By Ed McNamara
It’s tough to hit a pick 3 or a pick 4, but when you do, there’s a feeling of accomplishment. You didn’t zig when you could have zagged, and vice versa. You dodged all the pitfalls, using the right horses and leaving out the wrong ones, and the payoffs can be inordinately generous. There’s nothing better than hitting a multiple-race wager with a couple of favorites and two logical, mid-priced horses and finding out it paid almost twice what you expected.
I was delighted last March on Florida Derby day, when an even-money chalk, a 2-1 second favorite and two 5-1 shots returned $426.80 for a $48 investment on a $1 pick 4. Unfortunately, such results are rare. All too often I get two right in a pick 3 and three correct in a pick 4, but surprisingly I’m showing a profit on those wagers during the past two years. Too bad I can’t say the same about my win and exacta plays.
Many times, I’ve gotten a pick 3 or pick 4 right and made or lost a few dollars. Frustrating, but better than getting nothing back. Which brings me to Dec. 4 in an all-stakes pick 4 at Aqueduct. I played a $48 ticket (50-cent base bet) and hit all four races, but it was total chalk. The winners paid $4.40, $4.90, $5.50 and $7.50, and the 50-cent pick 4 returned a puny $29.62 for a net loss of $18.38. Even when you win, you lose, but at least I “got it right” in my column.
Let’s see if I can hit the right numbers again Saturday in an all-stakes pick 3 at Gulfstream. If I do, I guarantee it will pay better than that consolation prize from The Big A.
$100,000 Sugar Swirl (G3), 6 furlongs, fillies and mares 3 and up
Four-time stakes winner Frank’s Rockette (3) has by far the best company lines and gets serious class relief. She’s won two graded stakes, two more than her seven opponents combined. She chased Grade 1 winner Bell’s the One in her last two races, so her third- and fifth-place finishes can be forgiven.
Frank’s Rockette won twice off brief layoffs, but if she’s not ready for her first run since Nov. 13, Center Aisle (5) appears to have the best chance to beat her. Last year, she twice ran a solid third to Frank’s Rockette in stakes, and she’s won her last two against lesser company. Use both.
$150,000 Harlan’s Holiday (G3), 1 1/16 miles, 3-year-olds and up
Fearless (6) is 3-for-4 at Gulfstream, 2-for-3 at the distance, has strong figures and is training well for Todd Pletcher, who often owns this meet. A concern is a three-race losing streak, but he was close each time, including a second to subsequent Met Mile hero Silver State. I considered singling him but decided to throw in Woodbine shipper Mighty Heart (1), a stakes winner on dirt and synthetic in Canada for the sharp Josie Carroll. I’ll stab with Gulfstream specialist Eye of a Jedi (4). He prefers two turns and dominated a Grade 3 last year in Hallandale, beating multiple-stakes winner Last Judgment by 5 1/2 lengths.
$200,000 Fort Lauderdale (G2), 1 1/8 miles, turf, 3-year-olds and up
I’ll spread in this wide-open event, hoping to be alive to five horses. I’ll use two Chad Brown runners — L’Imperator (2) and Analyze It (8) — along with Breaking the Rules (3), Media Blitz (7) and Space Traveller (12).
L’Imperator has four wins at 1 1/8 miles or longer and should get a good inside trip with pathfinder John Velazquez. Analyze It has been an underachiever but has shown speed against much better and might forget to stop. Breaking the Rules’ 0-for-6 record in stakes is worrisome, but he’s won twice at the distance and has good company lines. He’ll be a price for Shug McGaughey.
Longshot Media Blitz is first off the claim for Mike Maker, a good angle, and has two wins and two seconds in four tries at 9 furlongs. Space Traveller has some big negatives (post 12, five-race losing streak). However, he gets major class relief after two decent efforts (fifth, second) at the Grade 1 level, and his company lines are clearly the best in this field of in-and-outers.
Here are the numbers for a $60 investment on a $2 base bet: 3,5 with 1,4,6 with 2,3,7,8,12.
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.