PLAYING THE PONIES

Sam Houston Race Park selections for Saturday, April 13 (with bonus selections on the Arkansas Derby card at Oaklawn and Lexington at Keeneland)

Trump My Record runs at Sam Houston Race Park Saturday night. Hodges Photography

Here are my selections for Saturday. 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, it is Arkansas Derby Day at Oaklawn, and if you are looking for some simulcast action before Sam starts, we have a few plays for you...As to SHRP, these are all 2-year-old races and most have never run, so we are basically making our best guess by looking a breeding, trainers and works. It is not a card I have a lot of confidence in, but good luck today! We also have bonus picks on the cards for the final major Derby preps - the Arkansas Derby and Lexington:

OAKLAWN PARK

Race 4: The Count Fleet features one of the best sprinters in America in No. 4 Whitmore. But we like No. 1 Mitole to pull a mild upset. Straight exacta 1-4.

Race 9: The Oaklawn Handicap. Rain is expected and it should be a sloppy track. If so, we will bet No. 3 Chris and Dave across the board. If the track is fast, we will pass.

Race 11: Arkansas Derby. This one should come down to four horses to win the race - No. 1 Improbable, No. 3 Omaha Beach, No. 8 Country House an No. 11 Long Range Toddy (terrible name by the way). We will play the trifecta with 1-3-8-11 on top with 1-2-3-5-6-8-11 with 1-2-3-5-6-8-11. I like this play on a fast or wt track and you can play it for .50 if you don't want to spend more than $60.

KEENELAND

Race 9: The Lexington Stakes. I like No. 3 Sueno off an OK third in the Louisiana Derby. If he returns a stalking trip, I like his chances a lot. Will play across the board and wheel first and second in exactas with the 1-2-4-5-6-9-10. I will also double dip and take long shot Senden, who hung in there against probable Derby favorite Tacitus in his last start. So bet the 9 across and go 9 with 1-2-3-4-5-6-10 and 1-2-3-4-5-6-10 with 9. I will also hit the 3-9 box a couple extra times.

SHRP

FIRST
10-7-4-1
AGAVERO CARTEL has harp works for the career debut


SECOND
8-1-6-10
CANELO ALVAREZ might pack a...punch at first asking?

THIRD
1-8-2-5
BABY LICIOUS just missed in a big race in Louisiana

FOURTH
6-2-1-5
TRS HOMBRE looks as good as any in a wide open affair

FIFTH
2-4-6-3
TRUMP MY RECORD is already a stakes winner after two starts

SIXTH
7-2-5-6
KOMMANDER just missed in debut and should improve here

SEVENTH
8-1-10-3
DIAMOND DOMINATION could surprise at a nice price

EIGHTH
9-1-3-5
GBH STREAKINFORGIRLS is bred to run early and has solid works

NINTH
1-10-2-4
DOC HOCKADAY has fired off a pair of bullet works for this

TENTH
4-7-8-3
J RODS MACHO MAN has a nice win under his belt, which should give him an edge

11TH
5-6-2-7
NSM ICE STORM has nice works and is bred to run early

12TH
5-2-7-9
CLICK CLICK BANG has solid works for good connections

13TH
5-8-6-1
CY ME AND YOU PROSPECT was OK in debut and should improve in start No. 2

14TH
7-3-6-2
HES EL MARTILLO was close in debut in Oklahoma; should move forward

15TH
8-9-5-3
QUEEN CORONADA has a couple nice works and is bred to be quick

Santaanita.com

In 2018, Justify won horse racing's Triple Crown, sweeping the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes. It was the second time a horse had accomplished the feat since 2015. Before that, the last winner was in 1978. It is one of the most difficult accomplishments in sports.

The horses that have won it are instantly enshrined in history and compared to the all-time greats, like Secretariat and Seattle Slew. When American Pharoah won in 2015, that was indeed the case. He would go on to win the Breeders' Cup Classic, becoming the first horse to win the Triple Crown and the Classic. It was an amazing year, and he was truly a brilliant race horse who captivated fans around the country.

When Justify won just three years later, it did not feel the same. He beat a very suspect group of three year olds, and was not impressive doing it. And then he retired as if his connections were afraid to see him lose against older horses and taint his legacy. No one compared him to any of the all time greats. It simply felt weird.

Now it makes sense

As the memory of Justify was slipping into history, a bombshell broke on Wednesday. Joe Drape of the New York Times dropped an in depth piece on the horse. Justify failed a drug test after the Santa Anita Derby. He should have been disqualified from his win in the race, and would not have even been in the Triple Crown. But the ruling was put off, kept under wraps, and the horse was allowed to race. After he won the Triple Crown, the board lessened the penalty for use of the particular drug he was caught with, effectively changing the rules to avoid a bad look.

Then it was somehow kept under wraps for two years.

Bad looks all around

As a longtime fan and supporter of the sport, stories like this are beyond frustrating, and goes to a deeper problem: Inconsistent rules. Each state has its own set of rules, and they are not all enforced consistently. When Maximum Security was disqualified from the Kentucky Derby, it was a controversy of the first order. Whether or not it was the right call varies from state to state, and even track to track. Stewards make those calls, and they are subjective. What is enforced in one place is not in another. Not everyone plays by the same standards.

Why Justify?

There is no reason to doubt Drape's reporting. He is one of the best in the business, especially when it comes to the news of the sport, and his story is well worth your time. So the real question is why?

The California Horse Racing Board took almost a month to confirm the results, ostensibly because they wanted to be sure. But that put them up against the Derby, and a DQ at that point would have been problematic. There is nothing wrong in being sure and getting the ruling right. But then once the horse wins the Triple Crown, imagine the outrage had it gone public.

There were three real problems; the lack of transparency, changing the rules and potential conflict of interest. Some of the board members are horse owners; the chairman owns horses raced by Justify's high profile trainer, Bob Baffert.

The board may have very well been, er, justified in all of its moves. But these three issues make it a very bad look.

The ruling that it was accidental, then, is easy to question. Baffert has had a ton of success and does not need to cheat, but he is not the only one in the barn or with contact to the horses. So it is possible the ruling was the right thing, but the way it happened is simply unacceptable. That the rules were changed after the Triple Crown makes it look even worse.

Black eyes? 

Those calling it yet another black eye on a sport that has had its share this year - the deaths at Santa Anita and the Derby itself - are merely scratching the surface. The sport has no eyes left. They have been beaten so hard it doesn't begin to tell the story. I have seen it all over the years; fixed races, horses being held back, inconsistent rulings, high profile cheating trainers. There are more good people than bad in racing, as there is in all of life. But it's always the bad that get the attention and ruin it for everyone else. Were these bad people? No. But when you try to hide something like this, there is no way to spin it into a positive.

The biggest issue - players have no rights

Lost in all this is the person who bets. Those of us who bet against Justify have no recourse. As sports betting becomes legal everywhere, these are issues that will impact more than horse racing. We already see it in boxing and MMA; you bet on a fight, lose and then a few days later whoever won failed a drug test and is disqualified. What if you bet on the Saints to cover Monday night, and two days after Deshaun Watson is suspended for PEDs and should have never played? While that is extreme - you made your decision based on the fact that he was playing - the player has no voice.

Horse racing should be more cognizant of that than any sport. Without betting, it does not exist. With sports betting coming to more states, horseplayers will gravitate away, especially as controversies like this keep happening. It is a sport that has been filled with controversy with years. Horse racing is where steroids started. Everyone in the sport should be aware of that.

There aren't a lot of us broken down horseplayers left. Decisions like this make it harder to keep trusting that the races we are betting on are honest.

The final analysis

Justify's breeding rights were sold for $60 million. As for his legacy? Most considered him the worst Triple Crown winner in history before. This won't do anything but reinforce that, but the breeding money spends just the same. Drape's story doesn't really change anything in the grand scheme. It simply casts light on a problem that needs to be dealt with whenever gambling and people's investments are involved: Transparency. Honestly. Consistency.

I won't hold my breath.

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