Handicapping

Handicapping 301: How I Hit a $35k Pick 4 for $148

Singling Bellafina in the G2 Sorrento was a key to the big P4 score (Credit: Benoit Photo)

Sunday was an amazing day for me, to say the least.

As I mentioned in last week’s Handicapping 301, I started taking handicapping seriously a year ago, and I’ve since had some nice hits, but on Sunday, I had my largest ever: $35,163.75 off of three tickets that cost a total of $148.

In this week’s edition, I’m going to break down why I played each of the horses and, just as important, why I structured the tickets in the ways that I did. Here were my three tickets:

Before I dive into the horses, let’s address the betting structure. With my budget, I normally do not play three tickets. Rather, I generally play $50-150 on a single ticket in a Pick 4 sequence. The difference for this specific sequence is that I loved my single AND I had strong opinions in all three races surrounding it. Thus, I bet that stretch for $5, something that I have rarely ever done. Now, let’s look at the races and the angles!

Race 6 – $40k Optional Claimer, 6 1/2 Furlongs, Dirt

#6 Spring Lily – She was my top choice from the get-go and was one that I considered singling. I’ve talked about this quite a bit on The Magic Mike Show, but I love the angle of a horse getting back to what it’s good at after the connections take a shot. In this case, Spring Lily had stretched out and faced Midnight Bisou twice in a row, even though she is and always was a sprinter, and she made the lead in both of those races before fading. On Sunday, she was back in a reasonable spot at a distance that she wants. If you crossed out both of her two-turn races, she was the best horse in this field.

#5 Tyfosha – Pretty much re-read the previous paragraph. She broke her maiden sprinting with a nice Beyer, then stretched out and couldn’t cut it. She was back in a reasonable spot at the correct distance.

I also played #7 Hot Autumn here. I’ll get more into this later, but I generally chuck Los Alamitos form for horses that also run at Del Mar or Santa Anita, so if you drew a line through her most recent effort, then she fit with the previous two horses.

Race 7 – $40k Claimers, 8 Furlongs, Turf

I’m generally more confident on turf and I loved my two horses here.

#3 Drift Away – This is another one of my go-to angles, an unknown barn pulling a top jockey. Whenever I’m unsure about a turf race in southern California, I lean on top riders Drayden Van Dyke and Flavien Prat. Andrew Lerner, her trainer, has only had a starter 36 times in all of 2018, with just four of those coming at the current Del Mar meet, so for him to convince DVD to ride means that his horse should fire. On top of that, Lerner was 2-0-1 in those four starts, so everything that he’s brought to Del Mar has been live. This filly was also coming out of tougher races and dropping in for a tag for the first time, and she had tactical speed in a race which I felt would be won by a horse close to the front. That ended up playing a huge roll in this horse going wire to wire.

#6 Bunny Yogurt – She was actually my top pick in here. She was making her first start for trainer Ron Ellis, who is generally very good when adding a horse to his barn and, like Drift Away, had also been facing better. She’s shown the ability to fire off of a layoff in the past, so I was surprised when she didn’t run better, but I’m glad that I was two-deep in this race on every ticket.

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Race 8 – G2 $200k Sorrento Stakes, 6 Furlongs, Dirt

#3 Bellafina – Man, I loved her in this spot. She was an $800k purchase (we’ll get more into the importance of purchase price next race), which is one of the key factors for me with younger horses, and she ran well her first time out. She didn’t win, but she also clearly had something left. The winner of that race, Katieleigh, is a VERY good horse (just check out her workouts), and she was nominated to this race but chose not to run. The key to me with Bellafina was the addition of blinkers in this spot. The ONLY reason that you add blinkers to an $800k horse that ran well first time out is if you 100% know that she will take a huge step forward with them. Additionally, the Simon Callaghan barn was 4-for-13 adding blinkers with a $4.55 ROI entering this race, so you know that he is successful with this move. She freaked and should be considered one of the top 2-year-old fillies in the country.

The horse that I used on my saver ticket was #10 Del Mar May simply because, in her debut, she was ahead of a horse named Brill down the lane before eventually losing to that very, very good filly. To me, who you run against is as important as important as any other factor.

Race 9 – $20k Maiden Claimers, 7 Furlongs, Dirt

This is the race where I received the most questions from fans on Twitter. Most of them were something like, “How do you go only two-deep and have a $40 horse?” Read the Handicapping 301: The Knowns vs the Unknowns, that’s how!

I broke this race down into two segments, knowns and unknowns, then chucked all of the knowns from my main tickets. Of the unknows, I felt that the 1, 4, 7, 10, and 11 had the best chance to improve, so they made it onto my $2 Pick 4 ticket.

Of the knowns – 2, 5, and 9 – I liked the 5 most. I threw out the 2’s Los Al form, which were both of his top races, and that led me to the 5, who was the only known on my saver ticket.

Of the unknowns, I liked the 10 and 11 the most, so they were my $5 plays.

#11 Twisted Rod – To me, this was the most logical horse in the race, and he broke as the 3/2 favorite. He’d been the favorite in three of his five career starts, he ran a 72 Beyer in a Maiden Special Weight race at Santa Anita, and he had every right to improve off of his last two efforts. I felt that I couldn’t let this one beat me because he was the most likely winner.

#10 Johnny Strong – This really was the key to my big score. He was the horse that I thought had the most chance to take a large step forward. What first caught my eye was his purchase price. Spendthrift Farm, owner of Beholder and Unique Bella, bought him for $225k as a yearling. That ownership group knows what they’re doing, and they had to have seen SOMETHING in him if they shelled out that much coin. To put that in perspective, $225k is more than what every other horse in this race cost combined, and that’s including the 11 having gone for $80k. Now, purchase price doesn’t always mean success on the track, and he was in for a $20k tag for a reason, but this is like a 5-star recruit taking on a 1-star recruit. There is just more raw talent there. Additionally, he didn’t run poorly in his debut, he recently fired a bullet work (more affirmation of the talent), added blinkers (the Gary Stute barn is 20% with that move), and Geovanni Franco, one of the top riders out west, opted to stay aboard. All signs pointed to a possible step forward.

Johnny Strong was not my top choice – that honor went to Twisted Road – but I could not leave him off of any tickets.  In Handicapping 301: Know Yourself, I talked about understanding what you are good at. One of the things that I’m good at is identifying signs that point to a horse’s improvement. It’s why I excel on turf and with 2- and 3-year-olds. Johnny Strong is a great example of a horse facing a weak field with every right to improve second time out. I was lucky that he did just that and got a dream trip to boot.

As a reminder, here’s what I liked, and here’s how it turned out:

One thing you might notice – the only exacta that I would’ve hit in this sequence would’ve been in race 8, where I loved the single, but again, that goes back to understanding what you’re good at. If I was playing single race bets, then I would ‘ve lost money on this sequence, even with a $40 winner in one of those races.

Keep an eye out for more Handicapping 301! Next week, we’re going to talk identifying favorites, good and bad.

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