12 hours of racing starts at 2:05 pm ET.
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It's a Saturday, which means stakes racing. It's a relatively quiet time of year in the racing world, the roughly two months between the Breeders Cup and the opening of the Santa Anita season the day after Christmas, so these are not Grade 1 races, but we've found a handful of very playable stakes from across the country today, and one fact that is inarguably true is that parimutuel winnings spend just as well no matter what kind of race they come from. We've handicapped a quartet of American stakes, and, for you night owls, degenerates, and/or insomniacs, we've thrown in play on one race from Sha Tin Racecourse in Hong Kong. We expect fast dirt and firm turf everywhere today; let's go.
Woodbine, Race 3, 2:05 pm ET
$100,000 South Ocean Stakes, 1 1/16 miles, synthetic, Ontario-Bred 2-Year-Old Fillies
The field for the South Ocean came up short, with just six entrants, and that would normally make us toss the race and look elsewhere for a play. But we like this race as a betting proposition, primarily because we dislike the 4/5 favorite, 2-Owlette, who is trained by Wesley Ward and who has three wins in four lifetime starts, and is an undefeated 3-for-3 on the snythetic Tapeta surface at Woodbine. We are against her because she is going to have company up front, from the horse right next to her 3-She's a Dream, and that, combined with the fact that Tapeta is much less kind to speed than traditional dirt, makes us look for a runner coming from just off the pace.
We like 5-Gun Society. This girl has been running on turf, but the turf-to-synthetic angle is one we like, as we think that racing on synthetics is much closer to grass racing than it is to dirt racing. She's shown an ability to close strongly on the turf, which we think will translate well in this one, and she will absolutely, positively be able to handle the distance. If she were handled by a lesser trainer, we would probably balk at betting her, but she is conditioned by Roger Attfield, who is excellent, and that's good enough for us. We will bet Gun Society to win at 5-1. The bet: Woodbine, Race 3, $20 to win on 5-Gun Society.
Aqueduct, Race 8, 3:20 pm ET
$100,000 Key Cents Stakes, 6 furlongs, dirt, New York-Bred 2-Year-Old Fillies
The Key Cents drew a field of seven, and despite the short field, it's an interesting race to handicap, as four of them appear to be need-the-lead types: 1-All Over the Map, 2-Playtone, 3-Time Limit, and 5-Shadolamo all have one career win apiece, and every single one of these four combined wins has been accomplished in wire-to-wire fashion. These four fillies trying to get the lead at the same time, which is what we think will happen, should cause a hot early pace that leaves all of them gassed at the end of the race. Put this another way: the pace tells us to pick a horse coming from off the pace, a horse who will swoop by the tiring pacesetters and finish the race strongly.
This makes 6-Single Verse the play. She's run five times, never finished worse than second, has competitive speed figures, and has consistently shown the ability to come from just off the pace. We think this race sets up just about perfectly for her from a pace standpoint, and her outside post, which is a tactically ideal spot, will help her as well. She's a square 5-1 price on the morning line; we will bet her to win. The bet: Aqueduct, Race 8, $35 to win on 6-Single Verse.
Churchill Downs, Race 10, 5:36 pm ET
Grade 3 River Stakes Stakes, 1 1/8 miles, turf, 3 & Up
The field of the River City came up strong: there are ten runners here, a deep and pretty evenly matched field. We like a price in here, and it's the horse breaking from the rail, 1-Cullum Road. This 4-year-old gelding is a closer, and this style worked against him in his last, when he finished fifth in an allowance race at Keeneland, on a turf course that was biased toward speed. He still managed to make up some ground, even running against the grain of the bias, and his two races before that one were both excellent, both near-misses in stakes races at Laurel Park and Kentucky Downs. Horses coming from the back are always vulnerable to traffic trouble, but his inside post should prevent him from losing too much ground. We think there will be a pace for him to run at today, and we think he's got a huge chance at very square 10-1 odds. We will bet him to win, and will throw in a small saver place bet in case he just misses. The bets: Churchill Downs, Race 10, $35 to win/$10 to place on 1-Cullum Road.
Del Mar, Race 8, 7:00 pm ET
Grade 3 Bob Hope Stakes, 7 furlongs, dirt, 2-Year-Olds
Trainer Bob Baffert's hands are all over the Bob Hope, as he saddles two strong contenders, 7/5 favorite 3-Thousand Words and 5/2 third choice 5-High Velocity. A win by either would be unsurprising, but we are looking elsewhere, and that's to the horse on the outside, 6-Strongconstitution. This son of Constitution broke his maiden on grass, and then finished a very good second in a dirt sprint stakes at Santa Anita last month. This is another horse who was running against a bias, as the track that day favored speed; the fact that Strongconstitution was able to make up ground anyway suggests to us that he's sitting on a big effort today. As an added bonus, he gets the services of young jockey Abel Cedillo, who is scorching hot at the young Del Mar meeting, winning 3 of his first 7 races. We see Strongconstitution getting a good stalking trip from his outside post, and wearing down the pacesetters in deep stretch to take the prize. We will bet him to win at 9/5. The bet: Del Mar, Race 8, $40 to win on 6-Strongconstitution.
Sha Tin (Hong Kong), Race 7, 2:15 am (Sunday)
Group 2 Jockey Club Cup, 1 1/4 miles, turf, 3 & Up
There's a trio of Group 2 races at Sha Tin overnight, with this one going at 2:15 am Eastern. We like the favorite, 1-Exultant. This 5-year-old Irish-bred gelding won a Group 1 race at Sha Tin in May, then, after a brief vacation, came back to finish third in a Group 3, also at Sha Tin, two weeks ago. In his second race off the layoff, he should be ready to run his best race, and we think that will put him in the winner's circle. We will bet him to win at 9/5. The bet: Sha Tin, Race 7, $40 to win on 1-Exultant.
That's all for today. Enjoy the racing, and, as always, good luck at the windows.