On Track with Johnny D: The Host to Beat

It’s my turn, now. This season, eight previous hosts have done their best to defeat account holders in Xpressbet’s $100,000 Beat the Host competition. Some did very well–posting strong totals that showed profits or at least broke even.

Jon White, Santa Anita’s morning line maker, led the charge with a total of $79 in earnings. Jeremy Plonk, who kicked off the season the day after New Years, racked up $49.50 and Tom Quigley, who reliably can be found paddock-side at SoCal tracks, broke even with his plays at $40. At the Races radio host Steve Byk nearly finished all square with $36. Brian Nadeau, whose daily picks and blogs can be found on Xpressbet, checked in with $28.50 in earnings.

Two fellows who took a beating from fellow horseplayers were Daily Racing Form’s Brad Free and NBC Sports reporter Eddie Olcyzk. They each were unable to select a winner in eight mandatory races and totaled $0 in earnings.

Anyone who’s played this game for any length of time has experienced afternoons when things…or even just one bloody thing…doesn’t go right. As host I’ve taken the collar in Beat the Host play before. It feels awful. Besides being embarrassed, you feel as if you’ve let down fellow horseplayers and gifted a free seat to the $50,000 Beat the Host Championship Round to nearly everyone who challenged you. And that seems unfair to those who had to battle it out for their spots.

Yours truly sets the schedule of hosts for the event and could have avoided any chance of embarrassment by leaving his name out of the mix. However, what fun would that be? So, here I am! Ready to attempt to pick winners and to spoil Saturday afternoon for a bunch of fellow horseplayers.

Four players rooting hard against this week’s host are John Wonkovich, William Michelon, Scott Voss and Virginia Good. They should be applauded because they’re all alive for a $5,000 Beat the Host Bonus that goes to any single player who can whip the hosts in all nine weeks! If they tie for the honor the five grand will be split between the remaining unbeaten players.

Additionally, Saturday’s competition is the final chance for players to qualify for the Beat the Host Championship Round and yours truly is the only one blocking the road. I promise to do my best, but as you can read below, there are no free bingo spaces this week.

Have fun and try to Beat the Host. He’s sure trying to beat you!

(All Times Eastern)

Event 1 Post 3:25
Gulfstream Race 8
The Pick: #8 Heart to Heart
The Reason: You know how you like to play certain trainers? Brian Lynch is one of my ‘go-to’ guys. Most times, when I wager on his horses, they run well. They may not always win, but I usually get decent bang for my buck. Heart to Heart is a solid 5yo that’s won 8 of 19 overall, 3 of 7 at the distance and 1 for 1 at Gulfstream. Jockey Julian Leparoux is solid with Lynch, winning at 23%. Heart to Heart has speed and has had sufficient time to recover from a close Grade 2 Stakes victory Jan. 9.

Event 2 Post 3:59
Gulfstream Race 9
The Pick: #8 Partisan Politics
The Reason: Trainer Chad Brown and jockey Javier Castellano win at a 27% clip in a sample of 1,058 races. As candidate Trump might say, “That’s huuuuuge!” Horseplayers must pay attention to that combination. This 4-year-old filly has a pair of stakes wins to her credit: one at 2, in the second start of her career at Saratoga, and another at 3, in October at Belmont. She’s been close on a couple of other occasions, too. Saturday she figures to get a stakes win at age 4.

Event 3 Post 4 pm ET
Santa Anita Race 2
The Pick: #1 Ashley’s Sassy
The Reason: This is a difficult heat to figure out. The first three fillies from the rail out all have strong positive angles. #1 Ashley’s Sassy gets some serious class relief this afternoon. She’s drawn the rail and has hot riding Prat in the irons. Trainer Pete Eurton is having a strong meeting, too. The downside is that she hasn’t won a race since 2014, however, she’s been facing fellow California-breds in restricted stakes races. #3 Kiss At Midnight has beaten ‘Sassy twice before, but they were dirt sprints and this will be ‘Midnight’s first try on turf. Also, #2 Dressed to a T hasn’t made any mistakes in a short, well-spaced, three race career.

Event 4 Post 4:27
Gulfstream Race 10
The Pick: #8 Aripeka
The Reason: I’m normally not a big fan of horses coming off layoffs…especially those older than five. However, in this race I was attracted to #7 Thatcher Street and #8 Aripeka. I settled on the latter for two reasons: First, jockey Corey Lanerie has been hot this meet with price horses. Second, Aripeka never has been worse than third in four starts over the Gulfstream course. I’m not sure if those points are strong enough, but that’s the way I’m going in here.

Event 5 Post 4:58
Gulfstream 11
The Pick: #11 Converge
The Reason: It’s logical to anticipate development in a healthy racehorse from age 2 to 3. When that horse is in the hands of trainer Chad Brown improvement is probable. When jockey Javier Castellano is aboard such a Chad Brown runner improvement can be counted on. Second in a stakes race second time out, Converge ought to improve enough to have a huge say in this outcome. Granted, trainer Todd Pletcher has a few interesting runners in here, but I’ll go with the winning Brown/Castellano connection again on this card.

Event 6 Post 5:30
Gulfstream 12
The Pick: #4 Awesome Speed
The Reason: Mohaymen will be favored in the Fountain of Youth. That much we know. And he deserves to be favored over some fellow sophomores untested around two turns. However, Mohaymen isn’t that much faster on Thoro-Graph figures than either #4 Awesome Speed or #5 Awesome Banner. There should be plenty of heat up front to offer Mohaymen decent targets to run at but, at the price, I’m inclined to look elsewhere. Gimme a ticket on #4 Awesome Speed to be the one that stretches out to two turns and upsets the apple cart.

Event 7 Post 6 pm
Santa Anita Race 6
The Pick: #7 Forest Chatter
The Reason: She’s five years old now and may have lost a step, but she loves the downhill turf course with five wins in six starts over the tricky layout. She has speed and that’s been the winning recipe this season down the hill. She is coming off a bit of a layoff, but Hall of Fame trainer Mandella knows how to get her ready and she’s fired off short rest before.

Event 8 Post 6:02
Gulfstream 13
The Pick: #4 Billy’s Kitten
The Reason: This is the third Chad Brown-trained runner in my Beat the Host play repertoire. Why not? The trainer wins a bunch of races at Gulfstream and in New York. Should I let him beat me instead? Unlike the other two Brown’s I’ve selected, Irad Ortiz instead of Javier Castellano rides this one. No matter. Brown and Ortiz score at a 27% combo rate over 344 races. Brown also is 25% out of 223 starts with maiden 3-year-olds second time out and 28% out of 2,414 starts with first time blinkers. Shades go on Billy’s Kitten this afternoon. Those stats and many more can be found in the pages of Thoro-Graph sheets.

Well, that’s it…for better or for worse. Thanks for riding along this winter with Beat the Host. It’s been a blast!

On Track with Johnny D: The Host to Beat

On Track with Johnny D |

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