May 17, 2018
By: Jonathan Stettin
I’ve never been one to believe in free squares in horse racing. As far as I’m concerned there are no freebies and I’ve yet to see any horse race run on paper, and I have seen many.
On Saturday, if all goes according to plan, Justify will attempt to remain undefeated by winning the Preakness. For many, it is a foregone conclusion he’ll win and head to New York for the test of champions, The Belmont Stakes, trying to become a Triple Crown winner. He certainly looks the part, and while it is a pretty good possibility he handles his foes on Saturday, again they don’t run races on paper.
What few realize, is that if you can beat a horse like Justify only once in a while, you can get yourself paid handsomely and erase a lot of losses. I’m not saying bet against him, if that is where you land, but thinking any horse can’t lose is a mistake, proven time and time again by the sport’s very history.
There are all kinds of statistics about horses who won in Louisville coming back in two weeks and trying to do it again. You have stats on those who won in the slop or mud, who worked and who didn’t work between races and more. Most of you already know I throw all that out the window as every race, crop and horse are different.
We all saw Justify favor his left hind leg following his Kentucky Derby triumph. Whatever that was seems to have passed and he should be right as dodgers when he is loaded in the gate Saturday. His main rival appears to be Good Magic, who had every chance to get to him in the Derby but couldn’t. The main questions are who goes forward, or at least maintains their form, and whether any of the other horses are good enough to make serious noise in Baltimore.
With Bob Baffert and Chad Brown quarterbacking the big two, it is likely both show up and run their race. Given that scenario Good Magic will be up against it to turn the tables. The interesting new comer to the party is Tenfold. This colt is a bit more late-developing than the big two, but he is on the improve and figures to appreciate the wet track he will see on Saturday.
Obviously Tenfold will have to take a huge step forward to compete for the win. He may also need some regression from one or both of the big two. While a forward move looks very possible, the latter does not.
Regardless of what happens Saturday, it is always good for the game to have a horse shooting for the Triple Crown. Between that and the hype Justify has always carried around, his odds are likely to be even shorter than they should, and they warrant being pretty short. He probably should be 2-5 but will likely be less than that.
The race hasn’t been drawn as of this writing, so my final work is not done. What I do know is this: we’ve discussed the winner here and there are no foregone conclusions in the Sport of Kings.
Vagrancy Handicap – Race 3 at Belmont Park - Post Time 2:34 PM Eastern
Kirby's Penny is six for 11 in her career. Better still, she's 5 for 7 on dirt, all since last April. She finished second in the other two dirt starts. She's absolutely ready for grade 3 competition as she faces today with John Velazquez riding as for two big wins last summer at Saratoga and her most recent win, on April 8, came off a 6 month layoff and the effort should be improved upon 2nd off the rest. Opening at 6 to 1, she's exceptionally playable.
Swing and Sway is another very playable horse, opening at 12 to 1, having just won the Carousel Stakes at Oaklawn and two before that the American Beauty Stakes. She's now 5 for 15 in her career and could also be very competitive here. There are no real knocks on any of the other four, but Holiday Disguise, who opens at 9/5, hasn't any more probability than the rest. Sure, she won the similar G3 Distaff Stakes last month at Aqueduct, but it wasn’t any better of an effort nor was the horse she beat, Sounds Delicious (who was disqualified from 2nd to 4th) anything really special in terms of this field.
Win Bets: Kirby's Penny at odds of 2 to 1 or more and Swing and Sway at odds of 3 to 1 or more. Place bets may be warranted at 5 to 1 or higher.
The most efficient way to bet multiple horses to win is to use a "Dutching" tool like the one available at Amwager, which helps allocated your betting dollars for the best return.
Runhappy Stakes – Race 8 at Belmont Park- Post Time 5:14 PM Eastern
Always Sunshine is EVERY bit as likely to win as favorite's Skyler's Scramjet and Westwood, but opens at 12/1. He returns from a layoff since last July but won his 2017 debut by four lengths off a layoff since the previous October so that's not an issue. Winner of nearly $400,000 in his career and first or second in 10 of 18 dirt races, he will be ignored by many in this race compared to others. Back in 2016, Always Sunshine finished 2nd in the Grade 3 Tom Fool Stakes on the circuit, the same race Skyler's Scramjet won in March of this year. Later that spring he won the Grade 3 Maryland Sprint with a career best 118 Equibase Figure and in his last start of 2017 earned a 109 figure which stacks up favorably against the favorites here if repeated.
King Kranz goes for his 3rd win in a row since moving to the Rodriguez barn and Iran Ortiz, Jr. rides back after being up for the first time last month in a strong win. The comeback win in March earned a 108 figure and opening at 9/2 we cannot rule him out as a contender to win.
Skyler's Scramjet can't be labeled a vulnerable favorite as the drop from grade 1 company in the Carter Handicap last time out helps his chances to return to winning form, and Westwood is another with a shot although his first graded stakes attempt last month wasn't good as he faded to 5th in the stretch after leading.
Win Bets: Always Sunshine to win and to place at 2 to 1 or more.
Exacta: Always Sunshine and King Kranz over Always Sunshine, King Kranz, Skyler's Scramjet and Westwood (as there's no point in using the two favorites with each other for 1st & 2nd), then ALSO the opposite, which is Always Sunshine, King Kranz, Skyler's Scramjet and Westwood over Always Sunshine and King Kranz.
Peter Pan Stakes – Race 10 at Belmont Park – Post Time 6:18 Eastern
Just Whistle earned the best last race Equibase figure, 106, when winning last month at Keeneland. That was his second start of the year and a big improvement off his runner-up effort one month prior which followed six months away from the races. As a son of Pioneer of the Nile there is little doubt Just Whistle can successfully negotiate the mile and one-eighth distance of the Peter Pan. As a horse on a pattern for significant improvement in his third start off a layoff, he appears to be the one to beat in this race.
High North earned his first win last fall in his third career start, then tried stakes company and was not disgraced when fourth of 14 in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. After taking the winter off, he was entered in the Risen Star Stakes without a prep first and ran poorly, then again in the Rebel Stakes. Adding blinkers for the Northern Spur Stakes next out, he returned to top form, earning a 105 figure when drawing off by two and one-half lengths in a field of eight. Trainer Brad Cox is still on a high from winning the Kentucky Oaks with Monomoy Girl last weekend and his 30% success rate with back-to-back winners in dirt routes over the past two years is another reason supporting High North potentially winning his second stakes race in a row.
Blended Citizen needs a hot pace in front of him to succeed, as occurred in March when rallying to win the Jeff Ruby Steaks by a neck with a 109 figure. Following that effort, Blended Citizen tried to earn enough points for a Kentucky Derby start by running in the Blue Grass Stakes but could only manage a fifth place finish. In the Peter Pan, with the prospect for a hotly contested pace unlikely, Blended Citizen may be hard pressed to pass the field to win but it is not an impossible task and so he will round out the three horses with the best chance to win this year's Peter Pan Stakes.
I'm completely taking a stand against Core Beliefs, shipping out from California and overbet off his 3rd place effort in the Santa Anita Derby behind Justify.
Win Bets: Just Whistle at 2 to 1 or more, a TRUE KEY BET on the day.
A win bet on High North is warranted at 3 to 1 or more.
Exacta: Box Just Whistle, High North and Blended Citizen.
Man O' War Stakes – Race 11 at Belmont Park – Post Time 6:50 Eastern
Postulation can post the upset in this year's Man O'War, or even finish 2nd for a big profit. He SHOULD NOT be 20/1 on the morning line considering his record in similar races, including a head loss in the Kentucky Turf Cup last summer and a win in the American St. Leger prior to that. The jockey change to Vargas, mostly unknown to local betters, helps his odds but there is no concern because Vargas was aboard for BOTH the aforementioned stakes efforts. After the Kentucky Turf Cup, Postulation finished 8th of 10 in the Canadian International (run on a very soft course) then took time off. When returning last month off a six month layoff, he ran BIG by rallying from 4th to battle down the stretch before tiring just a bit to be beaten a pair of necks on the wire. With 8 first or second place finishes in 16 turf races and nearly $400K in earnings, and proven at marathon distances, and possibly more importantly much stronger 2nd off the layoff, Postulation gets a BIG push here.
Almost as likely and certainly as playable is One Go All Go, upset winner of the similar Elkhorn Stakes last month at Keeneland. He's now run BIG in five of his last six races since Dickey took over his training. Even though in four of those he finished 2nd he was never far afield and in two of those he finished just behind Hi Happy and Sadler's Joy, who open at much lower odds than the 6/1 starting odds for One Go All Go. As with the Elkhorn, there is very little of any other early pace in the race so if Landeros gets One Go All Go to the lead easily and slows things down, he could win his 2nd graded stakes in a row.
There are no real knocks on Sadler's Joy, Hi Happy or some of the rest, but the key for profit is getting either Postulation or One Go All Go home on top, or even second.
Win Bets: Postulation to win and place at 3 to 1 or more. One Go All Go to win and place at 3 to 1 or more.
Exactas: Postulation and One Go All Go over ALL, then also the opposite, which is ALL over Postulation and One Go All Go.
May 10, 2018
Betting It Right 101
By: Jonathan Stettin
Last Saturday we saw a memorable and historic Kentucky Derby. Justify went in not only as the favorite, but also as one of the most hyped horses in recent memory. In addition to winning one of the toughest races to capture, he had to take down the dreaded Apollo curse which dated back to the 1800’s. Justify delivered on all fronts, and as I have written for the past few years, all the so-called Kentucky Derby rules and do’s and don’ts mean absolutely nothing. They all go down, and none should influence your wagering strategies.
I always say there is NO VALUE IN A LOSING bet. Despite this being a factual statement, many people claimed they liked Justify, but wouldn’t bet the favorite. I apologize for being redundant, as I have also said this for years, but there is always value to be had on the first Saturday in May, regardless of who you like and who wins. If you like the chalk or a bomb, if you are right and bet smart, you will get paid.
Betting smart, or money management, is as important to success in this game as handicapping. I know plenty of good handicappers who are terrible bettors and thus have almost no chance of beating the game. Ticket structuring falls under the smart betting or money management heading. I did see a lot of great plays and expertly structured tickets on the Derby Saturday, and even though the favorite won, all these people were handsomely rewarded. They were not scared or run off from their choice because he happened to be favored, and I’d wager most of these people would have bet a longshot had that been where they landed the same way. The fiddle is out for all the players who “liked Justify but wouldn’t take 3-1.” You don’t get paid betting against your opinion.
The superfecta in the Kentucky Derby is almost always a great bet. The large field and lack of the 10-cent minimum practically guarantee with the large pool you will get paid if you’re right. People have a tendency to get lured into the multi-race wagers, but on Derby day the superfecta is a smart play.
I have a way I approach the superfecta. I like to turn the superfecta into an exacta. Let’s say I like the #1 to win the race. I will look at the horses I think can or are likely to run second and I will play the superfecta accordingly. If the horses I like for second are the say #2, #3, and #4, I’ll play 1 with 2,3,4 with all with all. This assures me that if I am right about the exacta, I am absolutely hitting the superfecta. Additionally, it affords the opportunity of having a very high-priced bomb crash the number in the third or fourth slot. I am talking the type of horse it would be extremely difficult to get to handicapping alone. You don’t need many of these to really turn a day or meet around.
If you think about it logically, can you really handicap who will run third or fourth? Racing is difficult when everyone is all in, but in the third or fourth slots, you have riders easing up, tired horse pulling up, horses running on past tiring ones and many other intangibles making for, shall we say, some fluky results. I like to eliminate that risk and as aforementioned turn it into an exacta. As a kill-shot player, I will usually only use my horse in the win slot, and usually also play the exacta and triple the same way. If I’m right, I get it all. On occasion, when the situation warrants, I might also use my horse in the second or third slot in the supers, but generally that is when the horse is a very generous price.
On some occasions, I may take a horse or two out of the all slot. This is dangerous, and I realize it can sting once in a while, but if a horse or two just look like a waste of resources to include, I will gamble and cut them off the play.
For the sake of discussion let’s say Justify waltzes to Maryland to face a small field he seems to have overmatched. You handicap the race and you feel he is the winner. Your dilemma is he is 1-5 or thereabouts. Many, when faced with this scenario, will bet a higher priced horse just because they are a higher price. I don’t bet against my opinion. My options would be to pass, or to create some value. I might bet a cold exacta, or if the other races in any multi race sequences have vulnerable favorites, go after them with my horse singled. This all goes back to money management. I think, fundamentally you don’t bet against who you think the winner is.
Sheepshead Bay Stakes – Race 6 at Belmont Park - Post Time 3:30 PM Eastern
Santa Monica showed a ton of promise as a future stakes star in her U.S. debut last month at Keeneland. That was her 1st start after 4 1/2 months off and first on Lasix and she swept past the field from last of 8 to be in front by 2 lengths at the 8th pole, drawing off from there. This step up from 2nd level allowance to grade 2 stakes is no big deal because Santa Monica was a group 3 stakes winner in Ireland last June and European group 3 races are equivalent to grade 2 races in the states. Likely to improve markedly 2nd off the layoff, Brown wastes no time taking a shot at a nice purse and although Gaffalione has never ridden here I have no issues because the jockey is 6 for 18 riding for Brown in the last 18 months. Even opening at 5/2 odds, or a bit lower, Santa Monica is truly a KEY BET because the favorite, Holy Helena, is vulnerable on many counts in this field. She won the Grade 2 Very One Stakes in March at Gulfstream Park when last seen but only earned a 98 Equibase figure in doing so, and a 97 prior to that winning a classified allowance. Santa Monica earned a 102 figure in her allowance win and whereas Holy Helena has run the same race twice, Santa Monica has upside in her 2nd race off the layoff.
For the exacta, I'll try to keep Holy Helena out entirely and use Estrechada and Summersault, both having won at 11 furlongs or father on the grass so having no issues with this 11 furlong trip. Estrechada won the Grade 3 Waya Stakes last summer at Saratoga and her fourth place finish in her only start of the year can be improved upon, while Summersault won the non-graded Soaring Softly Stakes in March at Gulfstream Park at this trip and the last time she got into top form she held that form for three straight races including the Grade 3 Orchid Stakes at this distance on turf.
Win Bets: Bet Santa Monica to win at 6 to 5 or higher, a true low odds overlay.
Consider small win bets on Estrechada and Summersault at odds of 3 to 1 or more.
Exacta: Box Santa Monica, Estrechada and Summersault.
Then also play an exacta of Santa Monica over Estrechada and Summersault.
Fort Marcy Stakes – Race 10 at Belmont Park - Post Time 5:48 PM Eastern
Robert Bruce was a perfect six-for-six in his native Chile, winning at distances ranging from six furlongs to a mile and one-half. He won one of the biggest turf races in South America last fall, a group 1 with a purse of $160K U.S. and he's been training steadily in Florida this spring for Brown, who gave him a whirl on the Belmont training track last week. Gaffalione rides and if Santa Monica runs as expected in the Sheepshead Bay that could give Brown and Gaffalione two stakes wins on the day. Brown is exceptional with horses coming off layoffs so the return from six months off is no issue, nor is it being his first start in the U.S. because again that is something Brown is exceptional at, winning with 25% (8 for 34) of his foreign imports in the past couple of years. As such, Robert Bruce could keep his perfect record intact with a win in this year's Fort Marcy Stakes.
That being said, Lucullan SHOULD NOT BE 12/1 as he is on the morning line. With three wins in six turf races to date, the colt has shown a lot of talent and he's not overmatched at this grade 3 level as in his only stakes start last year he missed by inches to Yoshida in the Hill Prince Stakes at this trip last October. Lucullan won his 2018 debut in February nicely in allowance company then ran on late but too late, from 11th to 6th, in the Muniz Stakes at the end of March. He's another that has put in some nice works in the morning coming into the race and to ignore this exceptionally well-bred and competitive McLaughlin runner at these odds may prove to be a mistake.
Spring Quality is another tough horse, with a record nearly as good as that of Robert Bruce. Spring Quality has five wins in nine races. Only one of those was on turf BUT it was a graded stakes, the Red Smith, last November. Graham Motion, like Brown, is one of those trainers I have no qualms about when they bring a horse back from a layoff so the fact Spring Quality hasn't raced since the November win is of no concern and he may actually have a shot of picking up where he left off, with a stakes win on grass.
For the exacta, I will add Markitoff, who opens at 15/1. I am taking a stand against Blacktype (9/2 morning line) because his comeback on 4/8 just didn't indicated he could bounce up to the form necessary to win. I am also taking a stand against morning line favorite Silverwave, because I believe Robert Bruce should be the favorite. Silverwave is also trained by Brown but Chad goes to Carmouche and no matter that Kendrick is a good jockey he's just 1 for 7 for Brown in the last 18 year compared to 6 for 18 for the Brown/Gaffalione combination. Silverwave was last seen running in the Arc de Triomphe and that's the reason for his low odds but he was 87/1 in the race and ran like it when last of 18. His body of work before that includes 3 stakes wins at 12 furlongs so there is NO reason to believe he can win at this 9 furlong trip.
Win Bets: Robert Bruce at 9 to 5 or higher, other low odds overlay Key Bet.
Make a win bet on Lucullan at 3 to 1 or more, adding a place bet at 8 to 1 or higher.
Additionally, a win bet on Spring Quality may be warranted at 5 to 1 or higher, for a smaller amount than either Robert Bruce or Lucullan.
Exacta: Box Robert Bruce, Lucullan, Spring Quality and Markitoff.
Westchester Stakes - Race 11 at Belmont Park - Post Time 7:07 Eastern
This race marks the comeback of Cloud Computing, who opens at even money. Although the odds are a complete joke compared to the horse's probability to win, they are right because the public will bet him solely because he won the Preakness last year. Let's not forget, Cloud Computing was 13/1 that day, and then he ran pitifully in the Jim Dandy (5th) and Travers (8th) before going on the bench for more than a short respite, in this case eight months. Cloud Computing won his debut at six furlongs on the now gone Inner Dirt at Aqueduct and that's about as irrelevant is it can get comparing that to a start in a graded stakes at a mile around one turn. His best Equibase figure where he was even competitive was 101 in the Preakness and although he's likely stronger as a four year old even adding points to that, Cloud Computing isn't even close to how fast three others in here can run.
First, Moe Trouble opens at 30/1, the exact opposite as Cloud Computing in terms of how bad the line is compared to reality. The horse has FIVE wins and SIX runner-up finishes in 16 races and $220K in the bank. Sure, he's been beating up on Pennsylvania breds but he's still a son of top sire Uncle Moe and his trainer is TOP NOTCH. Gonzalez is 40 for 160 on the year and 10 for 33 in stakes the past two years. The trainer has shipped to New York seven times in the past five years, with two wins and three runner-up efforts. Trainer Gonzalez likely looked at who was likely to enter here and said to himself "I can win the winner's share of this 200K purse, or at least a big piece of it and that's more than my horse can earn at Parx." Carmouche takes the call and with an inside position on the only other horse that may want the lead, Conquest Big E, Moe Trouble can finish first or second here as the longest shot in the field because in his last start, a two-turn mile, he led until the top of the stretch and settled for 2nd with a field high 117 Equibase figure that is a grade 2 level figure in this grade 3 stakes. Additionally, if you look at the Hardacre Mile on 3/31 won by Conquest Big E, with Tommy Macho 3rd, or any of Tommy Macho's losses in the Kelso or Forego you have to note he was beaten by a horse who controlled the pace. The only reason Tommy Macho won the Hooper was Conquest Big E hopped at the start. Therefore I think Moe Trouble is going to do what Conquest Big E did last out and lead from start to finish at double digit odds.
If I'm right about Conquest Big E being forced to yield the early lead to Moe Trouble, he'll likely be in the second sport early. Although he's earned his last three wins leading start to finish, he did prove he could close when he hopped at the start, rallying from 6th to be beaten just 3/4 of a length. Batista comes up from Florida to ride the hard knocking gelding and his best race, with a 111 Equibase figure, is good enough to win if repeated if he can relax off the early speed of Moe Trouble and go by that one late.
If I'm wrong about the pace and Conquest Big E and Moe Trouble hook up, Tommy Macho repeats his Fred Hooper score with a 107 figure, or his 2017 Hal's Hope win at the same one turn mile trip with a 114 figure. He could offer low odds value as well anywhere near his 5/2 morning line considering how overbet Cloud Computing is likely to be.
Bets: Moe Trouble to win and place at 3 to 1 or more.
Also consider a win bet on Conquest Big E at 7 to 2 or higher
Consider a win bet on Tommy Macho at 2 to 1 or more, especially if you believe Conquest Big E and Moe Trouble are going to battle each other on the front end.
Exactas: Moe Trouble over ALL and (The opposite) ALL over Moe Trouble.
May 2, 2018
The Right Mindset
By: Jonathan Stettin
If you follow or bet on horse racing than in the weeks leading up to the Kentucky Derby, you are likely to hear a lot of opinions, rules, methods, statistics and angles. As we are now in the final days leading up to the big show, and with the assistance of social media, these comments reach a fever pitch. My suggestion would be not to pay too much attention to any of them. You’ve heard the old saying “on any given Sunday,” well you can tweak that to on any given first Saturday in May. I saw an article, I only skimmed this morning, going into fine detail on how Mendelssohn can’t win on Saturday because Arazi lost the Kentucky Derby and only Bold Forbes and Canonero won the race after prepping abroad. I guess all the people who cashed on those two runners should return their winnings.
I have said it before and will repeat it here, every year, crop, field, pace scenario, draw, trip, and horse are different. There are no rules that will land you on the winner. Good handicapping, observatory skills, and some luck, are all that can do that. Sure, some statistics are relevant, but they are merely a guideline and history. The future is what handicapping a race is about and if you’re right what is in the rearview couldn’t mean less.
You’ll also likely see there are an abundance of experts with definitive and adamant opinions. Many before the race is even drawn or even weeks ahead. Imagine if picking the winner of one of the most difficult races to handicap with probably the most intangibles in the US was that easy. Nonetheless they do it with conviction.
While I prepare for the Derby year-round, as it is always an opportunity for a major score, and that is what I look and live for, I usually don’t finalize my selection or selections until race day. That is what works for me and how I do it.
As for all the chatter out there, I try not to listen to any of it. If you have someone who has an opinion you respect, by all means I would encourage discussing the race with them. I would not encourage letting all the voices get into your head. Many of them don’t even bet, or possibly bet on only the Derby and maybe $2. There is nothing wrong with that and we welcome them and their $2 into the pool, but experts, hardly. That takes years, several of them actually, playing and not with monopoly money.
The Kentucky Derby and supporting card is one of what I call “the days” where you can really go all in and do some damage. The pools are huge, and a lot of that money is, shall we say, recreational and uneducated. That is where you can gain your edge and why “the days” are where I like to focus. This is when you fire that kill-shot, or at least I do. I try and go in with no pre-conceived bias, and ready and willing to adjust any opinion that creeped in to my actual handicapping of the race. I believe that is the right mindset to have to win.
The last thought I’ll leave you with this week is this...there is always value in the Derby. You just have to find or create it. If you like a shorter priced horse, you can always play that horse in exactas, triples or superfectas and get that value you seek. You can single the horse in a multi-race wager or wagers. Remember, there is no value whatsoever in a losing bet. That said if you like a price, that is always nice. Have no fear.
Woodbine – Race 7 - Post Time 4:27 PM Eastern
We can play two races here, making some win and exacta wagers in this race and then tying the race in doubles to the Whimsical Stakes (Race 8) for added value.
In this race, Singandcryindubai is one of two from the very high percentage McKnight barn, the other Abbaa. Although both can win, Singandcryindubai opens at 10/1 so that's where I'll start. The gelding is 3 for 6 at Woodbine, accounting for all but 1 of his career wins, and moves back to his favorite track after wintering at Oaklawn where he went 0 for 4. He's in for the optional claiming price ($60K) since he's already won at the level and the key to a BIG effort is Contreras getting on. Not only is Contreras off to a fast start with 5 wins from his first 16 races at the meeting but he was up for the horse's last two wins including one last October in which he rallied from eighth. The other was a race in which he led from start to finish so with that kind of versatility Singandcryindubai has a big shot to return to winning form.
Abbaa missed by a neck last time out just three weeks ago at Oaklawn, first off the claim by McKnight, who as of a few days ago was 4 for 6 at the meeting so far. The veteran horse has won 10 times in his career but is trying all-weather for the first time. However, the 3 furlong drill just six days ago has him familiar with it so we can expect another "A" effort good enough to win.
Circle of Friends makes his 2018 debut, for Tiller, who is pretty good with his comebackers at the start of the meeting. The horse won his 2017 debut by a head at this five furlong trip and as his last two start of 2017 were in blinkers and poor efforts, the blinkers come off for this race. With a very sharp half-mile drill on 4/9 following by a more moderate one, we can assume the horse is fit and can run as well today as he did last year at this time.
Win Bets: Bet Singandcryindubai to win at 3 to 1 or more and add a place bet at 5 to 1 or higher.
Exacta: Box Singandincrydubai, Abbaa and Circle of Friends.
Doubles: Singandcryindubai, Abbaa and Circle of Friends in Race 7 with Scotty's Model, Moonlit Promise and Sky Flower in Race 8. (You can also box those three horses in an exacta in race 8 as well).
Santa Barbara Stakes – Race 4 at Santa Anita - Post Time 4:30 PM Eastern (1:30 Pacific)
Causeforcommotion is the horse to beat here, and to bet, in spite of the 8/5 starting odds on Plein Air and the 2/1 starting odds on Pantsonfire. Causeforcommotion opens at 6/1 even though her last two efforts were the best of her short career (12 races) to date. She's never run this marathon 12 furlong trip but of the others, none has won at it except Plein Air anyway but Causeforcommotion is bred to run all day, as she's by Americain (a son of Dynaformer) and out of a mare by the late Giant's Causeway. She's just a four year old and has room to improve and jockey Franco (who replaces Roman) is underrated but has impressed with his prowess on the grass. The 107 last race Equibase figure is as good as Pantsonfire (who opens at one-third the odds) and MUCH better than the 94 figure Plein Air earned. Baltas saddled FOUR of the six here but no matter two of them (Space Cadet and Plein Air) both have the same "early" running style, those two should wear each other out mentally even on slow fractions while Causeforcommotion gets a great stalking trip for her 3rd win in a row, particularly as the race she won turned out to be strong with the runner-up coming back to win TWO in a row and the 3rd horse beaten a neck.
Lucy De, Pantsonfire and Plein Air all have races in their recent past good enough to compete here and any can win but none offer value for win bets. We can use all three plus Causeforcommotion on any multi-race tickets played like the pick 3 and 4 and key them with Causeforcommotion on exacta tickets but the main play will be Causeforcommotion to win.
Win Bets: Causeforcommotion to win at 2 to 1, a true KEY BET on the day.
Exacta: Causeforcommotion over Lucy De, Pantsonfire and Plein Air, then also turn that around and play Lucy De, Pantsonfire and Plein Air over Causeforcommotion.
Belmont - Race 8 – Post Time 5:18 Eastern
Similar to what we did at Woodbine, the eighth at Belmont is very playable and we can tie it with the Elusive Quality Stakes, Race 9.
Jewel Can Disco opens at 10/1 and is the one to catch, and beat, even though it looks like there is other early speed in the race. Davis, who rode him to a runner-up finish last out and to a win before that, jumps to Cerretalto (who is also a contender) but I love the jockey change to Rosario, who is as good as any jockey at nursing a horse on the lead. Jewel Can Disco was 5 to 1 at this level just 17 days ago but opens at 10/1 here which makes no sense at all as he was gamely second by a head after setting fast fractions and as he's won at this 7 furlong trip before, the stretch out from 6 furlongs is no issue.
Cerretalto is two for two since adding blinkers and comes off a career best effort with a 101 Equibase figure in February in statebred allowance company. He won that race off a two month rest and is coming back from a similar layoff and he could get a great trip behind Jewel Can Disco to win again.
Salute With Honor won his 4 year old debut in February at Gulfstream then missed by a half-length at this level in Florida as well with a much improved 106 figure, the 2nd best last figure in the field. He's put in a nice work over the track and fits on all counts, his only knock that he opens at 3/1 so isn't nearly as good a win bet as the other two.
Favorite Polar Jet (6/5 morning line) has finished 2nd in three straight, all at low odds, losing ground in the last 8th of a mile in the last two. He can win but I'd rather believe that when push comes to shove he is lacking the spirit to put his head down and will settle for 2nd once again and will play exactas that way. I will also use Emancipation and Professor Snape in the second slot.
Bets: Jewel Can Disco to win at 3 to 1 or more. Make a win bet on Cerretalto as well, at 3 to 1 or more. Use a "Dutching" tool like the one at Amwager when betting more than one horse to win to help allocate your bets.
Exactas: Jewel Can Disco, Cerretalto and Salute With Honor over Jewel Can Disco, Cerretalto, Salute With Honor, Emancipation, Professor Snape and Polar Jet.
Doubles: Jewel Can Disco, Cerretalto and Salute With Honor in Race 8 with Undrafted, Conquest Panthera, Commend and Commute in Race 9.
Elusive Quality Stakes – Race 9 at Belmont – Post Time 5:50 Eastern
Undrafted is an exceptional turf sprinter who comes back from nearly six months off, which is not an issue as he won last year in April following a similar layoff. That win in 2017 earned a strong 112 Equibase Speed Figure which he bettered when last seen in November, winning a turf sprint with a 115 effort. Joel Rosario gets the call and rode Undrafted in that 2017 comeback win so he knows how to get the horse to relax and makes his patented late run from far back. Although no races at the seven furlong distance of the Elusive Quality Stakes appear in his recent history, Undrafted has won a mile on the grass in his career so there are no questions about being capable of the distance. Trainer Wesley Ward is having an exceptional 2018 to date, wining more than one-quarter of his 125 races so far. With a pattern of very consistent workouts coming into the race at the trainer's home base in Kentucky, including the last two on the grass, Undrafted looks ready to earn the ninth win of his career in this year's Elusive Quality Stakes. Conquest Panthera may come in under the radar of many bettors, making his second start of 2018 and with a non-threatening fifth place finish in his comeback effort last month. However, Conquest Panthera was asked to run a mile following nearly five months off and ran very well in spite of the layoff as he moved up from eighth in a field of nine to get within a length and one-half in the stretch before tiring. Not only should he be more physically fit in his second start off the layoff, but the cut back in distance should help sharpen up his closing kick. Last summer, Conquest Panthera won the Play the King Stakes at the distance of the Elusive Quality and he earned a career best 121 Figure when third in the Turf Sprint Championship Stakes last fall so his best effort is certainly good enough to win.
Commend has finished first or second in seven of 14 career races. 13 of those have been on the turf including a runner-up effort when beaten a half-length in the Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint last summer. Freshened two months since a poor sixth place finish in the Colonel Power Stakes, Commend is reunited with Jose Ortiz, who rode him to victory last May on the Belmont turf course then two races later last summer at Saratoga. The 110 figure Commend earned in the Turf Sprint was a career best and as the horse put in a very solid workout less than two weeks ago that was the best of 37 on the day, we might expect a top effort in this race. Commute makes his second start following nine months off, having rallied from eighth to fourth in the Shakertown Stakes last month. Commend appears to run much better in his second start off a layoff, as evidenced by winning last May with a strong 108 figure on the all-weather surface at Woodbine before a 108 figure effort when coming up a nose short of victory in the Connaught Cup Stakes at the distance of the Elusive Quality. Additionally, Commute possesses a win at this seven furlong distance at Belmont, which came in the spring of 2016 so if he improves second off the layoff as he has done previously, Commute should be considered a contender to win the Elusive Quality as well.
Win Bets: Bet Undrafted to win at 2 to 1 or more. Consider a second win bet on Commend (as he opens at 12/1) at 4 to 1 or higher.
Exacta & Trifecta: Box Undrafted, Conquest Panthera, Commend and Commute.
Powder Break Stakes – Race 11 at Gulfstream – Post Time 6:13 Eastern
As her name suggests Glory to Kitten is a daughter of Kitten's Joy, bred by Ken & Sarah Ramsey. Claimed away from the Ramsey's out of her fourth career start in February, 2017, she finished in-the-money in five of six races, all on turf, including some tough allowance races in new York. Dropped in for a claiming price this January, trainer Jorge Abreu claimed her for $25K and immediately earned owner Michael Dubb the price back with a win in a $60K stakes race. She ran poorly in a grade 3 stakes after that but these are much easier and the jockey change to Jaramillo is telling. Now with a 5 for 6 record on the Gulfstream turf and in the hands of a very sharp former assistant to Chad Brown, Glory to Kitten should take some beating here with a nice pace to run at courtesy of Conquest Hardcandy, Madame Uno and the newly blinkered Sylphide.
King's Ghost is the other horse with the bulk of the probability to win. She moves to the Gargan barn and noting how Gargan's other runner, Inside Out, improved markedly when beaten a nose after moving to his care, she should run back to the form shown last fall when winning a very similar turf stakes over the course. The jockey change to Juarez certainly helps the chances of King's Ghost while the jockey change for her stablemate Inside Out to Reyes does not help that one's chances although we will use her in the 2nd spot on exacta tickets. We will also use Madame Uno and Island Reward in the second position.
Win Bets: Bet Glory to Kitten to win at 2 to 1 or more, a KEY BET to be sure. Consider a win bet on King's Ghost (who opens at 8/1) at 3 to 1 or more for a smaller amount.
Exacta: Glory to Kitten and King's Ghost over Glory to Kitten, King's Ghost, Inside Out, Madame Uno and Island Reward.
Primonetta Stakes – Race 6 at Laurel - Post Time 3:40 PM Eastern
The words "PACE DUEL" do not do justice to what is likely to occur in this six furlong sprint with at least THREE and as many as SEVEN horses having an "EARLY" running style. When the smoke clears the four left standing should be Anna's Bandit, Limited View, Short Kakes and Cairenn, with a slight chance favorite Chalon can hold on for second or third as she is one of the speedballs.
Anna's Bandit just won the statebred Conniver Stakes, at 7 furlongs over the track and the cut back is very good for her late kick at the distance of two of her previous five wins. Perez has been up for three wins in a row on the filly and her 12/1 starting odds are begging us to take advantage. Limited View opened up by many lengths through the first seven furlongs in a one turn mile last month, settling for 2nd of 8 at the end. Cutting back makes her a presser just like she was one before that last race when taking a nearly identical stakes to this one, except restricted to three year olds only, rallying under Prado (who rides here) from fifth to get up then flattered when the 3rd horse came back to win. Short Kakes won the Xtra Heat Stakes at Aqueduct three weeks ago from off the pace, her 3rd win in her last four starts, and is another who should really love the early pace scenario. Cairenn rallied from 6th of 9 to win by three lengths two back then won even more easily by five lengths 19 days ago and still have improving to do.
Win Bets: At 3 to 1 or better I will bet BOTH Anna's Bandit and Limited View to win, adding place bets at 6 to 1 or more. I would consider win bets on Short Kakes and Cairenn at 4 to 1 or more but that appears unlikely to happen. For playing multiple win bets use a "Dutching" tool like the one at Amwager to allocate your betting dollars for the bet profit potential.
Exacta: Box Anna's Bandit, Limited View, Short Kakes and Cairenn.
Trifecta: Box Anna's Bandit, Limited View, Short Kakes, Cairenn and Chalon.
Double: Anna's Bandit, Limited View, Short Kakes, Cairenn and Chalon in Race 6 with Hallie Belle in Race 7.
Double: Anna's Bandit, Limited View, Short Kakes and Cairenn in Race 6 with Hawksmoor in Race 7.
(There is no value in using the two favorites with each other: Chalon in Race 6 with Hawksmoor in Race 7.)
Dahlia Stakes – Race 7 at Laurel - Post Time 4:10 PM Eastern
Hallie Belle and Hawksmoor can win but only Hallie Belle is playable to win, and Hawksmoor may not even hit the board unless Leparoux can get her to relax as Tanya's Gem and I'm Betty G battle for the early lead. Hallie Belle is an exceptionally well bred filly owned by Godolphin who nearly won four in a row between last September and December, winning the Pago Hop Stakes to end the streak. She ran miserably in her 2018 debut at Fair Grounds but may have needed the race and with a very strong workout at Fair Hills on 4/14 I'm counting on that last race being an aberration and the filly rebounding to stakes winning form, opening at 15/1. Hawksmoor appears to hold a class edge dropping out of 3 straight grade 1 stakes in the summer and fall into this non-graded level and can win by repeating either of her runner-up efforts in her last two starts but she is nearly always in front from the start and unless Leparoux can wrangle her back early off the speed duel she could be a bit vulnerable late as she was in her last three races when leading with an 8th of a mile to go, settling for 2nd in the two most recent of those efforts.
Win Bets: Hallie Belle to win at 3 to 1 or more, a true KEY LONGSHOT BET. Add a place bet at 6 to 1 or higher.
Exacta: Box Hallie Belle and Hawksmoor.
Double: Hallie Belle and Hawksmoor in Race 7 with Blue Union Rags and Layla Noor in Race 8.
Weber City Miss Stakes – Race 8 at Laurel – Post Time 4:40 Eastern
Blue Union Rags went right through the first allowance condition last out on 3/3 following a strong maiden win, both routes over the track and both since Vargas took over riding. She's still improving, is in the top John Servis barn and can continue her winning ways to earn her first stakes win here in her current form and with a very mature off the pace running style. Layla Noor has only one knock compared to Blue Union Rags and that is she is coming back from nearly five months off whereas Blue Union Rags was last seen seven weeks ago. Layla Noor ran in a dirt route just twice before, winning powerfully at Laurel in November then finishing a decent third in the Demoiselle Stakes in December. Training well for Delacour, who has won with 4 of his last 8 starters coming back from 4 months or more in a dirt route, she is also reunited with Lynch, up for the win but not the defeat, and if she is ready to run as she did last fall at Laurel, she has every right to win.
Bets: Blue Union Rags to win at 3 to 1 or more, adding a place bet at 6 to 1 or more. Also bet Layla Noor if she goes to post at 3 to 1 or higher.
Exactas: Box Blue Union Rags and Layla Noor.
Doubles: Blue Union Rags and Layla Noor in Race 8 with Murad Khan, Ring Weekend, Celebration and Doctor Mounty in Race 9.
Henry S. Clark Stakes – Race 9 at Laurel – Post Time 5:10 Eastern
Murad Khan can post the upset although this is a fairly deep field. He opens at 10/1, gets the rail and makes his 3rd start in the U.S. and 3rd off a layoff, so the cycle suggests improvement. He posted the 22 to 1 upset in a tough 2nd level allowance field at Gulfstream Park last month and in Europe won at this mile turf trip three times so now that he's back in winning form he has every right to come right back with another victory. Celebration makes his U.S. debut today, last seen in October in Ireland winning at 7 furlongs on grass in a field of 13. He's never raced a mile but is training forwardly for a very good, underrated trainer in Abbott, and with Leparoux signed on if he's anywhere near his 12/1 odds at post time you can be sure I will be betting him, perhaps heavily. Doctor Mounty is another who opens at double digit odds which make him very playable. He fell on the turn in the Tampa Bay Stakes in February so that race can be ignored but before that he won a classified allowance race with a strong effort. Considering he's trained by Shug McGaughey and Boyce rode him to two of his last three wins, one at Laurel in a race scheduled for turf but moved to the main track, we don’t want to be kicking ourselves after the race for not wagering at least a few bucks on this horse with a decent 5 for 15 career record. Ring Weekend rounds out a quartet of contenders but opens at the lowest odds by far of the group, 7 to 2. He's earned over $1.5 million and has won multiple graded stakes but he is 7 now and although the last time he didn't run in a graded stakes he won prior to that he lost two non-graded stakes attempts with no excuse. He was very wide from a poor 11 post last out so will get a better trip today and could return to top form.
Win Bets: Any of the three win contenders who might go to post at high odds – Murad Khan, Celebration and Doctor Mounty, at 4 to 1 or more, adding place bets at 8 to 1 or higher.
Exacta: Box Murad Khan, Celebration, Doctor Mounty and Ring Weekend.
Doubles: Murad Khan, Celebration, Doctor Mounty and in Race 9 with ALL 11 horses in Race 10.
Doubles: Ring Weekend in Race 9 with American Lincoln, Holland Park, Split Verdict and V.I.P. Code in race 10.
Federico Tesio Stakes – Race 10 at Laurel – Post Time 5:40 Eastern
American Lincoln decimated a field, albeit only of five horses, but 18 lengths last month at Aqueduct, at this nine furlong trip. That was his 2nd start as a 3 year old and a huge improvement off his previous when 3rd behind Holland Park. Shipping down from New York for Linda Rice, American Lincoln brings Junior Alvarado to ride, up for the win and giving up a whole day of races at Aqueduct. The colt by Street Sense out of a Smart Strike mare is bred to be a good one and any improvement off that last race can get him the win and add to Rice's very high 33% win rate with starters back-to-back in the past year. Holland Park has been off since his sharp win in February before being flattered nicely by American Lincoln. He is bred to be ANY KIND by Tapit out of champion Round Pond, who has already produced a multiple stakes winner in Long River. With an exceptional 2nd best of 75 half-mile drill before leaving McLaughlin's base at Belmont and with local jockey Vargas aboard, Holland Park has every right to improve as markedly today off his last race as American Lincoln did off that same race. Split Verdict improved nicely 2nd time out last month to win at a mile around one turn at Aqueduct and is another shipper, this from the fine Violette barn and bringing New York rider Carmouche along. The colt showed good tactical speed in that win and could be close to the likely hot pace set by possible dueling leaders Not Fake News and Navy Commander so could make the lead in the stretch before the closers get into high gear and he could hang on from there. V.I.P Code is the local runner I'll consider a contender, having just won the Private Terms Stakes, only the 2nd two-turn try of his career and first of the year. The 101 Equibase figure is the BEST last race figure in the field and as Quinones rides back we must respect the colt's chances to run two "A" races in a row.
Morning line favorite Still Having Fun finished 4th at 3 to 5 with an excuse in the Private Terms so can be used on exacta tickets as he can rebound but he's no standout. Noble Commander tries two turns for the first time but is undefeated in two starts. Diamond King lost the jockey the only previous time he tried two turns but he's won 3 of the other four races in his career. Takedown rallied from far back to win an allowance race over the track and has a shot to get a piece.
Win Bets: Bet American Lincoln and Holland Park at odds of 3 to 1 or more, adding a place bet at 6 to 1 or higher. Consider a win bet on Split Verdict and V.I.P. Code at 4 to 1 or more.
Exacta: American Lincoln, Holland Park, Split Verdict and V.I.P. Code over American Lincoln, Holland Park, Split Verdict, V.I.P. Code, Still Having Fun, Noble Commander, Diamond King and Takedown.
For a smaller amount, play the reverse of the exacta above as well.
April 18, 2018
Preparing for the First Saturday in May
By: Jonathan Stettin
While most of us start getting ready for the Kentucky Derby the year before as we watch the two-year olds compete, it really isn’t until the final prep races are run that we can get serious and begin forming definitive opinions. I’ve always found it somewhat comical when people lock into a “Derby horse” weeks and months before the race. There is always value in the Kentucky Derby, and last I checked you do not get paid more by making your selection early. Advance wagering is fun, but rarely do I see it as a smart bet. To each their own.
I try and go into the Kentucky Derby without any bias or sentiment. I like to handicap the race after it is drawn and when I know or have at least a good idea about the weather. That said, the Kentucky Derby is part of a stakes filled card with an abundance of opportunities so being as prepared as you can be in advance is probably wise. The Derby also follows Oaks day which is similar in opportunities so that is an awful lot of handicapping crammed into two days. No complaints as this is the life I’ve chosen, but there are things I do now which help me come the big Friday and Saturday.
With all the technology and tools at our disposal it is pretty easy to get a head start on your homework. This is what I do:
I get the advance past performances.
I get the Thoro-Graph numbers for all the qualified horses.
And last but not least I begin watching replays.
There are a lot of replays to watch. I find it very beneficial to watch replays a few times, and even more importantly a few days or weeks after the race was run. When you watch a race live, or even later that day or the next day, one can have a tendency to get caught up in the hype, or even your own wagers. A week or two down the road it is easier to be more objective and have more focus and clarity.
Replays can give you a big edge, especially if you know what to look for and how to spot it. Remember almost everyone is focused on the lead horse or winner when watching a replay.
For example, in the Florida Derby Audible received all the raves and accolades. I watched the race with good friend and knowledgeable horseman, Ramiro Ramirez, who is an internal representative of Fasig Tipton. After the race while everyone was applauding Audible, he and I looked at one another and commented how impressive the runner up (Hofburg) was and how he had covered more ground while spotting a lot of experience to the winner. If you watch his race again, you’ll also see he was green and ducking in and out and still finished good and never stopped trying. Audible will be a significantly shorter price than Hofburg when they run for the roses. Your opinion of the replay will tell you if he is worth it. Again your opinion, not mine or anyone else’s. We all watch the same races but don’t see the same things. If you have a good eye and opinion use it to get an edge.
I loved Animal Kingdom the year he won the Derby at a healthy price. I singled him in all the multi-race bets, and bet him to win and on top in the triple. I still say that triple came back way too short, and although I hit the Oaks, Woodford and Derby pick 3, had St John’s River won the Oaks I would have just about finished counting the money. I hit everything and have no complaints but suspect there were some serious bettors on him along with me. How do you love and single a horse who has never run on dirt is a legit question. The answer is easy. It was his replays and pedigree. Being by Leroidesanimeaux it figured Animal Kingdom would run on anything and his pre-Derby Work on dirt confirmed that. What brought him to my eye initially was his race at Turfway Park prior to the Derby. Animal Kingdom weaved in and out of horses making left and right turns on the dime, showing a lot of agility. That kind of toughness and talent bodes well in Louisville.
For a more recent example of replays you can look at My Boy Jack. He is somewhat forgotten in this field despite people projecting a fast-contested pace and his being a closer. When I look at his replays I see a ridiculously wide trip, particularly stretch run in the Louisiana Derby that cost him a lot more ground than he was beaten. In the Lexington he was wide again but more importantly perhaps is he had to zig and zag through some traffic and was able to do so and go wide and still get up.
While I am a long way from finished with my homework for the first Saturday in May I am going in with a head start. Now you have one as well. We often see big price horses closing to get into the exotics in the Kentucky Derby. Every once in a while, they win a la Giacomo. You don’t need many like Giacomo to make a difference.
Replays, there is a lot on them.
Bridgetown Stakes – Race 8 at Aqueduct - Post Time 5:17 PM Eastern
Nootka Sound ships in from Kentucky for Wesley Ward and as most people know Ward is one of the sharpest turf trainers in North America if not the world, having shipped some of his runners from the U.S. across the pond to win prestigious stakes. Nootka Sound did ship to England last spring for the Windsor Castle Stakes at Ascot and although highly regarded in a field of 22, sent off at 9 to 2, she finished 17th. Honestly, the absence of Lasix which she used for her 5 length win two months earlier in her career debut may have been a factor, or just shipping to Europe, but in any event when brought back in January at Gulfstream Park in a 7 1/2 furlong turf race (and with Lasix) she again ran a huge race to win in a field of 8, then was flattered when the third horse won and the runner-up finished 2nd in her subsequent start. Ward has no problem racing a filly against males, particularly on turf where finesse matters more than size, and with two exceptional recent workouts since leaving Ward's home base in Kentucky and with veteran Pino in the saddle, the filly who can win on the lead or from off the pace may take some beating here, with coming from off-the-pace the better way to win this from her outside post with three or four others bound to want the lead from the start and possibly at any cost.
Ambassador Jim has never been worse than 3rd in four races including a win when last seen in October and returning more mature as a three year old adds Lasix for the first time. With Rosario out of town, Irad Ortiz, Jr. takes the call for excellent trainer Clement and the colt's 90 Equibase figure when last seen in the fall matches up perfectly with the 90 best figure Nootka Sound has earned so these two have just about the same chance to win in my opinion.
Barbarossa is the third horse that is not a need-the-lead type, having rallied from 5th to miss by a neck at the same 7 1/2 furlong trip Nootka Sound ran so well at in her last start. Before that, Barbarossa won by eight at 7 furlongs on turf and after that he finished 3rd in a 75K stakes race at 5 furlongs. This six furlong trip should suit him nicely and so he rounds out the trio we can wager on to win and/or in exactas for a profit.
Win Bets: Nootka Sound and Ambassador Jim to win at 2 to 1 or more. Depending on their odds near post time use a "Dutching" tool like the free one at Amwager to help allocate your wagering dollars for the best profit.
Exacta: Box Nootka Sound, Ambassador Jim and Barbarossa.
Stonestreet Lexington Stakes – Race 9 at Keeneland - Post Time 5:34 PM Eastern
In addition to the condition of the track being a factor, with rain predicted, there's likely to be very hot early pace as Battle At Sea, Telekinesis, Seven Trumpets, Magicalmeister and the newly blinkered Gracida may all want the lead from the start and if not the ones that don't get the lead will press the pace and are likely to force fast early fractions.
My Boy Jack is likely to get the sloppy or muddy track of his dreams in the Lexington Stakes as rain is predicted and considering how easily he prevailed (by four and one-half lengths) in the Southwest Stakes in February in the mud he should run as well. He earned a 106 Equibase figure in that win then followed it up with a 105 figure when beaten just under a length in the Louisiana Derby after making a visually impressive rally EIGHT paths wide on the turn while going from 10th to second before losing some of his steam and that same late kick timed better in this race which ends at the first finish line gets him the win.
Zanesville may be worth considering for many reasons, not the least of which is he opens at 20/1. His only previous try on a sloppy track came last December and he really showed a liking for the surface with a strong win. He returned to win an allowance race in February and last month in the Jeff Ruby Steaks Zanesville was flying late, ending up fourth and beaten just two lengths at the end with a career best 105 figure on par with My Boy Jack.
Pony Up finished fast from ninth to end up second in the Jeff Ruby, his best race to date with a 108 figure. John Velazquez gets on for the Pletcher barn which is dominating many of the Derby prep races and the colt has many dirt route stakes winners he calls siblings on the dam's side of his pedigree so could certainly be a factor.
Although I don't think they can win, both Honor Up and Greyvitos both could be a factor and should be considered for second and third positions on exacta and trifecta tickets.
Win Bets: My Boy Jack at 2 to 1 or more.
Also definitely consider a win bet on Zanesville at 7 to 2 or more and a place bet at 6 to 1 or higher, as well as a win bet on Pony Up at 7 to 2 or higher.
Exactas: My Boy Jack, Zanesville and Pony Up over My Boy Jack, Zanesville, Pony Up, Honor Up and Greyvitos.
Trifecta: My Boy Jack over Zanesville, Pony Up, Honor Up and Greyvitos over ALL.
Thors Echo Stakes – Race 7 at Santa Anita – Post Time 6 pm Eastern, 3 PM Pacific
Make It a Triple opens at 15/1 and is the perfect horse to either post the upset or to split the two logical favorites, Edwards Going Left and Tough Sunday. Make It a Triple was a claimer for his entire career until trainer Craigmyle claimed him for 16K in December out of a strong three length wining effort at this basic six furlong trip on dirt. Trying turf for the first time off the claim, and moving up significantly to allowance company, but against California breds only, Make It a Triple finished third, beaten only a length for the win. Improving once more next time out when moved back to six furlongs on dirt on March 17, the horse ran the best race of his career with a 110 figure. Putting that effort in perspective, when Tough Sunday won the similar Sensational Star Stakes one week earlier, he earned a 111 figure and when Edwards Going Left won the similar California Cup Sprint in January, he earned a 113 figure so it is very likely Make It a Triple fits here although his starting odds are 6 to 10 times those of the other two contenders.
Bets: Make It a Triple to win at odds of 3 to 1 or higher, adding a place bet at 5 to 1 or more.
Exactas: Box Make It a Triple and Edwards Going Left. Box Make It a Triple and Tough Sunday.
Trifecta: Edwards Going Left and Tough Sunday over Make It a Triple over Edwards Going Left and Tough Sunday.
Also Edwards Going Left and Tough Sunday over Edwards Going Left and Tough Sunday over Make It a Triple.
Also Make It a Triple over Edwards Going Left and Tough Sunday over Edwards Going Left and Tough Sunday.
Coolmore Jenny Wiley Stakes – Race 10 at Keeneland – Post Time 6:12 Eastern
In an incredibly deep edition of this grade 1 stakes on turf for fillies and mares, likely to be run on a turf course other than firm, Cambodia gets slight preference here as a mare that really likes to win, with a 6 for 12 career mark on the grass including back-to-back grade 2 stakes wins last summer. Following that she wasn't disgraced a bit when 3rd of 14 in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf then a fourth of 11 finish in the grade 1 Matriarch Stakes before taking the four and one-half months off she comes back from today. From her rail draw Leparoux will use her tactical speed to be anywhere from 3rd to 6th in his 12 horse field in the early stages and from there it's just a matter of showing the kind of kick she showed starting with a win in the Gallorette Stakes on Preakness Day last year to get the job done here.
Off Limits also put together three straight stakes wins last summer and fall, culminating with a huge effort to win the Grade 1 Matriarch in November. She wasn't 100% tight when returning last month in the Hillsborough Stakes, rallying from 9th of 10 early to be beaten a length and one-half at the end, but in her 2nd start back and with Rosario aboard today as he was for those three straight wins last season, Off Limits is another expected to be rolling in the lane to be in the picture at the end.
Dona Bruja was a multiple group stakes winner in her native Argentina and won in her U.S. debut last June in the Grade 3 Mint Julep Handicap before two more excellent efforts for a win and a half-length defeat, the latter coming in the Grade 1 Beverly D. Stakes. Not disgraced when 4th in the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II here at Keeneland last fall, she was given four months off and came back with a roar when wiring the field in February to win the Endeavour Stakes under Jose Ortiz, who was riding her for the 1st time. Now having won off the pace and on the lead and with Ortiz riding back, Dona Bruja rounds out a trio that in my opinion has a slight edge on the rest here any of which can finish 2nd or 3rd.
Win Bets: Any of the three win contenders – Cambodia, Off Limits and Dona Bruja, can be bet to win at 5 to 2 or more, with slight preference in that order.
Trifecta: Instead of an exacta, I think a pair of trifectas are in order because I think at least two of the above mares will finish 1st and 2nd or 1st and 3rd.
Cambodia, Off Limits and Dona Bruja over Cambodia, Off Limits and Dona Bruja over ALL.
Then also Cambodia, Off Limits and Dona Bruja over ALL over Cambodia, Off Limits and Dona Bruja.
April 11, 2018
Make the Right Moves
By: Jonathan Stettin
Jockeys and their agents are faced with tough decisions every day. In a profession where, for the most part you’re rewarded for winning and blanked for losing, the pressure is always on to ride the best horse in each race that you can. Sometimes the decision is made for you by a trainer or even owner, but if you’ve worked your way up to be a top rider, it will often be your call which horse you ride.
Sometimes being on the right horse isn’t as simple as just knowing who gives you your best chance. Calls on horses are given out in advance and part of being a good agent is knowing which horses are running back in which races. Agents often have to know this before the entries are drawn. They work off the condition book and have to maintain close ties with the outfits you ride for.
This is horse racing however, and we all know things change quickly. A horse not expected to enter a race, can be entered leaving a rider with two calls or commitments. One outfit is not going to be happy with your decision. When a rider takes a call on a horse, and subsequently another horse enters the same race and he abandons the first call, it’s called spinning. The initial trainer got “spun” in favor of the perceived better mount. Agents who do this frequently get a reputation and it can come back to bite you.
Riding the best horse in a particular race, can also be compromised by not only prior commitments but also by relationships. If you are riding a lot for a barn, especially a barn who has a lot of live horses, you may at times ride a horse for that barn which may not be your best chance at a win. However, you don’t want to jeopardize future live mounts from that outfit. It is a constant balance and juggling act and it often can be difficult to keep everyone happy. That’s the top end of the spectrum. The other end is made up of new riders, or riders in less demand, who are happy to ride anything and just get their name in the program. That’s how it all usually starts.
We often see in past performances where a horse is ridden by one rider, who has had success on them or for the barn, and inexplicably they are named on another mount, or maybe not even riding in the race. Some of what I described above can lead to those situations and you can’t see that in the past performances. Accordingly, it is likely best not to read that much into it. Remain cognizant there could be many legit reasons is my suggestion.
If there is one race where all the protocols sort of go by the wayside, in my experience it is the race coveted by all jockeys, the Kentucky Derby. Riders and agents are almost always looking for that Kentucky Derby mount. International riding star Ryan Moore recently stated the Kentucky Derby is on his bucket list. He will likely ride Mendelssohn on the first Saturday in May as opposed to staying in England and riding Saxon Warrior. I wish we could wager on where Ryan will be Derby Day. The Derby is the Derby. As such loyalties and prior commitments are usually given a pass, almost everyone understands you want to take your best shot. Most trainers will forgive a rider jumping ships in the Run for the Roses.
This year’s Kentucky Derby has had a fair share of musical jockeys already. Bolt d’ Oro’s trainer Mick Ruis canned the regular rider Cory Nakatani following a post workout decision and disagreement. He was replaced by Javier Castellano, who despite all his success still seeks that first elusive Derby win. Javier rode Bolt d’ Oro to a controversial second place finish to McKinzie, in which he was awarded the win via disqualification. He came back to chase the highly regarded and much hyped Justify, but could not really make him sweat. Javier stated he was happy with how his horse ran as he was chasing the best horse in the country. After that statement, which was almost a concession, it should have come as no surprise Javier, a jockey with options took himself off Bolt d’ Oro. He opted for Audible, a popular winner of the Holy Bull and Florida Derby, for the powerhouse barn of Todd Pletcher. Audible became open after John Velazquez, his rider in both the Holy Bull and Florida Derby, made a decision to ride recent Wood Memorial winner Vino Rosso in the Kentucky Derby. This move by Johnny V surprised a lot of people, but not me. Between Audible and Vino Rosso, I would have chosen Vino Rosso myself. Being a good agent, means being a good handicapper and the Derby is at a mile and a quarter. At that distance Vino Rosso looks better in my opinion.
All that shuffling left Bolt d’ Oro open. Victor Espinoza got the call to pilot him in Louisville and it will be the first time he rides him in a race. If not for Javier’s defection, Victor would have probably watched the Derby on TV. Now he is on a horse a lot of people like.
Some people think Javier made his decision based on loyalty to Todd Pletcher and the fact he rides for him. Don’t buy it. If he thought Bolt d’ Oro was the winner, or his best option, that’s where his weight would be come Derby Day. Todd would understand. The Derby is the Derby.
Mike Smith was in the spot most riders would envy. He rode two top prospects in McKinzie and Justify. Had McKinzie not been injured, he would have had a tough choice. He made one last year when he rode Arrogate in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and gave up the mount on West Coast, knowing West Coast would be running in stakes in 2018. It’s tough to be on top and stay there.
You have to make the right moves. Sometimes that is easier said than done. The great Bill Shoemaker was offered the mount on Northern Dancer in the Kentucky Derby by the great trainer Horatio Luro. Shoe refused and rode favorite Hill Rise. The two colts battled down the stretch and Northern Dancer, under Bill Hartack, got the best of Shoemaker and Hill Rise by a long neck. We don’t always get it right. Go with your handicapping, instincts, and gut. I always do. Don’t read into the above as any tells on who I like in the Derby this year. I won’t know that until I handicap the race. If you want to know who I like come the first Saturday in May, just find me and ask. It won’t be that hard.
Carter Handicap – Race 8 at Aqueduct - Post Time 4:44 PM Eastern
Skyler's Scramjet and trainer Michelle Nevin are a potent pair, because if you remove the four races when the horse was in another trainer's care and look at only the races where Nevin was the conditioner, Skyler's Scramjet is five for six. His last three races were very consistent and the best of his career, with 116, 111 and 114 Equibase figures including a win last month in the Tom Fool Handicap, in which he beat four of the other 10 entrants in this race. He has won on mud so as it's likely the track will be wet there is no issue and he's won at 6 1/2 furlongs to the 7 furlong trip is of no concern either. Skyler's Scramjet can sit just off the pace of Red Dragon Tattoo and Green Gratto, who is not the same horse that won last year's Carter at 54 to 1, then draw off just as he did last month, improving off his last effort in his 3rd start off a layoff. Awesome Slew is the other horse with the bulk of the probability to win. Overmatched in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile, his 3rd of 10 finish was very good. He finished 2nd in the Forego at this trip in August and won the Commonwealth Stakes at this time last year at the distance, his best race ever with a 115 Figure that stacks up the best figure effort Skyler's Scramjet has put forth. With a good outside post to drop in behind horses early and a late running style that should benefit from any duel that develops between Green Gratto & Red Dragon Tattoo, Awesome Slew would be no surprise winning this year's Carter.
Three other good horses that are a cut below the top two can be used in second and third on exacta and trifecta tickets. They are Army Mule, Favorable Outcome and Do Share.
Win Bets: Skyler's Scramjet at 9 to 5 or higher. Bet Awesome Slew at 2 to 1 or higher.
The most efficient way to bet multiple horses to win is to use a "Dutching" tool like the one available at Amwager, which helps allocated your betting dollars for the best return.
Exacta: Skyler's Scramjet and Awesome Slew over Skyler's Scramjet, Awesome Slew, Army Mule, Favorable Outcome and Do Share.
Trifecta: Skyler's Scramjet over Awesome Slew, Army Mule, Favorable Outcome and Do Share (in both second and third position).
Race 8 – Skyler's Scramjet, Awesome Slew
Race 9 – ALL seven runners
Race 10 – Old Time Revival, Enticed
Wood Memorial – Race 10 at Aqueduct - Post Time 5:55 PM Eastern
Old Time Revival appears to have a pace edge in this year's Wood Memorial, perhaps a significant one, as he can use his early speed to get to the rail and control the tempo from the start. Heartfullofstars showed some early speed last month in California, but that was on a sloppy track and in a highly restricted maiden race, the same kind of race Restoring Hope won in February. King Zachary also showed some speed early last month, in his two turn debut, and Catch Twenty Two adds blinkers, but Old Time Revival has a positional edge on all of them except Heartfullofstars. Last month in the one-turn Gotham Stakes, Old Time Revival had to battle head and head for the lead for the opening half-mile in 46.4 yet still was clearly second by four lengths over the next horse as Enticed drew off. There can be a significant difference in how a one-turn race is run compared to a two-turn race and that is why I think Old Time Revival can improve off his last race career best 108 Equibase Figure effort to win the Wood.
There's nothing bad I can say about Enticed, except he has 63 Road to the Derby points and doesn't need to win to go to Louisville next month. He won the two-turn Jockey Club Stakes in November, ran horribly in his three year old debut in the Holy Bull, then rebounded to win the Gotham with a career best 113 figure effort. He can sit behind the leaders and pounce just as he did last month and would be no surprise if winning, but from a betting perspective there's little profit to be made if he does.
King Zachary is an improving type who was ridden out to a near eight length win in his first route and can improve but would need more than logical improvement to go from the 96 figure effort last month to the 110 figure effort the winner of this race is likely to put in. Restoring Hope is shipped east by Baffert to avoid his stablemate Justify and he won easily in his 2nd route and last start with a 108 figure. However, he's been off since that February 2 race and one has to wonder why when others have run since. Still, the figure is the same as Old Time Revival earned and he does have tactical speed so I will use him on exacta tickets played.
Win Bets: Old Time Revival at 2 to 1 or more.
Exacta: Old Time Revival and Enticed over Old Time Revival, Enticed, King Zachary and Restoring Hope.
Play the same exacta in reverse but for half the amount.
Blue Grass Stakes – Race 10 at Keeneland – Post Time 6:23 Eastern
Kanthaka is my pick to win the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes, having only 10 points coming into the race and needing to finish second or first to go on to the Derby. He's got the talent to go with the incentive, having already won a graded stakes for three year olds, the San Vicente Stakes, in February. That wasn't a points race because it was a sprint (7 furlongs) but he proved very capable in drawing off by three lengths and earning a 114 Equibase figure which is the BEST figure of any horse in this field. Trying two turns for the first time one month later in the San Felipe Stakes, against two of the division leaders in Bolt d'Oro and McKinzie (who is likely to miss the Derby but who is pointing for the Preakness), Kanthaka broke awkwardly and immediately went down to one knee, nearly losing his jockey. From then on out the strategy would be to let the horse settle and see how he did as most horses have no chance to win after such a start. Kanthaka relaxed in fifth in the field of seven and as the top two drew off in the stretch by six lengths, he showed his interest and ability in rallying for third.
The early pace of this race could be faster than average, with California Night having earned both his wins leading from start to finish, the last when wearing blinkers for the first time. Sporting Chance, one position inside California Night, is not likely to relinquish his position in the early stages either, while Good Magic and Flameaway, both drawn far outside, will have to use some tactical speed to save ground before the first turn. Considering Kanthaka draws the four post, jockey Leparoux can drop in and watch as all the pace manifestations take place in front of him, something jockey Prat was unable to do with Kanthaka in the San Felipe because of the bad start. From there, if the pacesetters begin to tire, Kanthaka can grab the lead in the stretch and hold off the deeper closers such as Blended Citizen and Arawak. For anyone that questions why jockey Prat is not here that is not of concern, because when Leparoux rode full time in California (where trainer Hollendorfer is based) in 2013/14, Hollendorfer and Leparoux won 11 of 42 races together including 4 stakes races from 14 tries. Also, we must recall trainer Hollendorfer prepared Battle of Midway marvelously last year for his three year old campaign, with the colt finishing second in the Santa Anita Derby, third in the Kentucky Derby and winning the Breeders' Cup Mile in November.
Blended Citizen will be ignored by many bettors because his win in the Jeff Ruby Steaks last month was on an all-weather surface rather than dirt, and he ran poorly in his three dirt races. However, those were at the beginning of his career and he is a DIFFERENT HORSE now. The addition of blinkers for the Jeff Ruby was the key to a strong finish with a 109 figure and we must recall trainer O'Neill won the 2017 Blue Grass with Irap at 30 to 1 so I will believe this colt has what it takes to win. Back to the concern about the surface, not only is Blended Citizen a different horse now than when he ran on dirt in his first three starts, his breeding is as good for dirt as for all-weather on turf as he is a half-brother (same dam) to 2017 Kentucky Derby runner-up Lookin At Lee, who also finished second in the 2016 Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland. With 22 points to date, Blended Citizen needs to finish second or first to insure he has a spot in the Derby.
Good Magic will be favored by bettors as the winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last fall. He had been off for four months when he finished a non-threatening third in the Fountain of Youth Stakes last month and he can improve, but there is no guarantee of it as some horses just aren't the same at three as they are at two. With 34 points to date, Good Magic also needs to finish first or second to or he may not be able to enter the Derby.
Arawak is the wild card, recently purchased privately and sent to the barn of Doug O'Neill (trainer of Blended Citizen) after finishing third in the Jeff Ruby. This will be his third start of the year, often a peak effort in a horse's form cycle, and he adds blinkers which notably helped his stablemate win the Jeff Ruby last month. With only four points to date, I believe the instructions given to jockey De La Cruz will be go get Arawak mid-pack about half way through the race then pass as many horses as you can. As such, and with starting odds of 30/1, I will be at least wagering a few bucks on him to win, place and show so I have no regrets if he pulls off an "Irap" and wins the race at 30/1 as happened last year.
Bets: Kanthaka at 5 to 2 or more. Blended Citizen at 4 to 1 or more. Arawak at 10 to 1 or more.
Add place bets at 6 to 1 or more. Show bets at 10 to 1 or more.
Exactas: Kanthaka, Blended Citizen and Good Magic over Kanthaka, Quip, Marconi, Blended Citizen, Free Drop Billy, Good Magic, Flameaway, Machismo and Arawak.
Santa Anita Derby – Race 9 at Santa Anita – Post Time 6:30 Eastern, 3:30 Pacific
I am going to pick Core Beliefs to post the upset in the Santa Anita Derby and, at the least, to run a lot better than his odds will suggest he can run. After two third place finishes in sprints in January and February, Core Beliefs stretched out to two turns and improved tremendously, drawing off by three lengths with a 109 Equibase Speed Figure. This was on par with the 108 figure Justify earned winning a two-turn race three days later. Core Beliefs was sired by Quality Road, whose progeny have proven themselves at top levels just as the sire did. Using Stats Race Lens to get a feeling for pedigrees that have produced classic talent, it is easy to find the sons and daughters of Quality Road have won 8 of 39 stakes races for three year olds on dirt over the past few years, including 2017 Kentucky Oaks winner and multiple stakes winner Abel Tasman. Although the 109 figure effort Core Beliefs put forth last month is well short of the 118 figure Bolt d'Oro earned in the San Felipe, the colt has potential to improve markedly off the effort in his second route and he will have to do just that because he needs to finish first or second to get the points required to run in the Kentucky Derby. Using his early speed as he did when victorious over the track last month and with the only other horse likely to be on or near the early lead being Justify, Core Beliefs should be in the thick of the action from start to finish.
Except for an exceptionally wide trip in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last fall when finishing third, Bolt d'Oro has made no mistakes, winning all four of his other races. In last month's San Felipe Stakes, Bolt d'Oro showed his battle- hardened nature once again when battling head-and-head the length of the stretch with McKinzie before losing by a head. After a steward's inquiry, McKinzie (who will miss the Kentucky Derby) was placed second and Bolt d'Oro was moved up to first. Being as he had been away from the races for four months prior to that, the 118 figure earned was exceptional. With 64 points on the "Road to the Derby" leaderboard, a spot in the starting gate in the Kentucky Derby is virtually assured so Bolt d'Oro may only need a good effort to keep fit to move on to the big dance next month. However, in his current form, even his "B" level race may be good enough to win.
Justify has been impressive in both his races to date. He won his debut by almost 10 lengths and then by six and one-half lengths last month in his second career start and in spite of coming out of the gate a bit tardily. Like Core Beliefs, this will be the second two-turn start for Justify and improvement off his 108 figure last out can be expected. Justify was sired by Scat Daddy, who may have three horses in the starting gate in Louisville next month if Justify finishes first or second to gain his first points on the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" leaderboard. The other two Scat Daddy colts include Flameaway and the most impressive winner of the U.A.E. Derby last weekend, Mendelssohn. Certainly, if the hype surrounding how big, strong and fast Justify may be is warranted, he will win the Santa Anita Derby and create a lot of buzz in the weeks leading up to the Kentucky Derby.
Win Bets: Core Beliefs to win at 2 to 1 or higher.
Exacta: Core Beliefs over Bolt d'Oro and Justify then ALSO Bolt d'Oro and Justify over Core Beliefs
Race 9 – Core Beliefs, Bolt d'Oro, Justify
Race 10 – Midnight Crossing, Thundering Sky
Race 11 – Spectator, Midnight Bisou
Santa Anita Oaks – Race 11 at Santa Anita – Post Time 7:30 Eastern, 4:30 Pacific
Spectator and Midnight Bisou tower over the rest in this year's Santa Anita Oaks, the only different between the two being Midnight Bisou is a stakes winner and Spectator is not. Spectator won the first two races of her career last year in easy fashion, including the Grade 2 Sorrento Stakes in August by five lengths, then finished third in the Del Mar Debutante before taking six months off to mature. She returned three weeks ago in a highly rated allowance race versus OLDER horses and gamely won by a neck with a 108 Equibase figure, higher than the 105 figure Midnight Bisou earned winning the Santa Ysabel stakes 15 days earlier. With Javier Castellano staying around for this race following the Santa Anita Derby, and with this gal having improving to do and then some in her 2nd start off the layoff, Spectator is the one to beat in this year's Santa Anita Oaks. Midnight Bisou has the rest of the probability to win the race, the other seven entrants not nearly as fast or as proven in top company. She missed by a nose in the first two starts of her career to an exceptional filly in Dream Tree then in her three year old debut she won the Santa Ynez in January before a ridden out (easy) win in the Santa Ysabel last month. Smith has been up for both wins and rides her back and she has one potential edge on Spectator in that she has run two turns and Spectator has not.
Win Bets: Spectator and Midnight Bisou (one or both) at odds of 3 to 2 or better
Exacta: Spectator and Midnight Bisou over Spectator, Midnight Bisou and Thirteen Squared (who finished a non-threatening second to Midnight Bisou last month)
April 4, 2018
By: Jonathan Stettin
We have three major Kentucky Derby preps this Saturday in three different states across the country. The Wood Memorial in New York, the Santa Anita Derby in California, and the Blue Grass in Kentucky. Unfortunately, all three are in danger of being run under less than ideal conditions. Poor weather is hovering around all of those races. This really puts the connections, who have waited for these spots to get the points they need to get into the Kentucky Derby, up against it. The following Saturday we have the Arkansas Derby and Lexington Stakes that will wrap things up and set the stage for the first Saturday in May.
Since the inception of the point system in 2013 all the Derby winners were undefeated in their three-year old campaigns. I don’t believe that was by accident or coincidental. Starting back in 2013 and through last year Orb, California Chrome, American Pharoah, Nyquist, and Always Dreaming all went through their respective three- year old campaigns leading to the Derby without a hiccup on the racetrack. The obvious conclusion is the point system doesn’t really allow for pointing for a race with steady progression and not being fully cranked from the onset.
Of all the horses trying to get to the Derby this Saturday none has more hype than Justify. This fast and talented colt will get his first real class test in the Santa Anita Derby when he faces Bolt d’ Oro, who was a leading two-year old and is also considered by many to be a top three-year old. Justify is two for two in his brief career and both starts came at three-years old. That means he has to buck the long-standing Apollo curse if he is to win the Kentucky Derby. Although that dates back pretty far by any standard, all these trends and statistics eventually go the way of the dosage index and go down. In reality, how many horses who did not race at two went into the Kentucky Derby with a legit chance? Maybe Pulpit or Curlin recently, but historically probably not that many. If you are a Justify believer I wouldn’t be worried about Apollo.
Justify has gotten the hype of being Bob Baffert’s best Kentucky Derby hope since he made his debut at Santa Anita in February, winning at 7 furlongs in 1:21.4. That’s fast at any track. He came back just about a month later to win at a mile over a muddy Santa Anita track in 1:35.3. He has yet to face the quality of Bolt d’ Oro but he does have that mud win and all the hype with him. Additionally, his stablemate is McKinzie. If we are to believe the hype, he is better than McKinzie and that runner gave Bolt d’ Oro all he could handle. He also has Bob Baffert in his corner. That can only help in any big race.
Bolt d’ Oro is battle tested. He had a rough go of it in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He literally had a war with Mckinzie last out, what resulted in McKinzie being disqualified. The two bumped turning for home and again nearing the wire but what sticks out to me is it never looked like Bolt d’ Oro was going to get by. Despite being carried out, which I remain cognizant of, I don’t believe the incident cost Bolt d’Oro the win.
Mick Ruis has done a fine job training Bolt d’ Oro thus far. He is now at the point on the Derby trail where things start to change. This is his first run and he does not have the experience that his chief rival, Bob Baffert, has in winning these types of races. I think that can play a part come Saturday.
I am a long way from handing the roses to Justify, or anyone else for that matter. There is plenty of time for that. The race on Saturday has not even been drawn yet so no detailed homework has been done. Strictly by the naked eye and experience, I will be a lot more surprised to see Bolt d’ Oro in the Santa Anita winners circle on Saturday than I will Justify. I think it is likely Justify punches his ticket to Louisville with a win and heads to town looking to bump Apollo as an undefeated three-year old with no starts at two. Getting that done is another matter altogether.
Honey Fox Stakes – Race 11 at Gulfstream Park - Post Time 4:47 PM Eastern
Stormy Victoria put in an incredible late kick when winning the South Beach Stakes in late January over the course, making up 10 lengths in the last 3/16 of a mile. Before that she closed from last of nine to miss by a pair of necks in the similar Grade 3 My Charmer Stakes, won by On Leave, who also can win but who will likely go to post at lower odds. With a field high 116 Equibase figure from that win which is better than the 113 On Leave beat her right before that, Stormy Victoria gets slight preference among a quintet of contenders. On Leave has won two of her last three, the My Charmer at this mile turf trip in December and a stakes at Laurel last September. She's only run two poor efforts in the past year, both when in Grade 2 stakes, so in this Grade 3 another "A" effort looks to be forthcoming and if it is she may earn her eighth career win. Res Ipsa goes for her third straight win, the only knock being the last two came in September and October. She has only run in a stakes once before, before the two wins, and it was a poor effort but she matured a lot in the fall and both wins came with Leparoux in the saddle, who rides her again, so she must be considered a contender. Lull won the similar G3 Autumn Miss Stakes at this mile trip in October, but that was against three year olds only. She did beat older in September sprinting on the turf at Kentucky Downs and finished a fine second in the Grade 2 San Clemente Stakes in July. Overmatched when last seen in a grade 1 stakes, she should appreciate the class relief ad could rebound to top form. Glory to Kitten is another very competitive mare, with six wins and three runner-up finishes in 14 starts. What's odd is she was claimed out of a win for 30K 13 months ago over the track then took six tries to move through the first allowance condition but was narrowly defeated in two of those races. Claimed once again, on1/15 out of a win at this mile trip on the GP turf, Glory To Kitten ram the best race of her career last out to run her record on the GP turf to five-for-five and she's on a pattern to run even better here, likely at a decent price.
Win Bets: Stormy Victoria at 5 to 2 or more.
Consider smaller win bets on any of the other four contenders, at these minimum odds, with preference to whichever horses are the highest odds at post time: On Leave 5 to 2, Res Ipsa 7 to 2, Lull 7 to 2 and Glory to Kitten 4 to 1.
Exacta: Box Stormy Victoria, On Leave, Res Ipsa, Lull and Glory to Kitten
Consider a trifecta box among the same five horses.
Race 11 – Stormy Victoria, On Leave, Res Ipsa, Lull and Glory to Kitten
Race 12 – Take Charge Paula, Cache, Princess Warrior
Race 13 – Hi Happy, Bigger Picture, Sadler's Joy
Race 14 – Storm Runner, Hofburg, Mississippi
Pan American Stakes – Race 13 at Gulfstream Park - Post Time 5:56 PM Eastern
Hi Happy is one of three that can win, the other two Sadler's Joy and Bigger Picture. The rest are a bit overmatched compared to these three and of the three Hi Happy is likely to offer the best value for win bets. In his native Argentina, Hi Happy crushed a field of 14 by four lengths at a mile on turf, no easy task, then finished second in a group 2 stakes before reeling of four straight group 2 or group 1 stakes wins. Given 11 months off to acclimate to the U.S. he started his career in California and was so highly regarded he made his stateside debut in a grade 2 stakes. He didn't do much in his first three U.S. starts but when stretched out to 12 furlongs for the first time in the U.S. he ran his best race in nearly 18 months, leading late and missing by a neck on the wire to grade 1 winner Hard Aces. Rested again, this time for 8 months, and sent to the Pletcher barn, Hi Happy came back in February in the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf Stakes and missed by a neck and 3/4 of a length in a huge effort he is very likely to improve off 2nd off the layoff. Considering his last two efforts yielded 111 and 112 Equibase figures which compare favorably to the 111 to 115 figures Bigger Picture earned in grade 1 and 2 stakes in the last year, Hi Happy can add to his $1 million earned to date and give the Pletcher barn yet another win at the meeting. Sadler's Joy earned a 112 figure winning the Grade 1 Sword Dancer Stakes last summer at Saratoga, which is on par with Hi Happy's last two efforts. However, Sadler's Joy did run even better in his most recent effort when rallying from far back, 12th and last, to win the Mac Diarmida Stakes on the course four weeks ago with a 122 figure. Repeating that effort, the rest are running for second, but in spite of having won 6 of 15 on the turf and 2 of 3 on the grass at GP, Sadler's Joy can be beaten although we cannot for a second discount his chances so he must be used on any exotic bets we make including exactas and pick 3/pick 4 tickets. Bigger Picture is the third millionaire in the field, having gone over the mark with a win in the Grade 3 Connally Stakes when last seen at the end of January at this marathon 12 furlong trip. He has only run on the GP turf once previously, missing in a four horse photo in the 2017 Mac Diarmida, which Sadler's Joy won last month. Jose Ortiz rides Bigger Picture exceptionally well, up for three of his last four wins, and so we should expect this veteran to be in the thick of the action on the wire.
Win Bets: Hi Happy at 2 to 1 or more.
In the unlikely event Sadler's Joy or Bigger Picture is anywhere near 2 to 1 at post time, bet the one at the highest odds to win as well. Use a "dutching tool" like the one at Amwager to help allocate your wagering dollars over multiple horses for the best result in these kinds of situations.
Exacta: Box Hi Happy, Bigger Picture and Sadler's Joy
Doubles: Hi Happy, Bigger Picture and Sadler's Joy in race 13 with Storm Runner, Hofburg and Mississippi in race 14
Florida Derby – Race 14 at Gulfstream Park – Post Time 6:30 Eastern
Hofburg is making only the third start of his career and only his second start as a three year old. In spite of giving away a lot of experience to the others he has a decent shot to win this year's Florida Derby because there are some significant question marks surrounding some of the others. Storm Runner and Mississippi ran first and second, respectively, in a highly rated race over the track in February and if they repeat those efforts the can win as well. I'll make cases for all three based on other factors after I explain why I believe so many horses in this field are NOT win contenders.
First, Tip Sheet and Millionaire Runner are overmatched as they have never run well in stakes or recently. Then there's Holy Bull Stakes winner Audible. The first question mark for him is returning off a 56 day rest into a nine furlong race. That's not necessarily a big issue as his trainer is Todd Pletcher and as Mississippi and Catholic Boy also made their last starts in the first 10 days of February. The main issue is the 97 Equibase Speed Figure was a regression off his career best 99 figure in his last start as a two year old and three year olds normally run better as they are more physically mature. Also, that 97 figure doesn't hold up to the 110 or better figure it's going to take to win this race, similar to the 115 figure Promises Fulfilled earned winning the Fountain of Youth Stakes four weeks ago. With Audible having his work cut out for him, we next move to the first and second place finishers in the Fountain of Youth and I can't back either, at any price because of how that race was run. Promises Fulfilled was allowed to gallop on a lonely lead with no challengers, actually running slower in the second quarter mile as compared to the first, and slower still in the last quarter mile leading to the last 110 yards. His 24.99 fraction from the 3/16 pole to the 1/6 pole was dawdling and appears only to show me what was behind him wasn't much. Fountain of Youth runner-up Strike Power ran second from start to finish and after having run first from start to finish in his other two races, that effort only proves he's a need-the-lead type. Catholic Boy returned to finish second in his first start as a three year old in the Sam F. Davis Stakes, following two months off after a stirring victory in the Remsen Stakes last December. However, after making the lead turning for home against early leader Flameaway, Catholic Boy could not put away his foe and came up a half-length short on the wire. When Flameaway came back to run second behind Quip in the Tampa Bay Derby, with a seriously lower Equibase figure (106 in the Sam F. Davis to 96 in the Tampa Bay Derby), and with the third quarter mile split in the Sam F. Davis a pedestrian 24.81 which Catholic Boy could not make any headway, I just don't see him as the type to leap forward and win the Florida Derby.
Back to the main contenders – Hofburg is a half-brother to multiple graded stakes winner Emollient, who finished second in the Demoiselle Stakes at a mile and one-eighth in only the second start of her career and who also won the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes on conventional dirt. Bill Mott trained Emollient as he does Hofburg, a son of tremendous sire Tapit, whose foals have won nearly 20% of over 220 dirt route stakes for three year olds in the past five years. Mott knows what he has and has no problem moving Hofburg into a grade 1 stakes of his maiden win, with a 102 Equibase figure that was a 20 point improvement off his only other race and which suggests Hofburg could show us a breakout effort in the Florida Derby.
Storm Runner earned a career best 111 figure winning his second start as a three year old, first on dirt, on February 4 over the track and he did so in spite of running greenly, which means he didn't know exactly what to do. One month later in the Fountain of Youth Stakes, Storm Runner fought the jockey in the early stages then when he was let run, he went inside the early leader, only to be shut off and lose his momentum. Shut off one more time, when asked to run on the turn the colt refused to respond and ended up fading to seventh. With a change in jockey and a significant workout (best of 42) coming into the race, Storm Runner has a nice shot if he stays out of trouble.
Similarly, Mississippi can win if he can repeat or improve off that last effort. Before that he missed by three-quarters of a length to recent Louisiana Derby winner Noble Indy and then in that February 4 race, Mississippi moved up nicely to miss by a neck at the end and was nine lengths clear of the third horse. Blinkers added for the Florida Derby can help him focus on the task at hand in the late stages and if that does the trick Mississippi can stamp himself Kentucky Derby contender.
Win Bets: Bet Hofburg to win at odds of 3 to 1 or more.
Also Consider win bets on Storm Runner and on Mississippi at odds of 7 to 2 or higher.
Exactas: Hofburg, Storm Runner and Mississippi over Hofburg, Storm Runner, Mississippi, Strike Power, Promises Fulfilled, Catholic Boy and Audible.
San Francisco Mile Stakes – Race 8 at Golden Gate – Post Time 6:45 Eastern
Full of Luck looks extra live in his U.S. debut. A Chilean bred by Lookin At Lucky out of a Fusaichi Pegasus mare, he was bred to be any kind and has turned out that way, winning 5 of 7 last year and 8 of 14 overall for $262K, a huge bankroll for a horse having run exclusively in Chile until now. Privately purchased since his last race in October, partially by Hollendorfer, he appears to have come to hand quickly with a sharp 1:12 six furlong workout a few weeks ago. The fact that Hollendorfer gets Prat to ride, taking off a whole day at Santa Anita, is very significant and if the horse is as ready to run off the rest as he appears to be, he could pick up where he left off in the fall with a stakes win. Editore ships up from Southern California as well and the last time he did that was in November, winning the Grade 3 Berkeley Handicap, the only real difference between that race and this one (also a grade 3) the Berkeley was on the main track. However, Editore won a turf route at Santa Anita before that and he hasn't been disgraced one bit in his two races since, finishing third twice in a row to the multiple stakes winner Itsinthepost, who would be the odds on favorite here. Syntax is another shipper from Southern California, dropping in class significantly from the Grade 1 Kilroe Mile three weeks ago, where in spite of being overmatched he managed to rally for fourth at 38 to 1. He missed by a half-length two races in a row to tougher before that and is another likely to move up on the change in company.
For the place position on exacta tickets, in addition to the win contenders we will also use Camino Del Paraiso and Frank Conversation, the former having just run the best race of his career when second in a stakes on the Santa Anita turf in late January and the latter a horse that doesn't have a lot of late kick but who has managed to finish second or third in two graded stakes in his last four races.
Bets: Full of Luck to win at odds of 2 to 1 or more.
Consider win bets on Editore and Syntax at odds of 3 to 1 or more, for a smaller amount than on Full of Luck.
Exacta: Full of Luck, Editore and Syntax over Full of Luck, Editore, Syntax, Camino Del Paraiso and Frank Conversation.