by Ed DeRosa
I promise that the headline is the only The Pizza Man pun in this blog. Besides, how could I top that one?
OK, seriously, I'm done.
Anyway, there are three Pick 4 sequences on Arlington Million Preview Day on Saturday at Arlington International Racecourse, and TwinSpires.com is offering a 10% winner’s bonus (up to $500 per sequence) on all of them, but we’ll focus on the all-stakes mid Pick 4 that Arlington has guaranteed at $100,000 (if all races stay on the turf).
The four stakes in this sequence correspond to the biggest races on Arlington Million day in five weeks: Arlington Handicap (leg 1, race 7) as prep for the Arlington Million, Stars And Stripes Stakes (leg 2, race 8) as prep for the American St. Leger, American Derby (leg 3, race 9) as prep for the Secretariat Stakes, and the Modesty Handicap (leg 4, race 10) as prep for the Beverly D. Stakes.
The all-stakes sequence begins at 4:55 p.m. ET, and the back half of that Pick 4 (American Derby-Modesty) is the first half of the TwinSpires.com Late Pick 4 that concludes with race 12 (the other Pick 4 on the card, is the Brisnet.com early Pick 4 that begins with race 2).
The Arlington Handicap is the shortest field in the sequence, but the most difficult to separate contenders, as only #6 Infinite Magic is a true toss for me with #4 Avanzare the least interesting of the logical choices.
That leaves top choices #1 Admiral Kitten (last year’s Secretariat Stakes winner) and #2 War Dancer (who skipped the Secretariat in favor of the Travers Stakes after winning the now-on-hiatus Virginia Derby) and middle shots #3 Mister Mardi Gras and #5 Finnegans Wake as the remaining contenders.
I’ll use them all, but am intrigued more by Mister Mardi Gras, who is cross-entered in the Stars And Stripes but is more likely for this spot, and Finnegans Wake, who I am convinced can win a big race at a big price eventually. Neither alternative is formidable enough to chuck the top two choices, but neither are they a pair I want to lean on, so it’s 1, 2, 3, 5 to kick things off.
The Stars And Stripes at 1 ½ miles is the longest race in the sequence and is the only prep race not run at the same distance as its counterpart in five weeks (the St. Leger is 1 11/16 miles) and that has a better grade than the race it’s a prep for (the Stars And Stripes is a Grade 3 while the St. Leger is only a listed stakes. The other three stakes on Million day are all Grade 1 affairs).
The Stars And Stripes is also one of two races in the sequence in which a native child has a big shot at the big prize. #7 The Pizza Man is an Illinois bred and is a single for me here. Not in the lead-pipe cinch style of singles where you think the horse has a 75%+ chance of winning and you sort of treat it as a win bet, but in the sense that this is the most likely winner in a deep field that if I didn’t only use him I’d want to use at least five more horses, and I’d just rather be deeper elsewhere.
The Pizza Man ran in this race last year and closed well for third, and hopefully he’ll be a little closer to the pace this time while still in the early part of his form cycle second off the layoff. If you're live in Let 8 Ride, I'd feel comfortable letting it ride on The Pizza Man.
I have a similar view of the American Derby as the Arlington Handicap: the top contenders make sense and wouldn’t shock me, but I can’t lean on them and will go deep. If The Pizza Man wins and the sequence chalks out then I’ll hope to break even. If I can get a horse like Finnegans Wake and Highball home with him then we’re dancing.
That said, if pressed, I’d make #2 Divine Oath my top choice in the American Derby, stretching out and getting a top local jock for this one. I prefer him to morning line favorite #4 Schoolofhardrocks who I won’t not use but is good as any other in here.
#3 Hightail at 8-to-1 is the most interesting price to me. A graded stakes stretching out in third career start is a tall order, but at least we’re being compensated, and we know the connections (trainer Wayne Catalano/jockey Alan Garcia) are capable. He came home in under 36 seconds in the maiden victory with a final eighth around 11 seconds, so he can motor. 2, 3, 4, 7, 9, 10
The Modesty is a skull buster in which more than half the field deserves serious consideration, and as of right now morning line favorite #6 Tabreed is in, but morning line second choice #4 Gulsary is out.
From a value perspective, though, another Illinois bred a la The Pizza Man caught my eye in #5 Kepi, who certainly would be worth her 10-to-1 morning line price. She’s undefeated in two starts this year, and her last off-the-turf may have been the best of her career. Three starts in five weeks is a little tight, but when you’re going good sometimes you keep on going, and the distance shouldn’t be an issue. #9 Ana Luisa returns to turf for trainer Todd Pletcher, who always merits consideration when going turf-to-dirt with a fast workout two back as this one had in late June at Saratoga. Her group form in Brazil should fit with these, though the distance could test.
THE PLAY: 1, 2, 3, 5 with 7 with 2, 3, 4, 7, 9, 10 with 5, 6, 9, 13, 14 ($60)