02/05/2015 3:36PM

Hammersly: X-Country pick four play for Saturday


The reigning Horse of the Year vs. maybe the most talented horse in the country. A competitive turf marathon out West. Some of the best older horses back East, along with possibly the third-best turf horse in the land. It’s a mouthwatering menu, and best of all, it’s offered in the X-Country pick four, so a correct assessment can pad your wallet, as well as providing racing excitement. Here’s my take:

Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap (Gulfstream, 12th)

WAR CORRESPONDENT (#6) showed big promise in Europe in 2013. He then was inactive 14 months but came back smokin’ to win on the Monmouth turf last summer. He then was second in a stakes on Woodbine’s synthetic track. After another freshening, he’s being given a big assignment here, but that’s also a good sign – heck, trainer Christophe Clement knew who he’d be running against. MSHAWISH (#1) may be the best turf horse in America not named Main Sequence or Wise Dan. He’s been awfully impressive in two starts here. However, he can get a bit rank, tough to ride, and difficult to place. Any mistake at this level facing these guys would be tough to overcome and may mean he’s vulnerable at what figures to be a short price.

IMAGINING (#3) was good enough last summer to give the eventual champ Main Sequence quite a tussle a couple times. He’s working as if he’s ready off the layoff. He was second in this last year when Lochte ran out of his mind. GRAND TITO (#4) gave Mshawish fits when a close second to that guy in the Grade 2 Fort Lauderdale, beaten just a neck. That was his first start in almost two months, so he can continue to trend north. SLUMBER (#7) is much better than his seventh in the Grade 3 McKnight indicates when he was victimized by a dawdling pace and the fact Chad Brown tries a tough spot like this is encouraging, as with War Correspondent.

A’s) 1, 6
B’s) 3, 4
C’s) 7

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Donn Handicap (Gulfstream, 13th)

CONSTITUTION (#1) wasn’t disgraced when third in the Grade 1 Clark at Churchill Downs in the fall, just his second start since last March after an injury. He returns to the site of his best work – he won the Grade 1 Florida Derby here last year – and has been pointing for this race all along. LEA (#4), the defending champ, came back firing to win the Grade 3 Hal’s Hope, showing no ill effects from a long layoff. His win in this race last year was smashing (114 Beyer), and if he is able to reproduce that form here, then the others are running for second.

PROTONICO (#8) finished strongly for second in the aforementioned Grade 1 Clark, beating stablemate Constitution and nearly catching the winner Hoppertunity, who came back recently to win the Grade 2 San Pasqual at Santa Anita and who is taking on the champs California Chrome and Shared Belief in the Grade 2 San Antonio there later today. EAST HALL (#3) continues his strong form. This is a tougher assignment, but he may be up to the task. His Beyers are improving, and he’s got some versatility to give his rider options.

A’s) 1, 4
B’s) 8
C’s) 3

San Marcos (Santa Anita, 7th)

FINNEGANS WAKE (#1) nipped PATRIOTICANDPROUD (#2) by a neck in the Grade 2 Hollywood Gold Cup at Del Mar at 1 1/2 miles and beat him again by a length in the Grade 2 San Gabriel here Jan. 3 at 1 1/8 miles – a distance that is likely short of his preference. He obviously loves it out West, and tacking on another furlong here may add up to a third straight win. Patrioticandproud obviously gave Finnegans Wake fits in the Hollywood Turf Cup and San Gabriel. This guy just seems to be getting better, and he figures to keep coming. He doesn’t have to come from miles out of it either, so that may mean he can get first run on Finnegans Wake and possibly turn the tables. Either way, these two figure close together at the wire again.

DYNAMIC SKY (#8) is capable of big things when on his game as his fine win in the Grade 3 Red Smith at Aqueduct (102 Beyer) attests. He then came here and wasn’t disgraced by the top two in the San Gabriel when sixth, beaten just two lengths. He may improve with a race over the course, and in these turf contests, a break here or there in terms of traffic or pace can make all the difference. POWER PED (#4) was a solid third behind Finnegans Wake and Patrioticandproud in the San Gabriel, beaten just 1 3/4 lengths. He then went to Turf Paradise and won that track’s biggest turf race. So he comes back here possibly improved, meaning he’s capable of cutting into, negating, or even overcoming the gap that existed at the end of the San Gabriel.

A’s) 1, 2
B’s) 8
C’s) 4

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San Antonio (Santa Anita, 8th)

To me, there’s no way to separate CALIFORNIA CHROME (#8) and SHARED BELIEF (#5). This could be the new version of Ferdinand and Alysheba. California Chrome has worked splendidly for his return and may be at his best over this track. He won last year’s Grade 2 San Felipe and Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby here and was an excellent third in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic here. Shared Belief suffered the first loss of his career in that BC Classic when brutalized at the start and tormented more going into the clubhouse turn. It’s to his credit he ran on well for fourth, and he showed no ill effects by coming back to win the Grade 1 Malibu here Dec. 26. This should be fun.

A’s) 5, 8
B’s) None
C’s) None