Regular readers of this site will note that we don’t have the joie de vivre we once did for life in Baltimore. Lately we’ve been down on everything from music to politics, and we barely even enjoy a trip to Camden Yards anymore. But in 2016 there’s one thing we love more than ever and it’s thoroughbred horse racing… particularly Maryland racing.
And why not? It’s been a banner year. After last year’s historic Triple Crown win by American Pharoah we started out the Spring of 2016 with our first ever visit to a steeplechase meet at Fair Hill, which was a blast to watch and a great betting day. Triple Crown season saw us win enough money betting online we could start to claw back some actual cash profits from our advance wagering account. Throughout the Summer we paid visits to both of the Baltimore area’s brand new OTB locations at Horseshoe Casino and Timonium Fairgrounds. Both venues are clean, quiet and comfortable enough to stay all day and play a whole card easily. We even made a trip to Maryland’s fabled Riverboat on the Potomac which is a building on pilings located at a swimming beach, not a boat, and has a panoramic deck and full bar and restaurant. (It’s only technically in Maryland, adjacent to the lovely little town of Colonial Beach, Virginia.)
Of course, we made several visits in person to Laurel Park this Summer as well. With free admission, free parking, and even twilight racing in the Summer lasting all the way until sunset it’s clear that the Jockey Club has made a pleasant and effortless fan experience a priority in a way that the MLB and NFL can’t or won’t. Then there’s the multimillion dollar improvements continually being added. It’s not an exaggeration to say that every time we visit Laurel they’ve found a way to outdo themselves. Handles are up and the sport is healthier than it’s been in years. It may be sacrilege to say so, but it’s hard to buy into the annual hand-wringing over Pimlico when Laurel is transforming itself into a world-class facility right down the road.
As long as we’re blaspheming, we’ll add that for our money Maryland Million Day is the very best day of racing our state has to offer, including the Preakness and Black Eyed Susan. Our homegrown fields include horses with nationwide star quality like Ben’s Cat, Rockinn On Bye, and Phlash Phelps, and the atmosphere and fan experience on Maryland’s Day is the best you’ll find anywhere, in any sport.
We’re so excited for this weekend’s races we dove in early, did our homework (in advance, as any good handicapper should) and made our 2016 selections so we can enjoy Marylandia to the fullest. In a first on this site we’re going to publish those picks here, with commentary. Picks are in order of preference. All ticket prices reflect suggested wagers at the minimum base price. Enjoy and good luck!
We look past the morning line favorite Head Games who seems very vulnerable in this position. Instead we go to the 6 Sarah’s Treasure who was washed off the turf two back and had enough to hit the board last out but for being DQ’ed. Number 9 Bete Noir brings turf experience and gets Trevor McCarthy along with what looks like a hidden class drop on this big day of racing. We’d also use the 3 Cherished Prize on exotic tickets being in the money four of her last 5 tries.
The 6 Chapel of Chimes is one of 3 horses we’d use as a single today. The connections are clearly very savvy at taking advantage of the condition book and this horse stands out well above the rest of the field. She will be a short price but when you believe a horse will win it’s best not to bet against it. This race starts a P3 and P4 and that’ll probably be our angle. In exotics we’d use the 7 Star Eighty, one of the more consistent in this field and we’ll look at the 9 Next Best Thing who may be just that if she draws in.
Pick 3: 6/ 3,4,6,7,11/ 2,8,9,13 = $8.00
Pick 4: 6/ 3,4,6,7,11/ 2,8,9,13/ 2,3 = $12.00
Two year old races are tough to pick and this one looks pretty wide open to us. We go to one on the AE list O Dionysus with the breeding advantage. Sired by Bodiemeister and purchased for $190,000 as a yearling, he’s got a win and a second so far to back up those credentials. We also noticed the 6 Slick Man, who figures to be among the last first-timers by the prolific Maryland stallion Not For Love who was euthanized in May at age 26. Not For Love has progeny in many of today’s races but Slick Man may well be a slick entry in this spot. We’ll be watching him closely in the paddock. The 4 In Arrears is in good form and could easily improve on a sharp win last out. Number 7 Greatbullsoffire failed as a short price favorite in a similar spot last month but can’t be ignored completely today.
The 8 Diamond Dollar is another by Not For Love and looks to have a class advantage here. She’s yet to put up any eye-popping speed figures but has won at this level and never missed the board in five starts. We think an average performance by her today may be enough to get it done. The 2 Item will be a serious threat with any improvement at all. Number 7 Freisani looks to be working better than her lone start and may be a great price. AE 13 Misty On Pointe will draw interest if she’s in.
Pick 3: 2,8,9/ 2,3/ 2,7,12 = $9.00
Pick 4: 2,8,9/ 2,3/ 2,7,12/ 10 = $9.00
Going with yet another Not For Love pick we like the 2 Devilish Love. Proven on the turf and with stakes experience we think this grey will be tough to beat. Her 5-1 morning line would be a gift from the Gods at post time. The 5 Northern Smile is similarly positioned and has a great shot today. AE 9 Vielsalm loves Laurel and loves the distance and should take a lot of money if she’s in. The 3 Rocky Policy looks like a bounce candidate after a gaudy 103 Equibase figure last out and doesn’t impress us too much. She’s cross-entered in today’s 9th race as well. We think she’ll run here but we hope the connections get what they deserve for pulling such a stunt.
Pick 3: 2,3,5,9/ 1,2,7,12/ 10 = $8.00
This race sucks. It’ll probably be a year-maker for whatever small potatoes trainer wins it. The top 3 program selections are 2, 7, and 12 and they’re the only ones that look like live runners to us along with the 1 first off the claim for Wayne Potts.
Pick 3: 1,2,7,12/ 10/ 4,7,1 = $6.00
In our biggest single of the day we’re going to the 10 Phlash Phelps whose got the speed over turf making this his race to lose. If he weren’t in it we’d be looking to number 1 Here’s To Mike or the 3 Spartianos, both of which would be fit to win a race today, but maybe not this race. The 11 Lord of Love may figure in the exotics but reeks of Seconditis with just 2 wins in 33 tries lifetime on the turf.
Pick 3: 10/ 4,1,7/ 11 = $1.50
Pick 5: 10/ 4,1,7/ 11/ 4,6,7/ 7 = $4.50
Chalky though it may be, in the Sprint Handicap we’ve got to go with the 4 Morning Fire. Along with a couple of stakes wins his recent running lines show him running behind horses like Counterforce and Destin, so he’s been facing some of the stiffest competition in the country and we think he can outgun the old man Ben’s Cat. With a legendary 32 wins in 59 starts the Cat is a threat to win every race in which he’s entered, and he may make some magic today so we won’t ignore him entirely.
Pick 3: 1,4/ 4,8,11/ 4,6,7 = $9.00
Pick 4: 1,4/ 4,8,11/ 4,6,7/ 7 = $9.00
The Distaff handicap brings us our Price Play of the day with number 8 Wowwhatabrat at a 15-1 Morning Line. There’s some consistent improvement here between this filly’s 3 and 4 year old years and her last race at Parx was a big (but not too big) step up with a win at 30-1. She can excel at 7 furlongs and may leave a lot of people scratching their heads. We also like the 4 Scip’s Sonata who looks like she’s coming into her own in mid-career and makes the switch to a hot young rider in Nik Juarez. She should be a very square price too. We can’t leave out the heavily favored 11 Loveable Lady (another by Not For Love) who’s got a lot to like but the price is not one of those things.
Daily Double: 11,4,8/ 4,6,7 = $9
Pick 3: 11,4,8/ 4,6,7/ 7 = $4.50
The Maryland Million Classic will definitely be a show this year and while there are a lot of ways it can go we think the edge belongs to the 4 Admiral’s War Chest. He looks like the one most likely to survive a hot pace over long distance. It could be they want to send him to the lead and let him try to hold it, which worked last out, and which may be as good a plan as any. Program favorites Flash McCaul and Just Jack definitely have speed, but may do their best work at shorter distances. Also Eligibles Noteworthy Peach and Eyeplayeveryday could make an already tough race even more challenging.
We usually don’t bother with the Get Out race but today the 7 Publishanditerate really catches our eye. Sire Tapit’s six figure stud fee is really eye popping in a field of horses who aren’t worth that price combined. As a first time gelding and with a 5 pound weight break it looks an awful lot like juggernaut Sagamore Farm is trying to come in with one of their sneakiest trainers (DePaz is 3 for 9 and let the horse walk 5f in a 1:05 workout last week) and steal a purse after a big day of racing while everyone’s heading for the parking lot. We wouldn’t treat this entry like a traditional single, but we don’t think enough of any of the others to use them so we may use him on the end of horizontal wagers or even back him in the win pool if he looks fit in the paddock and circumstances allow.