Garrity's Saturday Stakes picks races at Oaklawn, Keeneland, Aqueduct, with Letruska, Clairiere, Ce Ce, to duel
It’s a busy day today, with three stakes in Arkansas, two in Kentucky, and one in New York: it’s a spring six-pack of Saturday stakes action, and we expect fast dirt and firm turf for all of them. Let’s go.
Oaklawn Park, Race 5, 3:18 pm ET
Grade 1 Apple Blossom Handicap, 1 1/16 miles, Dirt, Fillies & Mares 4 & Up
Oaklawn Park is running the Apple Blossom early on today’s card, presumably because it is not the most exhilarating betting race in the history of the world, with just five older females lining up. But that is an incredibly bad decision, we think, as the Apple Blossom is an event, a race with a long and rich history, with past winners including all-time great distaffers like Bayakoa, Azeri, and Zenyatta. It is a highlight of the entire Oaklawn meeting, and a terrific race from a national standpoint, as well, and the composition of this field, if not the size, certainly lives up to that history, and merits marquee status: four of the five are Grade 1 winners, and the headliners, 2-Letruska, 3-Clairiere, and 5-Ce Ce, are absolute stars. They deserve to be celebrated, not buried between a claiming race and a starter allowance. Thoroughbreds of this caliber are a salve to a troubled horseplayer’s soul; watching them run is magnificent, and it is incredibly and lamentably short-sighted for Oaklawn management to deny them the stage they so richly deserve.
With that rant out of the way, this is a gambling event in addition to a sporting event, but fortunately, we think it is an easy race to handicap: the pick is Letruska, who should dominate from start to finish. If this race were a bit longer, we might be inclined to try to beat her, as on the rare occasions in her career when she has faltered, it has been going at a mile and and eighth, but she has been murderously effective at this distance, with six wins and a close second in her seven career starts at eight and a half furlongs. Some will try to find fault with her last start, when she looked a bit ordinary dominating an overmatched field in the Royal Delta at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 26; we think instead that her race that day was the perfect tightener for this spot. We think Letruska is likely enough to win that we will accept her short odds, which at post time will hopefully be in the same neighborhood as her 7/5 morning line price. We will bet her to win. The bet: Oaklawn Park, Race 5, $60 to win on 2-Letruska.
Keeneland, Race 8, 4:44 pm ET
Grade 3 Ben Ali Stakes, 1 ⅛ miles, Dirt, 4 & Up
Older horses, eight of them, take the stage in the Ben Ali. We like 7-Scalding, a lightly raced 4-year-old from the Shug McGaughey barn, who has a sensational pedigree (he’s by Nyquist, out of a Medaglia d’Oro mare), and who has found a new dimension since stretching out in distance: his last three races have been around two turns, and he has won all of them. We see that trend continuing in the Ben Ali, especially since he has a pace advantage over the group: there is not much speed in the group, and Scalding should get a forwardly-placed trip that gives him an edge over the other logical contenders, who prefer to be a bit farther back early. We will bet Scalding to win at 5-1. The bet: Keeneland, Race 8, $40 to win on 7-Scalding.
Oaklawn Park, Race 8, 4:54 pm ET
$150,000 Oaklawn Stakes, 1 ⅛ miles, Dirt, 3-Year-Olds
Seven 3-year-olds go in the Oaklawn Stakes – not to be confused with the Oaklawn Handicap, which is for older horses, and goes off three races later. We like 2-Stellar Tap, who was not good enough to compete with Triple Crown hopefuls – he was trounced in the Rebel Stakes back in February – but who seems good enough to beat this pretty ordinary group. Look for him to earn the prize by pressing the pace early, and holding off the closers late. We will bet Stellar Tap to win at 5/2. The bet: Oaklawn Park, Race 8, $40 to win on 2-Stellar Tap.
Keeneland, Race 9, 5:16 pm ET
Grade 2 Elkhorn Stakes, 1 ½ miles, Turf, 4 & Up
These marathon turf races can be attacked in a few different ways: class, recent form, and pace are all legitimate windows through which one can look to try to dope out a winner. But in assessing the nine older horses who comprise the field of the Elkhorn, we are going to do something very simple: Look at the abilities of the runners at this mile and a half distance. This will be effective here, we think, because most of this group seems to want no part of it: Seven of the nine have combined for one win at the distance, and the eighth, 5-Channel Maker, is an 8-year-old whose best days appear behind him. That leaves 1-Bemma’s Boy. He has run a mile and a half on turf three times, winning two and finishing a close second the other. He is in good form, coming off two runner-up finishes over the winter in New Orleans, and his rail post practically guarantees that he will get a good, ground-saving trip. Sometimes this game is difficult and complicated, but in this case it’s easy: the pick is 1-Bemma’s Boy. We will bet him to win at 5-1, and will do so with gusto. The bet: Keeneland, Race 9, $50 to win on 1-Bemma’s Boy.
Aqueduct, Race 9, 5:36 pm ET
$100,000 Woodhaven Stakes, 1 1/16 miles, Turf, 3-Year-Olds
Seven line up for the Woodhaven. We’re all in on 6-Unanimous Consent, a colt from the Chad Brown barn, who has run twice, won twice, and has shown a running style that is murderously effective on turf: He relaxes early, and mows ‘em all down late with a strong late kick. That closing kick should come in very handy in this spot, as there appears to be enough early speed in this group to produce an early pace that is fast enough to favor a stretch runner. Unanimous Consent is 2-1 on the morning line, but will be shorter when the gates open; we will bet him to win anyway. The bet: Aqueduct, Race 9, $40 to win on 6-Unanimous Consent.
Oaklawn Park, Race 11, 6:41 pm ET
Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap, 1 ⅛ miles, Dirt, 4 & Up
The Oaklawn Handicap drew a field of eight. The pick is 6-Plainsman, who comes off a couple of strong races, a win in the Razorback in February and a second in the Essex in March. Morning line choice 8-Fearless is 9/5 off three strong races at Gulfstream Park, but we give the edge to Plainsman, and we do so because of speed – Plainsman has much more of it – and because Plainsman’s recent races were at Oaklawn, and there is no guarantee that the excellent form Fearless showed in South Florida will extend to Arkansas. We will bet Plainsman to win at 5/2. The bet: Oaklawn Park, Race 11, $40 to win on 6-Plainsman.
That’s all for today. Until tomorrow, enjoy the racing, be safe, and, as always, good luck at the windows.