Fair Grounds Race Course & Casino in New Orleans
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Thoroughbreds

Six Thursday thoroughbred picks from Oaklawn Park and the Fair Grounds

Chris Garrity

We are going to head to Oaklawn Park and the Fair Grounds today: Oaklawn has a good card, and we want to increase our familiarity with the Fair Grounds, as on Saturday in New Orleans there is a mammoth card headlined by the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes, a key Kentucky Derby prep that drew so many entrants it had to be split into two divisions. After a couple of rainy days in both Arkansas and Louisiana, it is expected to be dry at both tracks today, and we've handicapped all races for fast dirt and firm turf. We have a six-pack of plays, three from each track, which we will list in chronological order. With that out of the way, let's go.

Fair Grounds, Race 1, 1:30 pm ET

$30,000 Maiden Claiming, 6 Furlongs, Dirt, 3-Year-Old Fillies

This maiden claimer features a smaller field, with only six entered, but we like it as a betting race in spite of that, because we think it's pretty straightforward to handicap: the 9/5 morning line favorite, 3-Alley Music, looks clearly to be the most likely winner, and the inside horse, 1-Hailey's Day, who's 4-1, looks to us be second best. This is mostly a speed figure play: these two fillies have the combination of the best figs in the field and the most early speed. We think Hailey's Day will take the lead from the rail, with Alley Music just outside of her, with Alley Music taking control down the stretch. We think they will finish first and second, so to leverage their odds, we will play them in the exacta, in that order. The bet: Fair Grounds, Race 1, $15 exacta, 3 (Alley Music) with 1 (Hailey's Day).

Oaklawn Park, Race 2, 2:57 pm ET

$16,000 Maiden Claiming, 6 Furlongs, Dirt, Arkansas-bred Fillies & Mares 3 & Up

These lower-level maiden claimers tend to attract big fields, and this race is no exception: it drew 10 entrants, which makes it a good betting race.

There are two main ways one can attack handicapping maiden races: either by looking at the races that the entrants have previously run, or by looking at trainer patterns. We think we have found a runner here who is a fit both ways: 2-Cinnafrijole has run once, on a wet track at Oaklawn on January 30, a race in which she showed a bit of speed before fading to finish 6th. But she earned a decent speed figure for that effort, and should improve today, for two reasons: it's her second start, and most horses improve in that spot; but more important, she drops from Maiden Special Weight to Maiden Claiming company, which is, as we've noted before, the biggest class drop in racing. She fits from a past performance standpoint, but she also fits from the trainer angle standpoint: her conditioner, Ernie Witt, usually does well with horses making their second starts. Add it all up, and 2-Cinnafrijole is a go: we will bet her to win at 3-1. The bet: Oaklawn Park, Race 2, $30 to win on 2-Cinnafrijole.

Fair Grounds, Race 3, 3:28 pm ET

Allowance, 6 Furlongs, Dirt, Louisiana-breds 4 & Up

Among the seven older horses entered in this first-level state-bred allowance, we like a speed horse who has had the misfortune of running two consecutive races on dirt that was biased against speed, and in favor of closers: it's 6-Bet Again, a 4-year-old gelding trained by Justin Jeansonne. That he has run well in his last two races, even winning one, despite running against the bias, shows that he is in razor-sharp form; on a fair track, which we are expecting that he gets today, we think he's going to run big. He has good early zip, and while there are two horses in the field who can run with him early, 1-C'mon Ve and 2-Letithappencarlos, Bet Again gets the benefit of drawing outside of both. From there, we expect him to stalk the pacesetters, and win the race with a move coming for home. We will bet him to win at 3-1. The bet: Fair Grounds, Race 3, $40 to win on 6-Bet Again.

Oaklawn Park, Race 4, 3:52 pm ET

$16,000 Maiden Claiming, 6 Furlongs, Dirt, Arkansas-bred Fillies & Mares 3 & Up

This race is under the same conditions, and is at the same distance, as the 2nd on Oaklawn's card. It's another big field, with 10 going to the starting gate. We think 3-Country Dream is a strong play: she has run at different levels, and on different surfaces; the inference we take from her race record is that her trainer, Gene Jacquot, has been looking for a field she can handle. We think he's found one today, as her speed figures are superior to what the rest of the horses in the field have earned. She finished second in a similar spot on January 24 at Oaklawn; we think she will not miss today. We will bet her to win at 2-1. The bet: Oaklawn Park, Race 4, $35 to win on 3-Country Dream.

Fair Grounds, Race 8, 4:53 pm ET

Allowance, 1 mile, Turf, 3-Year-Old Fillies

Ten are entered in this first-level allowance for sophomore fillies, with two also-eligibles in the event that the race is rained off the turf and onto dirt. We are handicapping it for the grass, and on the sod, 5-Enduringly, a very well-bred (by Ghostzapper, out of an Elusive Quality mare) Brad Cox trainee, is a strong play. She win the first race of her career on December 26, closing from very far back, dead last, in fact, to win by three-quarters of a length. Winning in any manner at first asking is hard, winning first out going long on the turf is even harder, and winning closing from out of the clouds in a first start is yet even more difficult. This appears to be a special filly, and we think she is headed for stakes races. We'd probably like her regardless of the composition of the rest of the field, but that there appears to be enough speed in the race to set up her late charge makes us swoon, frankly. We will bet Enduringly to win, and we will do so enthusiastically. The bet: Fair Grounds, Race 8, $50 to win on 5-Enduringly.

Oaklawn Park, Race 8, 5:42 pm ET

Allowance, 6 Furlongs, Dirt, Arkansas-bred Fillies & Mares 3 & Up

This first-level allowance is another state-bred race with a big field, with 11 female horses entered. We like a horse coming off a layoff, and she's all the way on the outside: 11-Oochie. She's a 4-year-old filly whose form is a bit obscured: she ran in some state-bred stakes races at Oaklawn last spring, ran a big figure in an Oaklawn allowance in May, and then went to Arlington Park in Illinois, where in August she ran an abysmal race on the synthetic racing surface there. Either because she hated the racing surface, or because she was injured -- or maybe because of both -- she was given a rest after that race, and comes into today's race off a six-month layoff. But she was a quality filly last year, and returning to Oaklawn Park, she did so well as a 3-year-old, we are expecting a good effort from her today. She probably needs this race, but she may just be good enough to win this with less than her best effort. At 6-1, we're willing to bet on it. We will play her to win. The bet: Oaklawn Park, Race 8, $35 to win on 11-Oochie.

That's all for today. We'll be back on Saturday for a look at the national stakes action, including both divisions of the Risen Star Stakes from the Fair Grounds. The Kentucky Derby trail is heating up, and we are looking forward to it. Until then, as always, good luck at the windows.

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