PLAYING THE PONIES

Fred Faour's selections for Friday at Sam Houston Race Park -- plus a bonus play on Saturday's Pegasus World Cup

Gun Runner heads Saturday's Pegasus field. Brisnet.com

It's Day 4 of the Sam Houston Race Park thoroughbred meet with nine races tonight. Here are my selections for the card. These are not meant to be in exact order, but merely the four horses I think have the best chance to win. For beginners, I suggest exacta boxes with three horses, using two of mine and one of your own. And you can always pick up a copy of Acing Racing 2016 to learn everything you need to know. (These are the picks and format that are available on the free tip sheet at SHRP). Also, the Blitz is broadcasting live at the track today from 4-7 p.m. Drop by and say hello. However, before we get to the Sam Houston picks, the richest race in the world will be run at Gulfstream on Saturday and if you are looking for a play...

Pegasus World Cup

The race will be the final one for future Hall of Famer Gun Runner, who is the 4-5 favorite. He inherited the Best Horse in the World title when Arrogate returned from his Dubai World Cup win and was never the same. Gun Runner has won four in a row and six of his last seven, with only the second in Dubai to Arrogate tarnishing his record. He is a hard horse to root for, because his trainer is unlikeable, but that's not the horse's fault and does not tarnish his briliiance. He beat most of these in his last race, the Breeders' Cup Classic. But there are reasons to play against him here. Gulfstream is a quirky surface, he drew a tough post and will face serious early pace pressure. All that said, he is clearly the horse to beat. However, we will take a shot with No. 6 Gunnevera at 15-1. He loves Gulfstream, will be rolling late and could turn the tables on some of the horses that beat him in the Classic (he was fifth that day).

Cost will vary based on your bankroll, but we will base these plays on $2 exactas so you can get out light. Feel free to increase the wagers based on your personal budget (or go with $1 exactas if you are limited). We will do a $5 exacta box with Gunnevera and Gun Runner in case the big dog comes to play. If he doesn't, we will pick up a nice score wheeling Gunnevera in the exactas with every possible contener for $2: 6 with 2-4-5-7-9-11-12 and 2-4-5-7-9-11-12 with 6. That will cost $28 and your total outlay is $38. You could also consider playing him first and second in the trifectas with the 2-9-10-11 in second and 2-4-5-7-9-10-11-12 in third. (The second bet would be 2-9-10-11 with 6 with 2-4-5-7-9-10-11-12. For .50, those two bets come out to $28. Good luck on your plays.

Sam Houston Race Park Friday

FIRST

3-8-7-6

BIG CORK catches the easiest field he has seen in a while

SECOND

4-5-1-2

MOSTA FLYIN should be in a good spot to break through

THIRD

6-9-8-2

UNBRIDLED ENCORE is consistent but will need his best effort

FOURTH

5-6-2-3

OH FLO is well bred and could surprise at first asking

FIFTH

10-12-1-6

ARCH OF AGES drops in for a tag for the first time

SIXTH

2-1-7-8

DRINKIN SONG should be competitive at this distance

SEVENTH

5-10-7-6

REAL DE JALPA should be in the mix if she runs back to her Arlington turf form

EIGHTH

4-5-1-2

SELFIE SENSATION was sharp in last and will be tough

NINTH

11-3-2-4

CALF CREEK BULLDOG drops in for a tag and should improve

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One more win and they're in. Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

As they were at the start of the 60 game season, the Astros are a virtual lock to make the expanded postseason field. Unexpectedly, the only reason the Astros have a shot in October is because the field is expanded. Still, all they need is one win in three shots at the Rangers or one Angels loss as they play three at the Dodgers and the Astros are in and an absolute threat to win another American League pennant. This Astros squad is an average squad. The losses of Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander, and Yordan Alvarez combined with all their key hitters dropping off from 2019 make Astros' mediocrity a simple fact of life. A mediocre but potent team can beat any better team in a best of three, best of five, or best of seven series. Heck, a bad team can beat a great team two out of three. The format is such that the Astros will be the sixth seed among the eight AL playoff teams, so they will be the road team in each game of a best of three series at the number three seed. They could be headed to Oakland, Minnesota, or Chicago.

A couple of peripheral bummers of the Astros to this point disappointing 2020…

One, Justin Verlander's dream of 300 career wins pretty much died with the ulna collateral ligament in his right arm. Verlander's one win this year combined with zero next year will have him at 226 career wins when he turns 39 in February of 2022. That Verlander can then average 15 wins per season through age 43 isn't utterly impossible but is extremely unlikely. While cementing his Hall of Fame credentials, Verlander didn't average 15 wins per season from 2015 through '19.

Two, Jose Altuve's collision course with the 3000 hit club has hit a major detour. I'm not declaring Altuve washed up, though only apologists and homers would describe his short season performance as better than feeble. He's been among the worst regulars in all of Major League Baseball this season. Altuve's best baseball is behind him. If he can get back to 2018 or 2019 Altuve that's plenty good, though not close to 2016 and 2017 Altuve. Well, Altuve failed to reach 170 hits in either 2018 or '19. Giving him 170 hits per season for each of the next eight seasons (bet the under), Altuve would be within about 30 hits of 3000 when approaching his 39th birthday at the start of the 2029 season. Craig Biggio remained a lineup regular at age 40 only so he could get to 3000.

Texans face another tough test against Steelers

It's no shocking upset if they win but the Texans probably come home from Pittsburgh Sunday night with an 0-3 record. As only four point underdogs they should have a much better shot than they did against the Chiefs and Ravens. Not that that is saying much. The Texans were pretty pitifully overmatched by the Chiefs and Ravens, the faint silver lining is that they're the two best teams in the AFC. It's possible the Steelers are the third best team (I'll take the Bills but it's possible). So even at 0-3 the Texans' season wouldn't be dead. Just two years ago they opened 0-3 before ripping off nine straight wins and finishing 11-5. But just as the 2018 Texans wound up, this season's team would be a total pretender.

All five starters back on the offensive line was supposed to be a boon to the Texans' offense. The pass protection has been porous and now has to deal with a top tier pass rushing Steeler defense. Deshaun Watson has been his usual terrifically elusive self, but merely okay throwing the ball. Offensively, 38-year-old Ben Roethlisberger has looked all right at quarterback after missing all but the opener last season with a blown out throwing elbow. Big Ben is not close to the mobility threat Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson are, but the Texan D which has thus far been sieve-like against running backs will see two backs each over five yards per carry thus far in James Conner and Benny Snell.

At least the Texans will have no crowd noise to deal with at Heinz Field. The Steelers are 2-0 but have only beaten the awful Giants and the injury-battered Broncos.


Buzzer Beaters:

1. One game is one game but Bregman, Altuve, and Springer all homering Thursday night had to create some warm feelings for any Astros fan.

2. The Lakers-Nuggets series has been outstanding. Number of Rockets you think are watching any of it: over/under 2 1/2.

3. Greatest Bennys: Bronze-the one with the Jets Silver-Jack Gold-Goodman

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