Three Ways to Win the Late Pick-4 at Fair Grounds

All eyes will be on the Fair Grounds this Saturday as the Grade II Risen Star is the first 2017 Kentucky Derby prep race awarding 85 points in the Road to the Kentucky Derby point system.

But the Risen Star is only one of six stakes races (four graded) on the 12-race card. And although there is an “all stakes” pick-4 option starting in race 8 (the Grade III Mineshaft Handicap), I feel that the finale (a $15,000-$17,500 claiming race) is easier to handicap than the Mineshaft.

Below, I have constructed three late pick-4 tickets — one as low as $18, one that would cost $54, and the deepest at $90 — as well as handicapping angles for the last four races (races 9-12) on the Fair Grounds card:

FG-9

This 1-1/16 mile dirt route for three-year-old fillies is the same distance and configuration as the Risen Star (race 11) and kicks off the late pick-4.

The race itself is pretty straightforward to handicap, as it looks as though there are three main contenders.

The three win contenders (at the shortest morning line odds, of course) are 5-Valadorna, 2-Farrell, and 3-Shane’s Girlfriend.

VALADORNA (2-1) is the morning line favorite, finished second in the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and is the only filly from that race to win a race since November. She won on this track, at this distance (albeit in allowance company) last time out and she retains the only jockey to ever ride her — Julien Leparoux.

FARRELL (5/2) has won back-to-back stakes races, including a Grade II at this distance two back at Churchill Downs. She followed that up with a stakes victory here at Fair Grounds on a muddy track, also at 1-1/16 miles. Channing Hill is again aboard, as he’s been in all five of the Malibu Moon filly’s career starts.

SHANE’S GIRLFRIEND (3-1) has the most question marks of the top-three contenders. Will she run more like when she won the Grade III Delta Princess stakes at Delta Downs or like she did in the Grade II Santa Ynez at Santa Anita, when she finished third? Will she fare well stretching out to the 1 1/16-mile distance? How will she take to the Fair Grounds main track, having never run there previously? How will she perform with her third jockey (Mario Gutierrez) in four career races?

The best thing about these questions is that a few facts can help make them seem less pertinent. She owns the highest speed figures of the seven going to the gate; she had a compromised trip in the Santa Ynez and lost to Unique Bella, who is currently the Kentucky Oaks favorite in most everyone’s mind. And she figures to be on the engine in a projected moderate pace, meaning she should avoid traffic, setting herself up for a potential wire-to-wire victory.

The winner comes from these three. This is the easiest of the four legs.

FG-10

Run at one mile and one eighth on the turf course, this race is the most difficult in the late pick-4 sequence. In fact, the three options for pick-4 tickets are dependent upon how deep one is willing to go in this race. I offer a potential “single” for those who want to keep costs low while taking a real gamble, the mid-range ticket tabs three potential winners of this race, while the deepest ticket uses five of the nine runners.

The five most likely winners of this race (in order of preference) are: 5-Granny’s Kitten, 8-Western Reserve, 9-Oscar Nominated, 2-Greengrassofyoming and 6-Enterprising.

GRANNY’S KITTEN (3-1) is the top pick of the race and the best of the four Mike Maker-trained runners in the Fair Grounds Handicap. Yes, I’m giving all four of Maker’s charges a shot of winning this race, but this one is definitely the best of the four. Coming off his win in the Grade III Colonel E.R. Bradley stakes on a soft Fair Grounds turf at 1-1/16 mile last out, Granny’s Kitten retains the services of jockey Miguel Mena, who will be aboard for the third straight ride on Ken and Sarah Ramsey son of Kitten’s Joy.

WESTERN RESERVE (7/2) should be the pacesetter of this turf route which doesn’t have a lot of early speed. Although it’s not an ideal post position, Shaun Bridgmohan should be able to get to the lead ahead of the first turn. The Brad Cox-trained son of Indian Charlie finished a neck behind Granny’s Kitten in the Col. Bradley, and has been in the exacta in both of his career starts here. Although maybe not in the same strata as Chad Brown and Mike Maker in turf races, Cox is no slouch. If a Maker horse doesn’t win this race, he’s the trainer that will probably be getting his picture taken after the race.

OSCAR NOMINATED (7/2) is another Ramsey-owned, Maker-trained Kitten’s Joy offspring that is piloted by Fair Grounds leading jock, Florent Geroux. This one finished a game second as the second choice in the Grade III John B. Connally Turf Cup Stakes at Sam Houston in January. He’s cutting back in distance from 12 furlongs to nine furlongs, although he has not won at this distance in two career tries.

GREENGRASSOFYOMING (4-1) has only won once in six tries at this distance (6-1-1-1), and finished second in his only try at the Fair Grounds. He hasn’t won since the Grade III Stars and Stripes at Arlington Park last July, but he’s lost to the following horses: Mondialiste, Da Big Hoss and Western Reserve, who he’ll face again here. He’s a contender.

ENTERPRISING (6-1) broke his maiden at Hollywood Park in November of 2013, hasn’t run in a graded stakes race since May of 2015 and gets Leparoux for the first time in his 28th career start. Yet, he’s still a contender to win, based upon his speed figures and the fact that he has hit the board in seven of his last nine starts. Heart goes a long way in my book.

Whether you single 5-Granny’s Kitten on the cheaper ticket, go three-deep or five-deep, this is the key race in the sequence. Being halfway home after this leg will be a good thing.

FG-11

Another 1-1/16 mile dirt route like the Rachel Alexandra, this Derby prep that awards 50 points to the winner, 20 points to the place horse, 10 points to the show horse and 5 points to the fourth-place finisher is slated for 6:00 pm EST on Saturday.

On all three of my late pick-4 tickets, I’ll be using (in order of preference): 3-Local Hero, 6-Guest Suite, 9-Mo Town and longshot 5-Shareholder Value.

LOCAL HERO (4-1) broke his maiden in convincing fashion last out under jockey Florent Geroux and looks to have made the biggest improvement from his 2016 form. Although he’ll be competing against two graded stakes winners, with a smattering of non-graded stakes winners in the field, he’s my top choice to win the final local prep for the Louisiana Derby. Trainer Steve Asmussen and Geroux won this race last year with Gun Runner (Asmussen also won with Pyro in 2008 under Shaun Bridgmohan). Local Hero’s speed figures are tops in the field, he has a favorable post and the leading Fair Grounds jockey. He should also be at or very near the brisk projected pace. A wire-to-wire Risen Star victory? Quite possibly.

GUEST SUITE (6-1) won the Grade III LeComte here at Fair Grounds in his last start. He’s a perfect 2-for-2 at the distance and sports three victories to his credit in five career races. This one likes to be well-placed early to save energy for a strong late run. He’ll be in the mix whether he wins or not, but the question will remain what the horses in front of him do, so he’s not as clear-cut of a potential winner as Local Hero.

MO TOWN (7/2) won the Grade II Remsen at Aqueduct 91 days before this race. He’s been on the shelf since then, so the big question is how much, if at all, has he improved? Slated as the morning line favorite, he has a definite shot to win, but I tend to downgrade horses coming off a 90+ day layoff that have never tried the track or distance. And why is Mo Town running here and not in New York? Oh yeah, he may be avoiding El Areeb in the Gotham.

SHAREHOLDER VALUE (15-1) is my longshot choice to pull the upset in the Risen Star. He’s the type of winner necessary to take down a large pick-4 payout, and may be overlooked at the betting window. I use a host of speed figures and metrics in assessing potential upset shots and this one ticks real well according to Thoro-graph. He has a decent chance (about 33 percent) of making a significant forward move, which would put him right in the mix — as a huge overlay. There’s plenty of value on this Amoss sleeper.

FG-12

The final race in the late pick-4 sequence is a $15,000-$17,500 claiming race with a $21,000 purse. Compare that to the $200,000 purse for the Rachel Alexandra, the $125,000 purse for the Fair Grounds Handicap and the Risen Star’s $400,000 purse.

But they all count the same in multi-race bets and being “alive” to the finale is the goal.

Right away, let it be clear that we will be “playing against” the morning line, and most-probable post-time favorite 8-Sly Tom. Also note that this is the only leg where we will play exactly three choices, meaning if this turf race is relegated to the main track, we’ll have three picks, and if there are scratches in the race, we will keep picking a horse until we have three selections. For the other legs, if a horse scratches, simply disregard that horse from the ticket. Here, we need three choices.

Of the 14 entries, plus the two tabbed as “main track only” entries, the top three choices (in order of preference) are: 13-Heat Flash, 3-Control Tower and 6-Whiskey Biz. If the race is run on the dirt, we will substitute 15-Scitech in place of Whiskey Biz.

Should any of these horses scratch, the preferred order of substitutes to get us to three choices are: 4-King Ptolemy, 5-Ft Davis and 8-Sly Tom (you can only play against a favorite for so long).

HEAT FLASH (5-1) is making his third start of the young year already and is running following a 22-day rest since his last win. Speaking of wins, he’s won four of his last five starts; he’s won two of his three starts here at the Fair Grounds and is guided by a jockey who won 20 percent of his 673 starts last year. If his post-time odds are 5-1, he’ll represent plenty of value.

CONTROL TOWER (6-1) has never missed the board at the one-mile distance. Although his last race was a dud, he needed it after being on the shelf for almost four months. Look for him to improve on his second try off the layoff, under a jockey who has won with this horse in the past.

WHISKEY BIZ (10-1) has Florent Geroux aboard, much like last out in which he won here at the Fair Grounds, albeit on the dirt. He’s won once in two tries on the turf and that win was at today’s distance. He’s moving up in class, but is still a contender to beat this field.

I’m playing against the shipper Sly Tom, since he’s yet to run here — and the class drop is very concerning. What motivates a trainer or owner to drop from the $35,000 claiming ranks to today’s $17,500 tag? There are plenty of reasons — and very few of them are positive. If you’re looking to play a class-dropper who is fit and is looking for a win, try King Ptolemy. He may not be the best choice on top, but represents plenty of value underneath in exotics. Torres gets his second chance aboard this one after being forced four wide last out here on Feb. 9. He’s one to keep an eye on.

My Late Pick-4 Tickets (starting in race 9)

$0.50 pick-4: 2,3,5 with 5 with 3,5,6,9 with 3,6,13 ($18)*

– OR –

$0.50 pick-4: 2,3,5 with 5,8,9 with 3,5,6,9 with 3,6,13 ($54)*

– OR –

$0.50 pick-4: 2,3,5 with 2,5,6,8,9 with 3,5,6,9 with 3,6,13 ($90)*

*Substitute 15 instead of 6 if race is switched to dirt. Order of choices if scratches occur: 4, 5, 8 (need three picks in final leg).

Ryan Dickey
Ryan Dickey is a full-time firefighter in Dearborn, MI, and a life-long horse racing fan. He is a handicapper and contributor to prominent horse racing Websites as well as a freelance sportswriter/photojournalist. He covers local high school sports and community events for multiple outlets, including bi-weekly newspapers and has over 200 works published to date.

Once again the owner of a race horse, Ryan is president (and currently sole member!) of Firehouse Racing Stables, LLC. This year @FirehouseRacing plans to send its first thoroughbred, That Is So Right (a 4 year old chestnut gelding), to run at tracks in Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia and, possibly, Indiana.

Having lived in Las Vegas for six years and working in the sports gaming industry, Ryan knows sports handicapping from “both sides of the counter.” Feel free to contact him on Twitter (@rdickey249) for questions, comments, criticisms, or critiques.