By Ed DeRosa
The all-graded-stakes Pick 4 on the Stephen Foster Handicap card on Saturday night at Churchill Downs is a tricky sequence that challenges handicappers to choose their horses judiciously, as no logical contender has to win, but there is enough parity in each race to make narrowing difficult.
The logical contenders in each race are Tapiture, Rise Up, and Almost Famous in the Matt Winn (leg 1, race 6), On Fire Baby and Fiftyshadesofhay in the Fleur de Lis (leg 2, race 7), Revolutionary and Will Take Charge in the Stephen Foster (leg 3, race 8), and A Little Bit Sassy and Istanford in the Regret (leg 4, race 9).
What makes this sequence as alluring as it is challenging is that all nine of those horses could lose, which would make the Pick 4 pay extremely well, as you’d likely be dealing with a quartet of third choices (at least).
Based on the expected off odds, the aforementioned logical contenders would give us a 75% chance of advancing in the Matt Winn, 65% in the Fleur de Lis, 60% in the Stephen Foster, and 50% in the Regret for a 14.625% chance that a logical contender wins all four races and only a 1.75% of no logical contender winning.
So which is the better bet? $12 (for $.50) on all logical contenders winning or $448 on none of them? Given the chances of each happening, the former would have to pay about $100 to offer fair value with the latter needing to return $25,000.
These are extremes—and even our own ticket (I use the first person plural because I can’t actually play the Pick 4 as a Churchill Downs Inc. employee) won’t use either approach—but it’s an interesting study in how going for the big payday isn’t necessarily the best play. Most likely, there will be a mix of logical contenders and a few surprises. The goal with this ticket is to connect the surprises because I think enough logical contenders will win that make cavemanning this for hundreds of dollars cost ineffective.
Matt Winn Stakes (leg 1, race 6):
None of the aforementioned logical contenders are tosses, as either Rise Up or Almost Famous could win on the front end, and Tapiture will be ready to pounce if either falters, but #7 Ulanbator is the play of the race running late at 12-to-1 under Julian Leparoux.
None of Ulanbator’s first four races compete with these, but he’s a new colt since escaping the likes of eventual graded stakes winners Constitution and Ring Weekend, and fits with these with improvement.
In addition to using Ulanbator in multi-race wagers, I will play him across the board and backwheel him in exactas and tris with the logical contenders on top.
Fleur de Lis Handicap (leg 2, race 7):
On Fire Baby is the 8-to-5 morning line favorite and the first logical contender I will bet against winning by not using her at all in multi-race wagers. If she were any sort of price I’d point to her three wins in five tries at Churchill Downs as a positive, but since she’s the favorite I’ll focus on her three races at 1 1/8 miles with no wins or even a placing among them.
Fiftyshadesofhay is a tougher toss, and one I won’t make. She especially moves up if Grace Hall does well in the Vanity Handicap earlier in the day at Santa Anita but not enough to be a single under any circumstance because Flashy American is a must-use off that 108 Brisnet.com Speed Rating last out and back speed that similarly towers over these. Molly Morgan is the other horse I like, chasing On Fire Baby home last time at 1 1/16 miles but now gets weight from these and the added distance should help.
Stephen Foster Handicap (leg 3, race 8):
Will Take Charge is the second logical contender I’ll actively play against. He’s just impossible to like at the price off his last and giving weight to the field. Revolutionary is a certain underlay in the win pool, but I think taking a stand against Will Take Charge allows us to use Revolutionary in the multis. I.e., if Ulanbator and Will Take Charge both win then I’ll accept just being wrong on Will Take Charge, but if Ulanbator and Revolutionary both win then that would be tougher to accept.
Still, Revolutionary is no gimme with both Moonshine Mullin and Long River strong presences on the front and both Departing and Prayer For Relief threats to get first run on the overbet closers. And all four get weight from the top choices at better prices.
Regret Stakes (leg 4, race 9):
The morning line favorite in this race is 7-to-2, the second choice is 9-to-2, and five others are 6-to-1. That line indicates a “wide open” race, and hopefully many others will choose to go deep here while I stick with the top three choices A Little Bit Sassy, Istanford, and Aurelia’s Belle.
There are shots to take in this race, for sure, and if I had a stronger opinion earlier wouldn’t mind trying to get live to “ALL” in here based on some angles, but the coverage elsewhere is important to how I see this sequence developing, and I do think the aforementioned trio covers me enough here that I’ll still have a shot at a decent payday if right to this point.
Pick 4 (for entertainment purposes only): 2, 3, 5, 7 with 2, 5, 6 with 1, 3, 6, 8, 9 with 4, 6, 7 ($90). Good luck to those playing!