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Garrity's Friday Dad's Hat Happy Hour Handicapping picks stakes races at Keeneland Opening Day and Aqueduct

Garrity's first post is 4:12 pm EDT, last post is 5:16 pm. Let it Rye-d.

It’s time for another Friday installment of Dad’s Hat Happy Hour Handicapping – and today’s is one of the best of the year, as it’s opening day at the Keeneland spring meet, which means that the quality of races is much, much higher than it is on a normal Friday. We have plays in five races, four of them stakes, in New York and Kentucky; we expect fast dirt and firm turf in all five, so let’s go.

Keeneland, Race 7, 4:12 pm ET
$400,000 Lafayette Stakes, 7 furlongs, Dirt, 3-Year-Oldes

Seven 3-year-old colts line up for the Lafayette. We’re all in on morning line favorite 3-Hejazi, who has competed thus far five times in his young career, and has run well in all of them, but he has been especially brilliant the three times he has run around one turn. He has shown enough talent that his connections had Kentucky Derby dreams for him; but he was not quite as good in longer races, a common occurrence for 3-year-olds this time of year. Now that he’s back to sprinting, look out: he has a potent combination of speed and a strong finishing kick, and we expect him to prevail here with a pace-pressing trip. We will bet him to win at 8/5, and we will do so with gusto. The bet: Keeneland, Race 7, $50 to win on 3-Hejazi.

Aqueduct, Race 7, 4:34 pm ET
Grade 3 Distaff Handicap, 7 furlongs, Dirt, Fillies & Mares 4 & Up

Eight older fillies and mares line up for the Distaff Handicap at Aqueduct. We can’t get past the chalk, 6-Rossa Veloce, who is in good form overall – in her last five starts, she has four wins and a second – but who gets the nod here primarily due to the fact that she has a massive pace advantage over the rest of the field: She has abundant early speed, and the rest of the field has little. We think that means that she will get a very easy early lead, and from that tactically advantageous position, will be impossible to catch. A good handicapping riddle is what to do when a good horse horse figures to face adversity; when the shape of the race figures to play in the favor of the mare who is the best anyway, the only acceptable option is to go to the windows, and fast. We will do that with Rossa Veloce, and bet her to win at 8/5. The bet: Aqueduct, Race 7, $50 to win on 6-Rossa Veloce.

Keeneland, Race 8, 4:44 pm ET
Grade 3 Transylvania Stakes, 1 1/16 miles, Turf, 3-Year-Olds

Turf races for 3-year-olds this time of year tend to draw big fields, and the Transylvania is no exception, with twelve going to the post. Since so many of the colts appear to be one-way speed types, we think the early pace will be very fast, which will set the table for a come-from-behinder, and the one who looks best to us is 2-Webslinger. He spent the winter at Gulfstream Park, where he did pretty well, especially considering that his closing running style does not generally play well on the speed-favoring turf down there, but he should find the Keeneland sod much more to his liking, partly because it is a fairer surface than he’s seen in his recent starts, and partly because the race shape will favor him. Webslinger might be last early, but we think he will be first where it matters; we will bet him to win at 5-1. The bet: Keeneland, Race 8, $40 to win on 2-Webslinger.

Aqueduct, Race 8, 5:06 pm
Maiden Special Weight, 6 furlongs, Turf, New York-breds 3 & Up

The nightcap at the Big A is this turf sprint for state-breds. It drew nine runners. The pick is 6-Launch Control, who should improve making his first start on grass after running on conventional dirt in the first two races of his career. Look for him to press the early pace, sitting just behind the leaders early, and to grind his way to the front down stretch. We will bet him to win at 5/2. The bet: Aqueduct, Race 8, $35 to win on 6-Launch Control.

Keeneland, Race 9, 5:16 pm ET

Grade 1 Ashland Stakes, 1 1/16 miles, Dirt, 3-Year-Old Fillies

The day’s most important race is the Ashland, a key Kentucky Oaks prep, which drew a field of seven. We’re against both favorites, 2-Wonder Wheel, last year’s Breeders Cup Juvenile Fillies winner; and 5-Punchbowl. Both are good, but both will be overbet, Wonder Wheel primarily because she won last year’s Breeders Cup Juvenile Fillies, and Punchbowl because she earned a big figure last out, winning an allowance race with the benefit of a marshmallow-soft trip from a pace standpoint. Either could win, but think their actual odds of doing so will be significantly less than their odds on the tote board (Wonder Wheel is 8/5 on the morning line; Punchbowl 2-1); that makes them underlays, and Rule #1 in this game is always to bet against the underlays.

The pick is 4-Julia Shining. She was last seen finishing just behind Wonder Wheel in the Suncoast Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, but we think her third-place finish that day was a lot better than it looks on paper, as she tried to rally wide on a track that was favoring inside speed. We think that she is going to run much better today, and that makes her price – she’s 3/1 on the morning line, and may be a bit higher by post time – too good to pass up. We will bet her to win. The bet: Keeneland, Race 9, $40 to win on 4-Julia Shining.

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

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