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Tricky Escape edged Mom's On Strike to win the featured Ramsey Farm on closing day 2018 at Kentucky Downs.
Tricky Escape edged Mom's On Strike to win the featured Ramsey Farm on closing day 2018 at Kentucky Downs.|Kentuckydowns.com/ Reed Palmer Photography
Thoroughbreds

Horse Racing Thursday: Garrity picks the big grass fields at Kentucky Downs

First race is 1:15 pm EDT.

Chris Garrity

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It's an old axiom that horseplayers like big fields. If that is true, and we think it is, then today's card at Kentucky Downs is one that any punter would love, because the fields are absolutely mammoth: every race has at least 12 entrants.

Picking winners in fields this large is a real test of handicapping acumen, but we like the challenge, and we especially like the odds that these big fields provide. The turf at Kentucky Downs -- there is no dirt course -- should be firm, and the weather fine. Let's go.

Kentucky Downs, Race 3, 2:24 pm ET

Maiden Special Weight, 6 1/2 furlongs, turf, 2-year-olds

A full field of twelve goes here. There are quite a few first-time starters, but we like a colt who has a race under his belt: it's 9-Art Collector, who makes his second career start for trainer Joe Sharp. He ran a very good second in his debut, a 5 1/2 furlong turf sprint at Saratoga on Aug. 15, and in that race he showed the ability to finish strongly, which will suit him at the longer distance of today's race. We're expecting an improvement, which will put him in the winner's circle. We will bet him to win at 5/2. The bet: Kentucky Downs, Race 3, $25 to win on 9-Art Collector.

Kentucky Downs, Race 4, 2:58 pm ET

Allowance, 1 5/16 miles, turf, Fillies & Mares 3 & up

This is the kind of race we really don't see anywhere other than Kentucky Downs: a first-level allowance with a $145,000 purse. It's no wonder there's a full field of 12. It's an evenly matched bunch, with no clear standout, which makes it a good betting race. We are going with a pedigree play, and a huge price, in 8-Novella. This Jack Sisterson-trained filly is by Red Rocks, who won the Breeders Cup Turf, out of a mare by English Channel, who also won the Breeders Cup Turf. This is turf breeding top and bottom, and it's also a pedigree that says that Novella will relish going long. She's never run farther than a mile and a sixteenth before, but both her pedigree and her strong late-running style suggest that she will relish the extra distance here. We see her sitting midpack, or perhaps a bit farther back, and then making a stretch move under jockey Adam Beschizza. We will bet her to win at 20-1. The bet: Kentucky Downs, Race 4, $25 to win on 8-Novella.

Kentucky Downs, Race 8, 5:12 pm ET

Allowance/Optional Claiming, 1 mile, turf, 3 & up

This first-level allowance is another race that drew a full field of twelve. There's one we really like here: 3-Combatant. This 4-year-old is trained by Steve Asmussen, and his race record is a bit muddled: his performances look inconsistent, but a closer look makes us think he's very, very live. His last race was a decent 4th in an allowance at Saratoga in July, but the turf that day was good, and he looks to us like a colt who wants firmer going. Back in December, he finished a very good third on a firm turf course at Santa Anita, finishing only a half-length behind River Boyne in a Grade 2 stakes at Santa Anita. He has the best late kick in the field, and he moves up on firm turf -- this adds up to a strong play on Combatant today. We will bet him to win at 9/2. The bet: Kentucky Downs, Race 8, $40 to win on 3-Combatant.

Kentucky Downs, Race 9, 5:48 pm ET

$250,000 Old Friends Stakes, 1 mile, 70 yards, turf, 3 & up

This race came up strong: there are 12 runners, plus a few also-eligibles, and it's wide open, with the morning-line favorite a tepid 3-1. We like 8-Master Merion. This 5-year-old gelding runs for Wesley Ward, who's as good a trainer of race horses as there is on the planet, and who is particularly good at training a horse toward a target race. It looks to us like this is the race Ward has been shooting for with Master Merion: it's his third start of the year, with the first two looking like preps for this one; this should result in a top effort. He's got enough speed to stay reasonably close, and a devastating late kick that we think is going to get him to the winner's circle. We like him quite a bit, so will bet him to win at 6-1. The bet: Kentucky Downs, Race 9, $50 to win on 8-Master Merion.

That's all for today. Good luck at the windows.