On Track with Johnny D: Old Friend Returns

An old friend returns Friday. Haven’t seen him in years. Hear he’s a bit different now. Changed his name. Dropped some weight. Even had some ‘work’ done. I’m sure I’ll recognize him, though. We spent winter Saturday afternoons together for several years. Hunkered down in the basement playing the horses. Winning. Losing. Cursing. Cheering. You know, having fun.

Yep, my old pal Magna 5 returns Friday and he’s expected to show up each and every Friday for the foreseeable future. Only now he’s known as ‘Stronach 5.’ He’ll frequent the same joints as before—Laurel, Santa Anita, Golden Gate and Gulfstream–and grass won’t grow under his feet. He’ll make the rounds in about an hour!

In the intervening years my friend has rearranged his finances. Friday, he’ll guarantee a $50k pot. Guess he’s become frugal. Or, merely more sensible. In 2004, when we first met, he was a wild and crazy guy that ambitiously guaranteed a weekly $500k pot. He’s mature now. Level-headed. Even dropped the takeout 10 percentage points from 22% in 2004 to an amazing, industry low 12% now. He’s also cut the minimum cost of the wager in half—from $2 to $1.

He now maintains a revised carryover provision, too; if no picks all five winners the entire pot carries over to the next week. Don’t expect that to happen very often, though. Previously, at two bucks a throw, there weren’t many carryovers at all—just one in a 20-week stretch that covered 2006 and 2007 seasons. At $1 a pop it’s safe to assume horseplayers will be able to solve the puzzle on a regular basis. It also should be noted that Magna 5 was offered on Saturdays and usually included formful stakes races with winners regularly paying under $6. The new Friday Stronach 5 menus could prove more challenging.

Also, since 2004, horseplayers have become intimate with multi-race wagers, particularly Pick 5s. These days every track has one, if not two Pick 5s daily. On big days there might even be three of them. Additionally, most current Pick 5 wagers have a 50-cent minimum, as compared to the original $2 Magna 5 base that challenged many budgets.

When I heard my friend was returning I became nostalgic and revisited our past. In the first two seasons of Magna 5 (’04 & ’05) the total mutuel pool failed to reach the ambitious $500k guarantee three times each. In 2006, as popularity increased, the $500k threshold was missed just once. Average weekly handle during the first three years was between $545k and $567k. In 2007, average weekly handle grew to $645k—aided by a $377,190 carryover into the following week’s pool that triggered a $1.2 million influx of new wagering dollars.

in February 2004, the second week of the original Magna 5, a correct sheet paid $5,323 and involved a memorable mix of participants—human and equine. Mike Gill, a controversial owner who led the nation in both wins and purses four times (’03, ’04, ‘05, ‘09), began the sequence with Alarm the C.E.O. ($6.20) at Laurel. Hall-of-Fame jockey Pat Day rode Bo’s Sister ($3.20) for a red-hot Dale Romans to take the second leg at Gulfstream. Also, in South Florida, late Hall-of-Fame trainer Bobby Frankel saddled Medaglia d’Oro ($3.20)–runner-up in two previous BC Classics–to win the now-defunct Donn Handicap and the wager’s third leg. At Santa Anita, Jeff Mullins saddled Beautiful Balance ($11.60) to take leg four. Finally, at Golden Gate Fields, Brent Sumja, now one of the nation’s top handicapping tournament players, trained Jets Fan ($25) to a surprising score. No doubt Sumja would welcome a $25 winner in Santa Anita’s Opening Weekend $500 Challenge Tournament–also available online to Xpressbet account holders. (How’s that for nifty product placement?)

Other highlighted Magna 5 memory lane stops include multiple leg victories by one of the greatest claims ever (and all-around cool dude) Lava Man. He won Magna 5 races in initial weeks in 2006 and 2007.

Joining Lava Man in the 2006 Week 1 Magna 5 winner’s circle was Miesque’s Approval, a stunning $99.60 longshot winner. That tally extinguished most live Magna 5 tickets and also denied victory to Hall-of-Fame jockey Jerry Bailey in his final career mount aboard runner-up Silver Tree. Nine months later, Miesque’s Approval won the Netjets Breeders’ Cup Mile and paid $50.40! Bailey actually returned to the saddle in 2008 during the Oak Tree Meeting at Santa Anita to finished second in a race for retired jockeys.

Miesque’s Approval wasn’t the only eventual Breeders’ Cup race winner in the 2006 Magna 5 mix. English Channel won a Week 7 M5 race at Gulfstream that year and later finished third in the BC Turf. He returned to win that BC event in 2007 and to be named Eclipse Award Champion Grass Horse.

Ill-fated Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro was a dual-leg Magna 5 winner in 2006. He won a Gulfstream allowance race in Week 2 and returned to take the Florida Derby in Week 10.

Sweetnorthernsaint, actually favored over Barbaro in the 2006 Kentucky Derby (surprised me, too!), romped at Laurel in Week 8 of 2007. Scat Daddy tasted Magna 5 glory twice in 2007 and was joined by one-time leg winners Invasor, Cal-bred overachiever McCann’s Mojave and a filly with one of the all-time great names–Oprah Winney.

There are more highlights and I could go on and on, as old friends often do. However, I’ll wager you’re more interested in the future than in the past. Never mind how my old friend ‘was,’ you want to know how he ‘is.’ Specifically, how to play the inaugural 2018 Stronach 5 offering?

Glad you asked. Below is one man’s opinion. Welcome back, my friend.

Stronach 5 Analysis


Laurel Race 9 (5:26 pm ET)

3 – First-time starter in empty field with 4 works at 5/8 of a mile.

4 – Same barn as top choice. Faced straight maidens twice.

7 – Has speed and adds Lasix.

8 – Only other first-time starter in empty field.

Santa Anita Race 4

11 – Top jock must navigate difficult post.

10 – Speed to lead with Baze. First time going 2 turns & first time turf?

1 – Needs pace and fortunate trip.

9 – Improving. Claimed. For price players only.

Gulfstream Race 8

3 – New Gulfstream face claimed off nice Spa win.

5 – Cuts back a furlong. Recent stuff good enough.

11 – Had race. Should improve.

9 – All 3 career wins over wet tracks. Steps up.

Golden Gate Race 4

10 – New trainer hits 27% first time off claim.

5 – Packs top-weight but is doing well.

3 – Veteran win-type broke poorly in last…first off layoff.

6 – Has had success at this level.

Gulfstream Race 9

10 – Most logical single.

1 – Will double the cost of most tickets

Suggested Play $108

3, 4, 7

1, 9, 10, 11

3, 5, 11

3, 5, 10


Race On!

On Track with Johnny D: Old Friend Returns

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