Traditions are a funny thing. We’ve all got ‘em and no two of them are alike. Me? Well, I’ve got some weird traditions. But one stands out every year, mostly because it barely makes sense. In my book, no Thanksgiving is complete without first playing Penn National’s Wednesday night Pick 4.
Thanksgiving is a time for family, friends, football and feasts, and I guess it can be tough for horse racing to find its way into that Superfecta. At least in my house. Good luck finding the time, space and quiet that is necessary to handicap a Pick 4. And when I do find that time there’s a good chance the drinks have already been flowing and the side effects of gorging myself all day on carbs and desserts are kicking in.
So I guess that’s why I play the Penn National Pick 4 on Wednesday. It’s a nice sequence, bolstered by three stakes races, and it comes along at just the right time. It starts with Race 1 (6:05PM ET) and wraps up around 7:23PM ET with the $200,000 Fabulous Strike Stakes, which always attracts a nice field of Mid-Atlantic shippers. It also includes the $100,000 Swatara Stakes and $100,000 Blue Mountain Juvenile Fillies Stakes, which generally attract solid, contentious fields.
Here are my thoughts on the sequence:
Race 1 - Maiden Special Weight
A true ‘watch the money and bet accordingly’ race with several key first-time starters from top barns. I’ll include all in my picks for discussion, however if one or two don’t take money, we can adjust accordingly. Remember, you can get a great look at the odds in the first two legs of a Pick 3/4/5/6 based on Win payouts and the Double probables.
- #4 Known Quantity (8/1) – Decent runner-up effort at Laurel to start his career then the connections took a shot and went in the MD Million Nursery. Winner that day was well clear but this one finished in a four-way photo for second. Back in against maidens and have to expect he’ll represent himself well.
- #5 Danz a Rebel (5/1) – Hoping we can toss his last, which came in the slop while routing. Gets back to sprinting here and note that Cal Lynch has been sending winners to Penn National (6-for-13 this year). He’d have broken his maiden sooner had he not run into Passcode, a decent 2YO.
- #6 Star Hawk (8/1) – First-time starter is a son of To Honor and Serve and the dam was an eight-time winner, including some minor stakes. Trombetta does well enough with firsters but note this one has a full-sister who is 0-for-9 and running for a bottom-level maiden claiming tag at Mountaineer.
- #8 Press Virginia (3/1) – By Blame and out of a Lemon Drop Kid mare, the pedigree doesn’t immediately scream precocity, but a half-sister by Harlan’s Holiday did win a some stakes dashes at Charles Town as a 2YO in 2014. Strong workout pattern helps too and John Servis is solid in all categories.
- #9 Jovi Explorer (4/1) – Todd Beattie is another talented trainer who does well with sprinters and youngsters. His dam, Bon Jovi Girl, won five times (including two 2YO stakes) and also ran second in the Black-Eyed Susan and Cotillion and third in the Gazelle. This one is a half-sib to G3 winner You’re to Blame and doesn’t hurt that Penn’s second-leading rider, Angel Rodriguez, takes the call.
Race 2 - Blue Mountain Juvenile Stakes ($100K)
Hard group to figure as many of these were impressive maiden winners in Pennsvylania, Delaware and Maryland. A number of top barns are also represented, which further muddles the picture. A good break and a solid trip are essentials, but this field is 12 deep before scratches and getting stuck wide is just as detrimental as traffic trouble.
- #5 Please Flatter Me (8/1) – Was an 8 1/2-length debut winner here on October 13 and while this is a huge jump in class that performance was as good as the margin suggests. I don’t quite believe the ML, but someone will fall through the cracks.
- #6 Tara’s Talent (7/2) – Two gigantic efforts in a row after needing three tries to break her maiden and have to think her experience will be an asset in a race where traffic is virtually assured. Won a first level allowance over this track by 6-lengths on October 24.
- #9 Ujjayi (9/2) – Daughter of Smarty Jones broke her maiden with ease at Laurel on August 4. That’s a tough layoff but Penn National is home for her and she was too good in the debut to ignore at a fair price.
- #10 Stronger Than U (10/1) – Probably a bad ML at 10/1 as she boasts a big 75 Beyer that was earned when she broke her maiden by 4 1/4-lengths at Parx on October 7. Beat Strega Nonna that day and she’s in this field and broke her maiden in the next start. Hard to love the outside post (she’s actually in slot 12 due to the three-part entry), but she can clearly run.
Race 3 - Swatara Stakes ($100K)
Things seem to calm down a little in this race after two wide-open affairs to start the Pick 4. Will try to get through this leg with minimal coverage and think that could be doable. Worth noting that last year’s Swatara winner was none other than Discreet Lover, who went on to win the ’18 version of the G1 Jockey Club Gold Cup.
- #6 Dr Blarney (2/1) – Win machine is 17-for-24 in the career and 6-for-7 in ’18. Was defeated in a stakes race last out at Delaware but that loss came to Unbridled Juan, who just won a stakes race at Laurel so he’s clearly in form. Only worry is pace – there are several scorchers in here and how will he handle the pressure?
- #8 Persie (5/1) – Liked that he showed some ratability two back when he stalked and pounced to win a starter allowance race here on October 20. Son of Street Sense has earned $220K the hard way, but he’s 10-for-15 at Penn and this seems to be the right time to take a shot as he just earned a 99 Beyer when he beat a field of five by 17 1/2-lengths on November 10.
- #9 Someday Jones (6/1) – Is a perfect 2-for-2 at Penn National and won a stakes race here earlier this year. I’d have preferred a different post but thinking this one is just superior to Monongahela and gets the nod over that one.
Race 4 - Fabulous Strike Stakes ($200K)
Tough race to pre-handicap as four of these are cross-entered in the G3 Fall Highweight at Aqueduct on Thursday and the pace hinges on a few of them, including Lewisfield, Mesotherm and Always Sunshine. Ticket will adjust significantly based on where these horses go. On paper, it seems clear that Lewisfield and Mesotherm are the class of the field, with Always Sunshine and The Man a cut below. In the event of a wet track, downgrade Lewisfield slightly but upgrade Always Sunshine and The Man, who are a combined 6-for-6 on wet tracks.
- #6 Lewisfield (3/1) – One of the top sprinters in the Mid-Atlantic but the only worry I have is this one has minimal versatility. He rarely wins if he’s not in the early vanguard but with Always Sunshine on the rail and Mesotherm and The Man on the outside I project a quick early pace.
- #8 Meostherm (6/1) – Sparks have been flying from his feet the last few starts, including a 6 1/4-length Laurel sprint romp last out. When sprinters get into form they can accomplish great things and this one couldn’t be doing any better right now. Look out.
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