Saturday, June 20, 2020

Belmont Stakes Pick: Tap It to Win Over Pneumatic

A bit pressed for time ahead of a graduation-birthday-Father's Day cookout at home, and after spending a few hours with my Pick 5 consigliere Coach Dan mapping out our group ticket for races 6-10, here's a few thoughts on playing today's Belmont Stakes.

A little on each horse, ranked in my order of preference and with morning lines and betting advice:

  • #1, Tap It to Win (6-1): Simply the fastest horse in the field and benefits from the cutback in the today's race distance to 10 from 9 furlongs. I believe his speed carries. Unless he rears up at the gate, this one should easily find the lead. The naysayer will knock the caliber of talent he's beaten to start 2020, but I think those were merely foundation races, and trainer Mark Casse recognizes this horse just wants to go from the gate. Tap It to Win has the pedigree, and has already proven proficient in 1-turn races. Toss the 2 stakes flops last fall, where the jockey clearly couldn't get the horse to settle. To me it's gun for the front and make others eat dust.
  • #10, Pneumatic (8-1): This horse has a Mr. Money feel -- probably a 1-turn horse who's starting to show maturity after just 3 lifetime races. Didn't run as a 2-year-old but proved to be tactical in his first two races (both wins), and ran really game in his first stakes try in the Matt Winn at Churchill Downs on May 23, losing to the best 3-year-old in training (Maxfield). Pneumatic is prominent in all of my wagers and a win candidate, especially if he's within 1-2 lengths of the leaders coming into the stretch. Real grinder-type that I like at Belmont.
  • #8, Tiz the Law (6-5): Deserving favorite and an obvious win candidate. Horse is 4-for-5 lifetime with two Grade 1 wins (one at Belmont at age 2) and quite the resume. Candidly, my concerns are with the connections (trainer Barclay Tagg just a 7% win rate in graded stakes), and I can see jockey Manuel Franco getting outdone by the better riders. Wouldn't be the least bit surprised, but I'm also not taking short odds on a New York-bred. The last time one of them won the Belmont...1882, 118 years ago. Using on all tickets but wouldn't bet win, place or show at all. 
  • #9, Dr. Post (5-1): Intriguing but second tier here. Hard to argue betting against trainer Todd Pletcher and top rider Irad Ortiz, but I think he beat some cupcakes, including a horse who was a distant 4th to Pneumatic in the aforementioned Matt Winn Stakes. Among the opponents he beat in his maiden-breaking win on March 29 were a Pletcher stablemate who hasn't raced since, and the third-place finisher there's 0-for-8 lifetime. "B"-type use for me, underneath in exotic wagers and in some backup Pick 5 tickets.
  • #4, Modernist (15-1): I was sorta talked into this one but see some merit as an underneath horse, as the replays I reviewed show a 1-paced horse with stamina questions and no real late kick that could, say, keep him with a runaway speed type like Tap It to Win. I sense he's going to get used up early, so his ceiling seems to be 3rd or 4th best.
  • #2, Sole Volante (9/2): Dead closer who's going to be 15 lengths off the pace a half-mile in and will need to ride the rail and hope for a seem, blazing early fractions and for those speedsters to completely fall apart. Stakes win at Tampa Bay Downs in February was like that, though the horse he beat (Independence Hall) was really poorly ridden by jockey Jose Ortiz, and to me there's a scent of luckiness in that win. Plus Luca Panici is a Florida-based rider who isn't at all familiar with Belmont's sandy and long oval, so he's maybe a horse to use 3rd in trifectas.
  • #5, Farmington Road (15-1): Been here, done that. A plodder with zero gate speed and who, aside from 2 races vs. much softer fields, isn't a great-looking closer type. Pass.
  • #3, Max Player (15-1): Won the Grade 3 Withers at Aqueduct in February, but that was a so-so race where he sat off the pace and watched the others wilt. May be better than Sole Volante and Farmington Road, but to me he hasn't faced real horses like the ones above.
  • #6, Fore Left (30-1): Chases the pace for about 5-6 furlongs before wilting. Only hits the board if the dirt track proves to be a carousel today and no closer types can factor. Pass.
  • #7, Jungle Runner (50-1): Just happy to be here. 
Most of my wagers are as part of Pick 5 tickets with the Coach Dan team, and I'm setting aside only about $60-$80 for my own wagers. For straight Belmont Stakes bets, I'll gauge the odds on Tap It to Win before committing to a win bet, as I think he's less compelling at 3-1 or 7-2 odds than, say, Pneumatic. I also wouldn't talk bettors of Dr. Post at a decent price and with the top jockey. 

Below are a few tickets I've already punched, keying my top selections in the Pick 5 sequence:
  • Race 6, #5 Selflessly (5-2): Grade 3 Wonder Again, 1 mile on turf
  • Race 7, #8 My Sassy Sarah (5-2): Allowance for non-winners of 2 lifetime races, 6 furlong turf
    • $1 Pick 3: 4, 8, 12, 14 with 4 with 2, 5 = $8
  • Race 8, #4 Casual (3-1): Grade 1 Acorn for 3-year-old fillies, 1 mile on dirt
    • Singling in a $1 Pick 3 ticket thru race 10: 4 with 2, 5 with 1, 4, 8, 9, 10 = $10
  • Race 9, #2 Oleksandra (7-2): Grade 1 Juiper, 6 furlongs on turf
    • Prominent on all of my tickets and one of my top selections in the sequence; there's plenty of speed for this closer to chase, so unless the track bias is for front-runner types, she's got an enormous shot vs. what's otherwise an all-male field
    • Certainly playable as a win wager at 7-2, and #5 Stubbins (3-1) is also going to be prominent; will consider exactas and trifectas with these two up top
    • Playing $5 daily double 5 with 1, 10 = $10
      • I think his odds will be better, hence the higher-priced ticket than w/my top pick
    • Playing $2 daily double 2 with 1, 8, 9, 10 = $8
My own Pick 5 tickets for Races 6-10, the first three as a 50-cent base wager and the fourth at $1:
  • 1, 5 with 8 with 2, 4 with 2, 5 with 1, 8, 10 = $12
  • 5 with 4, 12, 14 with 4 with 2, 5 with 1, 10 =$6
  • 5 with 8 with ALL with 2, 5 with 1 = $7
  • 1, 2, 5 with 8 with 4 with 2, 5 with 10 = $6

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Horse Racing Contest Perspective in Virus Scare

So I've been too busy to write thoughtful blogs the past 6 months, but with far more time at home responsibly playing my role in "physical (not social) distancing," it's time to dust off this hobby and get busy with self-effacing handicapping-contest blunders and unwanted horse racing advice in these scary days of a global health pandemic.

The point is to lighten the mood at a time when COVID-19 has disrupted our daily routines and will reshape our interactions and lifestyles in the days and months ahead. Probably forever. But, hey, if eliminating strange bro-hugs is the worst byproduct, we can all live with that.

On a personal level, I'm thankful as hell that my family has stayed healthy throughout this episode and I hope this post finds you well.

On a professional level, there's been no change to my 50+ hour workweeks other than they're now entirely from home.

The coronavirus crisis hasn't tested my sanity too much, probably because it satisfies my introverted side, home life has been good, and more time with my aging teens will quickly dry up as they prepare for college and life beyond.

And whereas other sports are on hiatus, the horse racing industry has shockingly been functional in several jurisdictions and the only live sport going for about the past month. So I've been able to play the occasional small-dollar after-work games hosted by online-contest sites and dipped my toe into an NHC qualifier on Saturday.

The end result was a 21st-place finish vs. 220 contestants and $165 refund, where in the current global health scare I'll highlight the bright side instead of the negative and provide this bit of tournament-specific advice: don't let early race "bad beats" or wrong sides of the coin-flip derail the rest of your contest. 

Saturday's 12-race contest got off to an awful start, as at the last second I switched off the winner in the opener (Highland Glory, Gulfstream Park race 7) and pissed away $15.60 of win-place points in favor of the "hot jockey" who, of course, put my horse in awful position and ran last of 11.

Two races later I was torn between two horses and picked the wrong one, losing out on an 11-1 winner with a better jockey than the low-percentage guy who rode my selection into traffic and fifth-place in race 7 at Tampa. Ultimately, the $36.20 of winnings from Native Hawk would have been good enough to help me finish second and qualify for NHC 2021, but that's spilled milk.

After cursing at myself for the next 5-10 minutes I regained perspective:

  • Only three races into the contest, I wasn't dead in the water
  • Deep fields on Florida Derby Day at Gulfstream provided opportunities for playable long-shots later in the contest card
  • The grim realities of a global contagion make fretting over a loss in a fantasy contest a complete lack of perspective, so stay grounded

From there I reached with Jimmy D in race 8 at Tampa in a garbage field, but then hit the board in four straight (3 winners, 1 place), including $30 and $27 scores with Swiss Skydiver and Bemma's Boy and $8 from an obvious 9-5 shot at Golden Gate, vaulting me into 11th and within reach of a Top 3.

From there I could have played the 10th contest race a bit smarter, picking up $4.80 of place money on the preferred La Waun at Golden Gate instead of Bullet Drill. But that and taking heavily favored Tiz the Law -- a shoe-in winner of the Florida Derby -- would, in hindsight, have moved me up maybe 5-6 places in the final standings, not good enough for the NHC.

The differences for me were passing on Native Hawk earlier on, and then Ballagh Rocks getting caught in traffic in the 11th contest race and finishing off the board. I was the highest player on the leaderboard to have that horse, so success there would have been fruitful.

Yet I can live with the outcomes:
  • Top 10% finish (though I don't give a hoot about NHC Tour points; a scam to encourage high-volume tournament play and that doesn't gauge handicapping-contest efficiency)
  • Stuck to principals of prior blog posts:
    • patience
    • no overthinking
    • keep to more-logical long-shots and don't reach too often
  • Appreciate the equine athletes, their jockeys and trainers and a seemingly safe day on the track
  • A relaxing, enjoyable and frivolous way to spend a rainy and cool afternoon on a great hobby.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Saturday Breeders Cup Analysis

It's been some time that I've posted, but got a head start on Breeders Cup handicapping and so am posting thoughts about each of the 9 races carded for Santa Anita on Saturday. 

Image result for 2019 breeders cupI'll circle back Saturday morning with my full list of proposed wagers for the card, once I've decided how to allocate my budget (probably $100-$150), but in the meantime offer my top 3 in each race.

Race 4, Filly and Mare Sprint (2:55 p.m. ET)

  • #4, Come Dancing (5-2)
  • #1, Covfefe (2-1)
  • #9, Spiced Perfection (4-1)
  • Long Shot Who Can Hit the Board: #7, Selcourt (10-1)
A great way to kick off the card, albeit chalky. I'm sure of my ticket structures, but view Come Dancing as a "strong single" in the first leg of the Pick 4, allowing me to go as far as 6 deep in Race 5 and be alive to prices that I like in Races 6 and 7. In the F&M Sprint, trainer Carlos Martin has a sprint beast in Come Dancing. Finishing second to Midnight Bisou, probably winner of the Distaff (Race 10) and in a June Grade 1 at Belmont, and losing to the likes of Wow Cat showed she can't go beyond a mile, but she was really game in those efforts. And she showed maturity in her last two, proving the ability to sit a bit off the pace and chase down the leaders. 

Race 5, Turf Sprint (3:33 p.m.)

  • #4, Shekky Shebaz (15-1)
  • #11, Om (15-1)
  • #5, Stubbins (12-1)
Dismiss painfully slow workout times at your own risk. Trainer Jason Service has the fastest horse from the gate here, and I think Shekky Shebaz is simply the fastest sprinter and can last the 5-furlong distance. If he stumbles I'm cooked, in which case I think Om is second best and will absolutely hit the board, spicing up the exacta, trifecta and superfecta combos, though his long layoff coming into this race was the primary deterrent from making him my win selection.

Race 6, Dirt Mile (4:10 p.m.)

  • #4, Mr. Money (6-1) ** BEST BET **
  • #5, Omaha Beach (8-5)
  • #1, Giant Expectations (12-1)
  • Also using #3, Spun to Run (6-1) and #8, Blue Chipper (20-1)
This race has always been my favorite and is quintessential U.S. racing -- a fast-flying mile at two turns on the dirt. I think bettors may dismiss Mr. Money off a Grade 1 loss to a 30-1 shot in the Pennsylvania Derby, but don't dismiss the chances of the best miler in the field. His sire Goldencents won this race twice, and I think Mr. Money's extremely tactical. If jockey Gabriel Saez breaks clean and can give Mr. Money the same kind of trip he gave By My Standards in winning the Louisiana Derby earlier this year, it'll be a profitable day for yours truly. I believe he's got enough gate speed to make Omaha Beach, Coal Front and Blue Chipper have to gun wide to pass him into the first turn. If that happens, I think Money can settle into a mid-pack rail position just off the leaders and hopefully find a seam late to roll home victorious.

Race 7, Filly and Mare Turf (4:54 p.m.)

  • #8, Castle Lady (15-1)
  • #2, Sistercharlie (8-5)
  • #9, Villa Marina (8-1)
I will use these on all tickets and probably in small exacta and trifecta box plays. It's really tough to gauge the European shippers, but I liked what I saw enough from Castle Lady on her race replays to think she's got a shot here. There's no questioning the class of Sistercharlie, a 10-time winner in just 14 starts and with $3.5 million of winnings at age 5. Yet she's an extremely deep closer -- a style I'm unsure will work well at Santa Anita. As you're watching this race, prepare for #5 Mirth and #6 Thais to set a swift early pace. I expect Castle Lady to sit third or fourth as the pace-setters duke it out, as her effort at Keeneland in October (and prior races) showed she's keen from the starting gate but willing to settle down to conserve energy. That's what I expect here -- sit third off the pace, find a seam and hope to hold off a host of late runners. Jockey Mickael Barzalona has tasted success at the Breeders Cup before, which means he's done this. In 2017 it was piloting Talismanic to a 14-1 win in the 2017 edition of the BC Turf. A ha!

Race 8, Breeders Cup Sprint (5:36 p.m.)

  • #2, Hog Creek Hustle (20-1) ** TOP 3 PICK **
  • #9, Imperial Hint (4-1)
  • #4, Mitole (9-5)
Make no mistake. I will be playing 2-9-ALL and 9-2-ALL combinations for the trifecta and potentially superfecta. I love Hog Creek Hustle. The caveat is that 6 furlongs may not be allow this guy enough time to get into his late burst. I'd back up the Brink's truck were this a 7-furlong race (his preferred distance, IMO), but view the shorter distance more tepidly. I'll still support him and think it's a two-horse race with Imperial Hint. There's a TON of early pace in this race that I think can burn out, setting up Hog Creek Hustle to mow 'em all down late at a big price. If the quarter- and half-mile times are 21 second and 43 seconds as I anticipate, it's game, set and match. Hog Creek Hustle wins.

Race 9, TVG Mile (6:20 p.m.)

  • #13, Hey Gaman (12-1)
  • #12, Lord Glitters (12-1)
  • #9, Circus Maximus (3-1)
Let's be honest. How many U.S. handicappers watch enough European racing to figure this one out? Half of 14 horses are Euro shippers. I'm just not enamored with the U.S.-based entrants, and watched a ton of replays to get a sense of our visitors from across the pond. Betting-wise, I think most will default to the top 3 morning-line choices, but none of them catch my fancy. That brings me to jockey Frankie Dettori on Hey Gaman, a turf sprinter who has shown little in his past 2 but with different riders. Dettori gets back aboard a horse who, from replays, seems to do his best when on or just a shade off the lead. I'm looking for Hey Gaman to attend the pace and hopefully steal this one, held together with bubble gum or Flex Seal. It's a bit of a risk, but aren't all wagers?!

Race 10, Distaff (7 p.m.)

  • #4, Midnight Bisou (6-5) ** TOP 3 PICK **
  • #3, Street Band (10-1)
  • #5, Dunbar Road (6-1)
  • Long Shot Who Can Hit the Board: #7, Secret Spice (10-1)
I won't belabor this one. I wanted to pick Street Band, but Midnight Bisou is just the class of the entire Saturday card. Her last two losses (in late 2018; she's 7-for-7 in 2019) were to Monomoy Girl, who readers know I put on a pedestal. And those losses were close. In Saturday's race I think she can do what she wants and can deal with any sort of pace. I sense 3-4 horses will set a blistering early pace, but Midnight Bisou keeps her powder dry, lets them wilt, then holds off a maturing Street Band in what, for me, is a strong straight exacta play and single in late Pick 3 and 4 tickets.

Race 11, Longines Turf (7:40 p.m.)

  • #10, Old Persian (4-1)
  • #9, Bricks and Mortar (9-5)
  • #7, Alounak (20-1)
These are the only 3 horses I'll use. I give Old Persian a slight edge vs. Bricks and Mortar, only for facing seemingly tougher competition in Europe. But I wouldn't be surprised if the latter won -- a stellar horse. I watched many replays on Old Persian, who to me needs to be a bit forwardly placed (preferably third for much of the race) and is a grinder, exactly what's needed at 12 furlongs. A key race for me is the Sheema Classic in Dubai in late March, where Old Persian beat a quality runner named Desert Encounter, who last month was infinitely the best in winning the Grade 1 Canadian International at Woodbine in Toronto, a race where my third choice Alounak was runner-up. 

Race 12, Breeders Cup Classic (8:44 p.m.)

  • #7, Higher Power (6-1)
  • #11, Code of Honor (4-1)
  • #5, Yoshida (8-1)
I'm not as jazzed up about this race as many of the earlier ones but am siding with Higher Power, a 4-year-old who did little in 2018 but has taken several steps forward in his last four races, including a dominant win in the Grade 1 Pacific Classic in August. A month later he came back with a decent third-place in the Awesome Again after almost face-planting and tossing jockey Flavien Prat out of the starting gate, but to me he showed guts that afternoon and still battled in a race he didn't need to win. If he gets the jump on #6 Elate from the gate and gets the second spot behind presumed pacesetter War of Wills, Higher Power will have an excellent shot to outlast the rest. And there was no better rider in California this year than Prat -- a big tactical advantage. 

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Haskell Pick (If It Ever Runs): Everfast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Probable Wagers

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

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

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Grade 1 Diana Tops PH Contest Card

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Stars and Stripes Selections in Public Handicapper Contest

Hopefully everyone had a safe and enjoyable July 4 celebration!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Wetting My Whistle on Queen's Plate Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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