Today's entries show races at Mahoning Valley, Sam Houston Race Park in Texas, and Will Rogers Downs in Oklahoma. As far as we know, these races will go on today, and we'll make a play or two at each.
We normally have to do two things before we make picks: we have to analyze the races, but we also have to check the weather. The need to know the weather goes beyond the obvious: while it clearly does nobody any good to make picks in a turf race that gets rained off the grass and onto dirt, the amount of moisture in a track is a crucial piece of handicapping information, without which making picks would be like throwing darts at the program. The going, as the old saying goes, is everything.
We cannot always know, ten or twelve hours in advance, whether a track will be fast, good, muddy, or sloppy, but we do our best, and when the weather forecast makes guessing at track conditions difficult, we tend to skip the race, if we can. We are not always perfect but try to be as accurate as we can.
Dealing with the weather can give us fits, especially since we are dealing with tracks around the country, but now, in this time of social distancing, we have to add a third variable to the equation: which tracks will stay open, and which tracks will close, because of the coronavirus outbreak. We were burned by this yesterday, when we handicapped the card at Mahoning Valley in Ohio, only to hear the news not long after we posted that the card was cancelled by track management.
We frankly have no idea what to expect on this front going forward. Mahoning Valley cancelled yesterday's races, but then later in the day announced that live racing would continue today, with the grandstand closed. Yesterday afternoon, the New York Racing Association announced that Aqueduct would remain closed to the public, but that racing and simulcast wagering would continue on Friday. And then last night, Keeneland announced that their entire spring meeting was cancelled. Why one track made one decision, another track made a different decision, we have no idea.
This is all an overly long introduction to a very simple word of caution to following these picks: always check a reliable news source for updates before you make any bet. If a race is cancelled, it's not usually a problem, as account-wagering companies will not take a bet on a cancelled race. But before putting down any money, on any race, always verify that the expected conditions are in place. Bettors have a luxury that we do not, which is checking conditions a few minutes before each race. Doing that before you go to the windows, either literally or figuratively, is always smart, and something we recommend. This is true at all times, but it's doubly true during this pandemic, when news tends to happen quickly.
Today's entries show races at Mahoning Valley, Sam Houston Race Park in Texas, and Will Rogers Downs in Oklahoma. As far as we know, these races will go on today, and we'll make a play or two at each. There's been some rain around all three ovals, especially Mahoning, but we are expecting the racing surfaces at each to dry out by this afternoon and have handicapped all races for fast dirt. Let's go.
Mahoning Valley, Race 5, 2:36 pm ET
Maiden Special Weight, 6 furlongs, Dirt, Ohio-bred Fillies & Mares 3 & Up
This maiden race for state-breds drew a field of ten. With two of them coupled due to common ownership, that leaves nine separate betting interests. The horses who have run before have not shown particularly much, so we are looking to a first-time starter as the most likely winner.
The pick is 3-Sally Strong, a 3-year-old making her career debut. She comes from the barn of Ohio-based trainer Bill Cowans, who is competent with firsters, winning at a 12% clip, and who has also been hot lately, winning 38% of his starts at the current Mahoning Valley meeting. She has the kind of workout pattern that we think is ideal: a long string of stamina-building morning drills, most of them not particularly quick, but with an occasional zinger, a fast one, thrown in to get her sharp. She looks good to us, and she is not going to have to be the second coming of Zenyatta to beat this modest group of Ohio-bred fillies and mares. We will bet her to win at 3-1. The bet: Mahoning Valley, Race 5, $30 to win on 3-Sally Strong.
Mahoning Valley, Race 6, 3:04 pm ET
Allowance, 6 furlongs, Dirt, Ohio-breds 3 & Up
We have another state-bred dirt sprint here, but this is for allowance runners. It drew a competitive field of eight. We're against the 2-1 favorite, 4-Dancing Willard: he has won his last two races, but he's a need-the-lead type, and he is not going to get the lead today. We think, in fact, that there's going to be enough of a battle for the early lead up front that it will create an overly fast pace and leave the speedsters out of gas in the stretch. That makes us look for a closer, and we think the best one in the race is 3-Often Enough. He's a pretty consistent 5-year-old gelding who does the same thing in pretty much all of his races: he sits behind the leaders and makes a late run. Sometimes this is good enough to win; sometimes it isn't. It all depends on how the pace in front of him develops. We think the pace today will favor his running style, and at 6-1, we like his prospects to pick up the pieces and get his picture taken. We will bet him to win. The bet: Mahoning Valley, Race 6, $25 to win on 3-Often Enough.
Will Rogers Downs, Race 3, 3:15 pm ET
Starter Allowance, 6 furlongs, Dirt, 3 & Up
This starter allowance drew a field of seven. Yesterday was opening day at Will Rogers Downs, and the track was fair, which in itself was somewhat newsworthy, as it's usually a pretty speed-favoring surface, sometimes dramatically so. We expect that today the track will revert to the norm, which is with horses with speed having a distinct advantage.
We certainly hope so, because our pick in this race is a straight-down-the-line early-speed play: it's 2-Allthewaywithtaye, who starts for trainer Karl Broberg. This 5-year-old gelding has two things that we love to see, especially in dirt sprinters: he's very consistent, trying hard every time, and he has abundant early speed, so much speed, in fact, that we don't think any other horse in the field can stay close to him. He will get the lead in this race, and though the six furlongs of today's contest is farther than he's used to running -- his last eight races were at either 5 or 5 1/2 furlongs -- we think the faster, more speed-favoring dirt at Will Rogers will allow him to carry his speed the full six furlongs. He will be hard to miss, as he's a gray horse and he will be on the lead, and we will be cheering for him to win this in wire-to-wire fashion. We will bet him to win at 4-1. The bet: Will Rogers Downs, Race 3, $30 to win on 2-Allthewaywithtaye.
Will Rogers Downs, Race 5, 4:15 pm ET
Allowance, 6 furlongs, Dirt, 3 & Up
This allowance drew a field of six, and for us, it was a pretty straightforward race to handicap: 6-Trumpence has high early speed, superior speed figures, is dropping into allowance company after competing in a stakes race, and has the coveted outside post position, which gives jockey Jose Angel Medina a positional and tactical advantage. We don't think Trumpence will get the lead here, but we do expect him to be very close to it, in perfect outside stalking position, and then to take control down the stretch. We see this guy winning by open lengths and will bet him to win. He's 5/2 on the morning line but will be shorter at post time; we will bet him anyway. The bet: Will Rogers Downs, Race 5, $40 to win on 6-Trumpence.
Sam Houston Race Park, Race 8, 4:14 pm ET
$25,000 Claiming, 6 furlongs, dirt, Fillies & Mares 4 & Up
Sam Houston Race Park, Race 9, 4:41 pm ET
$25,000 Claiming, 6 furlongs, dirt, 4 & Up
Sam Houston Race Park, Race 10, 5:08 pm ET
Maiden Special Weight, 1 mile, Turf, Texas-bred 3-Year-Olds
We've grouped these races together because we think they make a good sequence for a multi-race wager, so we'll try to end our day with a bang, by nailing the late Pick 3 at Sam Houston.
In the 8th, we think 4-Tulle is a solid single: she's 7/5 on the morning line and has an edge in speed figures and recent overall form that makes her overwhelmingly the likeliest winner. Singling her will be the foundation for the entire Pick 3 play.
The 9th also has a 7/5 favorite, 3-Kansas City Zip, but we are not quite as sold on him as we are the chalk in the previous race: he could very well win, but we are uncomfortable singling him. We do think that including the second and third choices on the morning line, 4-Ninth Street (3-1) and 5-Runningwscissors (5/2) covers the race adequately: we think one of the three should win.
The 10th race has twelve state-bred maidens going a mile on the grass. If you think you know who will win it, you are a lot smarter than us, because we have absolutely no clue. But that's OK: we are going to take our opinions in Race 8 and 9, play them with all twelve horses here, and hope for chaos in the last, for a giant longshot to win the finale, and for the late Pick 3 to pay big. Here is the ticket:
Sam Houston, Race 8, $1 pick 3: 4 (Tulle) with 3, 4, 5 with ALL.
That is 36 total combinations. We will play it for a $2 base wager, for a total bet of $72, but it also available for a 50-cent or $1 minimum, which reduces the overall cost to $18 and $36, respectively. Play at whatever level fits your budget.
That's all for today. Enjoy the racing, be safe, and as always, good luck at the windows.