Today’s Monmouth Late Double

Let’s take a shot at the late double today at Monmouth Park, which starts with the Grade 3 Red Bank Stakes and finishes with a state-bred Maiden Special Weight sprint.

Race 9 (Red Bank Stakes) – Grade 3, 8 furlongs, turf – Todd Pletcher’s #2 All Included (9-5) is the favorite, making his fourth start of the year. He comes out of a win in the Grade 3 Appleton at Gulfstream on April 1st in which he had a good trip rallying behind a solid pace. He should get a good trip today but won’t offer much value and we think he was probably a bit better in years past.

Our top pick is the improving #3 Synchrony (5-1) for Michael Stidham. He was a very wide second in the 12-horse Henry Clark while today’s rival #8 Irish Strait (6-1) saved ground the entire way en route to a fourth place finish (beaten just 3/4 of a length). Two-back, Synchrony beat Sir Dudley Digges at Fair Grounds, who won an allowance race on the Derby undercard at Churchill.

#4 Canthelpbelieving (9-2) was overmatched in the Turf Classic (G1) at Churchill last time but his best races are going longer than this mile distance. #5 Rose Brier (7-2) is a contender but has other speed to deal with.

Race 10 – Maiden Special Weight, NJ-breds, 6 furlongs, dirt – #1 Jersey Joe B (7-2) did little running in his debut 11 days ago for Greg Sacco but he was likely using that as a prep for this Jersey-bred race. He was fractious loading that day and today adds Lasix while facing Jersey-breds for the first time and switches to Paco Lopez. The favorite is #5 Valentino’s Day (2-1), first time for Jorge Navarro. Navarro is 8-21 with a $2.92 ROI on 120+ plus layoffs off trainer changes in dirt sprints (DRF Formulator) and has the best back races.

We’ll chalk it out in the finale but try to get Synchrony home in the opener:

Double – 3 / 1, 5

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The Preakness Pick-5

Pick-5 takeout at Pimlico is just 12% so we’ll try to hit the Pick-5 that ends in the Preakness. You can read our analysis of the Preakness here.

Race 9 – Maryland Sprint (G3), 3/up, 6 furlongs, dirt – #5 Whitmore (9-5) might be the premier sprinter in the country at this point and shows up here as the horse to beat. #4 AP Indian (8-5) had a useful return in the Commonwealth going seven furlong last time and is very logical to move forward off that race. The 1-3 finishers ran 1-2 in the Churchill Downs on the Derby undercard. We’ll toss in #6 Holy Boss (8-1) as a C as he could potentially get loose, but it’s hard to see him in his current form holding off both of the top two.

A – 4, 5
B – none
C – 6

Race 10 – Gallorette (G3), F&M, 3/up, 8.5 furlongs, turf – The morning link favorite is #6 On Leave (2-1) for Shug McGaughey. She makes her first start since October and while she ran some big races last year, she might be vulnerable first off the layoff facing older horses for the first time. #7 Elysea’s World (5-2) is a deep closer but always puts in a good run and we’ve been fans. She was a close second against subsequent G1 winner Dickinson in her last two starts (though she might prefer nine furlongs). #2 Zipessa (9-2) ran some solid races last year and you can safely toss her 2017 debut in the Sheepshead Bay going too far on yielding turf. #10 Cambodia (8-1) had a very wide trip behind Danilovna (who is in here but we don’t like) last time. Her two previous races are both solid enough and she has a shot for Tom Proctor.

A – 2, 7
B – 10
C – 6

Race 11 – Sir Barton, 3 yo, 8.5 furlongs, dirt – #9 Time to Travel (7-2) comes out of the Lexington where he was a part of a fast pace which fell apart, making an early sweep to the lead on the far turn, opening up, only to be run down late. He ran a very good race, though might have to sit off a few rivals today. #6 Watch Me Whip (12-1) is a second time starter going sprint-to-route for Dale Romans off a debut win. That’s a 4-9 move for Romans with a $4.31 ROI with two of those four wins in stakes races (DRF Formulator). #2 Hedge Fund (9-5) ran fine in the Illinois Derby and was part of a fast pace that fell apart in the Sunland Derby but he’ll probably be overbet. #5 No Mo Dough (12-1) seems to be improving for Graham Motion after winning an allowance on the Derby undercard.

A – 2, 6, 9
B – none
C – 5

Race 12 – Dixie (G2), 3/up, 8.5 furlongs, turf – This race is typically wide open and this version is no different. #8 Catapult (10-1) – is improving for Chad Brown and while he might have to take another step forward, he certainly can, having only made eight career starts. He was wired last time by Macagone on that one’s preferred Aqueduct turf course with give in it. #4 Projected (3-1) was wired two-back by Heart to Heart, and last time, gutted out a win in a very tough allowance race, beating subsequent Turf Classic winner Divisidero. #2 World Approval scratched out of the Turf Classic after it rained to run here and has tactical speed. #7 Blacktype (4-1) will take some money but he’s benefitted from some solid paces and we’re not sure what kind of pace he gets today. #10 Ring Weekend (4-1) drew poorly but wouldn’t be a huge surprise.

A – 2, 4, 8
B – none
C –  10

Race 13 – Preakness (G1), 3 yo, 9.5 furlongs, dirt – As we noted here, we like Classic Empire and will use him as the lone-A horse. Always Dreaming, the Derby winner, and Cloud Computing are B horses.

A – 5
B – 2, 4
C – none

It’s a $111 play. Here’s the grid.


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The Preakness (G1)

It’s time for the Preakness, the second leg of the Triple Crown, as Always Dreaming bids for a shot at immortality in three weeks at Belmont.

First, a quick history lesson:

preakness17colposjpg300Now, let’s go through the field:

1 – Multiplier (30-1) – He ran down Hedge Fund to win the Illinois Derby last time. Hedge Fund is running in the Sir Barton on the undercard. Multiplier, however, is a closer that doesn’t figure to get a ton of pace in this race and will have to run much faster. We prefer others.

2 – Cloud Computing (12-1) – We’ve always been a fan of this horse, who had an impressive debut against NY-breds before running second in the Gotham forging a very fast pace. Then in the Wood Memorial, he broke a length slow, inched up on the backstretch, and faded late on a track on which it was very tough to make up ground. I’d argue that all of his races are good, and outside the top two, he is the one horse that I think could potentially upset the field. There are some concerns, mainly we’re not sure how good the Wood Memorial field was (Irish War Cry did not run well in Kentucky and runner-up Battalion Runner was taken off the trail after training poorly). Plus, this is just his fourth career start. 30 of the last 33 Preakness winners ran in the Derby (exceptions were Rachel Alexandra, Bernardini, and Red Bullet), but Cloud Computing has a shot.

3 – Hence (20-1) – We can safely toss his Derby, as did trainer Steve Asmussen (hence, no pun intended, Hence’s presence here) did. The sloppy track, and some traffic didn’t help him. But we’re still basing his resume on winning the Sunland Derby, a race that while it did produce some improved performances from other runners, also featured a fast pace that flattered Hence. Today, there doesn’t appear to be a ton of speed. We prefer him to Gunnevera, but are limiting him to third in trifectas.

4 – Always  Dreaming (4-5) – The Derby winner ran well two weeks ago in Kentucky, but did have a pretty good trip, stalking the overmatched State of Honor before taking over and winning comfortably. The race did hold together, with Battle of Midway holding on for third batting on the lead, and inside runners (including runner-up Lookin at Lee and fifth place finisher Practical Joke) performing well. We did not like him going into the race, after his soft trip in the Florida Derby, so he certainly exceeded our expectations last time. Today, he should get another good trip considering there isn’t a ton of pace. Obviously he can win, but we’ll take a shot against.

5 – Classic Empire (3-1) – We’ll take a shot against Always Dreaming with this horse, the two-year old champion. This year has been a tough one for Classic Empire, who ran a 102 Beyer in a tremendous performance to win the Breeders Cup Juvenile last year. This year, he didn’t run well in the Holy Bull, had a foot abscess, missed a race, won the Arkansas Derby in a grinding performance, and then went to Kentucky. In the Derby, he was hammered out of the gate and found himself 10 lengths out of it, five or so lengths out of position. He then made a wide move around the turn, covering 75 feet more than Always Dreaming and more than 80 feet more than Lookin’ at Lee. He was the best outside mover in a race dominated by runners that spent time inside, and now he should be fit and ready to go in the Preakness. He’ll be closer today (he’ll probably need to be) and he’s our pick for the minor upset.

6 – Gunnevera (15-1) – Gunnevera’s claim to fame is the perfect trip, fast-pace aided win in the Fountain of Youth. He did not have much of a shot in the Kentucky Derby in the race that held together while he made a very wide move around the far turn. He was pace compromised in the Florida Derby too, but ultimately, we’re just not sure how good he is in the first place. Like Hence, we’ll limit him to third in trifectas.

7 – Term of Art (30-1) – It’s hard to see how he is going to impact this race, or find the race that he has that makes him a contender here.

8 – Senior Investment (30-1) – He won the Lexington at Keeneland last time but got a huge pace to attack in the process and still only earned an 89 Beyer Speed Figure. He’ll have to run a lot faster against much tougher horses with less pace today. No thanks.

9 – Lookin at Lee (10-1) – Considering he could be the third choice (maybe fourth behind Cloud Computing), he is the one we do not want. He’s a deep closer who will not get the pace he’s been used to in this race. Plus, last time, he was given a spectacular ride by Corey Lanerie, saving ground every step of the way en route to a runner-up finish behind Always Dreaming. Classic Empire, for example, ran 80+ feet more than Lookin at Lee per Trakus. He seems to be just a late runner with little upside that needs a monumental pace, and isn’t one we’re interested in using.

10 – Conquest Mo Money (15-1) – He ran a huge race in the Arkansas Derby and is the intriguing new face in the Preakness. In the Arkansas Derby, he set a very fast pace, one that fell apart late, and was just run down by Classic Empire. He skipped the Derby to point for this race and looms an intriguing longshot here. He will probably go to the front and if Always Dreaming lets him go…stranger things have happened. Still, we’re going to limit him to underneath.

The Pace – The only two legitimate speed horses in this race are Always Dreaming and Conquest Mo Money. Conquest Mo Money’s early intent will likely dictate whether Always Dreaming goes to the lead or stalks from the two-path. Either way, the pace shouldn’t be too fast, which likely compromises the chances of the late runners. We’d expect Classic Empire and Cloud Computing to stalk from just in behind those top two.

Analysis – We’re going to take Classic Empire to pull the small upset. His Derby is much better than it looks on paper and he should be closer to the pace today assuming he breaks well. Cloud Computing has run three races that are all better than they look and figures to get a good trip as well. Always Dreaming was the best horse last week but faces two legit challengers here today so we’ll take a small shot against the Derby winner. Good luck!

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The Kentucky Derby Pick-5

Let’s try to hit the Pick-5 that ends in the Kentucky Derby.

We have longer write-ups of the Derby undercard stakes races here and the Derby itself here.

Unfortunately, we have to start with this:

There appears to be a chance that it clears out by the Derby, but there should be some moisture in the track all day. Certainly the turf course will have give.

On Friday’s Oaks card, speed and the rail were excellent, something all the riders eventually figured out, which helped lead to a supersonic pace in the Oaks that completely fell apart. We can’t just assume the rail will be good again, but be sure to pay attention early in the card.

This pick-5 sequence includes five of the six stakes races on Saturday’s card and ends in the Derby. Our key horse is going to be Divisidero in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, the race preceding the Derby itself.

Race 8 – Pat Day Mile – Uncontested is our top selection, but we also want Local Hero, as the two turn back out of the Derby preps in Arkansas and Louisiana respectively. These are both speeds, but we’ll roll the dice, mainly because we really like Uncontested here. We’ll toss in No Dozing, Wild Shot, and Bobby on Fleek as Cs.

A – 4
B – 1
C – 5, 8, 12

Continue reading

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Saturday Spot Plays

Happy Derby Day! Let’s look at a few spot plays around the Churchill card for Derby Day, with one bonus pick at Belmont.

Our Derby preview post can be found here.

Distaff Turf Mile (G2) – Churchill Race 7 (F&M, 8 furlongs, turf) – I can’t say I have a ton of interest in opposing both #2 Miss Temple City (9-5) and #6 Roca Rojo (3-1) after they were separated by a nose (in that order) in the G1 Matriarch in December at Del Mar. But both are prepping for bigger objectives later on and run today on six month layoffs (though for trainers in Graham Motion and Chad Brown that can get one ready off the bench). If we prefer one, it’s Roca Rojo, who has a 3.5 length win in the Athenia on soft turf from the fall. However, there is one horse we want to be a part of the play, #1 Linda (5-1). I think she might drift up a point or two from there anyway, but she ran a sneaky good race last time in the Honey Fox, stalking the slow pace while wide while Celestine wired the field after setting moderate fractions. While she did lose to Mississippi Delta (who saved more ground) that day, Linda should move up on a wet track and was making her first start off the bench in that race. Further, Linda has two good races on less-than-firm turf last fall including a win in the Mrs. Revere on this course.

Which of the Whitham 5-1 shots has a better chance today – Linda or McCraken? We think Linda.

Pat Day Mile (G2) – Churchill Race 8 (3 yo, 8 furlongs, dirt) – This is a wide open race with a lot of pace but our top pick is still #4 Uncontested (5-1), who turns back out of the Rebel Stakes for this spot. He’s been reportedly training very well for Wayne Catalano, has speed, and a big win over a sloppy track in the Smarty Jones. He also ran a big race going 8.5 furlongs setting a fast pace over this track behind McCraken in the Kentucky Jockey Club in November. #1 Local Hero (5-1) turns back out of the Fair Grounds Derby preps and is logical but might have his hand forced on the fast pace from his inside draw (note, however that the rail was very good on Friday so be sure to monitor that moving forward on Saturday – on Friday’s track, he would be tough). #8 Wild Shot (4-1) turns back out of the Blue Grass but was awful in that race while setting a moderate pace that I don’t entirely trust him though we have been fans of his before. #5 No Dozing (5-1) “checked hard 1st turn” per the short comment in the Lexington and while he did steady a bit, he also settled back behind a fast pace in a race that fell apart. They are the main players, but we wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss #12 Bobby on Fleek (10-1), a NY-bred who won a 6-furlong state-bred allowance race last time for Chad Brown. This is a pretty big jump up in class for a horse that has always been well-regarded. Perhaps the placement speaks confidently, and (assuming a fair track), he should get a good trip stalking in the clear (I wouldn’t read too much into his poor finish in his lone wet track race; he chased Syndergaard through blazing fractions in a race that preceded a long layoff). We’ve mentioned a lot of horses in here, but Uncontested is the one we most want to bet.

American Turf (G2) – Churchill Race 9 (3 yo, 8.5 furlongs, turf) – #2 Big Score (6-1) won the Transylvania last time at Keeneland and we’ll take him right back in here. He didn’t fire in the Breeders Cup but had run some big races before that last year and returned with a nice win, running down a loose on the lead Holiday Stone. He’s well drawn today and should get a good trip and won’t be any lower than the third choice in the betting. The favorite is likely #4 Oscar Performance (7-2) who was rated last time. We’d expect him to go right to the lead today (though he’ll have to deal with Conquest Farenheit) and the Breeders Cup winner is a threat, but he should have run better last time. Note, he does have a big Pilgrim win on yielding turf from the fall at Belmont. Don’t sleep on #6 Arklow (12-1) who won a Keeneland maiden special weight by 3.5 lengths with a solid figure and will be a big price. #10 Good Samaritan (5-1) ran a huge race, maybe the best race, in the BC Juvenile Turf after a terrible trip. He can certainly win back here off the bench but will be a short price off the long layoff.

Churchill Downs (G2) – Churchill Race 10 (3/up, 7 furlongs, dirt) – #2 Masochistic (5-2) is the favorite and the speed, but he set a slow pace and should have won last time in the Triple Bend. We have a feeling he’s not as good as he once was and want to look elsewhere on top. Here’s a big longshot: #14 Bluegrass Singer (15-1), our top selection. It’s a bit of a stretch, certainly after his fourth place finish in the seven-furlong Sir Shackleton on April 1st, but that race fell apart and he was forging the very fast pace. His two races before that were pretty good and he’s well drawn on the outside in a race where all the secondary contenders have some flaws. It’s a spread race in mutlis where we will also use #9 Limousine Liberal (10-1), who was part of a strong pace last time at Keeneland (though he’s always run better there). #8 El Kabeir (6-1) ran well in a speed-dominated race at Gulfstream and should improve in his second start for Bill Mott. I suppose if #5 Clearly Now (6-1) runs back to his last race, his allowance win at Gulfstream on April 1st, but he hadn’t run that race in almost two years, so I’m a little skeptical that he’ll repeat it here. #1 Awesome Slew (4-1) won the Commonwealth last time, but did have a good trip behind a solid pace. He can win but will be a short price. We’re going to try to get Bluegrass Singer into the number at a big price in a great rice.

Turf Classic (G1) – Churchill Race 11 (3/up, 9 furlongs, turf) – This is always a great race, serving as last appetizer before the Derby. We’re all about #2 Divisidero (4-1) – shocker. He’s had a bunch of wide trips and then last time, in a loaded allowance at Keeneland that could have easily been a Grade 2 stakes race, he got totally stopped at the top of the lane, shut off for a key stage of the race, and when he got room, was moving very well late in what was an obvious prep for this race, which he won last year. We don’t want anyone of the Muniz, which was slow, on the quirky Fair Grounds course, and we think a level below this one. #6 Bal a Bali (6-1) can win, but will have to deal with soft turf and he might be better at a mile than 1 1/8 miles. #7 World Approval (6-1) has some good races going longer than this one but had a good prep last time and always gets a good trip because of his tactical speed. #8 Beach Patrol (5-1) makes his second start against older horses after a win in the Hollywood Derby in December. He was a good second in the GP Turf Handicap in February pressing a strong pace. He can definitely win this race, but it’s a much tougher spot than that last one. #12 Ballagh Rocks (10-1) is a usable longshot. He’s been steadily improving for Bill Mott and should like the 9 furlongs of this race more than the 8 furlongs of the Makers Mark Mile at Keeneland where he was a fast-closing fourth. In multis, however, we are going to lean on Divisidero.

Fort Marcy (G3) – Belmont Race 11 (3/up, 9 furlongs, turf) – Like the Turf Classic at Churchill, here is another race that should yield starters for the Manhattan on the Belmont card. The morning line favorite for Chad Brown is #8 Time Test (2-1), but his form seems better on firm turf and at distances longer than this one. Meanwhile, our pick is #9 Highland Sky (5-1), who ran a big race in his 2017 debut, a Gulfstream allowance on February 25th and is poised for a big season for Barclay Tagg. He should appreciate getting back out to 9 furlongs and his one yielding turf start was a hopelessly wide run in the 2015 BC Juvenile Turf, a race that is much better than it looks on paper.

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Handicapping the Kentucky Derby

kentucky-derby-143-logo-2017The biggest race of the year is also the biggest handicapping puzzle of the year. This year’s Kentucky Derby is as wide open as a Derby gets, certainly not a surprise after a roller coaster of a prep season.

Thus, isn’t not a race where we want to take a short price (5-1 in the Derby is a short price) on anyone.

Related – Handicapping the Kentucky Oaks

Our history of Derby handicapping is pretty awful, but in a wide open race like this, if we’re right, we’ll get paid.

As the great Grantland Rice wrote, “Those two minutes and a second or so of Derby running carry more emotional thrills, per second, than anything sport can show.”

We’ll have some stakes spot plays and multi-race plays for the outstanding card coming later.

Let’s get to it:

1 – Lookin At Lee (20-1) – This Steve Asmussen trainee is one horse that won’t be impacted negatively by drawing the rail post since he’ll just drop back anyway. I actually thought his Arkansas Derby was perhaps his best since he dove back inside in the lane and was maybe impacted a bit by being behind horses – had he been outside in the clear like Classic Empire, maybe he could have been closer. He gets a big rider switch to Corey Lanerie, and will like the 10 furlong distance of this race. I wouldn’t use him higher than third in a trifecta, but he’ll be running late.

2 – Thunder Snow (20-1) – Goldolphin brings in this Irish-bred for his third career dirt start after two wins in Dubai. His win in the UAE Derby makes him the only member of the field with a win at a distance greater than 9 furlongs (that race is at the Preakness distance of 9.5 furlongs). You could make the case that this Derby is wide open enough to take a shot with a newcomer like this, but shipping halfway around the world and coming back in six weeks to beat 19 rivals seems like a bit too tall of a task. Remember, he beat Master Plan by 1.25 lengths in the UAE Derby and Master Plan is 50-1 in here.

3 – Fast and Accurate (50-1) – He’s run once on dirt, a Parx maiden special weight race, and was beaten 11 ¾ lengths and is here off a slow synthetic win in the Spiral at Turfway Park. The owner did say they were going to the front, and being drawn inside forces his hand there anyway. He’d be an enormous upset and turf racing seems like his future.

4 – Untrapped (30-1) – We liked this horse’s Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds in January and bet him in the Risen Star when he was second to Girvin but he did have a good trip that day and just hasn’t moved forward in his last two starts. In fact, he’s run like a horse that is crying for a turn-back to one-turn races. After he sits mid-pack and fades, I hope they turn him back to seven furlongs for the Woody Stephens on the Belmont undercard.

5 – Always Dreaming (5-1) – Todd Pletcher’s best chance is the second choice on the morning line after a fairly eventful week of training that has included him reportedly being fairly tough to handle on several occasions, though he’s been better as we get closer to the race. The case for him is basically made on one race – the Florida Derby. He ran very well in that race, but had a very good trip stalking slowish pace and drawing off to win easily in a race that did set up well for him. His prior race, an allowance race on the Fountain of Youth card, was such a slow-paced race (51.65, 1:16.82 [!!] fractions) that the final figure came back a slow 71, but realistically couldn’t have been faster considering the slow fractions. How does this race set up for him? The pace should be at least solid and he’ll be a part of that. His inside draw doesn’t really help him either – he wants to be in the clear – and John Velazquez will try to hustle him forward and either set the pace or stalk outside. He can win, and if they let him go early, he might just run away, but he’s not such an obvious favorite that you should take a short price on him. We’ll let him beat us.

6 – State of Honor (30-1) – Mark Casse has two runners in this Derby, favored Classic Empire and State of Honor, who pressed the moderate pace in the Florida Derby before finishing five lengths behind Always Dreaming. His two previous races, both at Tampa Bay Downs, were pretty good in that he set fast paces in both and ran well behind two contenders in this race. However, he’ll again likely be a part of the pace and is a definite question going the 10 furlong distance. We could see him in the mix until late, but probably fades down the lane.

7 – Girvin (15-1) – Girvin came out of a turf race to upset the Risen Star, with a beautiful inside/out trip under Brian Hernandez, Jr., and then followed that up with a 1 ¼ length win in the Louisiana Derby, getting another solid trip. Still, he’s never run a race fast enough to win this race, and perhaps most importantly, missed a key workout and several days of training after being diagnosed with a quarter-crack. He never really seemed like a true win contender to us before the training issues, and we’ll pass here.

8 – Hence (15-1) – Here’s a very interesting and under-the-radar runner for Steve Asmussen and Calumet Farm. Hence broke his maiden in January and was thrown into the Southwest Stakes, where he made absolutely no impact whatsoever. They sent him to Sunland Park for the Sunland Derby and he blew the field away with a big off-the-pace move and earned a solid 97 Beyer Speed Figure that puts him right there with the other contenders. What really makes Hence interesting, however, is what happened after this race. While Hence sat back and awaited the Kentucky Derby, horses he defeated came back running. Second-place finisher Conquest Mo Money came back to finish second in the Arkansas Derby. Third-place finisher Hedge Fund was second in the Illinois Derby. And fourth-place finisher Irap won the Blue Grass. Plus, all three horses improved their speed figures from the ones they earned at Sunland. The pace scenario should help Hence too, but I just can’t put him on top after one representative race, a race that featured a big pace for him to attack. He’s usable underneath in multis, but I have just enough reservations that we can’t pick him on top.

9 – Irap (20-1) – The Blue Grass Stakes was clearly the toughest prep race on paper, but then confusion reigned after Irap sprung the upset at 31-1. That races featured Wild Shot setting a pretty moderate pace at 12-1 with Irap stalking on the outside. When Wild Shot stopped on the far turn, Irap took the lead and held off everyone else. It was a nice win, albeit with a  very good trip, for Doug O’Neill runner that entered the Blue Grass as a maiden. There are a few positives: he’s been getting good marks from the clockers, his trainer has won this race twice, and he was part of the fast pace in the Sunland Derby. But still, his Blue Grass win was slow and he had circumstances in his favor.

10 – Gunnevera (15-1) – This $16,000 yearling purchase danced the three big dances at Gulfstream this winter and ran fairly well for trainer Antonio Sano. In the Holy Bull, he was stuck behind a very slow pace set by Irish War Cry, steadied, and re-rallied, which set him up perfectly for the Fountain of Youth, where he got a fast pace and blitzed the field impressively. Then in the Florida Derby, the pace did not materialize for him and he was a distant third behind Always Dreaming. He has no early speed, which will put him near the back in this race and force Javier Castellano to pick his way through the pack and hope the race comes back to him. He also has not been getting favorable marks from the Churchill clockers either. I wish he ran a little better in the Florida Derby. He would be a surprise to us on top, but he could close late and get on the bottom of trifectas or superfectas.

11 – Battle of Midway (30-1) – He ran a very good second in the Santa Anita Derby, being a part of a very fast pace which collapsed late like an accordion. That race, however, came back very slow and Battle of Midway has never run even a 90 Beyer in his four starts. He’s also trying to break the Appolo curse. No horse has won the Derby without a start at two since Appolo in 1882.

12 – Sonneteer (50-1) – The Desormeaux brothers team up with this maiden, albeit a maiden that has been beaten two lengths in both the Rebel and Arkansas Derby. Both of those races, however, featured big pace setups and he had good trips in both. In the Rebel, he rallied up a big inside opening. Then in the Arkansas Derby, he came wide but was with the race flow both times. He’s obviously improving and should get some pace, but is hard to put higher than third in a trifecta.

13 – J Boys Echo (20-1) – There hasn’t been a ton of buzz with him but I think he’s got a shot at a big price. He’s another that comes out of the quirky, slow-paced Blue Grass Stakes and he didn’t do much (any) running that day. That said, he broke a bit slow and was wide, and it wouldn’t be the first time Dale Romans jumped up at a big price in a big race. His two previous races were good. In the Gotham two-back, he won easily, albeit with a perfect trip behind a three-way speed battle and a fast pace. Still, it was fast enough to win this race. Three-back in the Withers, he was very wide against a good-rail track behind a slow pace. By Mineshaft out of a Menifee dam, this should be a good distance for him, and the pace should be solid enough to give him a shot at a big price.

14 – Classic Empire (4-1) – This year has been a bit disjointed for the 2016 two-year old champion. He ran in the Holy Bull, but didn’t fire, missed training time due to injury and a small bout where he refused to train, and then rebounded in the Arkansas Derby where he grinded out a half-length win against a weaker field. Remember, he had to have needed that start. It was in some ways his first representative race since the Breeders Cup on November 5th – which, for my money, is the best race that anyone in his field has ever run. If he runs back to his Breeders Cup, he is going to win. But do you want to take 4-1 on him today, hoping that he runs back a race from six months ago? No, I don’t. There are four horses in here that are 6-1 or less. Of those, he’s one of two (Irish War Cry the other) that won’t knock us out of a multi, but we’ll oppose on top.

15 – McCraken (5-1) – He’s 3 for 3 at Churchill and a major player in this Derby, but like Classic Empire, missed some training time this spring and had two preps – a win in the Sam Davis and a third place Blue Grass finish – instead of the three that trainer Ian Wilkes has originally plotted out for this son of Ghostzapper. When I first watched the Blue Grass, I thought maybe he was taken out of his game and closer to the pace early because the pace was slow that day. But in watching it back, it looked like he made his move, was about to run by Practical Joke at the top of the lane, and then had nothing late and actually lost ground to Practical Joke down the stretch. Yes, he likely needed the race, and that was a means to an end (this race), but at 5-1, it seems like a bit of a stretch to take a horse that has one race that is close to fast enough, 3-3 on this track or not. He’s bred for this and has a great trainer pointing him for this spot, but 5-1 just seems like an underlay to me.

16 – Tapwrit (20-1) – We’ve been a little skeptical of his $1.2 million son of Tapit this spring. His Sam Davis was good but we thought the trouble was overstated – he basically saved ground and angled out. Then the Tampa Bay Derby win, where we bet against him incorrectly, was good, but he had another good trip behind a fast pace to attack, and that was a softer field too. Then in the Blue Grass, he did zero running, slow pace in front of him or not. If the Blue Grass never happened, you would see an improving Todd Pletcher runner, and he would be 8-1 instead of 20. So if you like him, you just trust Pletcher has a good reason for the Blue Grass debacle (didn’t handle the track, slow pace, etc). But we’ve just never been his biggest fan. Still, we’ll toss him underneath because of the big price.

17 – Irish War Cry (6-1) – You have a love a good Jersey-bred! This is a Jersey-bred by Curlin, as opposed to usual Jersey-bred sire Hey Chub or Don Six. Had Isabelle de Tomaso bred to Hey Chub, however, the ensuing foal Irish Chub might not be in the Derby and a dual-graded stakes winner. So we have Irish War Cry, who has been a promising runner since a smashing debut score at Laurel on November 11th. He got his first taste of the big time in the Holy Bull, where he set a very slow pace and wired the field, though he did earn a 101 Beyer Speed Figure that day. Then he was awful in the Fountain of Youth, pressing a fast pace and dropping back (perhaps he didn’t like the cuppy nature of the track that day). They re-grouped and he buried the field in the Wood Memorial on a day that was kind to speed at Aqueduct. That was still a big performance, and he earned another 101 Beyer (he’s the only horse in the field with two triple-digit Beyers). It’s worth noting that on Wood Day, Miss Sky Warrior won the Gazelle in a race domainted by speed, Green Gratto wired the Carter at 50-1, and Tu Brutus nearly wired the Excelsior and earned a 118 (!) Beyer. That doesn’t significantly diminish Irish War Cry, who drew very well outside where he can stalk the pace (don’t take seriously the stat that the 17 post has never won the Derby – posts 16 and 18 have won and post 17 being 0-for is a statistical anomaly). What does concern me a little bit is the field that he beat last time might be a cut below. But he ranged up early, was wide, and won the right way. He’s definitely a part of our play.

18 – Gormley (15-1) – The Santa Anita Derby winner started his year with a stirring victory in the Sham Stakes, where he chased American Anthem through very fast fractions and just caught him in the last strides for the win. Neither horse has come close to replicating that race since, though at least Gormley made it here. In the San Felipe two-back, he was the first to give way behind the injured Mastery (he wasn’t winning that day but clearly ran poorly). Then last time, he won a very slow Santa Anita Derby with a perfect inside-out trip behind a very fast pace. His trainer knows how to win this race, but we have no confidence that he’s good enough to spring the upset.

19 – Practical Joke (20-1) – He tipped his hand early when he won a Whitney Day maiden special weight at Saratoga by five and has been among the best in his crop since. He was a distant (7 ¾) lengths behind Classic Empire in the Breeders Cup Juvenile, but has come back with two solid races as a three-year old. His first race of the year was the Fountain of Youth on March 4th at Gulfstream, a race that featured a very fast pace which fell apart. Practical Joke, making his first start off a four-month break, made the first move after the pace, but was run down by Gunnevera, who had started in the Holy Bull a month prior. It was still a solid race. Then, in the Blue Grass, while Irap was pressing the moderate pace and got the jump on Practical Joke and the others, Practical Joke was chasing wide, made an early move for position on the backstretch (Joel Rosario sensed the slow pace and acted early, a smart move), and kept trying all the way down to the wire. He was even gaining in the stretch for the first time in his three two-turn races. We also liked how, in that race, he was confronted by McCraken at the top of the lane and shrugged that one off and was gaining on him down to the wire. It was a promising race for a talented runner that seems like he has another move forward in his third start of the year. The strength of the Blue Grass is certainly up for debate, but if there was one horse you want out of that race, it’s probably this one. There is a big question – the 10 furlong distance. Still, we’ve seen horses get this distance that maybe didn’t have the best 10-furlong pedigree or the look like they were 10-furlong runners before. If he were McCraken at 5-1, that would be one thing, but at 20-1 in a wide open race, we’re betting him.

20 – Patch (30-1) – This three-time starting Todd Pletcher runner (who has one eye, hence the name), was a decent second in the Louisiana Derby last time. He was briefly caught in behind horses at the top of the lane in there, but largely benefitted from the flow of the race, which featured a solid pace. I do think he’ll really like the 10 furlongs but the competition will likely prove too tough.

Pace Analysis – The pace should be solid enough to allow everyone a fair shot. Always Dreaming is going to have to be used early from his inside draw. Fast And Accurate’s connections say they are going, though they might not even be fast enough. State of Honor has some speed (though not the most aggressive rider in Jose Lezcano). Irap will be up close to the pace. Battle of Midway likely won’t be on the lead again but should be close. Classic Empire will be stalking from the second flight. Irish War Cry will be pressing wide. Even Gormley has enough tactical speed to be close up early on. There are no Trinnibergs or Songandaprayers in here, but the pace should be solid enough.

The Pick – The Derby is often like this, but this year’s version is so wide open that we don’t want to take a short price on top. The question, of course, becomes which of the bigger prices do we want to take and for us, that will be #19 Practical Joke. He will need to take a bit of a step forward on figures, but his gap isn’t overwhelming and both of this races so far this year have been sneaky good ones in which he was the first to attack the pace. There are distance questions, but the price will help make up for that.

#17 Irish War Cry is the one we want of the four favorites. Two of his three races this year are among the fastest in the field. He is reportedly training very well for a trainer that has won this race before.

#13 J Boys Echo has a running style that should suit the projected flow of the race. His Gotham, good trip or not, was a strong race, and you can make excuses for his Withers (wide trip, gold rail, slow pace) and Blue Grass (slow pace). Plus, he’ll be a big price.

#14 Classic Empire is our fourth choice. At 9-2 or 5-1, we don’t have a lot of interest in betting him on top but do want to be protected in a mutli if he runs back to his Breeders Cup Juvenile.

50-Cent Trifecta Play

Here’s a 50-cent trifecta play that requires one of Practical Joke, Irish War Cry, or J Boys Echo to win the race.

13, 17, 19 /// 13, 14, 15, 17, 19 /// 1, 5, 8, 10, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 19 for a total of $60.

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Handicapping the Kentucky Oaks

201720kentucky20oaks20logoChurchill Downs has drawn both the Friday Kentucky Oaks and Saturday Kentucky Derby cards, and it’s a horseplayer’s delight. Over the next few days, we’ll have horse by horse analysis of the Oaks and Derby plus a few stakes spot plays and multi-race tickets as well.

We’ll start here with the Oaks and the full field of 14 three-year old fillies.

This race, at least on paper, seems a little more clear than the 20-horse Derby scramble and certainly has a clear and deserving favorite in Paradise Woods. Let’s take a look at the field.

1 – Ever So Clever (20-1) – She closed from well back to run down a loose leader and win the Fantasy at Oaklawn, but will have to take another big forward move. She should, however, get a fast pace to attack here, so maybe that makes her worth using underneath in trifectas and superfectas, but we can’t endorse more than that.

2 – Lockdown (20-1) – Bill Mott sends out this full sister to Close Hatches after a distant runner-up finish behind Miss Sky Warrior in the Gazelle. In that race, she chased the eventual winner early before fading and that was off a near-three month layoff (she reportedly shipped down to Florida but didn’t train especially well down there before being sent back to New York). It’s possible she needed that race and should get a better trip stalking inside behind the pace today. I don’t think she can win but we’ll include underneath.

3 – Mopotism (20-1) – Rather than engage Paradise Woods early, she sat just off the pace but was no match. Her best races, however, are on the engine and that does not fit well with today’s projected pace scenario.

4 – Paradise Woods (5-2) – Here’s the big favorite, in off an 11 length win in the Santa Anita Oaks in which she earned a 107 Beyer Speed Figure. This is only her fourth start, but she’s pretty clearly the one to beat off that last race. That said, she should see some more pace in here and has to go an extra half-furlong. She’s the one to beat, and won’t knock us out of a multi, but we’ll go elsewhere for our top selection.

5 – Jordan’s Henny (30-1) – Her third place finish in the Gulfstream Park Oaks was a little better than it looks. She sat off the fast pace early, but made the first move and was second after the fast 46.72 second half mile before fading to third behind two off the pace movers. Still, none of her other races are good enough and she’s lost ground in the last furlong of all four of her 8.5 furlong races. As a daughter of Henny Hughes, she’s questionable to get the 9 furlongs.

6 – Vexatious (20-1) – She’s run third in two Grade 2 races for Neil Drysdale in her last two starts, but two back pressed a moderate pace. Last time in the Fantasy, she ran ok and maybe would have been better if she was outside of the eventual winner Ever So Clever. The distance won’t be an issue and she should get pace, but she has to make a big step forward.

7 – Farrell (5-1) – This Wayne Catalano charge has won four straight stakes races going two-turns, one here at Churchill and the last three at Fair Grounds. There are three concerns. 1) The fields she has been facing are much weaker than this one. 2) The pace she faces today is going to be much faster. 3) Most importantly, the price will not be especially enticing either.

8 – Sailor’s Valentine (30-1) – The Grade 1 Ashland winner pressed a moderate pace in there and got up to spring a 22-1 upset earning a slow 77 Beyer Speed Figure. She’d be an enormous upset.

9 – Wicked Lick (30-1) – She’s been chasing Farrell in her last three starts and while she might benefit from a fast pace, so will others. She appears overmatched.

10 – Miss Sky Warrior (9-2) – First, she is better than we gave her credit for. But is she good enough to win this race? If she runs back to the 94 Beyer from the Gazelle, sure. But  that track seemed to carry speed (they were 1-2-3 all the way around the track in the Gazelle, Green Gratto wired the Carter at 50-1, for example). Plus, there is a lot of other speed in here to make her life tough on the front end.

11 – Tequilita (20-1) – She won the 7-furlong Forward Gal with a  perfect trip for Michael Matz on February 4th and after skipping the Davona Dale, came back with a decent second in the Gulfstream Park Oaks. In that race, she sat off a fast pace, was asked early, and didn’t really have much finishing punch. We’re just not sure how good she is.

12 – Daddys Lil Darling (20-1) – Kenny McPeek’s filly ran some sneaky good races last year  here and at Keeneland, and her Ashland was decent to the eye in a race controlled up front. However, the Ashland was very slow and she’ll have to run 20 points faster than she’s ever run before to upset this applecart.

13 – Abel Tasman (5-1) – Bob Baffert’s filly should benefit from the fast pace in this race and is a definite threat. Last time, she had something of a tricky trip. After a slow start, she moved up and had some traffic on the backstretch, was ridden hard on the far turn, and then came wide again with a mild run late on a day where nobody was beating Paradise Woods. There was nothing wrong with her first race of the year, a fine second to the injured Unique Bella. She will not be a surprise today.

14 – Salty (6-1) – She makes her fourth start today and third for Mark Casse after being privately purchased following her debut. That debut was a very good second to Todd Pletcher’s Nonna Bella going 6.5 furlongs for Ian Wilkes, who is notorious for giving his horses a start before they fire their best. She easily won a 7-furlong race on March 5th and then buried the field impressively in the Gulfstream Park Oaks on April 1st. In that race, she did benefit from a fast pace, but was in front by the top of the stretch. The post is not good, but the pace should be fast and they’ll take her back and hopefully end up only 2 or 3 wide in the first turn. She’s our pick.

The Pace – This race should have a pretty quick pace with Paradise Woods, Miss Sky Warrior, and Farrell all doing their best running from up close. Plus, Mopotism and Lockdown should also be up close as well. The race shape sets up for off-the pace runners.

Analysis – We like the two outside runners, #14 Salty and #13 Abel Tasman as our top two selections. Both figure to benefit from the fast pace. #4 Paradise Woods is the best of the speeds, and we’ll throw in #2 Lockdown, #5 Jordan’s Henny, and #6 Vexatious underneath in trifectas. In multis, anyone besides our top three choices would knock us out.

This year’s Oaks lacks the injured Unique Bella, but has an elite runner at the top in Paradise Woods and a fast pace that makes it a very intriguing proposition.

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Looking At The Belmont Opening Day Late Pick-4

The late pick-4 on the Friday Opening Day card at Belmont is a tremendous sequence of deep, contentious, non-claiming races that makes for a challenging handicapping puzzle, one that we’re excited to tackle here.

We’re going to narrow early because the second and third legs are very challenging, especially the featured 8th race.

Race 6 – NY-bred F&M n1x, 6 furlongs, turf – With the return to Belmont comes the return of turf springs on the New York circuit. The favorite is likely #12 Epping Forest for Christophe Clement. She won her six furlong debut here last year and was then second going two-turns at 7.5 furlongs at Gulfstream in a race won wire to wire. The layoff after her last start is just about six weeks and not a concern as Clement likely waited for a chance to face NY-breds. Plus, there is probably enough speed to set up her kick. Of the speeds, we prefer #11 North Eight Street for Michelle Nevin. Her last turf race was a fast-pace 7-furlongs that fell apart and she ran well to hold fourth.#10 Catcher in the Sky for Linda Rice has some fast pace figures and makes her turf debut. We’ll back-up with her.

A – 12
B – 11
C – 10

Race 7 – F&M OCn2x, 7 furlongs, turf – I thought that #2 Rumble Doll ran some strong races last year at Belmont and Saratoga and then was a little unlucky in the fall, getting caught in traffic three-back, catching yielding turf at Kentucky Downs, and and then having a tough trip at Laurel going 5.5 furlongs, which is shorter than her best. She’ll have to come back running, but she should be a good price. #4 Width has always been cut out to be pretty good, and seven furlongs should be a good distance for her, but Width was aided by a very slow pace last time at Tampa in her first start of the year so she’s tough to trust, especially since that was her first start after a layoff which then preceded another 10 weeks off. #5 Take These Chains is 2-2 with impressive wins, but comes off a 10-month layoff for this start. If she is ready to run, she’s probably going to win, and it is Chad Brown, so we can’t let her knock us out. Brad Cox sends out #6 King’s Ghost, who has two turf races good enough to win, but both featured her prompting slow paces against weaker. Christophe Clement also sends out #11 Cover Song, a G3 winner in from California for her first start of the year. She has a few solid races going either one-turn or down-the-hill at Santa Anita, so she wouldn’t be a huge surprise. #12 Thundering Sky won the Pebbles in her last start, back in October, but she was aided by a very fast pace that day and now faces older rivals. This is a tough spot for her first start of the year.

A – 2, 5
B – 4, 11
C – 5

Race 8 – NY-bred Stk, 100K, 6 furlongs, dirt – This rendition of the Affirmed Success is a very deep and fun race and there should be a solid pace to set up some off the pace runners. Marriedtothemusic, Rectify, and Sudden Surprise all all front-runners, and that could set things up for #13 Weekend Hideaway, the likely favorite stalking on the outside. But his prep race at Gulfstream was just ok and we think there are some better options at better prices, though we will use Weekend Hideaway. #1 Eye Luv Lulu should run fine from in behind the pace but we didn’t love his last race on his preferred wet track (he’s 7-12) and his win two-back over some of these was with a perfect trip. #4 Ostrolenka is a definite contender who should get a fast pace to attack second off the claim for David Jacobson (25%, $1.57 ROI in 2nd off the claim/dirt sprints per DRF Formulator), but we didn’t like how he was late to change leads in that race. #7 Celtic Chaos won an allowance race on April 7th and figures to benefit from the pace scenario, and though his last race didn’t come back that fast, his two previous races were good enough. #10 West Hills Giant ran a big race at Laurel three-back, making a big move on a bad rail. He did get beat at Parx (by Sudden Surprise) two-back but last time he had a slow start and then moved up early outside before fading late behind Fellowship (making his first start since the Preakness), who ran a 95 Beyer to win. It was a performance for West Hills Giant that was probably better than it looks on paper. #11 Candid Desire had a good winter in the inner track, but had some very good trips in there. Still, his last race wasn’t bad, and this race should feature more pace. Finally, #12 Riff Raff should be a huge price. He might not be good enough, but he has some sprint races that are decent enough. Celtic Chaos only beat him by 1.25 lengths last time.

A -7, 10, 13
B – 1, 4, 11
C – none

Race 9 – NY-bred F&M, 6 furlongs, turf – We really liked the September 18th debut of #1 Dream A Little. She was bumped at the start and back early on before trying to move up in traffic on the backstretch. She was still hemmed in behind runners around the turn before finally squeezing through and finishing well to just miss. David Donk is 6-27 with a $2.96 ROI with 180+ day layoffs on turf and gets John Velazquez. She’s much the horse to beat. We also want to use #3 Frost Wise, who is second time out for Michael Dilger after showing speed in her dirt debut. Frost Wise is out of a Smart Strike dam that won on turf and half to a turf winner. #12 Leah’s Dream gets Javier Castellano for her turf debut and is out of an 0-4 dam that ran decently on synthetics/turf. Linda Rice sends out first-time starting #10 Silly Sister, who is half to 6-12 Moanin, winner of over $1.2 million in Japan (dirt). We’ll toss in #4 Spring Folly, who debuts for Michael Dickinson, though she probably needs a start.

A – 1, 10
B – 3, 12
C – 4

We’ll play the All-A ticket for $1 and the 3A/1B, 2A/2B, and 3A/1C tickets for 50-cents each. The total play is $84.

Good luck.

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Stakes Preview – Sunny Ridge Can Upset the CT Classic

The start of the baseball season has made updates to this blog a bit more infrequent than we’d like, but after a rain-out today, let’s take a look at the Charles Town Classic, the 11th today at Charles Town in West Virginia.

Charles Town Classic (Charles Town, R11) – The 8-5 morning line favorite is #1 Stanford, for trainer Todd Pletcher. Stanford won this race last year, when he set a crawling pace over the three-turns. In his three races this year, he’s won two – both times when he was clear and able to control the race, and he was beaten two-back by Imperative, who shows up here, in the Poseidon at Gulfstream on January 28th. Stanford can win, but he won’t be able to control today with other speed signed on, and we’ll gladly take a shot against him.

Looch Racing Stables has three in here, one of whom is #8 Cautious Giant (20-1), who looks like a rabbit to help #6 War Story (5-1) and #5 Imperative (3-1). Imperative ran well to win the Poseidon and gets Javier Castellano today, but he only shows up some of the time. He did win this race a few years ago, aided by a big pace collapse, but feels like too short of a price. War Story ran decently in the Pegasus two-back but did not run well in the one-mile Hooper last time. His big figure win in the December 17th Queens County was aided by a strong rail bias and we think he’s overmatched here.

#4 Matt King Coal (8-1) is a speed type for trainer Linda Rice. He’s a talented runner, but we’ve had the nagging feeling he’s better going one mile than 9 furlongs. He’ll have to improve his figures a bit too, and that feels like a tough ask considering the projected pace scenario.

The horse that should benefit most from the pace is #2 Sunny Ridge (6-1). Jason Servis trains this Jersey-bred who has come into his own this winter with wins (albeit with good trips) in the Jazil and Stymie at Aqueduct. He’s always run well on the inner, and has to go the three-turns in the Charles Town bullring today, which is a concern (edit – he ran 2nd to Exaggerator in the Delta Jackpot so the tighter turns should be fine, my error). Still, he’ll be a fair price that fits the projected shape of the race.

It’s the year of the Jersey-bred (Irish War Cry won the Wood Memorial and Green Gratto won the Carter two weeks ago at Aqueduct), so why can’t Sunny Ridge get a graded stakes win today?

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