There's a good simulcasting lineup today: Aqueduct, Laurel, the Fair Grounds, and Gulfstream all have playable cards. We are going to make plays at all of them, moving roughly from north to south. We'll start the day in the frigid mid-Atlantic, end it in Louisiana and South Florida. We expect fast dirt and firm turf everywhere; let's go.
Laurel Park, Race 3, 1:22 pm ET
$5,000 Claiming, 6 furlongs, dirt, 4 & Up
Eight grizzled veterans go in this claiming dirt sprint. Speed figures make the play straightforward: 9/5 morning line favorite 3-Bust Another has superior numbers, has a stalking style that should fit perfectly here, and is making a slight drop in class ($8k to $5k), and all three add up to a pretty significant edge in form on the rest of the field. We think there is value in every winner, so we will back who we think is the clearly superior horse, even though the odds are not great. We will bet Bust Another to win. The bet: Laurel Park, Race 3, $40 to win on 3-Bust Another.
Aqueduct, Race 4, 2:25 pm ET
Maiden Special Weight, 6 1/2 furlongs, dirt, New York-breds 4 & Up
It is cold at the Big A as we write this early Thursday morning, with temperatures in the lower 20s. It was cold enough that we considered passing on the Aqueduct card, just on the off chance that the races get cancelled due to the cold. But it is supposed to get warmer on Thursday, up to the mid 30s, and while that will not remind anyone of August in Saratoga, it will be plenty warm enough to race. This state-bred maiden race is an interesting race to handicap. This time of year in New York, there are a lot of maiden races filled with horses who do not appear good enough to win any maiden race. One of them has to win each race, of course, but these maiden contests, especially at the state-bred and claiming levels, are filled with horses who were not good enough to break their maidens when the weather was better, and a trip to the winner's circle was a joy for the owners, rather than a reenactment of the Valley Forge encampment during the winter of 1778. We mention that because this is not one of those races: there are three runners, 2-Freudian Fate, 3-Hot Brown, and 6-Quickflash, who have already run fast enough to win a race at this state-bred maiden level. It's a surprisingly deep field for a Thursday in the middle of winter. And despite the runners with obvious credentials, we are still fascinated by a first-time starter, 5-Striking Causeway, who is our pick. He's a 4-year-old colt, and as well-bred a colt as you will see: he's by all-time great sire Giant's Causeway, out of a mare by Smart Strike, another top stallion of recent years. His workout pattern is good, he's trained by low-volume/high-percentage trainer Robert Falcone, and we think there's a chance he may simply outclass this field. We will take 12-1 at that prospect, and will bet him to win. The bet: Aqueduct, Race 4, $30 to win on 5-Striking Causeway.
Gulfstream Park, Race 9, 4:30 pm ET
Allowance, 1 1/16 miles, turf, 3-year-old Fillies
Eight fillies line up for this contest, a first-level allowance at a mile and a sixteenth on the grass. The Gulfstream Park turf course has been very speed-favoring in recent weeks, including yesterday: horses do not need to be on the lead to win, but the deep closers, the horses in the rear during the race's early stages, have virtually no chance. This trend will be even more pronounced today with the rails out at 120 feet (this makes the turns more sweeping, which makes it even tougher for closers). So we're looking for stalkers, horses who can sit just behind the early leaders and finish strongly. We think we've found one in this group: 3-Cee's Overture, a daughter of Tiznow who starts for trainer Dale Romans. She broke her maiden in her first career start on the turf, which is never easy, and then Romans tried her in a stakes on the dirt at Aqueduct, where she did a speed-and-fade and finished sixth. We think she will run better today, being moved back onto the grass, and she has the kind of natural early speed that will allow her to get the kind of early stalking position that she'll need to win on this course. We think she's a good play; we will bet her to win at 5-1. The bet: Gulfstream Park, Race 9, $35 to win on 3-Cee's Overture.
Fair Grounds, Race 8, 4:53 pm ET
Allowance, 6 furlongs, dirt, Fillies & Mares 4 & Up
Nine go in the day's featured race at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans, a this second-level allowance for older females. Two of them are coupled in the wagering because of common ownership, leaving us with eight betting interests. It's a good race. 4-Miz Shelton is a strong pick here. Not only does she have the best last-race Beyer Speed Figure (77), but she earned it on a racing surface that was biased against speed, and in favor of closers, which means her effort was even better than it looks on paper. Moreover, it was her first spring after a string of longer races, and while we think she's probably better sprinting, all those races at a mile and a mile and a sixteenth should have her dead fit, and razor-sharp, for this one. We expect her to go right to the front and never look back. We will bet her to win at 4-1. The bet: Fair Grounds, Race 8, $40 to win on 4-Miz Shelton.
That's all for today. We'll be back on Saturday for a look at the national stakes action. Until then, as always, good luck at the windows.