Garrity's Saturday Stakes picks 8 races at Aqueduct, Keeneland, Oaklawn, Santa Anita – 3 Kentucky Derby preps
It’s a big day today, the biggest day of racing of the year so far, with so many terrific graded stakes across the country that we can’t begin to cover all or even most of them. We have plays in eight races, at four different tracks, and we expect fast dirt and firm turf in all of them. Let’s go.
Aqueduct, Race 6, 3:25 pm ET
Grade 1 Carter Handicap, 7 furlongs, Dirt, 4 & Up
There is, when assessing the merits of the five entrants in the Carter, one observation and one question. The observation is that 5-Chateau has a huge edge in early speed, so obvious a five-year-old can see it; and the question is whether he can carry that speed seven furlongs, a distance at which he has never raced before.
We think the answer to the question is yes. We think he will be able to use his natural early speed to get a very easy early lead, and from there, the rest of the field just won’t be able to catch him. Look for Chateau to win the Carter in wire-to-wire fashion; we will bet him to win at 8/5. The bet: Aqueduct, Race 6, $40 to win on 5-Chateau.
Oaklawn Park, Race 6, 4:09 pm ET
$200,000 Purple Martin Stakes, 6 furlongs, Dirt, 3-Year-Old Fillies
This race looks easy: 2-Windmill is undefeated in two starts, and has speed and pace figures that mark her as clearly the best filly in this race. We think she dominates from start to finish, and will bet her to win at 9/5. The bet: Oaklawn Park, Race 6, $50 to win on 2-Windmill.
Santa Anita Park, Race 6, 5:48 pm ET
Grade 2 Santa Anita Oaks, 1 1/16 miles, Dirt, 3-Year-Old Fillies
Five go in the Santa Anita Oaks. We are eschewing the obvious contenders and going with 6-Soothsay. At first glance, she appears to be in over her head, as she has just one career start, a win in a maiden race for which she earned a modest 72 Beyer Speed Figure. But we give her the nod because of her trainer, Richard Mandella, who rarely rushes horses. If Mandella thinks she’s ready to jump from the maiden ranks to a Grade 2 stakes, that’s good enough for us: we will bet her to win at 6-1. The bet: Santa Anita, Race 6 $40 to win on 6-Soothsay.
Aqueduct, Race 10, 5:58 pm ET
Grade 2 Wood Memorial Stakes, 1 ⅛ miles, Dirt, 3-Year-Olds
The Wood may lack a standout, but it’s a deep, pretty evenly matched field, and a terrific betting race. We like 6-Prevalence, a Godolphin homebred with a regal pedigree and a spotless race record, being undefeated in two starts. We like the way this colt looks, we like the way he ran in his two wins, we like his recent morning workouts, and we like the fact that his breeding (by Medaglia d’Oro, out of a Ghostzapper mare) practically screams that this colt was born to run races at classic distances. He’s yet to run this far, or in a stakes race, or to face a field anywhere near this tough, but he looks good enough to be able to handle all of it. His lack of seasoning may make him a bet-against in Kentucky in four weeks, but we like him today. We will bet him to win at 3-1. The bet: Aqueduct, Race 10, $35 to win on 6-Prevalence.
Keeneland, Race 10, 6:02 pm ET
Grade 1 Madison Stakes, 7 furlongs, Dirt, Fillies & Mares 4 & Up
In a Grade 1 dirt sprint like the Madison, we would expect to see a plethora of horses with ample early speed, so it is noteworthy that there is a decided lack of early foot in this field of seven: most of the runners are stalkers and closers. That presents a wagering opportunity, we think, in the form of 3-Mundaye Call, who is a mortal lock to get the early lead, and should be able to do so quite comfortably, easily enough that she will be able to conserve energy for the stretch run. Her race record shows a common pattern with speed horses: When she gets an easy early lead, she runs big; when he is forced to contest the early speed, she fades late, and finishes far back. Her last two races have been the latter scenario, but we think today it’s going to be the former, as we see her getting comfortable enough on the lead that the rest of the group will be unable to catch her. We will bet her to win at 8-1. The bet: Keeneland, Race 10, $40 to win on 3-Mundaye Call.
Keeneland, Race 11, 6:35 pm ET
Grade 2 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes, 1 ⅛ miles, Dirt, 3-Year-Olds
The Blue Grass is the day’s second of the trio of key Kentucky Derby preps, and it has the current star of this year’s crop of 3-year-olds, 4-Essential Quality, last year’s Juvenile champion, who made his seasonal debut in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park in his last race, running as well as his possible connections could hope for, winning with condescending ease in the process. Essential Quality is the current Kentucky Derby favorite, and he is a legitimate one.
But while Essential Quality is the likeliest winner of this race, he is a terrible wagering proposition. He’s 3/5 on the morning line, will likely be more like 1/5 at post time, and in a pretty deep field of nine, he’s a terrible bet. This is even more so because he doesn’t need to win this race: he already has enough points to qualify for the Kentucky Derby. This is not the ultimate goal for him, so we are looking elsewhere for a play.
We like 3-Highly Motivated. He is a Chad Brown runner coming off a disappointing effort, when he ran third at 4/5 in the Gotham at Aqueduct. We are willing to excuse that effort, partly because it was his first race of the year and he probably needed it, but mostly because the Gotham was a weird race, with speed dominating from start to finish, and a 45-1 shot winning it. We think that Highly Motivated was probably running against a speed bias that day at Aqueduct, which means his effort was much better than it looks on paper. We think he’s going to run big today, and at 3-1, we think he’s more than a square price. We will bet him to win. The bet: Keeneland, Race 11, $40 to win on 3-Highly Motivated.
Santa Anita Park, Race 8, 7:15 pm ET
Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby, 1 ⅛ miles, Dirt, 3-Year-Olds
The Santa Anita Derby has been plagued by short field in recent years, so it’s good to see that this year’s edition drew a strong field of ten. Races in recent weeks have proved that the group of 3-year-olds in the West is the strongest in the country, as was shown most clearly two weeks ago, when California shipper Hot Rod Charlie won the Louisiana Derby. Our pick here, the Bob Baffert-trained 7-Medina Spirit, beat Hot Rod Charlie two back, and finished second in his last, behind stablemate Life Is Good, who was the Kentucky Derby favorite before an injury knocked him off the Derby trail. Medina Spirit has high speed, good figures, and appears to be the class of this field. We think he punches a ticket to Louisville by taking the prize here, and will bet him to win at 5/2. The bet: Santa Anita, Race 8, $40 to win on 7-Medina Spirit.
Santa Anita Park, Race 9, 7:46 pm ET
Grade 2 Royal Heroine Stakes, 1 mile, Turf, Fillies & Mares 4 & Up
The pace of the Royal Heroine looks fast, as there is quite a bit of speed in the group of eight older females. We think the pace will be fast enough that the winner will be coming from behind, and that makes the pick 1-Dogtag. Her last race was on dirt, but she is back here to doing what she does best, which is running a mile on turf. Look for her to be midpack early, and rolling late. We will bet her to win at 8-1. The bet: Santa Anita, Race 9, $35 to win on 1-Dogtag.
That’s all for today. Until tomorrow, enjoy the racing, be safe, and, as always, good luck at the windows.