PLAYING THE PONIES

Sam Houston Race Park selections for Wednesday, Feb. 19

Here are my selections for Wednesday at Sam Houston Race Park. 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).

FIRST

4-5-1-2
LUCKY QUEEN takes a big class drop for a high percentage barn


SECOND
2-7-3-4
GOLIATH RIDGE was well back in meet debut but could pop in this spot


THIRD

6-3-4-1
REAL DE JALPA had a string of solid efforts at Hawthorne before last; back to dirt


FOURTH
4-11-1-2
TJB OORAH should improve off of even debut; Kitten's Joys usually love the grass


FIFTH
2-10-6-5
JESSICA'S ARCH has solid efforts vs. open company in New Mexico and solid record at SHRP

SIXTH
3-2-10-8
FIREWATER JAKE has some big efforts on tough circuits


SEVENTH
7-2-1-6
Lightly raced LONG WEEKEND has some sharp works for 2020 debut


EIGHTH
7-1-9-2
TOUCH EM UP did not show much at Oaklawn but prior races put him in the mix


NINTH
10-13-6-3
BRENDAS AN I FULL should be very tough if this stays on the grass


TENTH
1-6-10-3

CHACHING BLING has solid works, hot trainer and win early sire for debut


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You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time. – Abraham Lincoln.

But in the case of Dusty Baker, at least on Twitter and talk radio, he can’t seem to please anybody any of the time.

Mind you, that’s Dusty Baker Jr., a lock Hall of Famer and current manager of the first-place Houston Astros who have the best record in the American League and pretty much have wrapped up a bye in the first-round of the playoffs.

It wouldn’t be surprising if MLB gave the Astros permission to start printing World Series tickets in the middle of August.

So why all the griping and head shaking about Baker from Astros fans? Let’s take a look at Twitter to perhaps find the reason for the fans’ summer of discontent … despite the team’s dominance, out-of-reach spot atop the American League standings and cheering crowds filling Minute Maid Park. Remember, Twitter can be a bloodbath of whining. If you don't have anything nice to say, say it on Twitter.

Maybe it’s because Baker can’t seem to make up his mind about a batting order. And sometimes the batting order makes no sense. For instance, last night Baker had Mauricio Dubon filling in for the injured Jeremy Pena and batting leadoff. Dubon is batting .195. That’s not good. Statistically, the leadoff hitter gets to the plate more often than the No. 2 batter, who gets to the plate more often than the No. 3 batter, etc. and so on.

There is a chance that the leadoff batter will be a team’s last hope to tie or win a game with two outs in the ninth inning. Last night, the Astros had a .195 hitter with a .257 on base percentage batting leadoff.

(Twitter: “We get our 94th – yes, that’s accurate – different batting order of the season for game 117.”)

But somehow the Astros are in first place and the odds-on pick to win the American League pennant and play in the World Series for the fourth time in six years.

Maybe it’s because Astros management went out and traded for Christian Vazquez (.286) to bolster the team offense, and Dusty is using him as a backup for Martin Maldonado (.186). Yes, Maldonado is popular with his teammates, but Vasquez is hitting 100 points higher than Maldy. A hundred points trumps popularity. Sure Maldonado is gunning down potential base stealers, but algorithms don’t lie – offense scores more runs than defense saves. And Vasquez’s pop time, the time it takes from the moment a pitch hits the catcher’s glove to the moment his throw reaches the fielder on an attempted steal, is about the same as Maldonado’s. Neither Maldonado nor Vasquez’s pop time is considered elite, by the way. And here’s one that might surprise you: Maldonado currently leads all American League catchers in passed balls.

(Twitter: “I’m still annoyed a game was lost because of a bad managerial call. Should have kept Urquidy in or brought in Stanek.”)

Maybe it’s because Baker seems insistent on sticking with the players who brung him. Monday night, Baker’s lineup included Dubon (.195), Yuli Gurriel (.243 in decline), Jake Meyers (.216 in steep decline) and Maldonado (.186). The Astros scored two runs, none after the first inning.

Yes, the Astros have the best record and are leading their division by 12 games. But maybe if the Astros had a set lineup and played Mancini and Vasquez more, the lead would be more, Twitter argues.

(Twitter: “This L goes on Baker. He is going to cost us playoff wins. Pulling Urquidy was stupid. He shouldn’t be our manager next year, there are better options available.”)

After last night’s loss, Baker told reporters, “That was tough to take. You can put it on me.”

Astros fans, at least those on Twitter, are saying “Ya think?”

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