Superfecta Score Heals Old Derby Wounds

11 May

By Lucky Kalanges

It was the 2015 Kentucky Derby and the unthinkable had happened.

The Road to the Kentucky Derby Showdown, a TwinSpires contest with a $1 Million Bonus Prize that I was responsible for running had more than a dozen contestants still alive heading into the Derby. And all they had to do was cash a winning $20 Show bet on the Derby to claim a share of the million-dollar prize.

To get here, they had to cash a winning $20 Show bet in 19 Kentucky Derby prep races without losing. Nobody had ever gone more than 9 races without losing in the four years we had held the contest. Now, an incredibly chalky prep season had led to 13 players hitting 19 Show bets in a row, and advancing to the Kentucky Derby.

With 13 players in the hunt, it was a mortal lock that we would be giving away a million bucks. Of course, we had insured the prize, or it would have been extremely unlikely that I would have attended the next three Kentucky Derbies as a Churchill Downs employee.

With the pressure off, all I had to do was make sure each contestant got their $20 Show bet down in the final round. A handful accepted our invitation to attend the Derby and I had the pleasure of showing them around Churchill Downs. One of the players who couldn’t make it was Matthew Ball, who hails from Burbank, California and paints movie sets for a living.

He was probably thankful for not having made the trip after being one of three players to choose a horse other than the post-time favorite, American Pharoah, or “the other Baffert,” second choice, Dortmund. He stuck to his original Derby pick, Blue Grass Stakes winner, Carpe Diem.

When his pick finished up the track in 10th place, he was one of the unenviable three who failed to claim a share of the million-dollar prize. Those who picked American Pharoah, Firing Line or Dortmund decided to split the $500,000 lump sum payout and bagged about $50,000 each, before taxes, from a $20 Show bet.

I took a photo with the winners who attended the Derby, but all I could find was this old Facebook picture of me donning a discarded Ladies’ hat with the million-dollar check.

Derby Photo

I can say from experience, if you want to be the most popular guy at the Kentucky Derby, just walk around with a giant ceremonial check made out for One Million Dollars. Everyone wants a picture with it.

As luck would have it, Matt’s story didn’t end here. After this year’s Kentucky Derby, I received a Twitter Direct Message from Matt’s father, John Ball, whose ties to the Bay Area can be traced back to the days when the Navy flew the P-3 Orion sub hunters out of Moffett Field in Sunnyvale. John said he very much enjoyed attending the Alameda County Fair and the Pleasanton horse races while he was stationed in the Bay Area.

His message came with an attachment that revealed Matt had taken another contrarian approach to betting the Kentucky Derby. After reading it, I had to reach out to Matt to see how the heck he had landed on Country House as a viable win contender.

“My dad had been touting Bill Mott all year saying he was going to win the Derby with whoever he got there with,” Matt wrote. 

My interest peaked in Country House when Flavien Prat was named to ride. I love that dude and think he’s a terrific jock, so it was a great sign to me.

I always give an extra look at the chestnuts, especially ones with a white blaze, as they remind me of our dog, Z. He passed away in December, and the name Country House also had some deep emotions tied to a friend of 12 years, who we lost last December.

Still, heading into Derby Week, Country House was only one of five horses Matt was considering as his prime win contenders.

“At this point, I’m still on Tax, Long Range Toddy, Honor Code, and Vekoma as my other win candidates,” Matt said. 

Like many handicappers, he began to pare down his list after the draw.

Country House draws the 20, which is a bummer, but he’s a closer, so it’s not the end of the world. Toddy draws the 18 and the weather looks sloppy, so I’m losing interest. Vekoma draws terrific in the 6, but Honor Code gets my lucky number 13. Tax gets the Carpe Diem post 2, so he is mostly out, but I’m also left wondering if it’s a sign.

Two days out.

Omaha Beach is scratched. This moves Honor Code (technically) out of post 13, putting a wrinkle in my lucky number angle. It also brings Country House in one spot to 19. It sounds insane, but it started to seem more plausible to me that he could have a good trip.

It’s Around this time is when I came up with “the bet”. My derby wagering strategy is always the same. Key one winner on top of as many Superfecta combos as I can afford, which is usually about $60. Thankfully, an $8 bet on Owendale a few weeks prior had given me a little more wiggle room. Thinking about the horses to use underneath my winner, at some point, it just popped in.

3 Bafferts and 2 Motts.

I didn’t know which Baffert horse to use but obviously one of them would be up there, and both of Mott’s looked like ideal derby horses. Yes, this was the correct bet. Stop thinking about it, now just find the winner. 

Oaks Day arrives.

I am working but my mind is solely on the Derby field. Vekoma is irritating me in that I keep picturing him winning. But the breeding is off and the numbers are way too slow.

But it should be noted that he’s a chestnut, and I always take an extra look at the ones with a white blaze, since they remind me of my dog, Z.

Country House also fits this criteria, and his name recalls some deep emotions, tied to my friend of 12 years, that we lost last December.

I had also read (NYRA Handicapper) David Aragona’s analysis of the Arkansas Derby, and Country House was his pick, just one race ago, to beat Omaha Beach. And Country House had run a respectable third in that race.

Then I read an interview with Laffit Pincay, and he mentioned how Country House was very agile for a big horse, and seemed to bounce across the track. That seemed good to me for a closer trying to come over from post 19.

Not to mention, my dad has been touting Bill Mott all year, saying he would win the derby with “whoever he gets there with”.

It was suddenly painfully obvious. Country House was the pick. He was my “no regrets, all in pick” to win the Derby. And it felt very right.

Still, as I can attest, having used Justify on top of my tickets last year, having the winner does not guarantee success in the Superfecta. Matt still needed to round out the bottom of his ticket on the morning of the Kentucky Derby.

It’s the best morning of the year, as always. I won’t be watching any of undercard as we are attending a kid’s outdoor party. But that’s fine, I don’t want to lose my Derby bankroll anyhow. I am left with a problem, in that I now need to replace Country House as one of the Mott horses I was using underneath. As I stood, watching my 3-year-old devour a sno-cone, I looked at my wife sitting next to him, and remembered her pick, Code of Honor.

My family and friends play a handicapping game throughout the prep races, and we were all fresh off a shellacking from her, so there was no chance I was leaving her pick off my ticket. I logged in at that moment and placed 3 bets.

In the Trifecta (a $20 total bet) and Superfecta (a $60 total bet), he played #20 Country House over five horses:

#5 Improbable (Baffert),  #8 Tacitus (the other Mott), #13 Code of Honor (Wife’s pick), #16 Game Winner (Baffert), and #17 Roadster (Baffert).

He also placed a $5 Win bet on Country House and, as a saver, $5 Win on Long Range Toddy, whose rider would play an important role in the ultimate outcome.

When Maximum Security crossed the finish line a 1 3/4 lengths winner, he was resigned to his fate, but wasn’t overly disappointed.

I was so proud of Country House and really wasn’t disappointed, because he ran so well to get 2nd. I thought for a split second, as Maximum Security crossed the finish line, maybe there will be an inquiry. But then I knew that was impossible…

Then it was announced that Flavien Prat, the rider of Country House, had lodged an objection against the winner. As the drama unfolded over 22 minutes, Matt recalls the moment he knew everything had changed.

The stewards room is empty, and something feels right. They cut to an agent talking to Prat. In a split second, as the smile came over his face, before his arms were even fully raised, I knew what had happened.

I covered my mouth and jumped back from the screen like Joaquin Phoenix seeing an alien (in the movie Signs). The gravity of the situation was instantly felt, not only for my financial stake, but also for the racing world.

Total shock and disbelief.

Standing in the same 10×10 room that buried me alive in 2015 (with Carpe Diem), was it really possible?

Did I have my bets right?

I know I did, but got to log in to make sure. Good lord, 65-1?! What will it pay?!

This is what he saw:

Derby Super

Not a bad return for a $90 investment.

From his Dad to his wife to his old dog Z, and from a good friend he’d lost in December, Matt had taken all the input that had mattered most, and used it to exorcise the Carpe Diem demon that had owned him for the past four years.

And while we only exchanged e-mails, the feeling of relief and exultation came through loud and clear.

“I’m not a very public person (no Facebook, Twitter, etc),” Matt wrote. “But it’s hard not to just enjoy the ride with this one.”

Blowing the Derby Deadline

10 May

By Lucky Kalanges

It probably wasn’t a great sign when an OTB customer asked me last Friday night who I liked in the Derby and I couldn’t tell him.

“I don’t know,” I said. “If you see me tomorrow, ask me then.”

That’s not what anyone, especially a reading audience wants to hear, but it’s generally the way I play it. I have to see the odds, track conditions and whatnot before making my final plays, which this year, occurred probably 90 minutes before the race.

Unfortunately, my son had a Little League game between my final handicapping preparation when the track was fast and the weather was dry, and when the horses were loading into the gate. By the time I rushed home, showered and crawled up the Sunol Grade for my night shift at the OTB, the heavens had opened up, the track was sloppy and I probably should have heeded the impulse to cancel all my bets.

But you know, it’s the Derby, so I let them ride. The only good news to report is that the disqualification of Maximum Security had no bearing on my outcome. I was a loser either way.

Of the DQ itself, I have nothing to add that hasn’t been discussed ad nauseum, but you know that won’t stop me. When I first saw the objection was from Flavian Prat, the rider of Country House, like everybody I focused on contact between the two. When I couldn’t see any, I figured this objection would be tossed in the circular file like 99% of all jockey objections.

When the inquiry dragged on, I started to get more interested. It’s only when I saw a particular angle of the infraction coming around the turn that I understood why Maximum Security had to come down, based on the rules as written in Kentucky.

I think Eddie Olczyk of NBC Sports breaks it down well here.

At the time Maximum Security bore out badly, it looked like War of Will was loaded ready to at least challenge him for the lead. War of Will did recover and battled until the last 1/16th of a mile before fading to eighth, just a half-length short of finishing fifth and earning a $90,000 check.

The reason I agree with the DQ decision is twofold:

  1. The foul cost War of Will at least a half-length, denying his owners a shot at $90,000 in prize money or more. The way the rules are written in Kentucky, a foul that costs another horse an opportunity at a better placing may be disqualified. That’s pretty much the same way they’re written and enforced in California.
  2. Most agree that the foul could have easily caused War of Will to fall, putting him and his rider in grave danger. Had War of Will fallen, Maximum Security would have almost certainly been disqualified within minutes. Do we really need to see a horse and rider hit the dirt in order to disqualify a horse in the Kentucky Derby?

    I don’t think so.

I can only imagine the frustration of losing the Derby Superfecta or any bet with a sizeable payoff on a DQ like that. With Country House in second, the Superfecta was paying five figures with or without Maximum Security.

As it stood, the Superfecta payoff of $51,400 felt a little light to me given it paid nearly $20,000 last year with Justify on top as opposed to a 65/1 shot. Not surprisingly, there was only one winning ticket in the Super High 5 that paid a whopping $544,185.

Any word on who bought the winning Super High 5 ticket?

Another interesting development was the 20-cent Single 6 Jackpot Pick 6 far outperforming the new, low takeout, two-day $2 Grade I Pick 6.

Here’s the comparison:

$2 two-day All Grade I Pick 6 paid $67,936
$.20 Single 6 Jackpot Pick 6 paid $271,869

The two Pick 6 pools shared the following winners:

  • Mitole ($6.40) in the Churchill Downs Stakes
  • Bricks and Mortar ($4.20) in the Turf Classic
  • Country House ($132.40) in the Derby

Here’s is where they differed:

  • Beau Recall ($23.00) in the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (Single 6 Jackpot)
  • Digital Age ($19.20) in the American Turf (Single 6 Jackpot)
  • Mr. Money ($17.00) in the Pat Day Mile (Single 6 Jackpot)
  • She’s a Julie ($12.00) in the La Troienne (G1 Pick 6)
  • Mia Mischief ($25.00) in the Humana Distaff (G1 Pick 6)
  • Serengeti Empress ($28.00) in the Kentucky Oaks (G1 Pick 6)

Given the prices of the winners were very close, even higher in two of the three G1 Pick 6 races, it was a bit surprising that the 15% takeout Pick 6 paid so much less than its Jackpot counterpart, which, in addition to its 15% takeout, rakes another 10% to the Jackpot ($137,594 to be exact).

A lot probably has to do with the Derby day Jackpot Pick 6 handling $1,066,333 vs. the new, two-day Grade I Pick 6 taking in just $479,561.

With time, however, I expect the two-day $2 Pick 6 to grow and I think it is a great way for Churchill Downs to eliminate the negative publicity associated with switching its Pick 6 from a $2 minimum on Oaks and Derby weekend to a 20-cent Jackpot in the middle of its prestigious spring meeting.

That’s all I’ve got for now, but I’ll be back before the weekend is up with a winning story  for a change. I case you haven’t noticed, I’ve grown a little tired of talking about myself losing money all the time.

Speaking of which, if you’ve got a winning story from the Derby this past weekend, we’d love to hear it. Hit me up at lkalanges@alamedacountyfair.com

Kentucky Oaks Review

3 May

By Lucky Kalanges

Depending on how you feel about morning-line favorite Bellafina (9/5), picking the winner of the 145th edition of the Kentucky Oaks is either a no-brainer or absolute skull buster.

The aforementioned filly from Simon Callahan’s barn has won 6 of her lifetime starts, and all but one of those wins have come by open lengths. And she brings a three-race winning streak with her to Churchill Downs. That said, her last loss was over this track in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, and her overall record when she doesn’t have the lead by the second is one win and a second from three starts.

Did I mention there is a lot of front running speed in this race?

Most notably Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Jaywalk, Motion Emotion, Serengeti Empress, Liora, and Flor De La Mar all share essentially the same running style with Bellafina. Something’s got to give and with Bellafina expected to be lower than 2/1 odds, I’m incline to take my chances elsewhere.

Trouble is, most of the other contenders horses have their problems as well. The first I gravitated toward was #14 Restless Rider (6/1) who has shown great ability to stalk early pace-setters and range up on them rounding the far turn without being asked. She done this in her last two races. Unfortunately, each time when she’s been able to reduce the competition to one, she’s been unable to pass that horse in the lane. This isn’t a great trait when you’re looking for a Win bet, but it could prove valuable in the Exacta given she’s never been worse than second in seven starts.

The other off-the-pace type I’m looking at is #3 Lady Apple (20/1) who enters with a three-race winning streak and showed great courage rallying up the rail to win the Fantasy at Oaklawn last out. She’ll need that courage and some racing luck with a draw close to the rail, but she’s been on the upswing and could benefit from a ground-saving trip behind the early speed.

#12 Street Band (15/1) gets a great draw for Larry Jones, who can train an Oaks fillies with the best of them.  Enters off a nice win in the Fair Grounds Oaks over Serengeti Empress who faces even more early speed here and will be a far shorter price, granted she did bleed in that last race.

Lastly, #10 Champagne Anyone (6/1) could benefit from a pace meltdown with her closing style, I’m just not 100% sold on her. Maybe for the lower half of the Trifecta.

In the end, I don’t have a strong opinion in this one and it will probably come down to post time for me with some Win bets and Exactas using Lady Apple, top and bottom.

Best of luck in the Oaks everyone.

Revisiting the Highs and Lows of Derby Weekend

2 May

By Lucky Kalanges

Sometimes it only takes one big score to make your year, and that was the case for me on Kentucky Oaks day last year.

I went in on a tight budget for Oaks and Derby weekend and struck lightning with the Late Pick 5 on Oaks Day. For Derby weekend, I like to focus on the Late Pick 5, which has a low 15% takeout. It’s hard to hit, especially on Derby day. But if you can hit one of the two, it will make your weekend and, in this case, it made my entire year a profitable one.

Through the wonder of modern technology, I can look back at exactly how I played the Pick 5 ending with the Kentucky Oaks last year. Here’s the three tickets I played for a total of $186 with the winning horses highlighted.

CD R7 $0.50 PK5 1,5,7,8,9,10/4/6,10/3,7,11/3,10,11,13,14 $90.00 
CD R7 $0.50 PK5 7,9/4/2,6,9,10/3,6,7,11/3,10,11,13,14    $80.00 
CD R7 $1.00 PK5 7,9/4/6,10/3,11/10,14 $16.00

All three plays were tied to Chad Brown’s speedy Backyard Heaven, who I singled as the controlling speed in the Alysheba Stakes over betting favorite and 2017 Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming. The latter had gone off form and I thought it was a good bet against short odds that he wouldn’t regain it here.

When I caught Will Call at a price in the TwinSpires Turf Sprint at $15.60, and Backyard Heaven romped as I had anticipated as the 2/1 second choice, my biggest ticket was off and running. I caught another break on a front runner when Devine Mischief drew off at 4/1 odds in an optional claimer. That left me with a 3×5 over the next two legs to pay dirt.

Perhaps my biggest break was when Neil Drysdale’s Toinette posted a 5/1 upset over Chad Brown’s 6/5 favorite Rushing Fall over a firm turf course. Many tickets had Rushing Fall singled, so when I moved on to the Oaks with five horses, I was feeling pretty good.

I still had to sweat out this wicked stretch drive with Wonder Gadot on the outside seeking to make my ticket worthless, and a subsequent rider’s claim of foul for interference in the stretch.

When the objection was denied and Monomoy Girl was declared the rightful winner, my Derby bankroll was a cool four large fatter heading into Kentucky Derby day ($4068.40 to be exact).

This game has a way of bringing you down to earth quickly, however, and that was the case on Derby day when I let my stubbornness get in the way of an even bigger score in the Derby Superfecta. This plays out like an ESPN 30-for-30 voice over.

What if I told you, I had Instilled Regard, the longest shot on the board at 85-1 on my Superfecta tickets, but let nearly $20,000 get away because I didn’t use Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Good Magic in second or third.

I ended up having a great weekend with my Oaks score, but I let a far greater opportunity slip through my fingers in the Superfecta.

This year, I’ll take the same approach, playing the Pick 5 ending with the Oaks and Derby on each day, and trying once again to catch that elusive Derby Superfecta.

The rain might temper my enthusiasm a bit, but I’ll be back with my impressions of the Oaks day card Friday morning.

San Francisco Mile and Gold Rush Weekend

26 Apr

An unprecedented stakes six-pack is on tap Saturday at Golden Gate Fields, highlighted by the $250,000 San Francisco Mile (G3-T) over the Albany lawn. A perfect storm was aligning until the Golden 6 Jackpot was scooped by a single winning ticket on Friday, paying a whopping $383,167.30 to one lucky winner.

That takes a little wind out of the sails for those hoping to have a go at nearly $400,000 in dead money Saturday, but the high quality 13-race card should ease some of the pain. I had begun to look at the Pick 6 sequence, starting with race 8, but now that the Jackpot dough is gone, I’m looking mostly at the 10th a featured SF Mile.

A pair of multiple graded stakes winners from SoCal, #1 Bowies Hero (5/2) and #10 River Boyne (3/1), bookend the field of 10, in which only one other horse – #4 Le Ken (5/1) – has even placed in a graded event. This would seem to give them a significant class advantage over this field and class usually finds a way to win on turf.

Of the two, I’m leaning toward River Boyne who boasts a 50% win percentage on the grass (7 for 14) and at this distance (3 for 6). While Bowie’s Hero has probably faced better company, he’s entering off a 251-day layoff and it’s always hard to tell when he’s going to fire his best shot. He also gets Giovanni Franco in the saddle, who’s never ridden him before.

River Boyne has also shown his best coming in second off a layoff, which he is today. The last three times River Boyne has raced second off a layoff he’s improved his Brisnet Speed Figure by 10, 10 and 6 points. He also gets Flavian Prat back in the saddle, who’s ridden him to four victories and a second the last eight times he’s climbed aboard.

Of the horses stepping up in class to challenge this pair, I think #2 Blitzkrieg (6/1) might have a tactical advantage with his early speed and inside post position. Assuming #5 Many Roses (15/1) sets the pace as he did in the last two editions of this race, Blitzkrieg might get a garden stalking trip off his flank. He’s been a new horse since being claimed by the Doug O’Neill barn and comes in with a three-race winning streak in tow, albeit at 6 1/2 furlongs down the hill at Santa Anita. He did break his maiden over this distance in a 50K claimer at Del Mar.

The other potential upsetter I like is #9 Souter (6/1) who enters in top form for the Mark Glatt Stable. He enters of a pair of wins in the optional claiming ranks, two-turning at Santa Anita, and boasts 9 exacta finishes with four wins in 13 starts on turf.

Lastly, I have to respect Ireland’s leading trainer Dermot Weld shipping #5 Wentwood (12/1) over for this race. It’s hard to imagine his connections are coming over just for a holiday. Given most of the majority in here haven’t hit the board in a graded or group event, this gelding isn’t completely in over his head here.

The Verdict:

I have a feeling the classy horses are going to perform well in this one, but I am going to try to get Bowie’s Hero out of the Exacta and key River Boyne over my two price horses in hopes of getting a decent return.

$10 Exacta – #10 River Boyne (3/1) over #2 Blitzkrieg (6/1) and #9 Souter (6/1)
$5 Exacta – #10 River Boyne (3/1) over #5 Wentwood (12/1)

$25 total

Best of luck with your picks this Saturday at Golden Gate.

Calm Before The Storm

20 Apr

By Lucky Kalanges

I like the two weeks between the last Derby preps and the Derby. It gives us a little time to watch the replays of all the prep races and gather as much information as we can about the contenders leading up to Derby week.

I haven’t delved too deeply into all of the latest prep races, but I will say this, nobody has looked as impressive as Omaha Beach has in his last two races. The early move he made to hit the front at the half mile in the Arkansas Derby reminded me a little of Secretariat’s move around the first turn of the 1973 Preakness Stakes.

I’ll leave the replay here so you can see for yourself. He launches a three-wide bid around the first turn and secures the lead by the half, has Improbable breathing down his neck around the far turn and through the stretch, but continues to hold him off without much urging at all, just a couple left-handed taps in deep stretch to prevail by a length.

Improbable did nothing wrong and can certainly move forward off the effort, but with Omaha Beach holding wins over two of Bob Baffert’s three aces (Roadster being the third), he seems like a lock to be the favorite on Derby day barring any training setbacks. And while I am almost always trying to beat the favorite on Derby day, seeing Richard Mandella in the winner’s circle with Omaha Beach wouldn’t exactly break my heart.

In the Lexington Stakes, I was hoping for a better showing from local hero Anothertwistafate, who ran second at even money to 12/1 upset winner Owendale. The eight points he earned for second leaves him with 38, and tied for 22nd overall, which is squarely on the bubble as far as making the Derby field of 20. Trainer Blane Wright said they will wait and see if he qualifies before deciding on whether to enter the Derby or wait until the Preakness, for which he earned a free entry by winning the El Camino Real at Golden Gate.

With the free entry, I’d be inclined to rest up for the Preakness. If he couldn’t win the Lexington Stakes, I think the 20-horse Derby might be a bridge too far.

Speaking of bridges, I’m kind of excited for the stakes six-pack coming up next Saturday at Golden Gate, highlighted by the $250,000 San Francisco Mile (G3-T). I have to work the night shift next Saturday, but I am going to make an effort to stop by GGF and catch as many races as I can before I have to report for duty. With the turf course now open, I stand a much better chance at cashing some tickets as opposed to when they’re running exclusively on the Tapeta.

In addition to the Mile, they’ll be running the $100,000 California Derby, $75,000 California Oaks, $75,000 Golden Poppy (Turf), $75,000 Camilla Urso (Turf), and $75,000 Lost In The Fog Stakes on Saturday, the first day Gold Rush Weekend.

For those so inclined, $25 gets you into the “Golden Gate Get Down,” a live hip-hop and reggae concert headlined by The Grouch and Eligh. The concert area also features an assortment of Cocktails, Beers, and Food Trucks. A Golden Gate hat is included with the concert admission. If I didn’t have to work later in the day, I might take a shot at it if I were fortunate enough to cash a few tickets early in the card.

A pair of ‘hundred-granders’ – the Silky Sullivan and Campanile Stakes – headline the second day of Gold Rush Weekend on Sunday, April 28.

I’ll a

Arkansas Derby and Lexington Review

13 Apr

By Lucky Kalanges

I really like this field in the Arkansas Derby. It’s competitive and there seems to be enough early speed in here to give some of the deeper closers a chance of at least hitting the board at boxcar odds. Throw in a high probability for rain all day in Hot Springs, and it could be a race in which the favorites Improbable (8/5) and Omaha Beach (2/1) are more vulnerable than their morning lines would suggest.

Of the two, I think the high probability of a muddy or sloppy track favors Omaha Beach far more than Improbable simply because the former already has proven he can dominate over a sloppy track, drawing off to win by nine in his maiden victory at Santa Anita on Feb. 2. Furthermore, his natural early speed should keep him out of the kickback whereas Improbable will be buried at the rail and is highly likely to take mud in his face almost immediately after they spring the gates open.

Looking at the replay, Omaha Beach really couldn’t have been more impressive. He didn’t need the lead, but made it without being asked until challenged in deep stretch by Game Winner, who returned to run second to stablemate Roadster last Saturday at Santa Anita. Given his ability to use his tactical speed and the prior nine-length win over the slop, he looks like the one to beat to me. Of the two favorites, I’m siding with him over Improbable, who is bred to like the mud, but hasn’t experienced it yet and might get the worst of it breaking from the rail.

The other logical contender is Long Range Toddy (5/1), who showed great poise in breaking on top in his division of the Rebel, then backing off to track from the rail as a three-way speed duel unfolded. He let Improbable make a five wide move to pass him, and then came off the rail in the stretch to run him down for the win. He benefits here from an outside post that will let Jon Court decide where to place him, and could keep him clear of kickback.

As I type now, the main track at Oaklawn is officially sloppy. Without knowing how the track is going to play and how each horse will handle the off track, I’m going to tread lightly in this one.

For a potential longshots, I am going to take a long look at #7 Galilean (10/1) who I think could get overlooked in the betting and ran a pretty good race last out, finishing third behind Long Range Toddy and Improbable. In that race, he broke a step slow, rushed to the lead and was caught in the middle of the three-horse pace duel up the backstretch. He won that battle and held on gamely for third, beaten only 2 1/4 lengths. With a cleaner break and an ideal stalking trip off the hip of expected pace-setter Gray Attempt (8/1), he might have a chance to outrun his odds today if he takes to the slop.

The only question is whether he takes outside pace pressure from Jersey Agenda (30/1), who has early speed but failed to make the lead last time out.

For closers to blow up the Trifecta or Superfecta, I’d look at Laughing Fox (20/1) who has the right to improve off a poor break last time out and Six Shooter (30/1) who has finished no worse than fourth in his last four starts, with 7 in-the-money finishes in 10 lifetime starts. He a pure plodder, but seems to come running every time.

Consideration for Win bets:

Long Range Toddy at 6/1 or better.
Galilean at 12/1 or better.

I’ll consider some small Exactas using Galilean top and bottom to both Long Range Toddy and Omaha Beach, in an effort to get an over-bet Improbable out of it.

I like Laughing Fox, Six Shooter and Country House in the third hole of the Trifecta or fourth hole of the Super.

A Quick Look At The Lexington

Local hero Anothertwistafate (2/1) is a standout from a speed figure standpoint with a pair of 94s in a field where only one other horse has broken 90. Owendale ran a 91 two starts back at the Fair Grounds. He’ll likely have to rate behind early speed again this time, as Knicks Go (15/1) and Zenden (6/1) will likely duel for the front from the opening bell.

There has been some steam that Knicks Go, who exploded the Keeneland toteboard in last fall’s Breeders’ Futurity at 70/1, is training well over his home track and might be ready to put his two previous clunkers behind him. If he can shake loose up front, he’ll have every chance to prove it.

The one horse I won’t be betting is the 2nd morning-line choice, Harvey Wallbanger (7/2). There’s just no reason to swallow a short price on one-run closer like him.

I don’t have a strong opinion in this one, so I’ll sit back and root for the Bay Area connections to land a spot in the Kentucky Derby.

Best of luck today everybody.