On Track With Johnny D: Can’t Win ‘Em All

Last week, in this space we suggested horseplayers take a stand against heavily favored Maxfield in the Matt Winn Stakes at Churchill Downs. We were wrong.

Get used to it. If you’re playing the horses, you’re going to be wrong way more often than you’re going to be right. Sports bettors need to back the correct side roughly 53% of the time to make money long term. With horses, a winning strike rate is nowhere near that number. That’s why you’ve got to consider the odds. They’re the great equalizers that deliver the opportunity to hit the ‘long ball’ or at least the ‘longer ball.’

This is not to suggest players automatically toss favorites. Chalk wins at around 33% of the time and a solid favorites can serve as great anchors in multi-leg wager segments. If they’re the right ones. Avoid heavy favorites with past-performance blemishes or ones facing multiple unanswered questions.

We weren’t totally against Maxfield. We recognized his talent and appreciated that he could win the race. But we also pointed out that he had a few things going against him and those factors, coupled with an extended vacation, didn’t add up to taking a short price on the son of Street Sense.

As the race unfolded, it appeared a minority opinion on the public choice seemed wise. Maxfield broke alertly from the 10-post, showed good speed while fresh and raced four/five wide abreast with the leaders into the first turn. Jockey Jose Ortiz did an admirable job wrangling Maxfield back off the pace and into a stalking position. That was not easily accomplished. At first, the colt was somewhat headstrong and fought his rider. Then he was jostled between horses a bit before settling into a comfortable spot in eighth place down the backside. From there things didn’t get much easier. Around the turn for home, still in eighth but more relaxed, Maxfield needed to make up ground with merely one path home. That route took him about seven lanes wide into the stretch. Meanwhile, up front, major threats Pneumatic and Ny Traffic had spurted clear of the pack and had commenced earnest stretch drives.

With just over one-eighth of a mile to the finish, in that long Churchill Downs stretch, Ny Traffic gained the measure of Pneumatic and seemed a winner. Alas, all is not as it seems. As Ny Traffic assumed prominence, Maxfield loomed on the outside but appeared more an underneath exotics threat than winner. After all, the colt already had made a wide, sweeping move to enter contention, surely that effort would sap his finish.

If a layoff of seven and one-half months was going to affect Maxfield, it would have been at that moment. If the colt hadn’t matured physically from age 2 to 3, it would have affected him right then. If he had become worn out from being too fresh earlier in the race, that, also, would have caused him to hang.

None of that mattered. Maxfield leveled out in the lane, continued his determined run and dusted off two reasonably talented foes for a decisive victory. Questions answered. Maxfield’s for real; a splendid 3-year-old with a major voice in what’s to happen during a unique COVID 19 disrupted Belmont-Derby-Preakness Triple Crown journey.

As for cashing our suggested ticket? We didn’t. The winning $.50 trifecta came back a mere $20.90 and we didn’t have it. So what. If that payoff were a fish, we’d throw it back for being too small. We’ll get ‘em next time…or maybe the time after that with a tuna-sized payoff or maybe one as big as a whale.

The important message is that it’s prudent to take stands against heavy favorites when they have solid handicapping questions that need to be answered. Sometimes you’ll miss out, but playing the races is a marathon and not a sprint. In this case, Maxfield aced the test and we didn’t cash a minor payoff. Big deal. In the long run, it’s best to duck heavy favorites with unanswered questions and to opportunistically zig when others sheepishly zag.

Here’s one man’s opinion on Saturday’s Late Pick Four at Santa Anita:

Race 6
A short but confusing field kicks things off and there are a few ways to go. Getting a look at early toteboard action should help ticket construction. Any horse that takes money in here ought to be strongly considered.

#1 Road Rager has speed and returns to an appropriate level following a Gr. 2 Santa Monica stakes try.

#2 Rather Nosy should race close to #1 Road Rager early and have first crack at the leader. Trouble is this filly is just 2-for-16 and has had multiple tries at this level.

#4 She’s a Dime is a late-running filly fresh from four starts at Oaklawn Park. She’s been first or second 6 out of 11 times, usually against easier. Pratt rides for O’Neill—a 23% combination.

#5 Eternal Endeavour is a trying sort—7 of 10 starts either first or second—and seven furlongs seems like a positive distance.

Race 7
The GR. 3 Honeymoon is a loaded race with at least three legitimate win contenders.

#1 Guitty exits three unsuccessful stakes tries and has previously been decisioned by three foes she meets in here. She’s an exotics possibility at a nice price.

#5 Laura’s Light has two stakes wins, including the Gr. 3 Sweet Life at five and one-half furlongs. She should be in front and will take them as far as she can. Top trainer and jockey combo adds to the intrigue.

#8 Parkour is sharp and training forwardly for Hall-of-Fame conditioner Richard Mandella. She’s got enough speed to stalk #5 Laura’s Light and to get first run at her. Mandella likes to use seven-furlong works to get runners fit and he’s put two into this filly since her last race. Worth a win wager at 3-1 or so.

#9 Stela Star was a fast-closing second in her US debut and she deserves respect. Trainer John Sadler and top jock Flavien Prat add to the attraction. She will need a fast pace to set up her closing charge and she’ll need some racing luck. Prat is great riding this turf course and she’s a filly he should fit to a T.

Race 8
This Cal-Bred maiden $50k claimer at five and one-half furlongs is a muddled mess.

#1 Apache Pass moves from turf to dirt for red-hot trainer Mark Glatt and sizzling jock Abel Cedillo. Blinkers added last out come off today and the filly drops from State-Bred Maiden into a $50k spot. She’s taken money in both outings and has been a disappointment.

#5 Traffic Stopper has had 8 starts—4 in SoCal and 4 at Golden Gate. He’s been favored 3 times—all at Golden Gate—including when dropped in for a $25k claiming price. He’s managed 3 runner-up efforts and finished a well-beaten second last out.

#6 Tiz a Unicorn is a first-time starter for slumping trainer Richard Baltas. Top jock Flavien Pratt rides. Sire Tiz a Minister is 1-for-1 with first-time starters. A couple of five-furlong breezes in around a minute are interesting. There don’t appear to be any real ‘runners’ in this race, so a first-time starter is an option.

#7 Rain Diva is a second Glatt entry switching from turf to dirt and dropping from state-bred maiden allowance to $50k. This one’s actually performed a bit better than the trainer’s other entry in here #1 Apache Pass. Jockey Evan Roman is not usually a Glatt ‘go-to’ rider but this one starts second-time blinkers and can’t be dismissed in a weak heat.

Race 9
Saturday festivities conclude with a Maiden Special Weight at a mile and one-eighth on turf. Again, many ways to go in here with a few runners trying new surfaces and distances.

#1 Frasard has a bit of speed and an inside post—positives. He’s faded late both times he’s gone this distance.

#2 Capital Call is one of 3 Neil Drysdale runners entered here. He needs pace help to improve off a 3rd place finish last time out. He is fit and comes back in two weeks; an unusual move for this trainer. He’s got to improve his game to win.

#3 Whirl Candy goes from a 5 ½-furlong turf sprint to this 1 1/8 distance. She should be in front. Can she lead them on a merry chase? Certainly possible. Red-hot jock Cedillo is aboard a colt that took money, moved to turf and improved in his second start. Need to catch this one to win.

#4 Reprobate is another Drysdale trainee and this one moves from dirt to turf. He’s been ridden by top jocks (Rosario twice and Pratt) and taken some money twice (3.90 first out and 5.00 last out), so someone thinks something good about him. He’s been disappointing. Perhaps this turf try is a desperate move to make certain he’s not a turf horse before giving up on the $230k yearling purchase. Sire Blame is 15% with turf runners and 11% first time turfers, according to Thoro-Graph stats.

#7 Cosmo is another Neil Drysdale runner signed on and he appears to be the most promising of the lot. He was second at this class and distance last out in the third start of his career. His first out was at a 1 1/8, too, so distance isn’t a concern. This will be his second start in blinkers. He doesn’t have much speed, so he’ll need pace help up front.

#8 Rio Ocho makes his first US start for triner Jeff Mullins and top jock Flavien Pratt. He’s first-time Lasix Saturday and comes off a close second at 25-1 in February first time out in Ireland. His stateside work pattern is steady. Mullins is 0-7 with first-time North American runners, according to Daily Racing Form stats.

#10 Unusually Handsome is a 4-year-old Cal-bred that changed hands from trainer Tim Yakteen to Peter Miller two races back. This is the gelding’s second start for Miller following a layoff since July. He could improve enough to win this race under jockey Umberto Rispoli.

Suggested $.50 Pick 4 Play ($54)
1, 2, 5
5, 8, 9
1, 5, 6, 7
3, 7, 8

Take Care of Each Other. Race On!

On Track With Johnny D: Can’t Win ‘Em All

On Track with Johnny D |