Revisiting the Travers

Earlier this week, I wrote about fair odds for the Travers. Looking at the odds, I thought that V-E Day would be the best value and a fair line at 6-1, and he was my selection at 19-1:


Screenshot 2014-08-26 16.52.28

I’ve written about this division all summer on All Day Racing, so I relied mainly on my own impressions of the horses, particularly which ones that I thought were likely to improve (based on the patterns of the data found in the PP’s.) Jerkins/Castellano rewarded the confidence.

Let’s take another look at the 5 most important questions  and how the race answered them:

Q: Does anyone challenge Bayern for the lead and how aggressively is he pressed?

A:  There were, to say the least, aggressive pace challenges from Tonalist and Wicked Strong. You always hope that connections won’t let a front-runner get easy fractions, but usually they aren’t willing to press that hard. This move absolutely changed the race.

Q: Will V.E. Day continue his hot form and keep improving?

A: He did, and he made the most of the opportunity that presented itself. Condition is tough to predict, but as seen can pay well, if it matches the right circumstances!

Q: Does Tonalist move forward off the Jim Dandy?

A:  I’ve always been nagged by the chance that he’s a Belmont horse, but I’m not willing to go that far yet. But that could present upside opportunities in a later start, perhaps JCGC. That said, regardless of the pace pressure, he wasn’t at his best, and it opened chances for others.

Q:  Which style will we see from Wicked Strong? Will it be the  “new” Wicked Strong (the one with blinkers) to press Bayern? Or might they try to take him back?

A:  In the Travers, Wicked Strong was a presser, and certainly very game to the end, losing just at the wire. He ran a great race, and a tough one to lose. He’s a versatile, good horse — I don’t think he’s a Classic winner, unless he moves forward again, though. .

Q: Will Mr. Speaker like the dirt? 

A: He actually ran relatively familiar — at least in style — to this race at Gulfstream. He’s a good horse, and didn’t seem to hate the surface. I think he’ll be a very excellent sire in time, and certainly shows continued promise for the future with a return to turf.

Chart: SAR082314USA12

Chart: Copyright 2014. Equibase.

Image: Vinning Herring, Copyright 2013.


5 questions for the Travers Stakes

Here are the 5 most important questions for the Travers Stakes:

  1. Does anyone challenge Bayern for the lead and how aggressively is he pressed? I think this is a more important question than whether Bayern can “get” the distance. If he does go unchallenged and puts up moderate fractions, this race could be over.
  2. Will V.E. Day continue his hot form and keep improving?  He’s been on a nice roll since leaving Gulfstream, and I like horses that keep winning quickly as they move up the class chain. You certainly can’t complain about a jockey change to Javier Castellano.
  3. Does Tonalist move forward off the Jim Dandy?  You would think he’d be likely to, but if he doesn’t he’ll take a lot of public money down with him
  4. Which style will we see from Wicked Strong? Will it be the  “new” Wicked Strong (the one with blinkers) to press Bayern? Or might they try to take him back? He’s either versatile, or simply an enigma.
  5. Will Mr. Speaker like the dirt? He’s been training well, but that’s a whole different ballgame. He’s already a Grade I winner on turf and it seems like a worthwhile attempt by Shug. But, that said, there’s plenty of reason he might not translate his speed to the dirt, so price accordingly.

Read “10 words or less about each Travers horse”

Image: Mike L. “Stay Thirsty.” Copyright 2011.

Billy Blake on the $1 Million Guaranteed All-Stakes Saratoga Pick 4

With a Guaranteed Pool of $1 Million, it’s time to get to work and make up for last week’s ticket. We had three out of the four winners seven days ago, but it didn’t matter because the ticket was done after the first leg. Let’s hope for better results with one Grade II and three Grade I races in the mix.

Race 9: 3,7

In the Ballston Spa, I’m heavily relying on the winner of the De La Rose. Filimbi (#7) is the one to beat on paper, especially with the absence of Dayatthespa. I liked Abaco (#3) in the Diana, and I thought she ran well to be fourth despite being wide throughout. One mile and a sixteenth might actually be too short for her, but she makes the ticket as a backup to Filimbi. I expect Nellie Cashman (#1) from the rail to set the pace with Filimbi midpack and Abaco coming from well out of it.

Race 10: 2,4,7

The King’s Bishop contains speed, speed, and more speed. C. Zee (#1),Wildcat Red (#2)Fast Anna (#6), and The Big Beast (#7) are not afraid to get the jump on the field early. Of these four, I prefer Wildcat Red and The Big Beast. Wildcat Red turns back in distance after running in the Haskell, and he’s dangerous around one turn. The Big Beast looked so good crushing a huge field last out that I can’t ignore him in this spot. Noble Cornerstone (#4) is my longshot play. He is improving with every race as a three-year-old and could benefit from a pace collapse with all the speed signed on. I’m taking a stance against Coup de Grace (#8). I don’t have any specific knock on him, but I want to use horses who are just as good as he is that offer slightly more value.

The King’s Bishop contains speed, speed, and more speed.

Race 11: ALL

I rarely hit the all button in multi race wagers in an effort to save some money. However, this race is a true guessing game. Morning line favorite My Miss Aurelia (#4) is second off the layoff after a third place finish in an eventful four horse race in the Shine Again. Better Lucky (#2) beat her last month, and it seems getting back to dirt has turned her around. Artemis Agrotera (#1) had nothing more than an afternoon stroll in her last start, and she will probably have to be gunned to the lead by Rajiv Maragh. La Verdad (#6) had a four race winning streak halted in the slop, but she has every right to bounce back off that effort. Hot Stones (#8) is interesting on the turn back, and longshotVoodoo Tales (#7) has strung together a couple of wins heading into the Ballerina. There’s something positive to say about all nine horses, making it tough to eliminate one or two from the ticket. By hitting the all button, we have to make it count with a select few in the Travers.

Race 12: 6,7

Tonalist (#6) or Wicked Strong (#7) will give us a winning ticket. I think experience at Saratoga is key and both these horses fit the bill. Tonalist stretches out to a more suitable distance for him, while Wicked Strong has been a completely different racehorse with blinkers. Everyone knows Bayern (#2) is going to the lead. I just have my doubts he can get the distance against a much better field than what he saw in the Haskell. Bayern is the ultimate high-risk, low-reward play, and I don’t want any part of that. Mr Speaker (#10) on dirt is enticing, but there are others who have accomplished far more on dirt and it’s going to be no easy feat to top this field in his dirt debut. that closers Commanding Curve (#1) and Kid Cruz (#8) are in trouble if Bayern is uncontested early. My guess is Rajiv Maragh has Wicked Strong forwardly placed to keep an honest pace with Tonalist sitting third or fourth. I’m skeptical of the horses coming out of Curlin getting the distance against the likes of Tonalist and Wicked Strong.

$.50 wager (2 X 3 X 9 X 2) = $54

Image: Doug Kerr, “Saratoga Race Track.” Copyright 2010.

Guest Analysis: Billy Blake’s Saturday Late Pick 4

[Here’s Billy’s ticket and analysis for Saturday’s Late Pick 4.

I also asked him, “If you absolutely had to single one horse in one race — and not Tonalist in the Jim Dandy, who would it be?” His answer: “Coup de Grace.”  

Good luck to all playing the spa today! SA]

Tough start to last week’s Pick Four as Devilish Love, a horse I respected but played against, won in a photo finish to kill the ticket after the first leg.

Weather should be a non-factor again, and the two turf races in the sequence should be run over a firm turf course.

Race 8: 4,5,8

The Grade II Amsterdam kickstarts the Late Pick Four, and there are reports of two scratches. Noble Moon and morning line favorite Rock Fall appear to be out of the race, leaving us with a field of seven. Coup de Grace was overmatched two back in the Woody Stephens and found the winner’s circle against weaker company at Delaware earlier in July. He’s now the probable post time favorite. Tiznowforamerica is 10-1 in the morning line, coming off a win at the Amsterdam distance of six and a half furlongs. Captain Serious is the speed in the race and turns back in the Amsterdam. Expect him to try to wire the field.

Race 9: 2,3,6,8

I’ll go four deep in this optional claimer. Palace Dreams is coming off a layoff, but she’s run well in her two races at Saratoga. She should be able to save ground from the inside with Jose Lezcano. Miz Owellcouldn’t hang on going one mile on a yielding turf course at Belmont, although she won three back with the extra sixteenth of a mile and another yielding course. You can make a case she’s better without a firm course, but she’s 2-for-5 this year and didn’t get the best of rides in the Mount Vernon. Lady’s Lunar Luck gets back to a more suitable distance after running out of gas going one mile and an eighth. Has hit the board in all four starts at the Spa (2-1-1). The Lady Says Yes makes a second start off the layoff and is another one in the field who likes the Saratoga turf. Just to mention a couple I won’t be using, Caribbean Beat is a nice horse, just doesn’t seem to win. Chow Fun may be compromised by the extreme outside post.

Race 10: 4,7

I’m chalking it out in the Jim Dandy with Tonalist and Wicked Strong.The Belmont Stakes winner will probably be stalking Legend, who appears to be the pace on paper. The blinkers on Wicked Strong should only help. Of the others in the field, I like Commanding Curve, but don’t think the pace will be hot enough for him to be kicking late. Same can be said for Kid Cruz. Tonalist and Wicked Strong are the class of the field. The value won’t be there, but they are the obvious choices in a small field.

Race 11: 2,6,7,11,12

A huge field completes the card. Twelve horses are entered, only one of which is a MTO.  There are a few horses that I’ll use coming out of a June 25th race at Belmont. Elroi is putting up consistent figures and continues to finish in the money. Note the winner of the race two back ran a respectable fourth on ThursdayTrainingforsuccess ran third on June 25th and offers a bit of value at 10-1 morning line. First start in the Mitchell Friedman barn and gets a rider change to Junior Alvarado.Bluegrass Flash is another one who is in contention each time he steps on the track. Joel Rosario sticks around and enters this race with experience on turf for Christophe Clement. Ballybrit couldn’t wire the field for one mile and a quarter. However, cutting back to one mile and a sixteenth improves his chances of wiring the field as one of the few speeds on paper. I can’t ignore Tapitation either. No worse than second in five career starts. Poliziotto hasn’t run in over a year, and I can’t endorse him at what will likely be short odds with a 12-month layoff.

$.50 wager (3 X 4 X 2 X 5) = $60

Image: Oliver Mallich, “The Paddock at Saratoga.” Copyright 2007. Creative Commons 2.0.

The Kentucky Derby, 6:24 ET

Churchill Downs, Louisviille, KY, Race 11, Kentucky Derby

Post Time: 6:24 EST, Purse: $2.2 million

There’s great racing all day, but there’s nowhere else to go on Derby day than the race we’ve been waiting for all year.  I’ve gone into great detail on the Derby elsewhere on this site (, so this will mainly be my analysis of the race.

The Derby is the biggest race for this sports, both to insiders and outsiders.  Today, we’ll have 19 three-year olds attempting to run 1 1/4 miles — longer than they’ve ever gone before.  While any horse in the field can win the Derby (and often it’s a surprise), there are a few betting tips that I typically follow.

First, I like to see a horse have the ability to come off the pace and close.  With 19 horse, you often get the horses going too fast too early.  Second, I like to see a horse that is bred well and should get the extra distance. Third, I like to get a price — it doesn’t have to be huge, but it should compensate for the risk.


  • Will California Chrome bring his California speed to Churchill Downs?  This is the question of the race.  If he runs his best race, he’s going to win.
  • Will there be a hot pace?  A hotter pace?  A suicidal pace?
  • Will any of the frontrunners — Vicar’s in Trouble, Uncle Sigh, Samraat, Uncle Sigh, California Chrome, General A Rod, Wildcat Red, or Chitu — be faster than the others?
  • Will Medal Count like the dirt surface?


The Derby often is influenced by the trip the horse will get.  And it’s notoriously difficult (and usually not useful) to predict trips.  So, we have to demand a price to deal with this risk .

With all that in mind, let’s turn to the horses. After going through the field, I was most impressed with Wicked Strong, who ran fast enough to win here in his Wood outing.  He benefitted from a fast pace there, but he should here, too.  Danza is another that catches the eye, along with an impressive General A Rod.  I expect Samraat to be noisy on the turn and stubborn in the stretch.  Medal Count could be the winner, too.  He’ll need to like the dirt and improve, but the Dynaformer breeding is very tempting.

I usually play the Derby Trifectas and Superfectas — it’s the only time of the year that I play those bets.  But there’s a bit of a mythicism about those bets and how they often pay in the tens, if not hundreds of thousands.  It’s Wicked Strong on top for me, combined with some Saamrat, and the above horses.  Here we go!  


Sometimes champions come from humble beginnings.  California Chrome is a champion.  Bravo and congratulations.  Commanding Curve, Danza, andWicked Strong all ran well but the pace wasn’t too fast and California Chrome was just too good.   It is will be interesting to break down why the pace was surprisingly soft. On to Baltimore, where I wouldn’t be surprised to see California Chrome at odds-on.