Garrity's Saturday Stakes picks Kentucky Derby Prep races at Aqueduct, Tampa Bay Downs & Santa Anita, more
Highly Motivated running at Belmont in October, 2020, Garrity is highly motivated to bet him today.NYRA / Chelsea Durand

Garrity's Saturday Stakes picks Kentucky Derby Prep races at Aqueduct, Tampa Bay Downs & Santa Anita, more

First post is 4:02 pm EST.

It’s a big day today, as Saturdays in March tend to be. There are three key Kentucky Derby preps, the Tampa Bay Derby in Florida, the Gotham Stakes in New York, and the San Felipe at Santa Anita. We cover them all, and throw in the Santa Anita Handicap and the Kilroe Mile, two terrific Grade 1 races out West, and strong undercard stakes at Aqueduct and Tampa Bay, and there’s enough to keep a dedicated horseplayer glued to the television most of the day.

That’s a lot to cover, so let’s get to it. We will note that we expect fast dirt and firm turf in all races, except as noted below. Let’s go.

Aqueduct, Race 7, 4:02 pm ET

Grade 3 Tom Fool Handicap, 6 furlongs, Dirt, 4 & Up

A field of six lines up for the Tom Fool. The pace will be fast, which should result in a perfect trip for 2-Share the Ride, who is the pick. He’s a 6-year-old who comes off a smart win in the Grade 3 General George at Laurel Park, which shows he’s in form; and he’s got the perfect running style for the race shape we’re expecting, as he’s got enough speed to stay reasonably close to the front-runners, and a good stretch kick to finish strongly when the pacesetters begin to slow down. We will bet him to win at 2-1. The bet: Aqueduct, Race 7, $35 to win on 2-Share the Ride.

Tampa Bay Downs, Race 9, 4:25 pm ET
Grade 2 Hillsborough Stakes, 1 ⅛ miles, Turf, Fillies & Mares 4 & Up

The forecast in the Tampa Bay area today is iffy, with some sun and a chance of showers. We’re going to assume that the rain holds off this afternoon, and we’re playing for firm turf here, but as always, check track conditions before any race.

Ten older females line up to run nine furlongs on turf in the Hillsborough, but we have eyes for only one: 1-Magic Attitude, an English-bred 4-year-old daughter of all-time great turf sire Galileo, who makes her 2021 debut in this spot. She’s got the class, she’s got the figs, she’s got a rail post, which should ensure her a ground-saving trip; we think she is going to blow away this field with a scintillating stretch run. We very much doubt that she will be her 9/2 morning line price at post time; we are betting her anyway. Sit back and enjoy this one, because we think she’s going to do something special. The bet: Tampa Bay Downs, Race 9, $50 to win on 1-Magic Attitude.

Aqueduct, Race 9, 5:07 pm ET

Grade 3 Gotham Stakes, 1 mile, Dirt, 3-Year-Olds

One of the questions that handicappers must try to figure out during Kentucky Derby prep season is the relative strength of regional groups of 3-year-olds. Are the horses in New York a stronger group than the horses in Arkansas? Are the colts running in Florida better or worse than their counterparts in Florida?

The Gotham may provide some insight on this question, as Bob Baffert starts highly regarded 7-Freedom Fighter, a speedster who finished second in his last start to stablemate Concert Tour, who is undefeated and considered a top Derby contender. A win by Freedom Fighter would be an indication that the California horses are a strong group.

But we think Freedom Fighter is up against it, as the saying goes, in the Gotham, as favored 3-Highly Motivated appears to have the goods: He’s the horse to beat, and he is the pick. The one reason to be a bit concerned with Highly Motivated as a wagering proposition today is that he’s coming off a layoff, with his last start a win in the Nyquist Stakes at Keeneland in November, but we are willing to look past this, as trainer Chad Brown is an ace (28% win rate) at getting horses to fire off the bench, and his recent workouts suggest he is highly motivated (get it?) to run a big one today. We also think Brown’s selection of the Gotham for Highly Motivated’s return to the races is shrewd, as he’s never run farther than 6 ½ furlongs before, but this one-turn mile is an absolutely perfect way to stretch him out. We are all in on the chalk; we will bet Highly Motivated to win at 8/5. The bet: Aqueduct, Race 9, $50 to win on 3-Highly Motivated.

Tampa Bay Downs, Race 11, 5:25 pm ET
Grade 2 Lamgholm South Tampa Bay Derby, 1 1/16 miles, Dirt, 3-Year-Olds

The Tampa Bay Derby drew a full field of twelve. It’s an evenly matched group, the kind of race to look for a winner at a price, so naturally we like the favorite, 3-Candy Man Rocket, who won the Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay in his last start. He’s got a terrific pedigree, by top stallion Candy Ride out of a Forestry mare, but what we like more than his bloodlines are the figures he put up in the Davis: in his first start around two turns, he ran an 85 Beyer Speed Figure, which was identical to the number he earned in his previous start, which was a sprint. When young horses pair up figures this way, especially when they are stretching out in distance, it is a powerful sign that they are improving, that they are physically maturing very quickly. We don’t know how we feel about Candy Man Rocket’s prospects as a Kentucky Derby contender, but we think he will put himself into that conversation by winning this race. We’re looking for a big run from him today, and will back him at the window at 2-1 odds. The bet: Tampa Bay Downs, Race 11, $40 to win on 3-Candy Man Rocket.

Santa Anita Park, Race 6, 5:45 pm ET

Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes, 1 1/16 miles, Dirt, 3-Year-Olds

The last of the day’s Derby preps is the San Felipe, which drew a field seven. Bob Baffert, the kingpin of West Coast 3-year-olds, starts two of them, including 4/5 favorite 1-Life is Good, the undefeated son of Into Mischief who is coming off a win in the Sham Stakes in which he was so dominant that the running looked more like a public workout than a Grade 2 stakes. He is probably the likeliest winner, but his odds will probably be similar to his price in the Sham, when he was 20 cents on the dollar, and at something like 1/5, we think he’s a play-against.

We like 2-Dream Shake. He has run only once, but it was a terrific effort, a win in a Feb. 7 maiden race at Santa Anita, in which he earned a terrific speed figure. That race was a sprint, and this race is a route, so he’s got some proving to do, but his pedigree and running style suggest he will like the added distance, and his recent works suggest he is ready. At 5-1, we like his chances, and will bet him to win. The bet: Santa Anita, Race 6, $35 to win on 2-Dream Shake.

Santa Anita Park, Race 9, 7:26 pm ET
Grade 1 Frank E. Kilroe Mile, 1 mile, Turf, 4 & Up

A full field of ten goes in the Kilroe Mile. It’s a tough group and a terrific betting race. We like 6-Flavius, who returns from a layoff after just missing in the Grade 2 Seabiscuit Hanidcap at Del Mar on Thanksgiving weekend. Flavius is a closer with sensational late-pace figures, which means he always comes flying late, but it also means that he, like all deep closers, is at the mercy of what happens in front of him during a race’s early stages. We think today there will be enough pace to set up his late charge, and it also helps that trainer Chad Brown, who is based in the East, does not ship many horses out West, but when he does, he means business. We will bet Flavius to win at 6-1. The bet: Santa Anita, Race 9, $40 to win on 6-Flavius.

Santa Anita Park, Race 10, 8:00 pm ET
Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap, 1 ¼ miles, DIrt, 4 & Up

A field of eight lines up for the Big ‘Cap, and while it may not be the most distinguished field in the history of this august race, it’s still a seasonal highlight, both locally and nationally.

We are strongly against 8/5 morning line favorite 2-Maxfield, who is undefeated in five career starts, as he’s never run beyond a mile and a sixteenth, and today he’ll have to run a mile and a quarter. The longer distance is a massively different undertaking, and when you add the fact that his pedigree is suspect at 10 furlongs, and he’s never run a triple-digit Beyer Speed Figure, he looks to like an underlay of biblical proportions, and we can’t wait to bet against him.

We like 5-Express Train. He’s the kind of late-blooming, long-striding, distance-loving horse who is a perfect match for trainer John Shirreffs’ patient training style. He has been brought along slowly and surely, improving in just about every start, until now, as a 4-year-old, the son of Union Rags looks poised to become the top handicap horse on the West Coast, and perhaps a player nationally among older horses. His win last out in the San Pasqual was terrific; we’re expecting something even better today. At 3-1, that makes him the play, and we will bet him to win. The bet: Santa Anita, Race 10, $50 to win on 5-Express Train.

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

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