Garrity's Saturday Stakes picks the Azeri, Essex & Rebel at Oaklawn; San Simeon, Beholder at Santa Anita; more
Letruska had her picture taken at the Shuvee last August, but Garrity says not today.NYRA / Janet Garaguso

Garrity's Saturday Stakes picks the Azeri, Essex & Rebel at Oaklawn; San Simeon, Beholder at Santa Anita; more

Garrity's first post is at 3:03 pm EST.

The best stakes action today is in Arkansas and California, as the Rebel highlights a terrific card at Oaklawn, and out West at Santa Anita, the feature is the day’s lone Grade 1 race, the Beholder Mile. Weather should not be an issue in either place, which means fast dirt, firm turf, and good racing conditions. We have six plays in six races, so let’s go.

Oaklawn Park, Race 5, 3:03 pm ET
Grade 2 Azeri Stakes, 1 1/16 miles, Dirt, Fillies & Mares 4 & Up

Only five line up for the Azeri, but it’s a corker of a race nonetheless, as they’re very evenly matched, and the odds reflect that, with the favorite a tepid 2-1 and the biggest price 6-1. This is a very narrow range, and while saying that any one of them could win is a racetrack cliche, in this case it’s actually true.

We like 1-Envoutante. In races where the horses are so close in ability, the winner is usually determined by the way the race plays out, and we think that the Azeri will favor Envoutante’s pace-pressing running style. She should get a perfect trip, sitting in the garden spot behind the pacesetting duo of 3-Letruska and 5-Shedaresthedevil; we think she passes those two at the top of the stretch, squirts clear, and holds off the closers late. We will bet her to win at 5/2. The bet: Oaklawn Park, Race 5, $35 to win on 1-Envoutante.

Oaklawn Park, Race 7, 4:08 pm ET
$500,000 Essex Stakes, 1 1/16 miles, Dirt, 4 & Up

Some races are hard to handicap, but this one looks easy: 5-Silver State is coming off three straight wins, earning very good speed figures in all of them, and as a 4-year-old, he seems to be in his physical prime. He has speed, but doesn’t need the lead; we see him pressing the pace here, sitting just behind the early leaders, and winning with a big move as the field turns for home. The son of top stallion Hard Spun is a good horse in peak form; we will bet him to win at 2-1. The bet: Oaklawn Park, Race 7, $40 to win on 5-Silver State.

Oaklawn Park, Race 9, 5:13 pm ET
$150,000 Temperence Hill Stakes, 1 ½ miles, Dirt, 4 & Up

This is the kind of race we don’t see very often, a stakes race at a mile and a half on dirt, so it seems appropriate that we like the kind of horse we don’t see very often either: It’s 7-Campaign, a rare Thoroughbred who is a true dirt stayer. He loves this distance, and while he has zero speed, and is therefore at the mercy of how the race develops in front of him, we think there will be enough pace for him to grind his way to the front in the last half mile. Look for Campaign to be last early and first at the wire; we will bet him to win at 7/2. The bet: Oaklawn Park, Race 9, $35 to win on 7-Campaign.

Oaklawn Park, Race 11, 6:16 pm ET

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

The Kentucky Derby trial gets serious in the Rebel, which drew a field of eight. With how he has dominated the 3-year-old division this year, it’s no surprise that Bob Baffert has an entrant, 7-Concert Tour, and it’s no surprise that he is our pick. While Concert Tour is undefeated in two career starts, and while he appears to be a cut or two below Baffert’s best 3-year-olds, especially current Derby favorite Life is Good, Baffert’s barn appears to be so loaded that he can win an important race like the Rebel with one of his second-stringers. We will bet him to win at 2-1. The bet: Oaklawn Park, Race 11, $40 to win on 7-Concert Tour.

Santa Anita Park, Race 7, 6:46 pm ET
Grade 3 San Simeon Stakes, 6 furlongs, Turf, 4 & Up

The San Simeon drew a field of eight, and it’s a fascinating race to handicap, especially with the presence of 7-Jolie Olimpica, a mare running against the boys, who had a terrific season last year, but who is coming off a dull effort running against her own sex in the Las Cienegas. We think she’s up against in this spot, and are looking elsewhere.

We’re going with a speed play, in the form of 5-Cistron, who has a massive edge in early speed, should get a very comfortable early lead as a result, and will prove very tough to catch. He won this race last year, and we think he repeats today. We will bet him to win at 7/2. The bet: Santa Anita, Race 7, $40 to win on 5-Cistron.

Santa Anita, Race 8, 7:20 pm ET

Grade 1 Beholder Mile, 1 mile, Dirt, Fillies & Mares 4 & Up

Most of the time, handicapping a race is trying to identify the best and fastest horse. That is not the case here, as 1-Swiss Skydiver is pretty clearly the classiest filly or mare in the field of eight.

Instead, the question is whether Swiss Skydiver is going to be the best version of herself today. She may be, but she’s coming off a layoff, and a bad race, when she was a well-beaten seventh in the Breeders Cup Distaff at Keeneland in November. At a short price, 8/5 on the morning line and probably something like even money at post time, we think she is a poor wagering proposition.

We like 3-Harvest Moon, and we like her quite a bit. Like Swiss Skydiver, she last raced in the Breeders Cup Distaff, but her effort that day was much better, as she set a very quick pace and still hung on for fourth, only 2 ½ lengths behind the winner. She’s had time off to recover from that race, and her morning workouts leading up to this spot are excellent, which suggests that she is sitting on a big race. Come a little bit closer, hear what I have to say: We will bet Harvest Moon to win at 5/2, and we will do so with enthusiasm. The bet: Santa Anita, Race 8, $50 to win on 3-Harvest Moon.

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

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