Handicapping Saturday’s Late Pick 4 at Saratoga
by Dick Powell
There’s no bet at the racetrack that leads to more “woulda,” “coulda,” and “shouldas” than the Pick 4. Everyone you meet seems to have a tale of woe. “I woulda had it if my single hit the first leg.” “I coulda had it if spread out more in the last leg.” Or my personal favorite when it comes back chalky, “it shoulda paid more if the favorite didn’t win the leg that I hit the ‘All’ button.” And since they don’t pay three out of four, you can come close and not get the cigar.
The $.50 increment that most tracks have adopted at least allows you to spread your resources but even three picks in all four legs adds up to $40.50 for a $.50 bet.
Before getting into the four races that comprise the Saratoga late Pick 4 on Saturday, let’s talk about general strategy. First, handicap all four races to see if it seems like favorites are going to do well or if it appears chaotic. If one or two favorites look strong, you might have to bet more than $.50 with fewer combinations. If the favorites seem vulnerable, you will need to spread out with more combinations.
Singles can be critical to hitting a home run. If a horse I like is a logical favorite, I won’t hesitate to single him/her. A winning ticket always beats a losing one.
Saratoga’s late Pick 4 starts out with field sizes of 8, 7, 5 and 11. Not a lot of chaos mathematically until the end.
Besides handicapping, Pick 4’s are usually about money management. You have a limited bankroll and have to decide where to spend it. Go too wide early and you will have a narrow ticket at the end. Spread evenly and you will probably get stuck with a modest return if you hit. Be aggressive but you better be right. Spread out and hope one of your longer prices come in.
Now, let’s look at the four races Saturday:
Race 8 is the Alfred Vanderbilt Stakes (G1) for three year olds and upward going six furlongs on the main track. A field of eight is entered is A.P. INDIAN (Indian Charlie) is the defending champion. A consistent 7YO gelding that has earned triple-digit BRIS Speed Ratings in 10 straight races, he was supposed to run in the Belmont Sprint (G3) on July 8 but missed the race when he came back from the Maryland Sprint (G3) on May 20 with some pressure in his ankle.
Trainer Arnaud Delacour said that he’s been good ever since and trained well at Fair Hill training center before shipping up here.
Ian Wilkes sends BIRD SONG (Unbridled’s Song) off a poor effort in the nine-furlong Stephen Foster (G1) and the colt shows two good workouts including a fastest of 99 half-mile breeze last Saturday. He has been going long in his last eight starts. “This may be a little too short for him but I'll try it," Wilkes told the NYRA press office. "He's won going two (turns) but I think his strength is going to be around one turn."
So, two of the favorites have some question marks but they also have a ton of back class. A confirmed sprinter in good form is LIMOUSINE LIBERAL (Successful Appeal), who was a terrific second here two years ago in the seven-furlong King’s Bishop Stakes (G1) and has three wins and four seconds at this distance. He used to be much faster out of the gate and now has become a stalker.
Worth considering is AWESOME BANNER (Awesome of Course), who exits a second in the Smile Sprint Stakes (G3). But there is no way he makes the lead with GREEN GRATTO (Here’s Zealous) in the race. Finally, Jorge Navarro ships in EL DEAL (Munnings), who will also have to contend with Green Gratto on the front end but could surprise if he were to make the lead.
Last year’s Bowling Green Stakes (G2) was a gimmee when FLINTSHIRE (Dansili) overcame adversity at short odds and this year is much more wide open. However, it only attracted seven entries going 1 3/8 miles on the inner turf course for four-year-olds and upward. I like rail skimming rides on the inner turf course at three turns -- it helps to save ground on at least two of them.
BIGGER PICTURE (Badge of Silver) won here last year at course and distance and has improved dramatically at the age of 6 with a win in the United Nations Handicap (G1) going this distance in fast time at Monmouth Park. Joe Bravo can be a wizard riding the turf, coming up the inside to win the United Nations four weeks ago, and Bigger Picture draws the rail today. He gets a penalty as a Grade 1 winner but I will take the ground saved over the weight given.
FRANK CONVERSATION (Quality Road) ships in from California for Doug O’Neill and was a terrific second last out going 10 furlongs in fast time in a Grade 2 stakes at Santa Anita. He should have no trouble getting another furlong here. And given he is used to racing in fast-paced races out west, Frank Conversation could find himself up near the lead if the pace is glacial.
Graham Motion won the Manhattan Handicap (G1) going 10 furlongs at Belmont Park at long odds with ASCEND (Candy Ride). The gelding was making his first graded stakes start at the age of 5 last time but has won three straight since adding Lasix. I can’t see beyond these three in the second leg of the Pick 4.
Race 10 is the Jim Dandy Stakes (G2) for 3YOs going nine furlongs on the dirt and it has attracted Kentucky Derby (G1) winner ALWAYS DREAMING (Bodemeister) and Preakness Stakes (G1) winner CLOUD COMPUTING (Maclean’s Music) as well as three others. Always Dreaming would seem to have a huge pace advantage against this short field and even if maiden winner PAVEL (Creative Cause) guns to the front, Johnny Velazquez has shown that he can get him to relax and become the stalker. Either way, the race sets up perfectly for him.
Chad Brown took the slow road with Cloud Computing and it paid off in the Preakness with a classic winner in only his fourth career start. I have had questions about his pedigree, at least on his sire’s side, but he has shown an ability to relax and accelerate when Javier Castellano wants him to.
The only other one I would include on a limited basis is GIUSEPPE THE GREAT (Lookin at Lucky), who ran well on the worst part of the track in the Dwyer Stakes (G3) going a one-turn mile and now stretches out to two turns three weeks later.
The final leg, Race 11, is a maiden special weight race for 3YO fillies and mares going 1 1/16 miles on the Mellon turf course. The Mellon is more friendly to horses coming from behind and form holds up better over it than the tighter inner turf course.
I give five runners a shot to win in the 11-horse field. DURABLE GOODS (Medaglia d’Oro) rallied for second from post 13 in her career debut at 10-to-1 odds for Chad Brown. A belated debut runner at the age of four, she comes in here off 51 days rest which is right in Chad’s kill zone. From post 2, Jose Ortiz can save ground on the first turn and go as wide as he wants on the second.
REMARQUED (Arch) looked like she might pull off the upset 32-to-1 in her turf debut last out going six furlongs at Belmont Park but Rubilinda (Frankel) swooped by in impressive fashion. She has the pedigree to stretch out and Eric Cancel shows a major flat-bet profit with his 99 turf mounts this year.
FREEDOM (War Front) just missed in both starts last year going two turns on the turf and returns off a 274-day layoff for Bill Mott. She showed last year that she can run well fresh and gets Irad Ortiz Jr., who doesn’t do much business for Mott.
MAGICAL SKY (Sky Mesa) was a close second going a two-turn mile at Gulfstream Park last month and even though the competition down there is limited this time of year, it was a solid effort and earned her a trip to the Spa. I wish she drew better but MISS MAKER (Distorted Humor) has a spectacular turf pedigree being out of a mare that won the QE II Cup (G1) on the turf as well as the Lake George Stakes (G2) on this turf course.
So, the tickets will be 2, 3, 4, 8 with 1, 2, 7 with 1 with 2, 6, 7, 8, 10. That’s 60 combinations or $30 ($.50 denomination). The next ticket will be 4, 8 with 1 with 1 with 2, 7. This ticket I would bet $10 increments for $40 total. Always Dreaming has to win the Jim Dandy but today’s distance is perfect for him coming off the layoff.
Dick Powell handicaps New York tracks for Brisnet.com. You can find his Daily Selections for the Saratoga meet here