And here we are with Derby and Oaks week upon us, the first week of another Churchill Downs meet, where the track bias is still up for grabs, the crowds are insanely large and overseen by an organization that is largely criticized these days over matters of takeout % and other financial matters. It recalls a passage in Hunter S. Thompson’s “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent And Depraved”: ’Pink faces with stylish Southern sag, old Ivy styles, seersucker coats and buttondown collars. “Mayblossom Senility” … burnt out early or maybe just not much to burn in the first place…’
Maybe I’ll head to Louisville once just to say I’ve been to the grand old track, and for either the Oaks or Derby. Certainly those races are a pretty big deal, the representation of the best that thoroughbred racing has to offer, even if the format is skewed toward one coast or the other, and few tracks at that that have the impact on the field. I know for certain that I do want to cover big races in person, and that may well be in the near future as I continue to roll out the next Derby/Oaks Trail campaign.
Putting aside the Derby for this post in favor of the Oaks, I wanted to see if the Oaks Trail matched up with mine. The horses that I included in my Trail that didn’t make this year’s field were Don’t Leave Me, Maybellene, Sharla Rae, Luminence, and By The Moon. So with 9 of 14 horses that I approve of, I say the actual Trail seems to be OK. What about the horses that got in that I didn’t rank high enough? Those fillies are Eskenformoney, Forever Unbridled, Peace and War (also-eligible), Oceanwave, and Sarah Sis.
As for handicapping this week, I had done an experiment, by which I considered being in a $10 satellite to a Saturday contest, en route to a seat in Vegas for a major handicapping contest there. I tried my own hand at 8 contest races used last week (measured by mythical $2 win/place bets) and measured the average results. Seems that, to advance to the Saturday final, for Wednesday contests I would need to generate $45. I scored about $26 on my own. It was enough for me to put off doing that contest. Maybe I’ll consider it in June.
I do have these contests I play in: Emerald Downs (Friday through Sunday, last 6 races each), Remington Park (3 races, quarter horses, Thursday through Sunday, elimination event). Soon I’ll also take part in Meadowlands and the annual Survival At The Shore at Monmouth (3 races a day, I think 3 days a week, elimination event)
So let’s go horse-by-horse for the Kentucky Oaks!
FOREVER UNBRIDLED: 3rd in 2 Grade 3 events. Did not qualify for the Enlightened Oaks Trail. Placed in all 5 lifetime events, 4 at Fair Grounds, 1 at Churchill as maiden debut. 3 works since the Fair Grounds Oaks, 2 local, 1 fast. Holds an 87 Brisnet in the Silverbulletday, then up to lifetime best 93 in the Rachel Alexandra, down again to an 88 last time. Definitely a bounceback candidate. Once a winner while stretching out and as a shipper, and is one of 4 horses waiting since late March while stretching in distance from 8.5 furlongs. Not in my top 10. Projected odds: 42-1 or worse.
SHOOK UP Alternating 2nd place finishes, lone win at maiden level. Was a replacement qualifier in the EOT for her 2nd place finish in the Fair Grounds Oaks last out. No rain in the forecast for Friday, otherwise she’d rank a bit better for her good off-track performances as maiden. Prior win gaining in distance, as shipper and also has waited since late March to stretch out. 3 works, 1 bullet at Churchill. Not in my top 10. Projected odds: 42-1 or worse.
INCLUDE BETTY won the Fantasy Stakes (Grade 3) last time, along with the Suncoast at Tampa Bay. Qualified in the EOT as replacement candidate. ROI angle: Rosemary Homeister Jr and Thomas Proctor have combined for 6 races, winning 1, for 4.60 return. Small new top in pace achieved at 3 with an 83 to break maiden, later succeeded by an 86 in the Florida Oaks and a 91 in the Fantasy. I’ve ranked this closer as fastest of the field, should she get the proper trip, like she did in the Fantasy. Owns a win as a shipper. I rank her 3rd in the field of 14 and the best of the few overlays in the field. Projected odds: 6-1.
ESKENFORMONEY 2nd in the Gulfstream Park Oaks last out, 3rd in the Davona Dale before that with lifetime best 104 Brisnet. 2 works, 1 fast one at Churchill, one bullet. One shipping win. Also stretching from 8.5 furlongs since 3/28. Not in my top 10. Projected odds: 42-1.
CONDO COMMANDO: Winner of 5 of 6 including the Gazelle, the Busher, the Demoiselle, and the Grade 1 Spinaway. Highest score in the EOT overall. Fastest for the 9-furlong distance with wins at 97 and 102 Brisnet. 2 of his 5 wins are from a similar middle post. She’s also the lone pure speed in the race (last 3 first-call numbers range from 92 to 110). Last 3 races have seen a triple-up in pace, 97 to 102, strongly above her previous. Has the best trip coming in of any horse in the field. This sprinter won gate-to-wire in the Gazelle
last time out over 9 furlongs at Aqueduct.. One of 4 horses to run 9 furlongs lifetime but the only horse to win. I rank her as my favorite Projected odds: 7-5.
ANGELA RENEE Winner of the Grade 1 Chandelier, lifetime 8-2-2-2, running mainly in Graded events. Qualified for the EOT. Top average-winning-distance numbers of the field (sire Bernardini and damsire Deputy Minister). Prior win stretching out. 2 works, 2 fast, 1 at Churchill. Definitely has the inherent factors but little other evidence for winning. Projected odds 40-1.
LOVELY MARIA: Winner of the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes. Qualified for the EOT. First or 2nd in all but 1 of 7 lifetime. Last 3 races racing over 89 Brisnet, new lifetime best beyond her 2YO best of 89. 1 fast work at Churchill. One win while stretching out. Outside contender. Projected odds: 25-1.
I’M A CHATTERBOX Winner of 4 of 6 including the Silverbulletday, the Rachel Alexandra and the Fair Grounds Oaks, all since layoff and claim by Ken McPeek. Those 3 races represented new lifetime best scores, all close together in the 90s. Owns a stretchout win (maiden), and 2 shipping wins. EOT qualifier. Also waiting since 3/28 for this one. While waiting, posted 2 fast works, one at Churchill. Not ranked in my top 10, as her numbers are dwarfed by others. Projected odds: 40-1. I do think she’s a huge underlay.
MONEY’S ON CHARLOTTE won an ungraded stakes event at Gulfstream Park West last autumn. Not an EOT qualifier. Has a strong recovery pace angle: Since that stakes win she was on layoff until January, scoring an 87 in the Silverbulletday, bouncing to a 58 in the Davona Dale, then matched her 2YO best score of 91 last out in the Gazelle. Might bounce here but I’m doubtful. Both lifetime wins come from a middle post. Projected odds 12-1 and likely overlay.
OCEANWAVE has placed in all 5 lifetime events, including 2nd in the Fantasy and Honeybee Stakes. Not an EOT qualifier, only because Shook Up scored in a higher Graded race. Forged new lifetime tops of 84, 85, 90 last 3 races. Both lifetime wins from a middle post position. Slight possibility of a bounce from these numbers. Projected odds: 12-1, and another overlay.
SARAH SIS won the Grade 3 Honeybee. Not an EOT qualifier. First or 2nd in all but 1 of 7 races. Did not rank in any one category of my variables. Does own one prior shipper and stretchout win. Not in my top 10. Projected odds: 42-1 or worse.
STELLAR WIND Winner of the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks and Grade 3 Santa Ysabel, both after layoff and reclaim by trainer John Sadler. Jockey Victor Espinoza has run with Sadler 15 times in the last 60 days, earning 6 wins, 9 total placings, for an ROI of 2.31. EOT qualifier. Set short new lifetime bests of 95 and 98 last 2 races, tho the 95 in the Santa Ysabel was more than 8 weeks ago. 2 of his 3 lifetime wins come from an outside post. Paired up Brisnet scores just ahead of her prior best of 90 suggests a possible bounce in some cases but actually may be an asset here. Prior win stretching out and as shipper. I’ve ranked her virtually tied with Include Betty, but I broke the tie giving Stellar Wind the advantage (narrowly so) for having the Grade 1 victory. Ranked 3rd on my list. Projected odds: 6-1.
BIRDATTHEWIRE won the Gulfstream Park Oaks and the Forward Gal, and was 2nd in the Davona Dale, all Grade 2 races. EOT qualifier. Best Churchill Downs showing of this field, breaking maiden here with a 93 score in November. Last 3 races represented new lifetime tops of 94, 104, and 97, all ahead of her 2YO best of 93. Definite bounceback in pace here. Best works of the field: 3 works at Churchill, 2 very fast. One of four horses who last rode on 3/28 and is stretching out. Prior wins stretching out and as shipper too. No question she has more numbers that point to her winning now, but is outranked among better. Projected odds: 25-1.
PUCA shares some of the best pedigree of the field (Big Brown-Boat’s Ghost, out of supersire Silver Ghost). Top pedigree measured by differential among those who win at Churchill, using 2014 numbers. Only win came at maiden. 2nd in the Gazelle last time out. Only horse in field to switch back to jockey she won prior with, that jock being Junior Alvarado. Here’s how she broke her maiden
No other evidence to support her winning on Friday. Projected odds: 40-1.
PEACE AND WAR is the lone also-eligible filly with 3 races in England before winning the Grade 1 Alcibiad right off the boat at 23-1, then a 7th in the Grade 1 Ashland. Despite her shipping win, and 2 quick works at Keeneland, she doesn’t rank at all with this top quality field. Projected odds: 40-1.
Here’s my top 3:
1st: Condo Commando
2nd: Stellar Wind
3rd: Include Betty
I you know me, you know I don’t do anything more risky than simple $2 win bets and $1 exactas. I will typically wager win bets on horses in my top 3 that are worse than 5-1 in the wagering. I include my top 3 in exactas to each other tho I will not play favorite with favorite (essentially, any horse at 7-2 or better).
Future wager has to be factored in here as well. In that lone pool, I played win bets on Birdatthewire (12-1), Take Charge Brandi (7-1) and Cristina’s Journey (80-1) and also exactas to each other plus exactas over and under the field horses. SInce then, we’ve seen that Birdatthewire is the lone horse to make the show and is 6-1 at the morning-line. Should she fall to worse than 12-1 in the wagering I will place another win bet on her and exactas using whoever is the public favorites over her. If her odds are still strong I’ll leave her be.
The field selections I already have at 7-2. As mentioned, I have them hooked up in exactas with Birdatthewire. The fillies represented as the field choices are Include Betty, Money’soncharlotte, Stellar Wind. Interesting that my top 3 are 2 of the field wagers. If any of these 3 should be worse than 7-2 in wagering by the public, I might use them in wins and exactas over and under public faves. I’m strongly believe Stellar Wind will be the exception to include here, as the other two have much worse morning-line odds.
As mentioned the most likely overlays are Include Betty, Money’soncharlotte and Oceanwave. It may be a case of using overlays to win and under my top 3 in exactas (total of 8 exactas I think). This is all subject to change.
Honestly I’m torn between using my top 3 and the public top choices when it comes to playing exacta values. I’ll keep ruminating on this.
So that’s how I’m planning to wager. Best of luck!