angel of Empire to his inside from the starting gate, but I sense you'll see Prat track jockey Irad Ortiz's flank on Saturday and have a bit more late. Expect 1-2 finish.

#19, Lord Miles (SCR): Excited for Monmouth Park's top jockey Paco Lopez and hope he doesn't ride reckless. Should be in the mix early from wide post but seems a cut below. 

#20, Continuar (SCR): Japanese import who finished far behind Derma Sotogake in UAE Derby.