Andrew Champagne previews the late pick four at Sam Houston on Sunday.
Sunday is the Houston Racing Festival at Sam Houston, and the 10-race program features an all-stakes late Pick Four sequence. It’s anchored by two Grade 3 events and boasts just a 12% takeout, which means you’ll get more bang for your buck than similar wagers elsewhere.
I’ve got a $22.50 ticket for the sequence, and here’s how I’ll play it.
RACE #7: I’m taking my biggest stand in the opening leg. This is the Texas Turf Mile, and it’s drawn a strong group for an ungraded stakes race. I think one of them, though, will be a formidable foe.
#5 FIGHTING FORCE ships in for Todd Pletcher, and he exits a second-place finish in the Dania Beach Stakes at Gulfstream Park. He was an odds-on favorite that day, but he ran into a talented horse that got left alone on the lead and couldn’t reel that one in. I think he’s moving forward with every start, and his recent bullet drill at Palm Beach Downs indicates he’s come out of the Dania Beach in good order.
I respect several others in here, especially #3 EXCESS MAGIC, who’s 3-for-3 on turf and ships in from Fair Grounds. However, I think Fighting Force is the most likely winner, and singling him allows me to spread in the other three legs.
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RACE #8: The Grade 3 Houston Ladies Classic has drawn seven older fillies and mares. I’m going three-deep, and while I’m using the likely favorite, she isn’t my top pick. In fact, that designation goes to an 8-1 shot.
#2 JEWELED PRINCESS has hit the wire first in five of her last six starts, and I love her versatility. She has enough tactical speed to sit close, but she can also rate and come with a big late run. Reylu Gutierrez has enjoyed a strong meet since bringing his tack south from New York, and I think she presents a lot of value.
#7 LETRUSKA will take most of the money, and she makes sense if she’s allowed to get loose on the lead. However, I’m not entirely sold on if two turns is her game. I’ll use her as well as #1 MOTION EMOTION, who could also show early zip from her inside post.
RACE #9: The Grade 3 John B. Connally Turf Cup has drawn a full field of marathoners, and I thought this was the most wide-open race of the sequence. I’m going five-deep, and I sincerely hope I’ve bought enough coverage.
#10 SPOOKY CHANNEL is the 5/2 morning line favorite, and it’s easy to see why. He was fourth in the Grade 2 Fort Lauderdale last time out, and that race’s winner, Largent, came back to run a very good second in the Grade 1 Pegasus Turf Cup. He’s won going 12 furlongs before, and he goes second off the bench for trainer Brian Lynch. Having said that, I don’t think he towers over this group.
I’m also using #3 AJOURNEYTOFREEDOM, #5 CONVICTION TRADE, #6 MARZO, and #9 VETTORI KIN. Vettori Kin hasn’t won in a while, but I think he’ll relish a return to this type of route. He’s run well against high-level competition at this distance before, and at his likely price, I need to have him on my ticket.
RACE #10: We’ll finish things off with the Jersey Lilly Turf for older fillies and mares, and I’m against the 7/5 morning line choice. #1 CATCH A BID makes her first start since August, and I suppose she could win, but she’s left the Chad Brown barn and conditioner Joe Sharp’s new acquisitions are only hitting at a 9% clip.
I much prefer #7 MORNING MOLLY, who goes second off the bench for Tom Proctor. She’s got two wins and two seconds in four starts on the grass, and I think she needed her last-out effort given a break of more than 10 months. There’s reason to expect a big leap forward here, and I think she’ll be prominent from the jump.
#8 STUNNING SKY and #10 NO MO TEMPER are also on my ticket. The former won the Grade 3 Valley View last fall at Keeneland and would benefit from a pace meltdown, while the latter ships in for Mark Casse and has enough tactical speed to negotiate a trip from his outside post.
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