Garrity's Saturday Stakes: Monomoy Girl vs Swiss Skydiver at Oaklawn – plus Aqueduct, Keeneland, Santa Anita
First post is at 4:44 pm EDT. The Apple Blossom goes off at 6:09 pm.
The Apple Blossom Stakes, a sensationally good Grade 1 stakes for older fillies and mares at Oaklawn Park, is the headliner today, but it’s a good afternoon all over, as there is good stakes action from coast to coast. We have five plays at four tracks, and we expect fast dirt in the four main track races, and good turf in the grass race, which is at Keeneland. Let’s go.
Aqueduct, Race 7, 4:44 pm ET
$200,000 New York Stallion Stakes, 6 ½ furlongs, Dirt, New York-bred 3-Year-Olds
Seven sophomore colts bred in the Empire State line up for a good renewal of the New York Stallion Stakes. We like the favorite, 4-Sinful Dancer, who is a maiden, having finished second in his lone career start, a maiden race on March 7. While his lack of experience is a concern, we can’t get past the fact that his career debut was highly excellent, in which he earned very good speed and pace figures. A repeat of that effort will be good enough to win this, but we actually think he will run better, partly because he had some traffic trouble in his first race -- he ran wide -- and partly because he should improve in the second start of his career. We will bet him to win at 5/2. The bet: Aqueduct, Race 7, $35 to win on 4-Sinful Dancer.
Keeneland, Race 9, 5:30 pm ET
Grade 2 Elkhorn Stakes, 1 ½ miles, Turf, 4 & Up
The Elkhorn is a real handicapper’s race, with a big field of ten and no clear standout. That makes the pick a California invader, 2-Say the Word, who finished second in his last start in the San Luis Rey at Santa Anita. That was a sharp effort, finishing less than a length behind United, who would probably be odds-on against this field. Say the Word appears to be in excellent form, should thrive on the turf, which should have a bit of give to it, and trainer Phil D’Amato has had success bringing horses to these kinds of stakes races from his California base. We will bet Say the Word to win at 7/2. The bet: Keeneland, Race 9, $40 to win on 2-Say the Word.
Oaklawn Park, Race 9, 5:49 pm ET
Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap, 1 ⅛ miles, Dirt, 4 & Up
This is just a terrific race, with a very good field of eight older horses. We can’t draw a line through any entrant; there’s not a single one we can confidently eliminate from win contention.
The runner we think is the best of the evenly matched group is 3-Fearless, a lightly raced Todd Pletcher trainee, who has run only seven times in his career, but who returned from a layoff to win his last, the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Mile, on February 27. He ran great in that race, but we think he may actually run even better here, in his second start after his winter vacation. He’s a 5-year-old who seems to have entered his physical prime, and we also think the race shape will favor him, as there is quite a bit of speed in the field, and the fast pace we are expecting should set up his strong stretch run. We think Fearless is going to run big today, and we will bet him to win at 7/2. The bet: Oaklawn Park, Race 9, $50 to win on 3-Fearless.
Oaklawn Park, Race 11, 6:09 pm ET
Grade 1 Apple Blossom Handicap, 1 1/16 miles, Dirt, Fillies & Mares 4 & Up
The Apple Blossom is one of best races of the spring, a race that has been won by all-time great distaffers like Azeri, Zenyatta, and Pasaena, all of whom are deservedly in the Hall of Fame. Horses like those three don’t come around very often, so it can be hard for a race of this stature to measure up to the past, but this year, the Apple Blossom has managed to do it, as there is a sensational field of six, headlined by 6-Monomoy Girl, who has merely won 14 of her 16 career starts (and finished first, and was disqualified to second, in one of the other two). She is joined by 2-Swiss Skydiver, who beat the boys in last year’s Preakness, and comes off a smashing win the Grade 1 Beholder Mile at Santa Anita Park. This is an Ali-Frazier kind of matchup, the atmosphere before this race will be absolutely electric, and everyone needs to stop what they’re doing this afternoon and watch it.
Joining the top pair in the starting gate is 3-Letruska, a high-quality mare who has abundant speed, and who figures to set the pace. Wise guy handicappers have been talking Letruska up all week, saying that the lack of speed among the other five runners will give her a walking lead, and let her win the Apple Blossom on the front end.
We do not agree with this: Monomoy Girl also has speed, and we think she will contest the pace, making the early fractions honest. This should provide an absolutely perfect setup for Swiss Skydiver, who has run her best races coming from just off the pace. We see exactly that kind of setup here: She will sit just behind the early leaders, content to bide her time while the pacesetters slug it out, and moving forward as the field turns for home. We will leave the discussion of who is the better filly overall for another day, but today, we think the winner is going to be Swiss Skydiver. We will bet her to win at 2-1. Enjoy this race -- it will be one of the best all year. The bet: Oaklawn Park, Race 11, $50 to win on 2-Swiss Skydiver.
Santa Anita Park, Race 8, 7:51 pm ET
Grade 2 Californian Stakes, 1 ⅛ miles, Dirt, 3 & Up
The field of the Californian is small, with only five runners, but it’s still a doozy of a race, as all five entrants are good. Bob Baffert has two of them, and we like one, 3-Country Grammer. He is a 4-year-old who was a Triple Crown hopeful last year, but that was for another trainer, Chad Brown, and it seems like a long time ago. He comes off a rather long layoff in this spot, having last run in the Travers at Saratoga in August, but Baffert is very good at getting horses to fire off the bench, and there are two things about Country Grammer that we like: One is that he is proven at the distance, with two wins in two career starts at a mile and an eighth, and the other is that Baffert scratched him out of an allowance race last week so he could run in this Grade 2 stakes. That means Baffert thinks he’s ready, and if he’s ready, he should beat this group. We will bet him to win at 5/2. The bet: Santa Anita, Race 8, $40 to win on 3-Country Grammer.
That’s all for today. Until tomorrow, enjoy the racing, be safe, and, as always, good luck at the windows.