Racing at Fair Grounds.

Racing at Fair Grounds.

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Garrity's Saturday Stakes picks Risen Star Day races at Fair Grounds, plus the Dixie Belle at Oaklawn

First post at 4:55 pm EST.

We are at an awkward point in the sports calendar, with tackle football over, and the basketball and hockey playoffs still a long, long way away. This fallow period happens every year, but it looks to last longer than usual this time around, as spring training in baseball, one of the great annual harbingers of spring, is delayed by an idiotic labor impasse.

Into this void, conveniently enough, comes horse racing, specifically the venerable Fair Grounds in New Orleans, one of the oldest sporting venues in the land. It is Risen Star day in the Big Easy, when 3-year-olds of both sexes take center stage, the fillies in the Rachel Alexandra, and the colts in the Risen Star. We have plays in five of the races down on the bayou, and we’ve thrown another race from Oaklawn Park for an exciting six pack of Saturday action. We expect fast dirt and firm turf in all races, so let’s go.

Fair Grounds, Race 9, 4:55 pm ET

$100,000 Albert M. Stall Memorial Stakes, 1 1/16 miles, Turf, Fillies & Mares 4 & Up

Ten go in the Stall. We are expecting an average early pace, but that should be all that the stretch-running 1-Pass the Plate needs: she’s a deep closer, and like all horses with that running style, she can have problems if a race’s early fractions are slow. But a couple of the competitors here have enough speed that we think the race will set up ideally for Pass the Plate, whose late run can be pretty spectacular. She might be last early, but we think she will be first where it counts; we will bet Pass the Plate to win at 3-1. The bet: Fair Grounds, Race 9, $40 to win on 1-Pass the Plate.

Fair Grounds, Race 10, 5:25 pm ET

Grade 3 Mineshaft Stakes, 1 1/16 miles, Dirt, 4 & Up

The Mineshaft drew a field of eight, and what a group it is: it’s the best field we’ve seen in a stakes race in quite some time. The pick is 8-O Besos, who has yet to run as fast as some of the other contenders, but he showed real promise as a 3-year-old last year, earning some good speed figures in the spring, with one of his better races a 4th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby. He returned from a lengthy layoff in an allowance race a month ago, which he won with a strong stretch rally, an effort that should be a good prep for this spot. O Besos seems to be sitting on a big race, and we like that he likes the Fair Grounds, where he has already won three times; that makes his 6-1 morning line number too good to pass up. We will bet him to win. The bet: Fair Grounds, Race 10, $40 to win on 8-O Besos.

Fair Grounds, Race 11, 5:56 pm ET

Grade 3 Fair Grounds Stakes, 1 ⅛ miles, Turf, 4 & Up

It looks like the hot choice in the Fair Grounds Stakes will be 6-Adhamo, a Euro import who makes his first North American start for trainer Chad Brown here after running in some pretty tough stakes races in France last year. He could absolutely win, but since he will likely be absurdly overbet, we are looking elsewhere – which takes some self-restraint, as we are an absolute sucker for first-time Euros.

We are instead going with 5-Monarchs Glen, another grass horse with a strong late kick, who seemed to be rounding into form going into his last start, the Colonel Bradley Stakes at the Fair Grounds on January 22, but who finished seventh, his stretch run muted by a slow pace that allowed the early leaders to have plenty of gas in the tank at the end of the race. We think the pace will be more favorable for Monarchs Glen today, which makes him dangerous at a good price. We will bet him to win at 12-1. The bet: Fair Grounds, Race 11, $35 to win on 5-Monarchs Glen.

Oaklawn Park, Race 9, 6:10 pm ET

$150,000 Dixie Belle Stakes, 6 furlongs, Dirt, 3-Year-Old Fillies

Eight 3-year-old fillies line up for the Dixie Belle. With most of them having the same fast early/slow late running style, we foresee very fast early fractions, and a pace meltdown late, and that makes 1-Icy Stare Down an appealing pick. She is the best late runner in the field, as she showed closing from well back to break her maiden in her last start. We see a similar scenario here, which makes her 5-1 price too good to pass up. We will bet her to win. The bet: Oaklawn Park, Race 9, $35 to win on 1-Icy Stare Down.

Fair Grounds, Race 12, 6:27 pm ET

Grade 2 Rachel Alexandra Stakes, 1 1/16 miles, Dirt, 3-Year-Old Fillies

Eleven sophomore fillies go to the gate in the Rachel Alexandra. We like the one all the way on the outside, 11-Hidden Connection, who was last seen finishing a well-beaten fourth in the Breeders Cup Juvenile Fillies at Del Mar on November 5. We think her run that day was better than it looks on paper, as Hidden Connection eliminated any chance she might have had when she stumbled out of the gate, but she still managed to persevere throughout the race despite never looking comfortable. She has had time to mature physically, her recent workouts have been sensational, and we think that Hidden Connection is going to show that her win in the Pocahontas last September at Churchill Downs was no fluke. We will bet her to win at 3-1. The bet: Fair Grounds, Race 12, $40 to win on 11-Hidden Connection.

Fair Grounds, Race 13, 6:58 pm ET

Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes, 1 ⅛ miles, Dirt, 3-Year-Olds

Horse racing has changed a lot in the past 20 years, and while much of the change has been negative, one positive is that the Louisiana path to the Kentucky Derby is much more significant than it used to be. The field of the Risen Star is an illustration of that, as it’s a pretty good group of ten. Expect to see at least a couple of these runners in the gate in Louisville on the first Saturday in May.

When assessing the race, we think the 9-furlong distance is important, as it is not only farther than most of these have ever run before, but it is a dividing line: this is where the colts with distance limitations begin to fall by the wayside. One we think will pass the test is 5-Epicenter, who did everything but win in his last start, when he set the pace in the Lecomte on Jan. 22, leading every step of the way but the last, fishing a short head behind the winner. While that effort looks good enough on paper, we think it is even better than that, as the early pace Epicenter set was very fast, but he still managed to finish strongly down the long Fair Grounds stretch. Outrunning a pace scenario in this fashion is a sign of a rapidly improving 3-year-old, and it makes Epicenter a huge threat to win the Risen Star, and an irresistible wager if he’s anywhere near his 3-1 morning line odds. We think he will likely be shorter by post time; we will play him anyway. We will bet him to win. The bet: Fair Grounds, Race 13, $50 to win on 5-Epicenter.

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

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