It feels a little weird to say, but there's a lot of decent horse racing today
In this time of national emergency and self-quarantine, it feels a little weird to say, but there's a lot of decent racing today. It even seems like we should feel guilty for even thinking that -- with all other sports shut down, with horse racing quite literally the only game in town, we should not note, at least not out loud, that there are cards at Tampa Bay Downs, Gulfstream Park, the Fair Grounds, and Sam Houston that would look pretty good on a normal March Wednesday, but look even better in the middle of a pandemic. Are we bad people for being excited about them? Probably, but one of the good things about being a horseplayer is that one tends not to care about what other people think of one.
Because everyone is stuck at home, and looking for something to do, we are going to take a look at more races than we usually do: we'll make a couple of plays races at each of the four tracks mentioned above. There's some weather across the country, but as far as we can tell, it should miss Florida, New Orleans, and Texas, so we've handicapped all races for fast dirt and firm turf. We've listed the races in chronological order, so let's go.
Tampa Bay Downs, Race 4, 2:15 pm ET
Allowance/Optional Claiming, 1 1/16 miles, Turf, 3-Year-Olds
This first-level allowance drew a field of seven 3-year-old colts. We like 4-Bronx Rumble, who starts for trainer Michael Stidham. He broke his maiden in last last race, the second start of his career, by a big eight-length margin, by stalking a fast pace and finishing rather strongly. On a Tampa Bay turf course that favored speed last week, this kind of style should work today. We see a similar trip for him today, and that should result in a trip to the winner's circle. We will bet him to win at 7/2. The bet: Tampa Bay Downs, Race 4, $25 to win on 4-Bronx Rumble.
Gulfstream Park Race 4, 2:31 pm ET
$12,500 Maiden Claiming, 1 mile, Dirt, 4 & Up
This lower-level maiden claimer is a pretty wide open race, with 12 older horses scheduled to go to the starting gate. The 9/5 favorite is the horse on the inside, 1-Gambit, and while he makes sense on paper, having finished third or better in his last five races, all at a similar level to today, we think he's an underlay: he could have won any of those races, but didn't, which makes us think he won't win today, either. At a short price, he's a play-against.
We like 8-Look of the Crook He's 5-year-old gelding who has made only three career starts, one in July of 2017, one in April of 2019, and one in February of this year, and while that is pretty obviously related to some physical problems, we like his last race, when he closed strongly in a sprint race, and did so on a Gulfstream Park dirt surface that was biased in favor of speed. The Beyer Speed Figure he earned for that effort is competitive with this field, and that he did it running against a bias is a very strong positive sign of his current form. We expect him to run better today on what we assume will be a fairer track, and we also think he will like stretching out from 6 furlongs to a mile. At 6-1, he merits a play. We will bet him to win. The bet: Gulfstream Park, Race 4, $30 to win on 8-Look of the Crook.
Tampa Bay Downs, Race 6, 3:18 pm ET
$16,00 Maiden Claiming, 1 mile, Turf, 3-year-olds
Maiden claimers on the turf tend to draw big fields, and this race is a good example of that: eight sophomore colts will go to the gate, all trying for the first win of their career. We're going with one who has made one career start, at Tampa Bay in January: it's 5-Estilio Peligroso. His effort that day was nothing short of dismal -- he finished last, 75 lengths behind the winner -- but we think he can turn it around today. He was claimed out of that race, and today starts for a new trainer, and he is also going from sprinting on the dirt to going long on the turf. But the biggest change of all is that he was gelded since that start, and horses have a tendency to run well after "the ultimate equipment change." He is a well-bred colt, especially for turf, as he's by top stallion Quality Road out of a Stravinsky mare, and we think that may allow him to handle this very, very modest group. We will bet him to win at 5-1. The bet: Tampa Bay Downs, Race 6, $20 to win on 5-Estilio Peligroso.
Sam Houston, Race 5, 3:24 pm ET
Maiden Special Weight, 6 furlongs, Dirt, 3-Year-Old Fillies
The 5th at Sam Houston is a Maiden Special Weight for 3-year-old fillies going six furlongs on dirt. It drew a big field of twelve, which makes it a good betting race. We are looking for a filly to come from behind, as there are a couple of one-dimensional speedballs who have little chance to win but should set a pretty hot pace. We like a longshot to do that: it's 2-Judy's Prize, who was last seen running in an overnight stakes race at Delta Downs. She has some ability, has the right stalking/closing running style, and she adds blinkers today, which we view as a positive. At 10-1, we think she's live; we will bet her to win and to place. The bets: Sam Houston, Race 5, $10 to win/place on 2-Judy's Prize.
Fair Grounds, Race 7, 4:24 pm ET
Allowance/Optional Claiming, 6 furlongs, Dirt, 3-Year-Old Fillies
Seven drew into this first-level allowance for 3-year-old fillies. While we generally prefer to pick races that are on the tougher side, as they tend to produce bigger payoffs, we included this one because the field contains the likeliest winner of the day: it's 6-Ain't No Elmers. She runs for trainer Bret Calhoun, and she won her career debut last out in very impressive fashion, going wire-to-wire against a field of maidens at the same distance, and on the same course, as today's race. We think she is going to repeat today: in fact, we're willing to bet on another front-running victory, as all her numbers, speed figures, pace figures, etc., give her a clear edge over the rest of the field. At 9/5, she's not going to make anyone rich, but in a world of uncertainty, there's something comforting about finding the best horse, and betting her to win. We will do so enthusiastically and aggressively with Ain't No Elmers. Look for her to break on top, go to the front, and never look back. The bet: Fair Grounds, Race 7, $50 to win on 6-Ain't No Elmers.
Fair Grounds, Race 8, 4:53 pm ET
Allowance/Optional Claiming, 1 1/16 miles, Turf, 4 & Up
This is a tough, third-level (non-winners of three) allowance race, which will see eight older horses negotiate a mile and a sixteenth on the Fair Grounds turf course. There is little pace in this field, and one can try to interpret that in two ways: the first is to pick a runner who might be able to steal the race on the front end, but the other is to figure that one of the runners will get the lead by default, the field will run the first six furlongs in very slow time, looking something like a rugby scrum, and then the final two and a half furlongs will be a mad dash to the finish, with whatever horse can close the fastest getting to the wire first.
We're going with Door Number 2 in today's 8th at the Fair Grounds, and that makes 1-Skywire the pick. You don't want stone-cold deep closers in races like this, as they are too far back when the real running starts and cannot make up ground on the horses in front of them. You want a horse with enough early speed to stay close to the front, but who also possesses a strong late kick, and this describes Skywire to a tee. We expect him to lope along just behind the leaders, and to unleash his very strong closing run to hit the wire first. At 6-1, we like his chances, and will bet him to win. The bet: Fair Grounds, Race 8, $25 to win on 1-Skywire.
Gulfstream Park, Race 9, 5:07 pm ET
Allowance/Optional Claiming, 5 furlongs, Turf, Fillies & Mares 4 & Up
We have in this one seven older females sprinting five furlongs on the Gulfstream Park turf course. The rails are way out in South Florida today -- 108 feet -- which makes the course more speed-favoring than normal, and that means that there's one thing we want to bet here, and it's speed, speed, and more speed. That means 5-Jakarta, a 5-year-old mare who has never run on turf before, but who has blazing early foot, and who should get the lead. With another trainer, we might be a little hesitant to bet on a filly making her first start on grass, but she is trained by Mike Maker, who's as good a turf trainer as there is. Look for Jakarta to break on top, and to stay there all the way around. We will bet her to win at 5-1. The bet: Gulfstream Park, Race 9, $30 to win on 5-Jakarta.
Sam Houston, Race 8, 4:54 pm ET
$7,500 Maiden Claiming, 6 1/2 furlongs, Dirt, Fillies & Mares 3 & Up
Sam Houston, Race 9, 5:22 pm ET
$25,000 Maiden Claiming, 6 1/2 furlongs, Dirt, 3-Year-Olds
Sam Houston, Race 10, 5:50 pm ET
Maiden Special Weight, 1 mile, Turf, 3-Year-Olds
We got bumped out of the late Pick 3 at Sam Houston yesterday when our single in the first leg got scratched, but we're going to try again today. The multi-race wagers at Sam Houston have quietly become quite excellent, as they offer good fields, and a superbly low 12% takeout. Today's lineup is three maiden races, and it's a sequence we like.
Race 8 is a bottom-level maiden claimer. We think the favorite, 7-Miss Funny Gun (7/5), is by far the likeliest winner, but if she does not win, we think 8-Ash Blonde (5/2) will. We think the two of them have race pretty well-covered, but we'll also include 5-Outsmarted, an intriguing first-time starter who may have a chance at a giant price.
Race 9 is another maiden claiming dirt sprint. We the winner will be either 1-Dandys Sonny Boy (6-1), 3-Bandy's Map (9/5) or 5-Wild Indy (5-1).
In race 10, we think the winner will be one of the trio of 3-Instafamous, 4-Blackrock Castle, and 6-Battleship Bevo.
We will make the following two plays:
Sam Houston, Race 8, Pick 3: 7 with 1,3,5 with 3,4,6. This is 9 total combinations, and we'll play it for $4, for a total wager of $36.
Sam Houston, Race 8, Pick 3: 5,8 with 1,3,5 with 3,4,6. This is 18 total combinations, and we'll play it for the 50-cent minimum, for a total wager of $9
We are playing two separate tickets to allow playing them in different amounts: the first bet is our primary wager, and the second the backup.
That's all for today. Be safe, and, as always, good luck at the windows.