Magic Star races today at Gulfstream Park.
Magic Star races today at Gulfstream Park.|NYRA
Thoroughbreds

Chris Garrity's Saturday Stakes picks races at Aqueduct, Gulfstream Park and Santa Anita

First race is at 3:34 pm EST.

Chris Garrity

There are five stakes races today: one at Aqueduct in New York, and a pair at both Gulfstream Park and Santa Anita. We like them all as wagering propositions: it's a nice quintet of races for a mid-January Saturday. We expect fast dirt and firm turf in all of them. Let's go.

Aqueduct, Race 8, 3:55 pm ET

$100,000 Say Florida Sandy Stakes, 7 furlongs, dirt, New York-breds 4 & Up

The Say Florida Sandy drew a field of seven. This race will be a fascinating exploration of the importance of track bias, because our pick, 6-Arthur's Hope, is a speed horse who has had the misfortune of running his last three races on tracks biased against speed and in favor of closers. He rather unsurprisingly finished off the board in all three of them.

This makes his form look worse than it really is, and we would consider making a bet on him on a fair track, thinking that he will run much, much better without having to run against a bias, without having to swim upstream, as it were. But we think this spot is even better than that, because the main track at Aqueduct in the past few days, and especially on Friday, developed a pronounced bias in favor of speed. We think this is a tremendous spot for Arthur's Hope, because he is a mortal lock to get the early lead, and from there, the rest of the field just isn't going to catch him. And the best part? Because of his superficially poor form in his last three races, we get a 5-1 odds, which is a gift. We will take that gift, and head to the windows: we will bet him to win. The bet: Aqueduct, Race 8, $50 to win on 6-Arthur's Hope.

Gulfstream Park, Race 8, 3:34 pm ET

Grade 3 Marshua's River Stakes, 1 1/16 miles, turf, Fillies & Mares 4 & Up

Gulfstream runs a pair of stakes today, both on turf, and the Marshua's River, which has seven older females going, is the first. We need to note that the Gulfstream Park turf course in recent weeks has been unkind to deep closers: until that changes, we're looking for horses who will come from no farther back than mid-pack.

There's one of the seven who fits this profile to a tee, and it's 5-Andina Del Sur. Trained by Tom Albertrani, this 5-year-old mare has the perfect style for the Gulfstream sod: She sits a few lengths behind the pacesetters, and then makes a strong stretch move. We expect her to do that in this race, passing the front-runners on the far turn, and holding off the late runners. We will bet her to win at 2-1, and we will also play her in the exacta, with 3-Magic Star, a Chad Brown horse who appears to be very talented, and who we probably would have picked to win on a fairer track, but whose late-running style will be compromised by the way the Gulfstream turf is playing. The bets: Gulfstream Park, Race 8, $30 to win on 5-Andina Del Sur; $10 exacta, 5-Andina Del Sur with 3-Magic Star.

Gulfstream Park, Race 10, 4:38 pm ET

Grade 3 Tropical Turf Stakes, 1 mile, turf, 4 & Up

The Tropical Turf drew a field of ten. It's a good race to handicap. There's quite a bit of speed in here, enough, we think, for there to be a pace meltdown, and while we might normally look for a deep closer to pick up the pieces, we do not think that is likely on the Gulfstream turf course today: It's just too hard for the come-from-behinders to make up ground in the stretch. We are looking here, as we did in the Marshua's River, for a horse who has enough speed to be in a stalking position, and that's 2-Maraud, who is coming off a short layoff -- he last ran at Monmouth Park in September -- and who makes his first start since being moved to the Joe Orseno barn. He was running well before his vacation, his running style is a fit for the track profile, and he's been working very strongly in the morning, which suggests that he's fit and ready to go. At 9/2, he merits a play; we will bet him to win. The bet: Gulfstream Park, Race 10, $40 to win on 2-Maraud.

Santa Anita Park, Race 3, 4:32 pm ET

Grade 3 Las Cienegas Stakes, 5 1/2 furlongs, turf, Fillies & Mares 4 & Up

This race in past years has been run down the Santa Anita hillside turf course, at 6 1/2 furlongs, and while we think that this would be a better race to handicap at that distance, we will note that we are happy that it has been moved, because the change was made for the safety of the horses. We will also note that we are also happy that the biggest news to come out of this years' Santa Anita meeting has been no news: There has been no rash of equine fatalities like there was last year. So while we love the downhill turf course at the Great Race Place, we're happy to miss it if it means that the sport is safer.

The field for the Las Cienegas came up short, with only five runners, but it's an interesting race to assess, primarily because of the presence of 6/5 morning line favorite 3-Jolie Olimpica, a Brazilian-bred 4-year-old filly who is making her North American debut after winning her first three career starts, two of them graded stakes, in Brazil. She's trained by Richard Mandella and will be ridden by Mike Smith: These are the same human connections who gave us the all-time great race mare Beholder, so when they get together, it demands attention.

She may turn out to be something special, but we are betting against her today. Not only is the Las Cienegas her first start in North America, it's also a shorter distance than she's ever run before. While her last race, a win in the Group 1 Brazilian Jockey Club, was nothing short of sensational, it was at a mile, and we think today's 5 1/2 furlongs may be shorter than her best distance. At even money or less, she looks like a mammoth underlay.

We like 2-Kentan Road. This John Sadler-trainee has by far the most natural early speed in the field, and we think that translates to an easy lead for her. And she has shown in the past that when she is able to get an early lead, she is very, very tough to pass in the stretch. We are expecting her to wire the field, and we get juicy 4-1 odds at the prospect. We will bet her to win. The bet: Santa Anita, Race 3, $40 to win on 2-Kentan Road.

Santa Anita Park, Race 8, 7:07 pm ET

Grade 3 La Canada Stakes, 1 1/16 miles, dirt, Fillies & Mares 4 & Up

The La Canada drew a good field of eight. Trainer Bob Baffert has been hot lately, and he has two runners in here. We like one of them, 1-Der Lu. This 4-year-old filly has always been highly regarded, but it took her a while to figure things out. She did, in her last, a very strong allowance win at Santa Anita in October. We expect her to be a force in the distaff division this year, and we think that she announces her presence with a strong win in the La Canada. We will bet her to win at 4-1. The bet: Santa Anita Park, Race 8, $35 to win on 1-Der Lu.

That's all for today. As always, good luck at he the windows.

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