First post time 2:18 EST
There’s more action across the country today than a railbird can shake a stick at: there are stakes in New York, Florida, California, and Arkansas, and there’s a big card at Laurel that features five stakes, two of them graded. It’s a lot of good action, especially considering the fact that we are still in the middle of February.
But the biggest card of the day, featuring the biggest, most important races, is the one at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans: There are six stakes races on the mammoth, 13-race program, including the Grade 2 Risen Star stakes, which drew so many entrants that it is being run in two divisions. This is the point at which the Kentucky Derby trail gets serious: Most of the 3-year-olds vying for the Derby will run twice, at most, between now and the first Saturday in May, which means not only do they have to earn enough points in these prep races to qualify for the big race, but they have to develop the fitness, what horsemen and horsewomen call the “foundation,” that is an absolute necessary to win the Run for the Roses.
There are too many good races today for us to cover all of them, or even most of them, but we’ll cover as many of them as we can, focusing on the most important races from a sporting standpoint, and the ones we view as the best betting opportunities.
The weather forecast today is good for New Orleans, and we expect fast dirt and firm turf there, and at all these other tracks, as well. We’re also going to go a bit out of chronological order: we’ll look at both divisions of the Risen Star first, then the rest of the races, by post time, next. With that out of the way, let’s go.
Fair Grounds, Race 12, 6:38 pm ET
Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes (1st Division), 1 1/8 miles, Dirt, 3-Year-Olds
The two divisions of the Risen Star drew 23 entries, which is remarkable, given that most tracks these days have trouble filling stakes races. It's a sign that the Louisiana road to the Kentucky Derby has grown in importance in recent years. There are some high-quality colts going into the starting gate today.
The first division, which goes as Race 12, is a terrific race to handicap. We like 1-Digital, who starts for trainer Bret Calhoun. There's a lot of speed in the race, and we are expecting a fast pace, and a winner who is able to come from just off it. That fits Digital, who is a stalker, to a tee. Breaking from the rail, he should get a good, ground-saving trip, and we think he's going to run big today. He has the best last-race speed figure in the field, has already won around two turns, and we think he stamps himself a legitimate Kentucky Derby contender this afternoon. He is also 6-1 on the morning line, which we think is a darn good price. We will bet him to win, and we will also (see below) bet him in the Double that comprises both divisions of the Risen Star. The bets: Fair Grounds, Race 12, $35 to win on 1-Digital; $10 double, 1 (Digital) with 7 (Major Fed).
Fair Grounds, Race 13, 7:12 pm ET
Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes (2nd Division), 1 1/8 miles, Dirt, 3-Year-Olds
The headliner in the second division of the Risen Star is 8-Anneau d'Or, who is 9/5 off a couple of close second place finishes, one in the Breeders Cup Juvenile, and the other in the Los Alamitos Futurity, where he gave Southern California heavyweight Thousand Words everything he could handle.
While he is obviously a talented and quality colt, we think Anneau d'Or must be French for "massive underlay," because 9/5 on a horse with one maiden win to his credit is ridiculous. We would not bet him, as the old racetrack saying goes, with counterfeit money. We are looking elsewhere for the winner.
We like 7-Major Fed. This is another lightly-raced colt, and another runner who has gotten better as the distances have gotten longer. He's got the breeding (by Ghostzapper, out of a Smart Strike mare), as a stalker, he's got the right running style, and he has a good post position (the outer posts in these 1 1/16 mile races at the Fair Grounds are hugely disadvantageous). He has also been working well in the morning leading up to this race, which is a positive sign. We see a lot of potential, a lot of upside, in this colt, which we like; we also see 10-1 odds on the morning line, which we like even more. We will bet Major Fed to win. The bet: Fair Grounds, Race 13, $30 to win on 7-Major Fed.
Laurel Park, Race 5, 2:18 pm ET
$100,000 Wide Country Stakes, 7 furlongs, Dirt, 3-Year-Olds
6-Princess Cadey is a strong play in the Wide Country, a dirt sprint that is part of Laurel Park's terrific Sprintfest Winter Stakes card. This colt earned a superior speed figure winning an allowance at a mile last out; we think he is going to run right back to that race, which should be good enough to take this. At 5-1, he merits a play. We will bet him to win. The bet: Laurel Park, Race 5, $40 to in on 6-Princess Cadey.
Aqueduct, Race 8, 4:25 pm ET
$100,000 Broadway Stakes, 6 furlongs, Dirt, New York-Bred Fillies & Mares 4 & Up
The dirt at Aqueduct on Friday favored speed, in a pretty pronounced fashion, and we are expecting that trend to stick around, or even get stronger, this afternoon. That makes this race an easy one to handicap: we like 2-Cash Offer, who is a very, very fast 4-year-old filly. There's a lot of early speed in this race, and on a fairer track, we'd expect a pace meltdown, and look for a closer, but on dirt biased in favor of speed, we're taking the speed of the speed, as the saying goes. We will bet Cash Offer to win; look for her to go right to the front from her inside post position, and stay there all the way. The bet: Aqueduct, Race 8, $35 to win on 2-Cash Offer.
Fair Grounds, Race 8, 4:30 pm ET
$100,000 Albert M. Stall Stakes, 1 1/16 miles, Turf, Fillies & Mares 4 & Up
A full field of 14 drew into this one, and it's a fairly wide open race, lacking a clear standout. We like a horse who will go off at a giant price: it's 1-Flower Party, an Irish-bred 5-year-old mare who began her career in Italy, where she fared quite well, winning two of five starts, including a stakes race, and running well in all five. She came to North America last spring, where she ran a decent fifth in an overnight stakes race at the Fair Grounds in March, then finished far, far back in a Grade 3 turf race at Keeneland in April. Something must have gone wrong that day, because she was given a rest until December, when she ran in the slop, in a race rained off the grass, back at the Fair Grounds.
She looks like a quality mare to us, one whose form is obscured by bad luck and bad weather, and and we think she is poised for a rebound, for a strong effort, today. She has a good late turn of foot, and that should fit here, as the race has plenty of early speed, and should have a legitimate, or even fast, early pace. At 30-1, we think she merits a play. We will bet her to win and to place. The bets: Fair Grounds, Race 8, $25 to win / $10 to place on 1-Flower Party.
Gulfstream Park, Race 11, 5:04 pm ET
Grace 3 Royal Delta Stakes, 1 1/16 miles, Dirt, Fillies & Mares 4 & Up
The Royal Delta drew only six entrants, which would normally cause us to skip it as a race to play. But despite the short field, we think this is a very tremendous betting race -- we actually think it might be the best betting race of the day. That's because the two top choices on the morning line are 5-Golden Award, the 9/5 favorite, and 4-Restless Rider, who is 2-1 off her very strong spring campaign last year; she was 4-1 in last year's Kentucky Oaks, a race that was a disaster: she broke slowly, and stayed far back all the way around.
We think that Golden Award is pretty close to a cinch here: She has the best last-race speed figure, and she earned it running against a track bias, pressing the pace on a racing surface that was biased against speed and in favor of closers. We are expecting the typical Gulfstream Park racing surface today, which favors speed, and on that, we think Golden Award is going to ran a huge race today -- she is the likeliest winner in any of these races. We think that she is probably going to be shorter than 9/5 at post time, but we don't care: we are emptying our pockets betting her to win anyway. The bet: Gulfstream Park, Race 11, $75 to win on 5-Golden Award.
Fair Grounds, Race 11, 6:05 pm ET
Grade 2 Rachel Alexandra Stakes, 1 1/16 miles, Dirt, 3-Year-Old Fillies
The colts get all the attention this time of year, but the 3-year-old filly division worthy of attention as well. The Rachel Alexandra, which drew a field of seven, is a good race in its own right. The headliner is 8/5 morning line choice 6-British Idiom, who is undefeated in three career starts, with the last being the biggest, a win in the Breeders Cup Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita on November 1. She may win this race, but she looks like an underlay to us: her speed figures are not that great, and at a short price, we will be looking elsewhere.
We are taking a shot here with the lightly raced 4-Impeccable Style. She has raced only twice in her life, winning one of them, but these races were both sprints, and she has the running style and pedigree (by Uncle Mo, out of a Candy Ride mare) to suggest that she will improve as the races get longer. She has also been breathing fire in the morning, posting a series of sizzling workouts that suggest she is dead fit, and ready to run a big one today. She will need an improvement to be a contender here, but we think she will improve, and because she has yet to run really fast, we get 12-1 odds. We will get on board with Impeccable Style now, because if she runs the way we expect her to today, we will not see double-digit odds on her again for a long, long time. We will bet her to win. The bet: Fair Grounds, Race 11, $30 to win on 4-Impeccable Style.
That's all for today. Enjoy the racing, and, as always, good luck at the windows.