We've picked a few races from across the country, from Aqueduct in New York to the Fair Grounds in New Orleans to Santa Anita in Southern California. We expect fast dirt and firm turf everywhere; let's go.
Aqueduct, Race 5, 2:55 pm ET
Maiden Special Weight, 6 furlongs, dirt, 3-Year-Olds
There are just six entrants in this maiden race for 3-year-olds, but it's a good betting race nonetheless. Four of the six are making their first career starts, and we think the winner is among them, as the two who have run do not appear to have the ability to win this.
We like 1-Cousin Andrew, a first-time starter from the Chad Brown barn. He is very well-bred, by hot stallion Into Mischief, and has been working frequently and steadily, if unspectacularly, in the morning. Brown wins with a very good 21% of his first-time starters, and this one looks ready to go. We will bet him to win at 6-1. The bet: Aqueduct, Race 5, $30 to win on 1-Cousin Andrew.
Fair Grounds, Race 5, 3:26 pm ET
Maiden Special Weight, 1 mile, turf, Fillies & Mares 4 & Up
This maiden race drew a field of ten, and the field is mainly comprised of the fair-to-middling type animals one would expect to see on a Thursday card in January. But there's a first-time starter who nearly jumped off the page at us: 5-Bonbourbon. This 4-year-old mare has a pedigree that is as good as it gets: she's by the late Giant's Causeway, one of the most influential stallion of the last 25 years, and she's also out of a mare by Tapit, who is probably the hottest sire going right now. This is an incredible foundation, and while she may not turn out to be the next Enable, she looks good enough to be able to win a race against a bunch of nondescript maidens. She is trained by Jack Sisterson, which we like, and we think she merits a play at 6-1 odds. We will bet her to win. The bet: Fair Grounds, Race 5, $30 to win on 5-Bonbourbon.
Fair Grounds, Race 9, 5:22 pm ET
Allowance/Optional Claiming, 1 1/16 miles, turf, 4 & Up
Ten older horses will go to the starting gate in this tough third-level allowance/optional claimer. We are going to take a shot here, and it's with 3-Sonneteer. Trained by Keith Desormeaux, this tough 6-year-old has been running against much, much tougher, mostly in stakes races, and has a good style, with a high cruising speed and a good closing kick. The reason it's a stab is that he's been running on dirt: his last nine starts have been on the main track, and his last turf start was all the way back in September of 2017. He has run well on grass before -- he broke his maiden on the Del Mar sod -- and we are betting that he will run well on it today. At 6-1, it's a gamble we are eager to make. We will bet him to win. The bet: Fair Grounds, Race 9, $35 to win on 3-Sonneteer.
Santa Anita Park, Race 4, 5:30 pm ET
Maiden Special Weight, 1 mile, turf, 4 & Up
This is another good maiden turf race, with a field of eight. The 5/2 second choice is 2-Commanding Chief, and while he may win, he's the kind of horse we line up to bet against: he's hit the board in 7 of his 8 career starts, but has never won, which suggests that he has lacks the mental toughness to hit the line first. These kinds of horses are virtually always underlays, and rule number one in this game is to bet against horses whose odds are lower than their chances of actually winning the race.
That makes 2-1 favorite 8-Border Town a strong play. A few months ago, he moved West, from the New York barn of Chad Brown to the California barn of Richard Mandella, and in his first start for Mandella, he finished a very close second in a very similar spot on January 5. He wheels back in a bit more than three weeks, which is a pretty quick turnaround for Mandella, which suggests that he is raring to go. We think he's sitting on a big race, and we are prepared to wager at the prospect. Our only fear is price: he's 2-1 on the morning line, and we have a hunch he may get pounded at the windows, and go off at much lower odds. We will bet him to win anyway. The bet: Santa Anita, Race 8, $50 to win on 8-Border Town.
That's all for today. We will be back on Saturday for a look at the national stakes action. Until then, as always, good luck at the windows.