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On Track with Johnny D: Left Out & Gulfstream Saturday Pick 4

by Johnny D

December 4, 2020

Last week, in this space, we analyzed Del Mar’s Saturday Late Pick 4 and suggested a $42 ticket that didn’t include first-leg winner #10 Bedrock at $28.80. The rest of the ticket was ‘cherry’ and used #5 Count Again $18.80; single #9 Colt Fiction $5.20 and #8 Domestic Spending $10.40. The winning combo returned $1,475.80 for $.50.

First leg winner #10 Bedrock was one of just 4 horses included in our detailed analysis of the race and his ultimate exclusion from the suggested ticket triggered a tweet wondering why he was left out. It’s a fair question. The tweeter correctly noted that to add #10 Bedrock would have merely increased the ticket price from $42 to $56--still a manageable number for many players.

We reviewed our handicapping and ticket building processes for the race and came to the conclusion that…we blew it! Messed up. Made a $1,475.80 boo boo. In an effort to make the ticket more affordable #10 Bedrock got left out. Cut. Dismissed. We had considered using him and that’s why we included him in our analysis. However, when it came time to construct the ticket, we had to cut some horses. Break some eggs, as we like to say. Unfortunately, when we broke this one, it left yolk all over our faces.

Now, to be fair, the first wasn’t the only ticket leg that required trimming. Horses included in the analysis of other races also were excluded from the ticket. The only difference is none of them won and paid $28.80!

One thing (and there are many) that makes hitting Pick 4s, 5s and 6s so difficult is that not only must a player accurately handicap the races, he also must construct an air-tight ticket on a budget. One mistake, one horse ‘left out’ and it’s game over!

Saturday’s Pick 4 misfire begs a discussion of a broader topic: Public handicappers.

Let’s define a public handicapper as someone who provides racing selections for free. That’s an expansive universe. Free picks are offered during track simulcast broadcasts and racing television shows; on ADW platforms like Xpressbet; social media feeds; track web sites; etc. Everyone has ready answer for that eternal racetrack question: Who do you like?

What’s especially interesting about racing information is that it sometimes violates a basic capitalistic tenet that maintains ‘if it’s FREE then it must be worthless!’

We personally know public handicappers who approach picking winners as seriously as Gandhi did fasting. In fact, some of them almost would rather give out a winning wager than have it themselves. (Notice we said ‘almost.’) The best example is late LA Times racing writer and handicapper Bion Abbott--36 years at the Times and 21 of those on the horse racing beat. We spent several years in SoCal racetrack press boxes in close proximity to Abbott and watched as he meticulously produced columns and daily graded selections--cigarette smoldering as he rifled through stacks of yellowed clipped newspaper result charts, pecking away at his typewriter. In the afternoon, if a close photo went against one of his newspaper picks, you could hear him moan and curse as if he’d just lost a serious wager. Only Bion didn’t wager. Not ever. At least not that anyone witnessed. And we would have known. Racetrack press boxes are like that.

Despite amazing progress in the electronic delivery of information, many current published handicappers—online and print—are required, as Bion was, to submit selections a day or two in advance of the races. That means a great deal of important handicapping information-- such as scratches, track conditions, workout information, track bias, etc.--is unavailable to them. In a game where noses, heads and necks count, that’s a handicapper’s handicap.

Xpressbet has a great team of public handicappers, topped by Jeff Siegel, the ‘dean’ of SoCal prognosticators. Jeff knows more about this game than just about anyone. His opinion is respected worldwide. Hall-of-Fame trainers like Bob Baffert, Neil Drysdale, Bobby Frankel, Gary Jones, etc. valued Siegel’s counsel. And when it comes to analyzing a race and picking winners…well, if you follow his daily Xpressbet blog, you already know how good he is.

Our suggestion regarding public handicappers is to follow a few of their picks without wagering and see which one(s) you like best. Then incorporate their selections and analysis into your personal handicapping process. Fill in the blanks. Use their opinions to augment your selections as if they came from a trusted advisor. Know that the experts are going to be wrong way more often than they are correct. That’s the nature of the beast. It’s a tough game. And if anyone suggests a Pick 4, 5, or 6 play, don’t blindly play the ticket. Read or listen to their analysis and pick and choose from there.

Finally, when it comes to public handicappers, remember this: If they could make money betting the races, they wouldn’t be working for a living.

Now, following an awkward cue, below is one man’s opinion of Gulfstream Park’s Saturday’s Late Pick 4. Analysis and selections made pre-scratches and based on fast dirt and firm turf conditions.  



The Late Pick 4 includes all Claiming Crown races and kicks off with the $85k Rapid Transit which attracts a variety of capable sprinters from around the nation. That’s going to make the Pick 4 wager difficult right off the bat for horseplayers trying to create an affordable ticket. There are many ways to go in here and below are a few angles to consider.

#1 Avant Garde loves Gulfstream Park (4 wins and a second in 5 starts) and is unbeaten at the distance (1 for 1). This 3-year-old gelding has won half of 10 races and is 1 for 1 at the distance. His low-profile trainer Jesus Lander (43% 21 starts) is effective with route to sprint moves (42% with just 7 starters); with horses that have won their previous start (44% 9 starts), in dirt races (36% 22 starts) and in sprints (21% 14 starts). This is a tougher field than he’s ever faced but there are plenty of positive stats attached to this 15-1 morning line shot.

#4 All Around is a 4-year-old that adores Gulfstream (3 for 4) and hasn’t been worse than third in 6 starts this year. He comes from off the pace and has won 3 of his last 5 with one sporting a BSF that fits well in here. He’s won 5 of 18 overall. Jockey Marco Meneses has 2 wins and a close second on him in 3 tries.

#5 Mile Ahead is 4 for 6 at Gulfstream and has 5 wins in 8 starts. He’s got some contending speed and that should aid his cause toward winning a fourth in a row.

#7 T Loves a Fight ships in from the Big Apple and hasn’t won a race this year (0-8) but he’s won 11 of 44 lifetime, including 6 of 13 first or second at this distance. He has faced better competition than most of these. Perhaps he can bounce back to one of his better races in here. He’s 20-1 on the morning line.

#8 Fix Me a Sandwich ships in from Parx, has speed, wins races and will be ridden by top jock Luis Saez. All positives. He’s also won 3 of 5 races at the distance. Catch him to win it. He’s a generous 12-1 on the morning line.

#10 Yodel E. A. Who was favored in this race last year, had an awkward start and finished last. He comes in here off a win that equaled his best previous Beyer Speed Figure. Ironically, he entered last year’s edition of this race off the same top BSF. Tyler Gaffalione rides the 4-year-old for top trainer Joseph Saffie (22%). He is 0-3 at the distance and 5-15 over the Gulfstream strip.

#12 I’m a G Six is a 4-year-old gelding that was claimed by top trainer Todd Pletcher last out. Pletcher doesn’t claim many horses, so that’s noteworthy. What’s also interesting is that Irad Ortiz, Jr., Gulfstream’s leading rider from last year’s championship season, rides. He’s 31% with Pletcher. This gelding has a steady Palm Beach Downs work tab for this race and a great outside post.



The $95k Claiming Crown Tiara is up next at a mile and one-sixteenth on turf for fillies and mares. It’s possible to narrow things down in here to a few probable winners and that will help keep tickets within reasonable budgets.

#5 Queen’s Embrace starts for 25% trainer Danny Gargan and will be ridden by local star Luis Saez. This 3-year-old filly has won 5 of 11 starts and was claimed last out for $80k, probably with this race in mind. Gargan is 46% first off the claim with 28 starters. This filly did most of her winning at Tampa early in the year but did try the Grade 2 Lake Placid at Saratoga and just missed in third. She doesn’t have much speed, but the connections alone make her worth a second look in here as the 5-2 morning-line second choice.

#7 Jabuticaba is a 4-year-old filly with 6 wins in 16 starts—at an assortment of tracks in the Northeast. She’s got speed and that makes her a bit interesting. She’s won 4 of 7 at this distance, so no problem there. She finished last in the Gr. 3 Gallorette last out at Pimlico but that came over a yielding surface. A return to lesser competition on a firm surface probably will help her chances.

#11 Sugar Fix starts for the potent Joseph/Gaffalione trainer/jockey combo, has won 7 of 15, including 2 of 4 at the distance. Toss out two dirst starts and this 3-year-old filly is 7 for 13 on turf with 2 seconds. She sandwiched two Gr. 3 stakes tries around a Kentucky Downs Allowance $25k starter victory. She has enough pace to be close to whatever develops up front and can kick home late. She’s a worthy 2-1 morning line choice.



This $90k race honors Canterbury Park in Shakopee, Minnesota, home to many Claiming Crown renewals since the event began in 1999. Some players will single #1 Fiya in an effort to trim costs. He looks tough but the shift to new surroundings at Gulfstream could be a wrinkle. Below are some others to consider.

#1 Fiya has won 4 of 6 starts, all at from five and one-half to six furlongs on turf--3 of those at Laurel and 1 at Belmont. This 3-year-old gelding has speed, the rail and figures tough at the 8/5 morning line favorite.

#5 Tiger Blood deserves consideration in here. He’s 7 now, so maybe a bit long in the tooth, but he’s won 19 of 50, including 4 of 9 this year, 8 of 10 at Gulfstream and 9 of 13 at the distance. Those are some strong stats. Trainer Mike Maker and jockey Tyler Gaffalione combine, and they hit at 19% together. The gelding is dropping out of graded stakes company in 2 of his last 4 starts. Before that he was claimed for $62k.

#6 Fully Loaded brings a nice resume into this race. He’s a bit on the cheaper side of things but he’s won 3 of his last 5, 3 of 8 at Gulfstream and 4 of 11 at the distance on turf. He’s got enough speed to sit just behind likely pacesetter and favorite #1 Fiya. That’s a great place to be just in case the favorite doesn’t switch fine form to Gulfstream turf.

#8 Belgrano is a bit of a reach in here, but Paco Lopez is up for 18% trainer Frank Russo. The 6-year-old invades from Monmouth Park. And has won 2 of the last 3.

#9 Unmoored is a 6-year-old that has 9 wins in 32 starts. He’s another runner in here trained by Mike Maker and is to be ridden by Irad Ortiz. That combination hits at a sparkling 23%. This gelding had a 4-race win streak snapped last out at Churchill. He was claimed four back for $25k by Maker, famous for moving turf horses up following claims.



This is the $75k Claiming Crown Iron Horse and that’s the perfect name for the kind of runners entered. #1 Frost Or Frippery is a great example of an ‘Iron Horse’ that will be tested by capable foes.

#1 Frost Or Frippery is a 7-year-old pro. He’s won 20 of 65 races and has been first or second in 11 of 12 starts this year, including 7 wins. He’s been less than even money in his last 7 starts. I always want horses like this in my corner. Luis Saez improves chances for this Brad Cox veteran. If I have to single anywhere, I’d be willing to single a horse like this. He’s got enough speed to be close, save ground and enough heart to get the job done in the lane.

#3 Bobby G is a 6-year-old gelding with 15 wins in 42 starts. He’s currently on a 3-race win streak compiled at Pimlico and Laurel, gets Irad Ortiz and has some pace. This is a step up in competition and all 3 recent wins were accomplished over ‘off’ tracks. Still, he wins races.

#6 Snap Hook has a puncher’s chance in here based on a stellar 3 for 6 Gulfstream record. He’s won 4 of his last 6. The 5-year-old gelding starts for the potent Jorge Delgado/Jaramillo combination that hits at a powerful 30%. He’s got speed and may be better around one turn but has scored around two.

#7 Bold Paynter has to be considered off his last two scores—for $8k when he claimed by Victor Barboza and for $12,500 last out. He’s won 2 of 3 at Gulfstream and has speed. He may be overmatched at this level, but he’ll add pace to the race.



Race 8:
1, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10, 12
Race 9:
5, 11
Race 10:
1, 5, 9
Race 11:
1, 3, 6, 7
Ticket Cost:
$84.00 for 50-cents


Race On!