There are 19 races in total at both tracks, which is nothing to sneeze at — first picked post time is 3:11 pm EDT.
Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Florida, and Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas, are where the racing action is today. There are 19 races in total at both tracks, which is nothing to sneeze at in good times, and as these are certainly not good times, we will be thankful for every one of them. The weather should be fine in both places, so we’ve handicapped for fast and firm at Gulfstream and fast at Oaklawn, which is an old-school track with no turf course. We have a half-dozen plays for this April Thursday, three at each track: we have short races, long races, and races on both turf and dirt. So, let’s get right to it.
Starter Allowance, 1 mile, Turf, 4 & Up
Eight go in this starter allowance for older horses. We’re expecting a robust early pace, and that makes 6-Willing to Speed a strong play: this John Kimmel trainee has decent stalking speed, and a pretty good closing kick; this is always a good combination on the turf, and it should be just the ticket here: look for him to sit midpack and make his move at the top of the stretch. He just missed at this level in his last start; we don’t think he will miss today. We will bet him to win at 5/2. The bet: Gulfstream Park, Race 5, $40 to win on 6-Willing to Speed.
Starter Allowance, 1 1/16 miles, Dirt, 4 & Up
Ten older horses go in this starter allowance. We like a California transplant, the delightfully named 5-Ernie Banks, who’s not an Illinois-bred, but who should be (he was bred in California).
Ernie Banks has been running primarily on the synthetic surface at Golden Gate Fields, but we actually think he’s better on dirt: he’s run seven times on dirt, and he’s finished first or second in four of them. He’s making his first start at Oaklawn Park, and his first start for new conditioner Robertino Diodoro; the first we think is a non-issue, and we view the second as a big positive. We think he outclasses this field and will bet him to win at 7/2. The bet: Oaklawn Park, Race 4, $35 to win on 5-Ernie Banks.
Starter Optional Claiming, 7 furlongs, Dirt, 3-Year-Old Fillies
Seven sophomore fillies will go seven furlongs on the dirt in this race, which is basically a starter allowance, for horses who have run in claiming races previously but are not in for a tag today. 2-Money Never Sleeps is the play, and one based primarily on speed figures: the 75 Beyer Speed Figure she earned in her last race is the best in the field by 7-10 points, which means she is, based on the figs, 3-5 lengths faster than the other fillies in the race. Even better is the fact that the fig in her last race was legitimate, earned honestly, and better still is the fact that she has a stalking style that should play well at this distance. She cuts back from a mile in her last to seven furlongs today, but we like that too: the extra stamina she got in her last start will be a benefit today. We will bet her to win at 3-1, and play her (see below) in the Daily Double comprising Races 8 and 9. The bets: Gulfstream Park, Race 8, $30 to win on 2-Money Never Sleeps; $25 double, 2 (Money Never Sleeps) with 11 (Arthur Kitt).
Allowance/Optional Claiming, 1 ⅛ miles, Turf, 4 & Up
This second-level allowance at nine furlongs on the turf drew a full field of twelve. 11-Arthur Kitt is our pick and a strong one: he’s a 4-year-old Irish bred colt, and a legitimate stakes horse running against a modest allowance field. He’s competed in graded stakes in both England and North America, and while he didn’t win any of them, the fact that he was competitive in stakes company shows that he should have the ability to handle the competition he will face today. There are two possible issues to Arthur Kitt’s form. The first is that he’s won only two of his ten career starts. But that doesn’t bother us, as he’s been facing much, much tougher horses. The second issue is more serious: he’s coming off a long layoff, having last run in the Grade 2 Nijinksy Stakes at Woodbine in July. While the layoff is a concern, the fact that he’s trained by Christophe Clement, who excels at getting horses to fire off the bench (23% win rate with horses coming off a layoff between six and twelve months) makes us think he’ll be ready to fire today. Another sign of his readiness is his recent workout pattern: he’s been going very strongly in the mornings, suggesting he’s ready to fire. We’ll take 9/2 on him all day long and will bet him to win. The bet: Gulfstream Park, Race 9, $50 to win on 11-Arthur Kitt.
Allowance, 1 1/16 miles, Dirt, Fillies & Mares 3 & Up
This first-level allowance for females drew a field of ten. The top five or six of them are very evenly matched, at least as far as speed figures are concerned, which means that pace and trips (avoiding traffic) will likely dictate the winner.
We expect the early pace to be moderate, which will put the deep closers at a disadvantage, and we’re looking for a forwardly-placed runner. That makes the pick 3-Out of Trouble. Her form is probably the best in the field, as she’s run six or eight good races in a row. She also should get a good stalking trip, which we think will be an advantage in this race, and while she's been primarily a turf runner, she has run, and run well, on dirt before, with one win and three in-the-money finishes in seven career dirt starts. An added plus is that Cox has good turf-to-dirt numbers (25% win rate) and has been very hot of late. We will bet her to win at 7/2. The bet: Oaklawn Park, Race 8, $30 to win on 3-Out of Trouble.
Allowance/Optional Claiming, 1 1/16 miles, Dirt, 3-Year-Old Fillies
The final can in our Thursday six ack is another Oaklawn allowance at a mile and a sixteenth. This is for sophomore fillies, and eleven of them will go to the starting gate just after 6 pm.
1-Lucky Betty has the kind of race pattern we like to see in 3-year-olds this time of year: she’s shown gradual improvement, and she has run better as the races have got longer. She’s a fairly well-bred filly who was a relatively expensive yearling purchase ($145k at the September 2018 Keeneland sale), and she looks like she has a good bit of potential. She’s making her first start against winners, which is a big challenge, but she seems to be improving, and her high tactical speed and rail post should help her avoid trouble. We think she wins this race either on or close to the early lead. We will bet her to win at 7/2. The bet: Oaklawn Park, Race 9, $35 to win on 1-Lucky Betty.
That’s all for today. Enjoy the racing, be safe, and, as always, good luck at the windows.