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Escape Clause is running against Dream Tree in today’s Santa Monica.
Escape Clause is running against Dream Tree in today’s Santa Monica.|Santa Anita
Thoroughbreds

Horse Racing - Garrity’s Graded Stakes picks for Saturday

Races at Gulfstream, Oaklawn, Santa Anita and loaded card at  Fair Grounds

Chris Garrity

It felt appropriate yesterday, when walking around outside on a warm February day, to see little green shoots coming out of a window planter: while we are still in February, and the arrival of spring is still a ways off, we are seeing in the horse racing world, like the plants in your back yard, stirrings of life, signs that racing's winter doldrums are nearing an end. Winter is not yet over, but its demise is getting closer.

And an indication of winter's waning is today's stakes racing: there is a rich and varied slate, at tracks all over the country. Included in them are a Kentucky Derby prep race -- and nothing gets the dedicated horseplayer's blood flowing, nothing induces spring fever, railbird style, quite like the first Saturday in May. Today is not the end, as either Winston Churchill or Pittsburgh Phil put it, but it is perhaps the beginning of the end of racing's quiet season. And on that note, let's look at what is on tap for Saturday. And we'll note that unless otherwise listed, all of these races are analyzed for a fast track and firm turf.

Gulfstream

There's one stakes race at Gulfstream, the Grade 3 Royal Delta, which goes off as the 11th Race, with a post time: of 5:12 pm Eastern. This is a one-turn dirt mile for older fillies and mares. The field came up relatively short, with seven runners, and there's a deserving favorite, 1-Tequilita, on the rail. But we like the outside horse, 7-Blamed: This 4-year-old filly by Blame has been developed patiently by trainer Bill Mott, and we think that this race fits her to a tee. She is a versatile filly who can win on the lead or stalking the pace; we think that the outside is the perfect spot for her, as it will give jockey Irad Ortiz the option to do either. She's 5/2 on the morning line, and we will bet $10 on her to win.

Oaklawn

At Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas, they're also carding a lone stakes race, the overnight Dixie Belle, which is 6 furlongs on dirt for three-year-old fillies. It goes off as the 8th; post time is at 5:38 Eastern. Oaklawn this week, especially Friday, developed a fairly pronounced track bias favoring speed; this was especially true in one-turn races. We're going to hope the bias lives another day, because if it does, this race represents a tremendous betting opportunity, as several of the obvious contenders lack early zip. It's clear to us that the two fastest fillies are 5-Lady T N T (3-1) and 6-Raintree Starlet (6-1), and we think they will break in that order, as Lady T N T has just a bit more early pop than Raintree Starlet. We think they will be first and second after the first quarter mile, and we think that with the track bias, they will stay that way all around the track. We will bet them in a couple of exactas: we'll take a cold 5-6 ticket for $10, and, just in case they finish 1-2 in the wrong order, we'll take, as insanity insurance, a 6-5 exacta for $5.

Santa Anita

Santa Anita has been plagued by rain the past few weeks, and while more rain is expected there, it's not until Sunday: Saturday is supposed to be sunny and dry. There's a pair of stakes on the card in Arcadia Saturday: the overnight Wishing Well Stakes is Race 8, with older horses going down the Santa Anita Hillside turf course; and Race 9 is the Grade 2 Santa Monica Stakes, for older females going 7 furlongs on the dirt. These two go off at 6:38 pm and 7:09 pm Eastern.

We will pass on the Wishing Well. We expect the main track at Santa Anita to be fast, but the condition of the turf is another story. They may run this race on the grass, but if so, it will not be on a firm turf course (good is most probable, but that's just a guess). With a huge field -- 16 entrants for 12 spots -- and uncertain going, it's just too much of a crapshoot for us to make a pick. Throw a dart at the program if you feel like you must make a play in the race -- or even better, throw several, and box them in the super.

The Santa Monica, on the other hand, is a very good race, from both a sporting and parimutuel perspective. There are seven runners, including some highly accomplished ones: every runner here except the outside horse (7-Amuse) has won a graded stakes race.

We like 4-Dream Tree, who's trained by Bob Baffert. Her last race, the Grade 1 La Brea at Santa Anita on Dec. 26, was an absolute fiasco: she finished dead last as the 2/5 favorite. But several of Baffert's runners that day tanked; we don't know if there was something in the barn or what, but it was an aberration, and these runners have come back to run well. We think that Dream Tree bounces back today too. We don't think that we will get her 4-1 morning line price -- she will get bet -- we'll take her anyway, and bet $25 on Dream Tree to win the Santa Monica.

Fair Grounds

We've saved the racing at the Fair Grounds for last, as they run the Risen Star Stakes in NoLa today, and this is a big deal: it's one of the highlights of the Fair Grounds meet, and it's also the best card in the country today. There are six stakes races, along with a couple of maiden races featuring what look like very well-bred young horses. It's just a good card.

For the sake of space, we will skip over the two overnight stakes -- the 2nd is the $75k Colonel Power, a turf sprint; the 4th is the Albert M. Stall Memorial, a 1 1/16 mile turf race -- and focus on the four graded stakes on the card, which go off as races 9 through 12. These are, in order, the Grade 3 Mineshaft (older horses, 1 1/16 miles on dirt), the Grade 3 Fair Grounds Handicap (older horses, nine furlongs on turf); the Rachel Alexandra; and the Risen Star. The Rachel Alexandra and the Risen Star are both Grade 2, are both restricted to three-year-olds, and are both at a mile and a sixteenth on the dirt. The Rachel is for the girls; the Risen Star for the boys. Post times for these races start at 4:25 pm Eastern, and every 30 minutes thereafter, but watch the clock, as the good folks at the Fair Grounds, in true N'awleans fashion, have a laissez-faire attitude toward race scheduling, and the races will probably go off later than the posted times.

We think there are horses we can single in the first three races: we like 2-Harlan Punch, in the Mineshaft (4-1); 9-Synchrony, in the Fair Grounds (3-1); and 10-Chasing Yesterday, in the Rachel Alexandra (5/2). Bet any of all of these horses to win.

The Risen Star, on the other hand, is completely wide open: the favorite is 14-War of Will, and while his credentials are solid, he drew the outside post, and in route races at Fair Grounds, that is just a brutal spot. With the post eliminating War of Will's form advantage, any of these 14 could win.

We're going to leverage these picks by playing a Pick 4 ticket, using our singles in the first three legs, and hitting the all button in the fourth. That ticket is 2 with 9 with 10 with all; this is 14 combinations, so we'll play a $2 pick 4 ticket for $28.

We will also play some Pick 3 tickets, in case we get only one or two of our singles home. We'll single our top picks, and put the backup contenders in the other races. These tickets are:

Race 9 Pick 3: 2 with 9 with 4,6,9 (3 combinations).
Race 9 Pick 3: 2 with 1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 10 with 10 (5 combinations)
Race 9 Pick 3: 4, 5, 8, 9, 13 with 9 with 10 (5 combinations)


We'll play each of these combos for $2, for a total investment of $26.

The only combination we will not play in the Pick 3 is the 2-9-10 combo: we don't need a Pick 3 ticket with our top picks in these races, because if they come in, we hit the Pick 4 -- we got 'em all in the last leg.

This is a good day of racing, and we hope you enjoy it. Good luck at the windows.