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Garrity's Saturday Stakes Picks the Florida Derby, Arkansas Derby, others at Gulfstream, Oaklawn, Santa Anita

Garrity's first post is the Orchid Stakes at 2:56 pm EDT.

It’s a big day today. The day’s biggest races are the Florida and Arkansas Derbies, one of which should produce the Kentucky Derby favorite, but there are plenty of other good contests to whet a player’s appetite. We have plays in a half-dozen races, a Saturday six pack, and expect fast dirt and firm turf in all of them. Let’s go.

Gulfstream Park, Race 8, 2:56 pm ET

Grade 3 Orchid Stakes, 1 ½ miles, Turf, Fillies & Mares 4 & Up

Eight female turf marathoners go in the Orchid. One of them looks clearly superior to the rest: 5-Amazing Grace, a German-bred 5-year-old mare who has hit the board in her last four starts, all of which were in Germany, all of which were Group 1 or Group 2 stakes, and two of which were against males. She makes her North American debut here, and while there is a question of whether she will be able to adjust to the more speed-oriented nature of turf racing in the United States, we think Amazing Grace looks so much better than her rivals that tactics should matter little. We will bet her to win at 5/2. The bet: Gulfstream Park, Race 8, $40 to win on 5-Amazing Grace.

Gulfstream Park, Race 12, 5:15 pm ET
Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Oaks, 1 1/16 miles, Dirt, 3-Year-Old Fillies

The Gulfstream Park Oaks came up a wide open race, with eight evenly matched fillies going to the gate. The lack of a standout has us fancying the chances of 7-Sacred Wish, who makes a huge class jump here, going from maiden ranks to Grade 2 company. Her speed figures mark her as competitive, but what causes us to give her the nod is that she stretches out here, running a mile and a sixteenth after running six furlongs in her first two starts; her pedigree, and her running style, suggest to us that she will be even better around two turns than she was around one. That makes her the one to beat, so we will bet her to win at 9/2. The bet: Gulfstream Park, Race 12, $40 to win on 7-Sacred Wish.

Oaklawn Park, Race 10, 6:35 pm ET

$600,000 Fantasy Stakes, 1 1/16 miles, Dirt, 3-Year-Old Fillies

Ten sophomore fillies go to the gate for the Fantasy. We like 2-Grand Love, who looked like a runner when she broke her maiden, in her first start, at Saratoga last summer, but who since has had a lot of bad luck: she had traffic trouble in her second start, the Pocahontas Stakes, in September; she got swept up in a suicidally fast pace duel in the Breeders Cup Juvenile in November; and in her last start, which was her 2023 debut, she spun her wheels a bit in the Honeybee, on Feb. 25, when the track came up sloppy. We think she still has a lot of talent, which is good; what is even better is that she is virtually guaranteed to get a good trip today, as she looks to be the speed of the race, and should be in front from the beginning, where other horses will not be able to interfere with her. We think Grand Love wires this group, and will bet her to win at 8-1. The bet: Oaklawn Park, Race 10, $40 to win on 2-Grand Love.

Gulfstream Park, Race 14, 6:40 pm ET

Grade 1 Florida Derby, 1 ⅛ miles, Dirt, 3-Year-Olds

The Florida Derby, which drew a full field of twelve, features 11-Forte, last year’s champion juvenile and current Kentucky Derby favorite, who comes off an eye-popping win in the Fountain of Youth, a race in which he was very good both visually and against the clock. He won that day with condescending ease, which is impressive considering that it was his first start since the fall, and that he finished over four lengths ahead of his nearest rival despite appearing to be not trying all that hard. This is one of the more impressive 3-year-old colts we’ve seen in recent years, and normally, he’d be pretty tough to pick against in a spot like this.

But Forte has a problem: He drew post 11, a wide berth that is extremely tough to navigate in nine furlong races at Gulfstream Park. With the gates opening right before the clubhouse turn, it’s almost a certainty that Forte will be unable to save ground early, and will consequently have a very wide trip, and the question a handicapper must therefore address is whether he is good enough to overcome that level of adversity.

We think the answer to that question just might be yes, that Forte is good enough, just as Barbaro, who won this race from post 10, was. But from a wagering standpoint, taking 2/5 on a colt facing this level of difficulty is a poor prospect, and while we will concede that Forte probably is the best horse in the race, we are going to bet against him.

We are taking a shot with 5-Mr. Peeks. On the surface, it would appear that this colt has no shot:  – he is still a maiden, winless in two career tries – but he has earned good speed figures in both of his starts, a hint that he has some ability. He stretches out to a mile and an eighth here – both of his prior starts were at six furlongs – but we think he might be better going around two turns than he was around one. And perhaps most important, Mr. Peeks has speed: We think he is going to get the early lead, and we think that it just might be possible, while every other rider is paying attention to Irad Oritz playing bumper cars with Forte at the rear of the field, that Edwin Gonzalez, who rides Mr. Peeks, just might steal the race on the front end. Is this a guarantee? No. But at 30-1, we think he has a chance, enough of one that we are going to bet him to win. The bet: Gulfstream Park, Race 14, $40 to win on 5-Mr. Peeks.

Santa Anita Park, Race 7, 7:07 pm ET

Grade 2 Royal Heroine Stakes, 1 mile, Turf, Fillies & Mares 4 & Up

The decline of racing in California is happening right before our eyes, and a good illustration is the Royal Heroine, which, if we are being honest, probably does not have the weakest Grade 2 field in the history of the sport. But if it’s not the worst ever, it is certainly the worst that we’ve seen this year, a truly terrible group of six older female turf runners lining up to run a mile on the Santa Anita sod.

We would normally pass this kind of race – we like stakes, but we abhor short fields – but we are playing it because we think we might get a decent price on 6-Seisai, a 4-year-old filly who makes her U.S. debut today, after campaigning the last two years in her native Ireland. She is not exactly the second coming of Goldikova, but there are a couple of things to like about her: One is that she fared pretty well in a couple of pretty good stakes races at the Curragh last year; another is that Seisai looks like the kind of filly who will improve significantly on truly firm turf, which she never got in Ireland but will get today. And the biggest plus is that she will have to beat a field that is weaker than your sister-in-law’s coffee. We will bet her to win at 3-1. The bet: Santa Anita, Race 7, $40 to win on 6-Seisai.

Oaklawn Park, Race 12, 7:50 pm ET

Grade 1 Arkansas Derby, 1 ⅛ miles, Dirt, 3-Year-Olds

Eleven 3-year-olds go to the gate for the Arkansas Derby. The presence in the group of a few one-way speedballs, colts who cannot win unless they get the early lead, should produce swift early fractions, and a race shape that favors stalkers and closers. That makes the choice 8-Reincarnate, whose last start was a third-place finish in the Rebel. That was not the best race he’d ever run, but we think it’s a sign of Reincarnate’s quality that he did so many good things in a race that for him appears subpar: He recovered well after getting bumped early; he ran on a sloppy track, which he’d never seen before; and he closed well, something he’d never done before. When a young horse does this, shows ability despite facing adversity, it is a sign that he is improving rapidly, and that, plus a favorable trip from a pace standpoint, is why we think Reincarnate is going to win the Arkansas Derby. Look for him to be mid-pack early, and to prevail with a big move around the far turn and into the stretch. We will bet him to win at 5/2 odds. The bet: Oaklawn Park, Race 12, $50 to win on 8-Reincarnate.

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

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