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Andrew Champagne delivers his best picks for the American Pharoah Stakes at Santa Anita

Friday is Opening Day at Santa Anita Park, and the card features a trio of graded stakes races, including a pair of Grade 1’s for 2-year-olds. The eighth is the American Pharoah Stakes, and an automatic berth to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile is on the line.

This race drew a field of nine 2-year-olds and will likely feature a heavy favorite. While that runner is incredibly imposing, I think there’s money to be made even if he wins. Let’s take a look!

The Heavy Favorite

#3 EIGHT RINGS romped in his debut and was sent away the 1/2 favorite in the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity. However, he dumped his rider out of the gate in what may be the most chaotic renewal of that event in its history. He’s back in this spot, and workouts indicate he’s at full strength ahead of his first start going two turns.

There’s not much to dislike here. His first-out win was electric, his pedigree indicates two turns won’t be a problem, and it’s obviously very easy to draw a line through his most recent race (if you can even call it that). He’s 9/5 on the morning line, and I think that’s generous. I wouldn’t be surprised if he goes off at less than even money, and, silly as it may sound, anything greater than that would represent an overlay to me.

Eight Rings will be a multi-race exotics single for me, and I won’t try to beat him. The question is, how do we make money given that outlook?

The Logical Runners-Up

My strategy is to try to figure out who runs second and nail the exacta. I’m primarily going to focus on #4 EXPRESS TRAIN and #7 SHOPLIFTED. The former is the only horse in this field with a win going two turns, a route he’s bred to relish, and Mike Smith maintains the mount. The latter, meanwhile, was second in the Grade 1 Hopeful despite rating off the pace in a race contested over a muddy, speed-favoring track. He should get a friendlier trip today, and if the early pace is lively, he may stand to benefit the most of any runner in this field.

The Big Price

It’s entirely possible #2 FORE LEFT peaked early. His two wins to start his career were very good, and his most recent effort in the Del Mar Futurity left a lot to be desired. However, at his likely price, I need to use him at least a little. He dueled through very fast fractions last time out, and there’s a chance he could get loose in more modest times. He’s by Twirling Candy and out of an Unbridled’s Song mare, so two turns should be within his reach, and he may very well drift up from his 15-1 morning line price.

How I’ll Play It

If Eight Rings doesn’t win, I lose. I’ll look to extract value out of a win bet (at appropriate odds) and exactas that could pay a bit given the fair field size.

5 units: Win, 3 (if #3 is even money or higher)

4 units: Exacta key, 3 w/4,7

2 units: Exacta, 3 w/2

By Andrew Champagne

Article Author

Horse Racing

Andrew Champagne is a horse racing handicapper with a specialism in juveniles. One thing is for certain, Champagne gets the party started.


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