Handicapping the “Big Apple/Bluegrass” Pick 4

Handicapping the “Big Apple/Bluegrass” Pick 4

Wavell Avenue winning the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (gr. I) at Keeneland – Breeders’ Cup Photo ©

On April 9th, Aqueduct and Keeneland will host a special “Big Apple/Bluegrass” Pick 4 featuring top-notch graded stakes races at both tracks. The Aqueduct races are the Bay Shore Stakes (gr. III) and the Wood Memorial (gr. I), while Keeneland’s races are the Madison Stakes (gr. I) and Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I). All four races feature wide-open fields with lots of live longshots to consider, and the sequence has the potential to pay very nicely. Here are my thoughts on each race…

Bay Shore Stakes

Eight horses have been entered, but two of them–Awesome Speed and Never Gone South–have been cross-entered in the Federico Tesio Stakes at Laurel Park and are expected to scratch from the Bay Shore. As a result, Awesome Gent and Unified look like standouts. The former colt, trained by Todd Pletcher, has won three straight races including the Jimmy Winkfield Stakes by four lengths with an impressive 99 Beyer speed figure. But Unified matched that figure with an eye-catching debut win at Gulfstream on March 21st, in which he romped to victory by three lengths in the fast time of 1:08.95 for six furlongs. Unified is my choice to win, but I would include Awesome Gent as well in the Pick 4.

Madison Stakes

This race is perhaps the most wide-open in the sequence, and while Cavorting and Thirteen Arrows are expected to scratch, a case can be made for the majority of the remaining horses in the race. Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (gr. I) winner Wavell Avenue and Breeders’ Cup Distaff (gr. I) winner Stopchargingmaria are expected to draw a lot of support, but they’re returning off long layoffs and could potentially be vulnerable, particularly Stopchargingmaria, whose biggest success has come in two-turn races.

Two longer-priced horses that I like are Sunday Rules and Dancing House. Sunday Rules is a brilliant front-runner from California that has never run an opening quarter-mile slower than :21 4/5–wow! She has also won eight of her nine races, and while she’s never run as far as seven furlongs, her fantastic early speed could be a major asset in a race without a lot of front-runners. Dancing House doesn’t have as much early speed but has never missed the board in five starts sprinting on dirt, including a win in the seven-furlong Barbara Fritchie Stakes (gr. II) at Laurel on February 13th. She should work out a nice trip stalking the early pace, and if Sunday Rules fades in the final furlong, Dancing House could get first run at her and hold off the closers to win.

Wood Memorial Stakes

The unbeaten Shagaf will be favored off a win in the Gotham Stakes (gr. III) at Aqueduct, but that was a bit of a slow race on paper, and his victorious late run was aided by the fact that the fourth quarter-mile was timed in :27.11 and the final sixteenth in :07.10. Shagaf deserves a lot of respect and is worthy of inclusion on Pick 4 tickets, but I think he can be beaten by Matt King Coal and Outwork. The former has run very well in his last three starts, including an 8.5-furlong allowance race at Aqueduct in which he was coming off a long layoff, and his recent Beyers of 93, 96, and 97 suggest that he is poised to launch himself into the Kentucky Derby picture with an impressive performance. But Outwork has been running great as well, and his runner-up effort in the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II) after setting the pace was very strong and earned him a 98 Beyer. He’s eligible to improve in his second start around two turns and has trained very well for this race, and given the recent success by Florida shippers in the Wood Memorial–they’ve won five of the last six renewals–Outwork should have every chance at victory.

Blue Grass Stakes

This is another race that looks wide-open on paper, but with a lot of speed in the race, my choice to win is the late-running My Man Sam. After breaking his maiden by eight lengths with a huge late run on January 31st at Aqueduct, he came back to be beaten just a length by Matt King Coal in an allowance race at Aqueduct. He’s drawn wide in post fourteen, but as a deep closer, it shouldn’t hurt his chances too much. If he can save ground on the first turn, I expect to see him produce a huge finish in the final quarter-mile to rally and win.

Other horses that might warrant inclusion in the Pick 4 are Zulu, runner-up to Mohaymen in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) after winning his first two starts impressively; Cherry Wine, who rallied to finish fourth in the Rebel Stakes (gr. II) last time out; and Brody’s Cause, who won the Breeders’ Futurity (gr. I) at Keeneland last year before finishing third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I). Brody’s Cause disappointed when seventh in the Tampa Bay Derby last time out, but has trained well for the Blue Grass and should appreciate the return to Keeneland.

I also like the chances of American Dubai, who finished third in the Southwest Stakes (gr. III) after pressing a fast pace, but finished off the board in the Rebel Stakes (gr. II) last time out. If he can avoid going wide on the first turn, I think there’s a good chance that we’ll see him secure good position near the front of the field and stay on strongly in the homestretch. He blew out two furlongs in :23 and change on Thursday morning and seems to be training very well.

For those looking to play the $0.50 Pick 4 on a $30 budget, here’s the ticket I have designed:

Bay Shore Stakes: Awesome Gent, Unified
Madison Stakes: Wavell Avenue, Sunday Rules, Dancing House
Wood Memorial: Matt King Coal, Outwork
Blue Grass Stakes: My Man Sam, Zulu, Cherry Wine, Brody’s Cause, American Dubai

Good luck, and enjoy the races!

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Follow J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman"):

J. Keeler Johnson is a writer, blogger, videographer, and all-around horse racing enthusiast who was drawn to the sport by Curlin’s quest to become North America’s richest racehorse. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He lives in Wisconsin and also writes for the Bloodhorse.com blog Unlocking Winners.

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Eric Rickard

Good thoughts. Just beware of Enchanting Lady. History is telling and she will show up.