It's the time of year where this is true virtually every week, but this coming Saturday is a mammoth day in the world of horse racing. There are 21 stakes by our count, with a trio of important Kentucky Derby preps, the Gotham at Aqueduct, and the San Felipe at Santa Anita, and the Tampa Bay Derby in Southwest Florida. Throw in the Santa Anita Handicap and the Kilroe Mile, both at Santa Anita and both Grade 1 races, and it's a real corker of a day.
But it's not Saturday yet: it's Thursday, so we will try to wet our whistle for the weekend by playing a few races this afternoon. There are good midweek cards at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas and the Fair Grounds in New Orleans, and we've cherry-picked a couple of races at each, to make sure our handicapping muscles are in shape, and also to try to make a few shekels to pad our weekend budget. We expect fast dirt at Oaklawn, and firm turf at the Fair Grounds. Let's go.
Fair Grounds, Race 4, 2:57 pm ET
Allowance/Optional Claiming, 1 mile, Turf, Louisiana-breds 4 & Up
This allowance/optional claimer for older state-breds drew a big field of ten. It's a pretty wide open race, and a good race to handicap.
We are expecting a fast pace, as there are quite a few one-dimensional speed types in the field, and that has us looking for a closer. We think we've found one: 8-Payday Too, a 5-year-old gelding who starts for trainer Danny Pish, has a very strong stretch-running style, but like all closers, he is at the mercy of a race's pace. In his last race, which was at this same level and distance, the pace was very, very slow, which made the front-runners impossible to catch. He still finished fourth, just a length and a quarter behind the winner, but today, we think that a faster early pace will set the table for his late move. We like his chances a lot today, and will bet him to win at 6-1. The bet: Fair Grounds, Race 4, $35 to win on 8-Payday Too.
Fair Grounds, Race 6, 3:55 pm ET
Maiden Special Weight, 1 1/16 miles, Turf, 3 & Up
This race, which will see maidens going a mile and a sixteenth on the Fair Grounds turf course, drew a field of eight. We are absolutely, positively against the 9/5 morning line favorite, 2-Alfons Walde: he has finished second in his last two starts, which looks good on the surface, but he should have won both of them. He appears to have quite a bit of physical ability, but at a short price, we cannot pick him to win this race.
We like 3-Reach the Moon, who starts for trainer Brad Cox. He's a regally-bred 4-year-old, by superstar sire Tapit and a Galileo mare, and though he's run just twice, both were acceptable efforts, especially his last start, when he rallied into a very slow pace to finish a close second in a ten-horse field. He has the running style we like to see on the grass, running comfortably early and running very fast late, and we think he's going to get his picture taken by passing by the rest of the field in the stretch. We will bet him to win at 7/2. The bet: Fair Grounds, Race 6, $40 to win on 3-Reach the Moon.
Oaklawn Park, Race 5, 4:19 pm ET
$6,250 Claiming, 5 1/2 furlongs, Dirt, Fillies & Mares 4 & Up
A good field of twelve goes in this lower-level claiming dirt sprint. We like a horse coming from Southern California, 3-Staythirstymyamigo. She is a 4-year-old filly who starts for Doug O'Neill, who has been one of the top trainers in California for a couple of decades, and who has brought a string of horses to Oaklawn Park for the first time this year. O'Neill is a good, high-percentage trainer, and though he's off to a bit of a slow start at Oaklawn, with only one win in nine starts, we think it's only a matter of time until his horses start winning at a very high rate. We think he'll win this one, as Staythirstymyamigo has superior speed figures, and a pace-pressing style that should work just about perfectly in this race. We will bet her to win at 3-1. The bet: Oaklawn Park, Race 5, $30 to win on 3-Staythirstymyamigo.
Fair Grounds, Race 8, 4:53 pm ET
Allowance/Optional Claiming, 1 mile, Turf, Fillies & Mares 4 & Up
This is the featured race in New Orleans today, and it's a toughie, a third-level (non-winners of three) on the grass for older females. A field of nine will go to the starting gate. We are going with an outsider here, 4-Fullness of Life, a 4-year-old filly who makes her North American debut here. She has run six races in her career, all on turf and all on Italy, and has finished first or second in five of them, including a win in a Group 3 stakes at Capannelle Racecourse in Rome. She beat twelve other fillies that day, and showed an impressive turn of foot down the lane to do so. She may need a race, but we think that her class makes her a good play here. We will bet her to win, but we include a piece of free advice: watch the tote before the race. She's 8-1 on the morning line, and if her odds drop, it probably means she is live. The bet: Fair Grounds, Race 8, $40 to win on 4-Fullness of Life.
Oaklawn Park, Race 8, 5:42 pm ET
Allowance, 6 furlongs, Dirt, 3 & Up
This is another third-level allowance, and another toughie: there's a field of twelve, and the favorite is 3/1, which shows that it's an evenly matched field, and a good betting race.
We like 9-Strike That. He's a lightly raced and modestly bred 4-year-old, with only two career starts, but he has in those races done nothing wrong a quite a lot right: he's won his career debut at Del Mar in August, and then won a starter allowance over the Oaklawn dirt on February 9. The speed figures he earned in those two races make him a leading contender here, but we think he's actually going to improve, as his race a month ago was his first start in almost six months, and he should run better with that recent race under his belt. He also gets a tactical advantage with his post position: he has some speed, but breaking outside most of the field, jockey David Cohen has the luxury of choosing when to use it. We think he will stalk the pace and win this with a strong move at the top of the stretch. We will bet him to win at 7/2. The bet: Oaklawn Park, Race 8, $40 to win on 9-Strike That.
That's all for today. We will be back on Saturday, for what should be a very, very fun day. Until then, as always, good luck at the windows .