By Ed McNamara
There’s no better place to hang out than at a racetrack. In 40 years, I’ve met fascinating characters at 116 of them from Hong Kong to Berlin, from Del Mar to Saratoga.
A few even offered advice that made sense. Most lost money in the long run, as 95% of horseplayers do. It’s not as if they didn’t understand this maddening game, just that they were undisciplined and made too many bad decisions.
I fondly recall a long-gone pal who loved to bet tons. Many times, I stood behind Steve as he chanted long, complex strings of numbers to the teller. He rarely cashed, but he was smart, funny, and full of insights.
Here’s one: “Whenever I love the card on a big stakes day, I know I’m in trouble. The Derby, Preakness, Belmont, Breeders’ Cup … those days I usually get slaughtered.”
Which brings us to Saturday’s dynamite program on Fountain of Youth day at Gulfstream, featuring eight stakes besides the Grade 2 Derby prep that will award 50, 20, 10 and 5 points, respectively, to the top four.
All those pari-mutuel possibilities, with so many traps. Deciding when and how to pull the trigger, when to hold your fire — ah, there’s the eternal challenge. Which races to skip, which horses to use, which ones to leave out. It can be brutally frustrating, but when you get it right, it’s glorious.
Let’s see if we can find a way to smile as the sun sets Saturday in Hallandale Beach. I’ll take a shot at the last four races, all stakes. I’ll give you my top three in each and you can decide whether to play one race at a time or go for scores with doubles, a pick 3 or the pick 4.
Got Stormy (2) has earned more than $2 million, $1.56 million at a mile on turf, so she’ll be a big favorite. Mark Casse reinvented her last year, which the accomplished miler finished with three grass sprints, winning two and missing by only two lengths when fifth in the Breeders’ Cup. She’s working brilliantly for her return off a 3 1/2-month layoff.
Concerns: She’s lost five straight at a mile or a mile and a sixteenth, she’s 6 years old, and maybe she’s lost a step. I think that with the right trip, Zofelle (6) could pull off the upset. She can close in 23 1/5 seconds, and her best numbers are competitive with Got Stormy’s. She’ll also be a much better price.
It’s hard to get past logical single Vequist (3), the impressive winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and the 2-year-old filly Eclipse. To complete the exacta, I’m looking at Bill Mott’s Millefeuille (5), who broke her maiden second time out in a one-turn mile at Belmont Park. I’d also use Crazy Beautiful (6) underneath. She was routed by Vequist in the Cup but won twice and ran second twice in her other races.
This one looks very tricky, so if you’re playing multiple-race wagers, I suggest you use four.
Belle Laura (2) ran an even third off a 4 1/2-month break and is likely to improve. Mott’s uncoupled pair — classy Antoinette (3) and 2-for-2 War Like Goddess (9) — look tough. Antoinette won a $500,000 stake at Saratoga in her only start at the distance, and after a bad debut she’s run only one dud, a bad-trip eighth at Keeneland. War Like Goddess is inexperienced but a big-time closer. A longshot with upside is Graham Motion’s Tuned (4), coming off bad starts when she still managed to be fourth and second. She’s bred to stay 1 3/16 miles, and with a better trip could be right there.
Greatest Honour (8), the 9-5 morning-line favorite, came from way back to dominate the Holy Bull by 5 3/4 lengths. It’s tough to go against a course-and-distance winner, especially when the pace dynamic looks promising for a closer.
There’s plenty of speed — Drain the Clock, Prime Factor (2), Holy Bull runner-up Tarantino and Papetu — to set up Greatest Honour for a repeat. The mystery horse is Fire At Will (4), the easy winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf who won his only try on dirt, although it was at 7 furlongs in slop.
Ed McNamara is an award-winning journalist who has been writing about thoroughbred racing for 35 years. He has handicapped races for ESPN.com, Newsday and The Record of New Jersey. He is the author of “Cajun Racing: From the Bush Tracks to the Triple Crown” and co-author of “The Most Glorious Crown,” a chronicle of the first 12 Triple Crown champions.