Garrity's Saturday Stakes picks races at Gulfstream Park, Aqueduct, Fair Grounds and Santa Anita
Racing at Fair Grounds race course in New Orleans. Amanda Hodges Weir/Hodges Photography, Fair Grounds Race Course via Associated Press

Garrity's Saturday Stakes picks races at Gulfstream Park, Aqueduct, Fair Grounds and Santa Anita

Garrity's first post is at 2:05 pm EST.

It’s a mixed bag of action today, with four stakes races from Florida to New Orleans to Southern California. We’ve thrown two non-stakes races, an allowance at Aqueduct and a maiden race from Gulfstream Park, to make it a cross-country six-pack for a winter Saturday. We expect fast dirt and firm turf in all six races, except as noted below. Let’s go.

Gulfstream Park, Race 5, 2:05 pm ET

Maiden Special Weight, 6 furlongs, Dirt, 3-Year-Olds

We’ve included this race with the Saturday stakes races because it’s the best maiden race we’ve seen in a while: there are nine lightly raced but promising sophomore colts who line up to try to get their first win. Eight of them are first-time starters, and the ninth has run just once, so the future would seem to be in front of all of them, as the old saying goes.

Big-name trainers like Bill Mott, Todd Pletcher, Chad Brown, and Mike Maker have entrants, but we like a Sackatoga Stable firster from the Barclay Tagg barn: it’s 5-Blitz to Win, and if those connections seem familiar, it’s because they handled Travers and Belmont Stakes winner Tiz the Law, who was recently retired. Like Tiz the Law, Blitz to Win is a New York-bred, and one we very much like the looks of. We especially like his morning workouts leading to this race, which have been sizzling. Tagg does not normally work his horses all that fast, so the fact that Blitz to Win has been running so quickly in the morning hints that he has real ability. It is doubtful that he will be able to fill the shoes of Tiz the Law -- horses like that do not come along all that often -- but we think that Blitz to Win is a good play today, at 7/2 odds. We will bet him to win. The bet: Gulfstream Park, Race 5, $30 to win on 5-Blitz to Win.

Aqueduct, Race 8, 3:50 pm ET

Allowance/Optional Claiming, 6 furlongs, Dirt, New-York Bred FIllies & Mares 4 & Up

A field of eight lines up for this state-bred second-level allowance dirt sprint. We’re taking a shot with a mare at a price, 6-Doll, who switches from turf to dirt today. She’s in good form, with both her recent grass efforts being excellent, and she has run well on dirt in the past. She should get a good trip, pressing what should be a fast early pace, and from there, it’s just a question of whether she’s good enough. Because she has a propensity for finishing second -- she has seven runner-up finishes in 13 career starts -- we are going to bet her to place. She’s 8-1 on the morning line, and an $8 place payout is just as good as an $8 win payout, right? The bet: Aqueduct, Race 8, $35 to place on 6-Doll.

Gulfstream Park, Race 10, 4:49 pm ET

Grade 3 Tropical Turf Stakes, 1 mile, Turf, 4 & Up

Nine go in the Tropical Turf, and it’s a very good group, so good, in fact, that this looks more like a Grade 2 or even a Grade 1 race.

The Gulfstream Park turf course has been kind to speed, both historically and of late, but this field is so loaded with front-runners that we think the winner is going to come from off the pace. That makes the pick 4-Doctor Mounty, a stretch-running Shug McGaughey trainee who will be absolutely flying late. We think this distance suits him, and we think that he will get an ideal pace setup, with a very quick pace to set up his late charge. He’s 10-1 on the morning line, and may go off higher; we will bet him to win and to place. The bets: Gulfstream Park, Race 10, $25 to win/$10 to place on 4-Doctor Mounty.

Fair Grounds, Race 9, 4:52 pm ET

$75,000 Nelson J. Menard Memorial Stakes, 5 ½ furlongs, Turf, FIllies & Mares 4 & Up

The Menard drew a field of eight, and we’re expecting the Fair Grounds turf to be soft.

We like 8-Play On, who returned from a lengthy layoff in a similar spot, a 5 ½ furlong turf sprint, on Dec. 5; she finished fourth that day, but was only a length and a half behind the winner, and should improve in her second start off the bench. She also gets the benefit of drawing outside, which is always a tactical advantage in one-turn races like this. Look for her to press the pace from the outside, and to win with a forward move in deep stretch. We will bet her to win at 3-1. The bet: Fair Grounds, Race 9, $35 to win on 8-Play On.

Santa Anita, Race 8, 6:35 pm ET

Grade 3 La Canada Stakes, 1 1/16 miles, Dirt, Fillies & Mares 4 & Up

Seven go in the La Canada, and favored 3-Fighting Mad will get a lot of betting support, partly because she figures on form, and partly because she’s trained by Bob Baffert. But we think she is a play-against, as she’s a speed horse who figures to have plenty of company up front. At a short price -- she’s 9/5 on the morning line, and will likely be shorter at post time -- we think she’s a play-against.

The pick is 2-Hard Not to Love. She is a quality mare from the John Shirreffs barn who comes into this off a very good runner-up finish in the Grade 2 Zenyatta Stakes, when she beat Fighting Mad, and we see her getting an ideal stalking trip here, sitting just behind what should be a fast pace, and seizing command of the race at the top of the stretch. We will bet her to win at 2-1. The bet: Santa Anita, Race 8, $40 to win on 2-Hard Not to Love.

Santa Anita, Race 9, 7:05 pm ET

Grade 3 Las Cienegas Stakes, 6 furlongs, Turf, Fillies & Mares 4 & Up

Seven older females will go into the gate in the Las Cienegas, but we have eyes for only one, 7-Jolie Olimpica, the Richard Mandella-trained Brazilian bred mare who tries for her third win in her fifth career U.S. start. She is undefeated in races around one turn in those five starts -- both her losses were in longer races -- and this 6 furlong distance is probably her best. We think she’s sitting on a huge effort, and there’s only one thing to do with that kind of opinion, and that is take it to the windows. We will bet her to win at 8/5, and will do so enthusiastically. The bet: Santa Anita, Race 9, $50 to win on 7-Jolie Olimpica.

That’s all for today. Until tomorrow, enjoy the races, be safe, and, as always, good luck at the windows.

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