His first post is 3:34 pm EST.
It's a frigid Saturday morning in the Northeast, with snow, rain, and the dreaded wintry mix in today's forecast. It's a good day to sit inside, drink the hot beverage of your choice, and bet on horses running in circles. We do not know what people did in the days before simulcasting -- whatever it was, like talking to one's family, sounds horrible -- but today we will savor that we do not live in that benighted era, and that a lineup of wagering that would have overwhelmed your $2-show-betting grandfather is available to all of us with just the click of a few buttons. We tend to lose sight of this, but technology has been an incredible boon to the horseplayer. We'll celebrate that this afternoon as the slop falls outside our windows.
Because of the forecast, we are going to avoid the tracks in the storm's path, mid-Atlantic ovals like Parx, Laurel, and Aqueduct. It's a shame for all of them, but especially for Laurel and the Big A, because both have good cards highlighted by good stakes races. But as we write this, there is too much uncertainty about the condition of the track for us to make any kind of a pick in any of those races. The dirt could be fast, it could be sloppy, or it could be frozen -- we just can't know that as we write this on Saturday morning. It's probably even money that one or more of these tracks even cancels their Saturday cards. So we will regrettably skip all of them.
There are fortunately, even without these tracks, more stakes today than one can shake a rolled-up program at, and they are at tracks in the Sun Belt, where weather should not be an issue. The biggest card today is down in New Orleans, where the Fair Grounds runs a mammoth, 13-race program headlined by the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes. The Big Easy has the best card in the country today, but there are also stakes-heavy slates at Gulfstream and Santa Anita parks, where the Sunshine Millions and California Cup races, respectively, will be contested. Throw in a trio of stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, and there's enough action to keep anybody busy.
Space does not permit us to cover all of these races, but we have selected the seven we like the best for wagering purposes. We have handicapped for fast dirt and firm turf everywhere. Let's go.
Gulfstream Park, Race 9, 3:34 pm ET
$100,000 Sunshine Millions Sprint, 6 furlongs, Dirt, Florida-breds 4 & Up
This state-bred sprint drew a field of eight. 7-He Hate Me is our pick, and it's one we like very much. This speedy 5-year-old gelding was last seen running third in a minor stakes at Gulfstream Park West, and while that effort may appear superficially dull, he was running against the grain of the track: he's a speed horse, and the dirt that day was biased against speed, and in favor of closers. We think the setup today will be just about ideal for him: the dirt should be much fairer than in his last, and while he's not the fastest horse in the race, he has done his best running in the past stalking the pace, and the likely early pacesetter, the 6-year-old mare Lady's Island, drew just inside him. He should get an ideal stalking trip from his outside post, and from there, the race will be his for the taking. At 6-1, he is worth a play; we will bet him to win. We will also single him in a small Pick 3 with our picks in the two races that follow this one (see below for details) The bets: Gulfstream Park, Race 9, $35 to win on 7-He Hate Me; $5 Pick 3, 7 (He Hate Me) with 2 (Curlin's Honor) with 6 (Red Crescent).
Gulfstream Park, Race 10, 4:06 pm ET
$150,000 Sunshine Millions Turf, 1 1/16, Turf, Florida-breds 4 & Up
Gulfstream Park, Race 11, 4:38 pm ET
$200,000 Sunshine Millions Classic, 1 1/8 miles, Dirt, Florida-breds 4 & Up
We've lumped these two together, because we like a horse in each, but rather than betting them each to win, we are going to bet them in the Daily Double that covers the two races.
The pick in the Sunshine Millions Turf is 2-Curlins Honor. This 5-year-old Mark Casse trainee has been in superb form going back to last year, but his last race, a win in the Artie Schiller Stakes at Aqueduct, was the best of all of them. That race was in November, so he's coming off a brief layoff, but Casse is good with horses in this spot, and we expect a top effort from him today. He has a good combination of adequate cruising speed and a good closing kick, which is a good fit for the way the Gulfstream turf course has been playing. He is 9/2 on the morning line.
In the Sunshine Millions Classic, we like the 5/2 favorite, 6-Red Crescent. This is another older horse whose recent races have been his best. Any of his last three would be good enough to win here; he seems simply to outclass the field. Look for him to stalk the leaders, and seize control of the race down the stretch.
The bet: Gulfstream Park, Race 10, $25 double, 2 (Curlin's Honor) with 6 (Red Crescent).
Fair Grounds, Race 10, 5:21 pm ET
Grade 3 Louisiana Stakes, 1 1/16 miles, Dirt, 4 & Up
3-Silver Dust is a strong play in the Louisiana. We should note that he is cross-entered in two races today, this one and the Colonel E.R. Bradley, a turf race which follows this one. He obviously cannot run in both, but we expect him to scratch out of the grass race, and run in this one.
Silver Dust is a 6-year-old gelded son of superstar sire Tapit, and is an amazingly consistent animal: he seems to run his race every time. Sometimes it's good enough, like when he won the West Virginia Governor's Stakes at Mountaineer Park two back; sometimes it is not, like when he lost by a neck in the Lukas Classic at Churchill Downs in his last race.
We think his typical effort will be plenty good enough here. He's got an edge in the speed figures, and we think his brief freshening since his last race at Churchill, which was in September, will help him (trainer William Bret Calhoun wins at a 27% clip with horses coming off this type of layoff). We see a good stalking trip for Silver Dust, and a trip to the winner's circle. We will bet him to win at 3-1. The bet: Fair Grounds, Race 10, $40 to win on 3-Silver Dust.
Fair Grounds, Race 13, 6:55 pm ET
Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes, 1 1/16 miles, Dirt, 3-year-olds
The Lecomte, which is an early Kentucky Derby prep race, drew a field of 14. Unlike most races, where we're looking at the past races of horses to try to figure out how they will run today, a race with 3-year-olds this time of year involves a lot of projection, a lot of guessing about which ones will improve off their past races. There's a lot of hocus-pocus involved with this, looking at pedigrees and running styles and the spacing of races and all that, but the rewards are usually worth it, because these kinds of races can produce winners at big prices. It's worth keeping this in mind as we get closer to the heart of the Kentucky Derby prep season.
We like 9-Silver State in the Lecomte. This Steve Asmussen trainee has only run twice, but they've both been good ones: he broke his maiden at first asking in a sprint at Churchill Downs in September, and then he backed that up with a very good second-place finish around two turns in an allowance race in November, also at Churchill. The important thing to us is that he did not regress going from a sprint to a route: he earned an identical Beyer Speed Figure of 82 in both races. That means he should be able to handle longer races just fine. That, plus the fact that he's by Hard Spun, who's emerging as a top dirt stallion, is enough for us to pick him. We will bet Silver State to win at 5-1. The bet: Fair Grounds, Race 13, $40 to win on 9-Silver State.
Santa Anita Park, Race 7, 6:37 pm ET
$200,000 California Cup Derby, 1 1/16 miles, Dirt, California-bred 3-year-olds
We're taking a stab in this one: the race is loaded with sophomore colts who have lots of early speed, and little finishing kick, so we are seeing a destructive early pace that will gas both the front-runners and the stalkers. We're looking for a deep closer here, a horse who can finish strongly when the speed horses all get the staggers down the stretch.
We think that this horse is 7-Indian Peak.This Quinn Howey-trained son of Comic Strip ships to Santa Anita from Northern California, where he raced exclusively on grass and the synthetic Tapeta surface at Golden Gate Fields. He showed good closing ability in those races, and while he has yet to run on true dirt, he has a pedigree that suggests that he will thrive on it. We like his chances in here, and at 10-1, he merits a play. We will bet him to win, with a small place saver bet thrown in as well. The bets: Santa Anita, Race 7, $25 to win/$10 to place on 7-Indian Peak.
Santa Anita Park, Race 8, 7:07 pm ET
$200,000 California Cup Oaks, 1 mile, Turf, California-bred 3-year-old Fillies
Our last race of the day features a full field of twelve 3-year-old fillies going a mile on the Santa Anita turf course. It's a good race, and the full starting gate is a nice change for Santa Anita, which has been plagued by short fields recently. This is not the most imposing group of horses ever to set food on the track at the Great Race Place, but it is a good betting race.
We like 3-Warren's Sunshine. This Craig Lewis trainee progressed nicely on the turf in the fall, before they tried her in a dirt sprint in November. She did not embarrass herself that day -- she finished third -- but a look at her five career races indicates that she is better on grass than she is on dirt. Now back on the sod, and coming off a brief layoff, we expect a top effort from her, and that will be enough to take the Cal Cup Oaks. We will bet her to win at 3-1. The bet: Santa Anita, Race 8, $30 to win on 3-Warren's Sunshine.
That's all for today. Enjoy the racing, and good luck at the windows.