Friday, May 17, 2024

Ponies for Preakness Pick 5

(Updated Saturday 11 a.m. ET for scratches and Pick 5 wagers)

Let's see you say the headline 3x fast...

I had zero success with my Kentucky Derby Pick 5 plays, so I've mapped out Saturday's Pick 5 sequence from Races 9-13, culminating in the Preakness Stakes, and over breakfast at literally the Roadside Diner tapped the minds of fellow cappers Steve and Marie Fitzpatrick to map out combined wagers for the sequence. From our $200 bankroll, below we allocate $173 to Pick 5s; the rest we'll utilize in other situations based on weather conditions as the day progresses.

If playing the undercard, here are some thoughts on Races 9-12.

For now, we'll assume the grass stakes remain on "good" or "yielding" turf. In the event that the first leg shifts to dirt, we'll use #2 Copper Tax, #5 Speedyness and #6 Naptown.

Race 9, James W. Murphy Stakes (3:30 p.m. ET)

A few connections will be doing a rain dance in hopes of this one getting washed off the turf. If that happens, the best is #2 Copper Tax (7-5), who has been crushing foes on the Maryland circuit. Did nothing against the likes of Dornoch and Sierra Leone in the Grade 2 Remsen at Aqueduct in December but deserves a pass vs. Saturday's field, which is way inferior. Use him and elevate #5 Speedyness (10-1), a fellow Maryland-based horse, if in the mud. We'll also use #6 Naptown (8-1) on dirt, citing past races on that and synthetic services and out of respect for trainer Graham Motion. If the race stays on turf as carded, it's a complete crapshoot as about half the field of 12 has never run on grass and the others are not very good. #4 Twirling Point (4-1) was original mine and Fitz's top choice on turf but has been scratched. As a result, we've ID'd #12 Fulmineo (9-2) as top selection along with #7 Crystal Quest (6-1) and will use Naptown and #11 Tocayo (8-1) as "B" selections and #10 Abrumar (5-1) on one ticket.

  • Pick 5 selections: A - 7, 12 | B - 6, 11

Race 10, Sir Barton Stakes (4:10 p.m. ET) 

Unless heavy rains wash races off the turf, this is the first of two dirt races in the sequence, with eight horses slated to run one and one-sixteenth of a mile. The favorites (#5 Corporate Power, 9-5, and #8 Tuscan Sky, 5-2) seemed beatable and, sadly, Tuscan Sky was scratched. Corporate Power wearing blinkers for the first time is peculiar and will be used as a "B" selection. The two I like most are #10 Imperial Gun (7-2) and #4 D Day Sky (15-1). Imperial Gun was aggressively placed in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby and got drifted out badly in the early backstretch by a horse but kept trying and finished 7th to the likes of Muth, Just Steel and Mystik Dan. That level of foes gives him an edge here vs. much softer competition. In the race prior, he lost to Pat Day Mile winner Seize the Gray, so logically he's faced the best foes in this field yet shown a penchant to be one-paced. Joel Rosario returns to ride after guiding Imperial Gun to his maiden victory and  close second in a minor stakes at Oaklawn Park. 

Meanwhile, D Day Sky is worth taking a flier. Switched last race to a new (winning) barn and, though it was against fellow maidens, seemed to mature after about a three-month break and without blinkers a first time. Not incredibly stiff competition but he took decently to the extended 9-furlong distance and his two best (of five) races were at two turns, including a third-place finish vs. Derby entrant and stakes winner Track Phantom in late November. Irad Ortiz rides and is a significant upgrade from the likes of Eddie Perez and Chris Landeros, who rode him before Kendrick Carmouche's expert handling in the maiden score at Aqueduct on April 5. D Day Sky definitely deserves a look.

  • Pick 5 selections: A - 10 | B - 3, 4, 5

Race 11, Jim McKay Turf Sprint (4:53 p.m. ET) 

It's a 12-horse field that I've narrowed to two potential winners and give #11 Witty (9-2) the edge over #12 Beer Can Man (5-2). The latter is a hard-knocking six-year-old that has competed well in numerous graded stakes and takes a big class drop here from the Grade 2 Shakertown at Keeneland in early April in a bid to repeat as Turf Sprint champ. Post 12 shouldn't be a huge detriment to a horse of this caliber in a lesser field. Yet I'm more intrigued by Witty, who won a local stakes in his 2024 debut at Laurel Park and does his best running late, which should be a factor in a race with tons of early speed. 

  • Pick 5 selections: A - 11, 12 | B - 2, 9, 10

Race 12, Dinner Party Stakes (5:52 p.m. ET) 

Major race-day scratch of #10 Emmanuel (5-2) and lacking strong conviction in picking a winner, I'll pick #1 Highland Chief (12-1) as top choice. This 9-furlong turf race has 12 runners and a lot of big, established names yet lacks a pound-the-table bullish favorite. Scratch of #12 Funtastic Again (12-1) is also significant; not a horse I would have played to win but clearly best among the 2-3 frontrunners that included no-chance #8 Helms Deep (50-1). Fitz and I agreed that Highland Chief, a 7-year-old with lots of back class including the Grade 1 Man O'War Stakes at Belmont in May of 2022, has the edge if healthy. He ran 4x after that win but was kept in the barn for about 18 months before surfacing in the Grade 2 Elkhorn at Keeneland last month. Chief got an odd ride from John Velazquez, who strangled his keen horse in the backstretch and made a nice move into the homestretch but flattened as one might expect of a long layoff horse. We agree that the rider change to local jockey and Graham Motion go-to Jorge Ruiz is a potential positive, assuming he lets Highland Chief get into the race earlier. I don't see the distance as a problem and would consider a win wager on this veteran horse. 

  • Pick 5 selections: A - 1, 2, 5 | B - 3, 9

Race 13, Preakness Stakes (7:01 p.m. ET) 

Full horse-by-horse analysis is below, but I'm singling #8 Tuscan Gold (8-1). I'm willing to die on the hill for this one and dislike the other seven, assuming the Derby Day runners will look fatigued and the other new shooters are subpar. Steve's top choice is #3 Catching Freedom (6-1), who makes sense for top connections. Defensively, we used three others in the event we're still alive in the final leg.

  • Pick 5 selections: A - 3, 8 | B - 5, 6, 9

Pick 5 Plays (50-Cent Denominations)

  • 6 7 11 12 | 10 | 11 12 | 1 2 5| 3 5 6 8 9 = $60
  • 7 12 | 3 4 5 | 11 12 | 1 2 5 | 3 8 = $36
  • 7 12 | 10 | 2 9 10 | 1 2 5 | 3 8 = $18
  • 7 12 | 10 | 11 12 | 3 9 | 3 8 = $8
  • 6 11 | 3 4 5 | 11 12 | 1 2 5 | 3 8 = $36
  • 6 7 10 11 12 | 10 | 11 | 3 9 | 5 6 9 = $15
  • If Race 9 goes main track/dirt: 2 5 6 | 10 | 11 12 | 1 2 5 | 3 8 = $18
    • This would replace the first line above

Thursday, May 16, 2024

No Triple Crown Winner!? Good As Gold

Muth's scratch from the 2024 Preakness Stakes both eliminates the presumptive favorite and makes Mystik Dan's connections look smarter for entering in hopes of a Triple Crown.

My opinions below on each of Saturday's eight Preakness runners are based on Mystik Dan getting an absolute dream trip to win the Kentucky Derby and that a repeat will not be in order in Baltimore. I still think he hits the board, but this field is fairly weak. 

I sense the race shapes up similarly and that Dan might get the exact same trip, but to me the rigors of the Run for the Roses campaign were sure to cut into the horse's sharpness, and so I'm downgrading his win chances in the second leg of racing's Triple Crown.

Tuscan Gold is the horse I like most and that I believe could retain odds closer his morning line than others in the field. Great trainer who missed winning the Derby by 1-2 jumps and has won the Preakness twice (2017 and 2022). Very creditable third-place finish in his first start vs. graded company and 1x vs. winners. For my money, this one has the best chance of stepping forward. 

The Win Contenders

8. Tuscan Gold (8-1). Win selection. This horse was on the outside looking in for the Kentucky Derby, finishing 28th among potential qualifiers, yet no shame in that as he's the most lightly raced three-year-old in the Preakness. Trainer Chad Brown has a very live one here, in my opinion. The horse's only race at age two was in early November in a maiden race won by Sierra Leone; was a good foundation for his next race and 2024 debut win in late January at Gulfstream Park, where he still looked a tad inexperienced but exploded late in the stretch when prompted. Brown tried him in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby on March 23, where he ran third and did much of the heavy lifting as far as a wide trip and helping to set the tempo, along with some jostling in the early stretch. Kept running yet lost to presumptive Preakness favorite Catching Freedom and Kentucky Derby runner Honor Marie by less than two lengths. To me, this looks like an intelligent horse that could be tactical and will move up on Saturday. Even if he doesn't win, I sense he may have the most upside among Preakness entrants. Keying in all wagers.

4. Muth (8-5). Spiked a fever and scratched, which is unfortunate, considering he'd have been a play-against for me and taken money away from the horses I like more. 

Exacta and Trifecta Consideration

5. Mystik Dan (5-2). Everything went his way in winning the Kentucky Derby and jockey Brian J. Hernandez, Jr. made the winning rail move and the horse held on for dear life. Trainer Ken McPeek has trained a zillion horses vs. zero for me, and I know that everyone loves Triple Crown winners, but I just don't see it here. With zero speed to his inside, Hernandez could work out another perfect rail-skimmer and potentially have enough left to outlast the field, and so I think he'll sit third or fourth through the backstretch and hope to make a big inside run again but wonder if he'll have the energy after an exhaustive Derby experience. Will use underneath but could see wilting in the stretch. Gets a slice, then a well-deserved rest before a more attainable spot like the Haskell.

3. Catching Freedom (6-1). Sticking to my post-Kentucky Derby analysis of CF's trip: "identified as fourth best in field and ran to that placement; very slight checks passing clubhouse first time around but otherwise a clean, ground-saving trip yet never quite gained on Mystik Dan, which is the alarming part about using him bullishly down the road when the second- and third-place runners had wider trips and more gas int he tank late." This Brad Cox trainee will take too much money and be bettors' second choice if not the favorite when the gate opens. Did beat my top Preakness choice Tuscan Gold to the wire in the Louisiana Derby but everything went his way that afternoon and I think maybe we've seen the ceiling of Catching Freedom for now whereas Tuscan Gold moves forward. Still, hits the board since he's a grinder and won't quit. 

2. Uncle Heavy (20-1). I would elevate him to maybe a second-place contender if it's a muddy Preakness but otherwise put the ceiling at third or fourth with a major rider upgrade to Irad Ortiz. Is an incredibly slow horse from the gate, akin to the foes on each side (Mugatu in post 1, Catching Freedom in post 3) but started career as a sprinter and won on debut, beating a 1-5 shot at Parx. Two best races were versus much lesser and on sealed surfaces, so if Pimlico is treated equally to keep the rain off, elevate this one in your wagers. Sense that Ortiz will track Mystik Dan and sit midpack, then cross fingers that the pacesetters fade and Derby horses don't respond. Robert Reid -- no relation to Mike of Brady Bunch fame -- is a strong Northeastern trainer who often has live stakes horses. Could do no better than fifth in the Grade 2 Wood at Aqueduct in April, and as noted pre-Derby, runners from that one will never find my Triple Crown tickets as winners. Yet this guy's worth a look, especially on mud.

9. Imagination (6-1). Consummate grinder. In photo-type finishes in four of six lifetime starts but prognosticators are remiss to consider this Bob Baffert trainee (and second fiddle to scratched favorite Muth) a speed horse. No doubt will be forwardly placed from the gate but I think both D. Wayne Lukas-trained horses Seize the Grey and Just Steel are quicker. If you agree with that premise, then Imagination has shown nothing beyond sitting first or second throughout races and might not like a speed duel or taking dirt to the face. I sense bettors will get no better than 4-1 and would pass. Plus he was beaten head-to-head in the Santa Anita Derby by Stronghold, who I viewed as a California B teamer, so I'm not putting much stock in that one's 7th place Kentucky Derby finish to elevate Imagination to winner status.

Not Getting My Money

6. Seize the Grey (15-1). Ran a great race to win the Pat Day Mile two weeks ago on the Kentucky Derby undercard but that was a 1-turn mile in which the factions were blistering and the better of the D. Wayne Lucas trainees (Just Steel, below, is the other) outlasted everyone else and the competitors ran the final quarter in more than 26 seconds. I'm downgrading this horse of that effort and will assume he could use some rest. Did little in Grade 3 and Grade 1 preps for the Derby, so I question if he's capable of winning at two turns. I sense Lukas will have Just Steel sprint, with Seize the Grey right behind, then hope one of them gets lucky and hangs on. Pass.

7. Just Steel (15-1). Big jockey upgrade from 17th-place Kentucky Derby finish to Joel Rosario from Keith Asmussen but I maintain this is a 6-8 furlong horse that, much like two weeks ago, will be in the mix until they turn for home. Credit the horse for second-place tries vs. Muth in the Arkansas Derby and Mystik Dan in the Southwest -- both at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas -- but with just two weeks rest and a spotty 2-for-12 record, I'm passing and sense he'll be the pacesetter for stablemate Seize the Grey.

1. Mugatu (20-1). Scraped paint in the Bluegrass prep for the Derby and passed some tired back markers to finish fifth at 181-to-1 but nowhere close to win threat. Slow from the gate. Slow on paper. Slow on replay. Jersey Joe Bravo may need a miracle to finish top half in the Preakness. Pass.

Sunday, May 5, 2024

Kentucky Derby Recap, Look Back and Look Ahead

The Kentucky Derby finish was awesome but quite the opposite from a wagering perspective with zero return on my customary $150 bankroll for the races in the Derby Pick 5 sequence. 

The worst beat involved #3 Lagynos in the American Turf Stakes -- a third-place finish at 36-1. Lagynos got a great rail-skimming ride but simply got stuck behind foes, including #2 Trikari, who got a better trip and at 47-1 beat a third giant longshot (24-1) to the finish to win. The opening that I had hoped for in Thursday's blog post never came to fruition, as short check and late shift to the outside were belated and I did not use #4 Formidable Man on any tickets. So pretty good handicapping went to waste. 

Top play Who Dey in the Pat Day Mile (race 8) ran gamely but was a cut below the winner, finishing fourth; about 40% of my bankroll involved him hitting the board. No dice. 

Track Mate (CD Stakes) did little of note after early bumping from the gate, while Turf Classic top choice Naval Power lost by a head.  

Derby analysis was fairly positive but I played Track Phantom too prominently and paid the price as he established an easy-ish and not heavily contested lead but looked to be standing still when winner Mystik Dan bullied past him along the rail and held on for dear life to win the Run for the Roses by a nose vs. Sierra Leone and Forever Young in a blanket finish. One more jump and Sierra Leone wins. No bumping and maybe it's Forever Young wearing the roses.

I wrote and maintain that Sierra Leone is the best three-year-old and will be heard from again. Credit to fellow handicapper Steve Fitzpatrick for stating to me at MJ's in Tinton Falls right after the Derby that trainer Chad Brown would skip the Preakness and target the Belmont at his home track in Saratoga; Brown confirmed that today. I'm fairly confident without knowing that he'll be a prohibitive favorite. 

As for the Preakness, a report about Mystik Dan's post-race appetite raises questions about his participation, and were I the trainer Ken McPeek, I would instead target the Belmont as well or a later Grade 1 as I just do not see him as a Triple Crown type. Winning the Derby requires a great ride and luck and Mystik Dan benefited from both. Forever Young, meanwhile, is reportedly returning to Japan due to quarantine issues; so figure he's not in the mix on May 18 at Pimlico vs. a Baffert-heavy field.

I'll try to be more disciplined about coverage of the Preakness and the big races here, so stay tuned. 

In the meantime, after rewatching the trip for all 20 runners, here's a rundown of my pre-Derby best-to-worst commentaries and results for each along with speculativecommentary; outside of Forever Young, fairly solid in distinguishing much wheat from the chaff. 

Win Contenders

Sierra Leone - 2nd by a nose; nearly perfect ride by Tyler Gafflione from difficult inside position; sat 17th much of the way, made strong wide move into and through far turn yet could not stay straight and one could argue cost Forever Young second if not first place. 

Track Phantom - 11th; folded after carving out quick but not 2023-blazing Derby fractions; concern about failure to get the distance proved true yet no regret playing since thesis on getting the lead vs. the other supposed "speed" horses came to fruition. Could see using on Belmont day undercard if the connections downgrade to 7-furlong or 1-mile sprint. To Thursday's post, he failed to stink it up but ran to his 42-1 odds.

Fierceness - 15th; slightly missed the gate break but emerged cleanly and among the three pacesetters but folded like a cheap suit before the stretch; a top horse would have blown by Track Phantom and Just Steel out of the final turn; could see trainer Todd Pletcher sitting out Preakness and Belmont with this one and prepping for easier Grade 1s like the Haskell, Pennsylvania Derby and WV Derby. Maybe akin to Track Phantom and better saved for 1-mile sprint type races.

Catching Freedom - 4th; identified as fourth best in field and ran to that placement; very slight checks passing clubhouse first time around but otherwise a clean, ground-saving trip yet never quite gained on Mystik Dan, which is the alarming part about using him bullishly down the road when the second- and third-place runners had wider trips and more gas in the tank late; still, completing superfecta in a 20-horse field nothing to knock.

Exacta, Trifecta and Superfecta Consideration

Mystik Dan - 1st; listed as my fifth best, outran his odds and pedigree; could see Belmont Stakes if race is shortened to Derby distance of a mile and a quarter but maintain he's meant more for a mile or a shade more and speculate connections will find more winnable spots and middle distances. No Triple Crown.

Dornach - 10th; never let anyone tell you a Derby rail horse can win; brutal trip with numerous checks and much bumping but I will elevate this guy off the effort and hope he tries the Belmont; showed a ton of heart, kept running late (passed Track Phantom late to finish Top 10) despite the circumstances and will be one to watch on the New York circuit this summer and fall for trainer Danny Gargan.

Honor Marie - 8th; pinballed badly from the gate, impeded into the first turn and ran last before meeting more trouble in the far turn but showed amazing turn of foot and ran courageously; was just three spots below my projected ceiling; wonder if jockey Ben Curtis' inexperience was a factor as he rode well but almost broke too alertly for a deep closer; will keep an eye in future.

Resilience - 6th; clean trip from post 19, sat sixth much of the race before aggressive, sweeping move into the stretch and looked poised to pass but merely ran by the faders and flattened; proved point about Aqueduct preps as among the worst; not saying he's a bad horse, just not Triple Crown quality. 

Stronghold - 7th; prerace analysis spot on as jockey Antonio Fresu positioned fourth through midpoint of backstretch and made similar move to Resilience but proved to be California B-teamer; doubt he was good enough to win this once if they ran it 20x; figure he can go back West and compete in 5- and 6-horse stakes vs. way lesser foes on a deteriorating circuit.

Epic Ride - 14th; mentioned as potential play to spice up tri and super tickets and was forwardly placed but then ridden hard toward the stretch home and wilted; figure he'll be off the trail.

Not Getting My Money

Just a Touch - 20th; never got the allure nor the morning line; also-ran the whole way through who fortunately was wrapped up in the stretch by the jockey; expect next race would be vs. lesser company and not sure which distance he's best suited.

Just Steel - 17th; very happy for octogenarian legend D. Wayne Lukas winning a Grade 1 earlier in the card but prerace view was correct about early placement, green jockey and no chance to win; will keep an eye if shortened to races between 6-8 furlongs.

Endlessly - 9th; grass horse who broke well, avoided trouble and sat back last before making decent run to get inside the Top 10; watch this one in upcoming turf stakes and jockey Umberto Rispoli, who will one day get a Kentucky Derby win...strong rider had no realistic chance with this horse.

Forever Young - 3rd - and T. O. Password - 5th; was dead wrong about global travel weighing on the Japanese horses' chances; Forever Young got the second-worst trip and ran a monster race and arguably the jostling and herding by Sierra Leone in the stretch cost him the win; immense respect for the horse, jockey and connections, who might have been cheated out of the nation's first Kentucky Derby win; T. O.'s effort was Top 5 but never threatening; no idea where these two race next.

Society Man - 16th; second of Gargan runners never had chance before or during the race.

Catalytic - 19th; dropped anchor about the halfway point.

Domestic Product - 13th; my unscientific eye found the horse was either over-restrained toward the start or really hated the kickback (dirt in the face from others); 9-wide finish would support the latter as he ran a little late but in a no-chance effort.

West Saratoga - 12th; gave his best early and was swallowed up as the field turned for home but kept trying and held off wealthy connections entrant Domestic Product toward the wire. 

Grand Mo The First - 18th; squarely toward back of pack throughout. 

Thursday, May 2, 2024

Horses to Use in Derby Pick 5

It's hard enough picking one winner let alone the five (in a row) necessary to cash a lucrative Pick 5 wager, but it's always a fun handicapping challenge. The one time I was close to cashing, Maximum Security was DQ'd in the Derby and so I missed a $1,000+ score due to a judge's decision. The ticket cost was about the same as two movie tickets and is a fun way to play the five race all stakes sequence that culminates with the Kentucky Derby. 

For those not accustomed or never having played a Pick 5, in this case the base wager is 50 cents. A bettor can include more than one horse per "leg," resulting in a multiplier effect that determines total cost of the ticket. So if you pick 1 horse per lage, bet costs you two quarters. If you go two horses per race (2x2x2x2x2), cost is $16. You get the picture.

Below I've provided analysis of each of the races in that sequence. I generally budget $30-$50 and attempt to find one or two "singles" so that I can bulk up in less predictable races (or ones where I have less conviction) in hopes of surviving those legs.

Even if disinterested in the Pick 5, I've targeted a few prices horses below worth playing as win propositions or that could spice up your exacta or trifecta plays. Enjoy!

Race 8, Pat Day Mile (Grade 2, 2:46 p.m. ET): Ohio breeding aside, #7 Who Dey has a big shot and offers tremendous value at a morning line of 10-1. Jockey upgrade to Brian Hernandez after regular rider John McKee strangled the horse early in his 2024 debut on April 5 at Keeneland. Yet that second-place finish in the $400,000 Lafayette was impressive. Horse is clearly keen but once settled he advanced nicely late in the race without prompting. Never threatened for the win after being choked five lengths behind the leader but closed well and galloped out tremendously and gets an extra furlong on Saturday to gain ground and should be firing in the stretch. This son of Liam's Map has a win at Churchill (beat Derby runner Mystik Dan, who ran fifth that day) and weaved through traffic in that one and passes the eye test of a horse that can stalk what'll be a fierce pace and have enough late kick to win. In addition to win bet, will use in exacta with #12 Nash (3-1), who's trying a one-turn race for only the second time but ran gamely vs. Derby entrant Track Phantom. Will use both to start the Pick 5. 

Race 9, American Turf Stakes (Grade 2, 3:40 p.m. ET): The 14-horse field makes this incredibly difficult to handicap, particularly as the amount of speed signed on suggests closers should benefit. The one catching my eye most is #3 Lagynos (15-1), whose connections wasted time putting him on the Kentucky Derby trail but showed that he is clearly meant for turf. Won his debut at Kentucky Downs in mid-September, then had a few good dirt performances that I'm figuring inspired the owners to try preps to the Run for Roses. Once the 9th-place Rebel Stakes finish suggested dirt's not where money is to be made, they put Lagynos back on the lawn, where he ran a game third in the Grade 3 Transylvania on April 5. Christian Torres was the jockey in both turf tries and returns on Saturday. I sense this bettors could be chilly but 15-1 is certainly generous enough to take a shot. Expect a rail-skimming trip and hope something opens in the stretch as he's got good late kick on the two turf replays. Will use with #2 Trikari (15-1), European shipper and race favorite #5 Legend of Time (7/2), promising California entrant #7 Stay Hot (10-1), and #13 Can Group (15-1), who I might have picked as a winner if not for the wide post position and likelihood of a wide trip similar to his effort in the Transylvania. 

Race 10, Churchill Downs Stakes (Grade 1, 4:31 p.m. ET): Simply not a fan of race favorites #6 Zosos (3-1), #11 Hoist the Gold (7/2) and #2 Tejano Twist (4-1) and I'm always willing to play D. Wayne Lukas horses at 7/8 of a mile as he's one of the best when preparing middle-distance sprinters. Regardless of the big jump in class and switch to a greener rider, #7 Track Mate offers value at 12-1 and could go off higher than the morning line. The 4-year-old son of Union Rags is one of the least tested (9 starts) in an 11-horse field including a few that have banked more than $1 million. Yet the addition of blinkers has been a significant benefit the past two races with stylish wins albeit at 3/4 of a mile versus lesser foes. A bullet work on April 26 (best of 25 runners) tells me this one's sharp, and I really like the post just off #6 Zozos, a need-the-lead type that I'm not using off a 6-month layoff. I may single Track Mate on my "A" Pick 5 ticket and will wheel him in exacta and trifecta plays with #4 Mr. Wireless (6-1), who's been in the money in 9 of his last 10 starts dating to July 2022, and #3 Bo Cruz (10-1), who would be 2-for-2 to start 2024 without traffic troubles in his February 12 start at Fairgrounds.  

Race 11, Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic Stakes (Grade 1, 5:27 p.m. ET): Going with the favorite, #11 Naval Power (7/2), and won't overthink it. Frankie Dettori gets the mount and essentially swaps places with Tyler Gaffalione, who rides rail horse Integration (5-1). Naval Power was away for 13 months and exploded late to win a Grade 2 in Dubai on Feb. 23 before shipping to the U.S. and running a game second in the Grade 1 Makers Mark at Keeneland on April 12 behind Master of the Seas, maybe the best turf miler on the planet. Naval Power is betable both as a 7/2 win proposition and will be another single on my primary Pick 5 ticket. Will use in exacta with #4 Far Bridge (8-1), who had a great 3-year-old campaign in 2023 including getting nosed out by Webslinger in the American Turf and tuned up easily in Florida in late March for the Turf Classic. 

Race 12, Kentucky Derby (Grade 1, 6:57 p.m. ET): See Thursday's post for full rundown but in my primary Pick 5 I'm using #2 Sierra Leone (3-1), #4 Catching Freedom (8-1), #12 Track Phantom (20-1) and #17 Fierceness (5/2). 

Probably Pick 5 Ticket of $20: 7, 12 with 2, 3, 5, 7, 13 with 7 with 11 with 2, 4, 12, 17

Don't Sleep on Track Phantom in 2024 Kentucky Derby

After a friend requested a cheat sheet, it was easiest to grab a feather duster and blog Derby thoughts, and so I went down the rabbit hole of race replays last night to share informed thoughts on who can win 2024's Run for the Roses. 

I've narrowed it down to four. 

Gun to head as a win bet, I'd take a chance on Track Phantom at long odds. 

I know that a closer won last year's Derby after the rabbits scorched the earth but don't see as much speed in this field and think that Track Phantom is by far the best and most consistent gate horse and will be on or just off the lead into the first turn, giving him a tactical edge. 

Track Phantom's first win was at Churchill and he's done nothing wrong since, boasing two wins, a close second and a game fourth, all in stakes. Barring a catastrophic start, he'll at least be toward the front for the first 8-9 furlongs. Question is whether he gets the 10th.

Speed figures dictate that Fierceness is the logical morning line favorite, but he's run two clunkers in which he was outgunned from the gate among his five starts and so I'd be concerned about investing in him at 5-2 as a win bet; price too short for my taste. 

Sierra Leone may be the best in the field, but like another horse I dig -- Catching Freedom -- needs too much to go right in ~2:02 to close into a race where I expect modest quarterly times (fractions).

Watch the timer on Saturday. If the quarter and half mile splits are 23 and 47 seconds plus, a Track Phantom, Fierceness or other front runner could lull the field to sleep and win. If like last year it's 22 and 45 seconds, either of the two closers I like can win. 

At the least, in the comments below I've eliminated half of the field for you and/or provided some entertainment or laughs to share at your Derby party. 

The 10 above that are useful and will be a part of my tickets, which I'll post by Saturday. 

Let's meet the field, ranked in order of preference. 

The Win Contenders

2. Sierra Leone (3-1): Best, most consistent and continually improving horse in the field, yet the primary question is whether he gets a clean enough trip from an inner post to be in a position halfway through the race to realize his major closing kick. Will be interesting to see where jockey Tyler Gaffalione has the horse positioned into the first turn (back of the field could be problematic), but SL has finished well in every race and on fast, muddy and sloppy tracks, so surface conditions shouldn't matter much. Does super-trainer Chad Brown finally get in the Derby winner's circle in his 8th try? Is quite possible for this $2.3 million Fasig Tipton purchase from 2022. Using in multirace exotics.

12. Track Phantom (20-1): Morning line is vexing for horse with a great post position and early kick. On or near the lead and gets blinkers, which might help keep the horse focused late on a track that's sure to be tricked up and tends to favor runners toward the front of the pack. If he goes to post anywhere near 20-1, absolutely will garner a win wager. Joel Rosario riding for HOF trainer Steve Asmussen (amazingly still seeking first Derby win) and under-the-radar odds? Sign me up. Also a shoe-in for multirace exotics. Speed figure nerds could argue he isn't good enough, especially versus the other main early runner -- favorite Fierceness -- yet Phantom runs hard every time, whereas the favorite has had clunkers. If Fierceness stumbles early or isn't on his game as we've seen twice before, look out here. Best value in the field IMHO. Could stink it up, but hey, it's called gambling for a reason.

17. Fierceness (5-2): Let's assume Fierceness doesn't stumble from the gate and runs like a beast like he did in winning the Breeders Cup Juvenile last November by 6-plus lengths. If that happens, I don't think anyone else can win, since there isn't a ton of early speed in this field. Plus, he has a positional advantage where he can see what Rosario does on Track Phantom before deciding either to gun for the lead or sit just off his flank and stalk. However, in a 20-horse field with lots of randomness, there's no way I'm taking 5-2 odds as a win proposition; zero value there. I'll mix into all Derby tickets but a straight win wager isn't in the cards. Using in the multis and maybe key box the exacta with Track Phantom or trifecta that adds in Sierra Leone and Catching Freedom.

4. Catching Freedom (8-1): Similar to Sierra Leone, sits toward the rear before rolling midrace and through the stretch. Passed by Sierra Leone in the stretch of the Risen Star in February in the mud. Finished third in that one and drove past the field to win the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby in late March. Best of trainer Brad Cox's two runners. Win contender. Will be in my multirace exotics. 

Exacta, Trifecta and Superfecta Consideration

3. Mystik Dan (20-1): Really took to the off going in winning the Grade 3 Southwest at Oaklawn Park in February but didn't do a ton of running in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby in late March. Despite finishing third, Dan was more than 6 lengths behind the winner. Did break his maiden at Churchill Downs, blowing the doors off the competition and gaining a few MPH in the stretch but at a sprint distance. Still, makes you wonder if Dan could be a horse for course. Unlikely to wager as a winner but will use in exacta-trifecta plays. Sense he'll try to get the jump on Sierra Leone and Catching Freedom to avoid trouble. Question is whether distance too much for what looks to be a very promising one-turn horse once the Derby madness dust has settled.

1. Dornoch (20-1): One of the pacesetters and must break sharply to avoid getting run into the rail, but not blazingly fast and seems one-paced. Could be in for rough trip. Followed a gutsy Grade 2 win in the Remsen at Aqueduct in December with another G2 victory in the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park but in a small field. Used the Bluegrass at Keeneland on April 6 as prep for the Derby and has two snappy works, yet is a pass for me considering the innermost post, where even the best have done poorly.

7. Honor Marie (20-1): Not sure what to make of this one. Deep closer. Two nice wins at Churchill Downs as a two-year-old but not in love with his two 2024 efforts. Finished second to Catching Freedom in the Louisiana Derby though squarely outfinished to the wire. Fourth place may be the ceiling. 

19. Resilience (20-1): John Velazquez rode this one to two victories, including last month's Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, but obviously opts for race favorite Fierceness. Trainer Bill Mott uses go to rider Junior Alvarado. Not a win candidate though I may use defensively in third or fourth as this later-developing three-year-old (was 0-for-3 at age 2) hasn't run a bad one in 2024. I still have nightmares about 2019 when DQ'd out of a big Maximum Security score and not having Mott's 65-1 Country House on my tickets when handed the win by the stewards. Still stings. 

18. Stronghold (20-1): I preface my comments with an opinion that California racing is not in a good way. Trainer Phil D'Amato has taken this horse to six different tracks, including lesser known ovals like Ellis Park (Kentucky), Los Alamitos (California) and Sunland Park (New Mexico). Broke maiden at Churchill Downs last October and beat Track Phantom in that race, but speed figures are nothing to write home about and I thought the Santa Anita Derby was a so-so field at best. Antonio Fresu is a jockey worth watching. Move might be to track Fierceness for as long as possible and hope.

21. Epic Ride (30-1): Drew in when No. 9 (Encino) scratched earlier this week. Black type stakes win in early February at Turfway Park before runner up in similar vs. Encino in the Battaglia Memorial in March. Connections' decision to try the Bluegrass at Keeneland on April 6 proved wise as Epic Ride got enough points to be first alternate for the Derby. Thought he ran a good race 1x on dirt and at a longer distance; held his own vs. Just a Touch and outworked Dornoch to the finish to hold third. Like the experience edge over Just a Touch and might put on my trifecta and superfecta tickets. Blame, his sire, won the Breeders Cup Classic over Zenyatta in 2010, so pedigree says distance is within reach.

Not Getting My Money

8. Just a Touch (10-1): Perhaps narrow minded but I've learned my lesson enough to avoid horses that prepped at Aqueduct, where he finished an uninspiring second in a muddy Gotham in early March. That was followed by a runner-up in the Bluegrass at Keeneland on April 6; ran second the whole way and moved easily but never pressed before getting blown past by Sierra Leone. Sense Brad Cox will designate Just a Touch as the rabbit for Catching Freedom. In the mix early, fades. Pass.  

6. Just Steel (20-1): The most experienced runner, making 12th lifetime start under the bright lights for veteran trainer D. Wayne Lukas. Minor stakes win in late November but 0-4 since, including second in the Arkansas Derby. Sense he'll be on the pace early and jockey Keith Asmussen is fairly green. Pass. 

14. Endlessly (30-1): Tries dirt for the first time, which is an automatic toss. Already an accomplished turf horse with wins in his first three last fall and a game try in the Breeders Cup Juvenile Turf, this guy has done nothing wrong, winning two lower level stakes on synthetic surfaces in California and Kentucky, including clobbering West Saratoga (50-1; more below). Respect the connections. Just not the stomach to use in my tickets jumping two class levels and running on a new surface. 

11. Forever Young (10-1) and 10. T O Password (30-1): In a 20-horse field, you have to draw the line somewhere for budgetary purposes. For me, I automatically toss a) entrants from Aqueduct in New York and b) shippers from Japan. On the latter, there's constant hype, yet since 2019 none of the Japanese shippers has finished better than sixth. Some handicappers will make the case for Forever Young with five wins in five tries, including the Grade 2 UAE Derby, yet it's a lot to ask a still-maturing horse that has won in three different countries to head to North America and face a field of 20. Both runners are show me stories as far as my wagering is concerned. Will pass on both, tip cap if one wins or both hit the board. 

20. Society Man (50-1): Poor trainer Danny Gargan, whose better horse draws the rail. Society Man is a reach and gets into the starting gate on points from finishing second at 106-to-1 in the Wood. Pass. 

5. Catalytic (30-1): Ran second in the Florida Derby, about a mile behind Derby favorite Fierceness, who was never pressed on the lead. Catalytic has only one win (maiden debut in October 2023) but then sat out for five months before an optional claiming race in March that he lost by three-quarters of a length. Feels like a reach. 

15. Domestic Product (30-1): The lesser of Chad Brown's two runners. If my name was listed as trainer, morning line would be 50-1. Nothing to get excited about in DP's neck win in a slow yet exciting Tampa Derby blanket finish. DID beat Fierceness for second the race prior (Holy Bull Stakes). Unwilling, however, to deem a contender of any sort. Pass. 

13. West Saratoga (50-1): Won the Grade 3 Iriquois at Churchill last September. There. I said something nice about a horse who is an uninspiring 0-for-4 since and doesn't belong in the field. Pass. 

16. Grand Mo the First (50-1): Yet another reason why the Derby field should be capped at 15. Many rungs below the contenders. Pass. 

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)