Saturday Stakes Thoughts

There are three very good stakes races today at Gulfstream, plus a few other interesting races today both in Hallandale Beach and at Aqueduct. Let’s take a look at a few horses we’re interested in today:

Marshua’s River (Gulfstream 6th) – Both Isabella Sings (9-5) in this race and Heart to Heart a bit later on today are similar as strong front-running turf routers that have capitalized on some favorable trips to win some good races in their careers. That said, they are tough horses to play on (at some point their luck will run out and they are always well bet) but also tough to play against, since they seemingly always end up alone on the lead. Isabella Sings might beat us today at 9-5 (or shorter), but I do want to play #5 Sea Coast (7-2) for trainer Christophe Clement. Sea Coast ran against Isabella Sings in the Eatontown at Monmouth in June with the latter benefiting from her favored on-the-lead trip while the former got stopped and steadied behind rivals while rallying and was moving well when clear. We loved Sea Coast when she ran in the Matchmaker a month later (without Isabella Sings), but Sea Coast didn’t handle the yielding turf course. After winning a small race at Suffolk Downs, Sea Coast caught soft turf in the Athenia, which she again didn’t handle. Finally, she found Isabella Sings at Gulfstream Park West on Thanksgiving weekend, and sure enough, that one set a moderate pace alone on the lead, wiring the field. Yes, Isabella Sings might get loose again, but we are going to hope that Dickinson (9-2), on the pace in her last two starts, at least makes her work a little bit, and either way we are getting  a bigger price on Sea Coast.

The second choice on the morning line is Sandiva (3-1) for Todd Pletcher, and while she ran ok last time in her return, that was a weaker field and came back slow. Yes, she might have needed the race, but Sandiva had run much better races at Gulfstream the last two years with good trips, and at a short price, we’re happy to try someone else.

Fort Lauderdale (Gulfstream 10th) – Heart to Heart (3-1) could very easily wire this field, but we’ll try Night Prowler (8-1) for Chad Brown. Admittedly, we weren’t huge fans of this horse in 2015, and obviously something went wrong, causing him to miss over a year. Since coming back this year, he’s run well. He had little chance in a slow-paced race at Saratoga in August, wired by today’s rival Macagone (15-1). He followed a decent allowance win at Belmont with a solid effort in the Artie Schiller at Aqueduct, in which he was very wide on both turns (he ran 54′ more than the winner per Trakus, 11/19/16 AQU 8).  In that race, Macagone, who loves Aqueduct, saved ground and angled out to win with a perfect trip (after being surprisingly rated). We don’t love Night Prowler today but he feels like a horse improving at the right time for a great trainer in Chad Brown, and perfectly drawn in the 2-post, he figures to get a good trip. We’ll see if he’s good enough, but he will be a good price.

We’ll also use Jay Gatsby (5-1) in here. He also ran in the Artie Schiller but stumbled at the start, taking him farther back than he prefers. His other races this year are good enough, but he is not drawn well in post-10.

Hal’s Hope (Gulfstream 11th) – Realm (3-1) is the play. First off, I think we should get a touch higher than 3-1, but I think he’s the one to beat here. His last three races are all very good – an allowance race at Belmont where he was much the best but got stopped in the stretch when he would have won easily, an allowance blowout win at Aqueduct over a next-out winner, and a solid third in the Grade-1 Cigar Mile. He seems to be improving, can adjust to different pace scenarios, and is ready to take a step forward and win his first stakes race today.

The other horse we’ll use is Ami’s Flatter (8-1). I don’t think he’ll be 8-1 (maybe 4 or 5-1). He has two races from last year (one here in January and the Commonwealth at Keeneland) that would win this race, but also has some spotty performances where he just didn’t run to his ability (including the Bold Ruler in his last start) so he can be a little tough to trust. He is, however, our second choice.

Some quick thoughts on a few others in the Hal’s Hope (in post position order)…

Dolphus (12-1) ran a nice 100 Beyer last time but was alone on the lead and aided when a rival broke inward and wiped out half the field…Tommy Macho (9-2) was in great form last year and looked like he’d be a player in the stakes miles, but got hurt and his two comeback races have not been very good. He could win if he runs back to his form from last year, but is tough to trust at a short price…Bird Song (6-1) has run two 90 Beyers before, one at Saratoga with a perfect 3-wide trip stalking a pace duel, and one last time at Churchill where he set the pace all by himself against a weaker field. Trainer Ian Wilkes did run him in the King’s Bishop off an allowance win, so he thinks highly of the horse, but he’ll have to really improve to win today…Mr. Jordan (5-2) enters off two blowout wins, one at Parx against much weaker and one at Gulfstream Park West. It’s noteworthy he’s passing up being a short-priced favorite next week in the Sunshine Millions Classic to run here, but I think he will have to run much better (though I always root for loyal Monmouth Park supporter Eddie Plesa, Jr.).

One play in a non-stakes race in Florida today is Cave Johnson (5-1) in Gulfstream’s 8th. I’ve always thought he had some ability, and was moving forward this fall at Belmont. I thought maybe he made the front a touch early in his two-back race on September 28th. Then at Aqueduct on November 9th, he was saving ground when it appeared that he got stopped in behind some tiring rivals in the lane and when clear, it was too late. He has been gelded since his last start, and we’ll take him to spring the mild upset.

Finally, moving over to Aqueduct, there are a couple of horses that we will be keying around…

Jazil (Aqueduct 5th) – Sunny Ridge (5-1) has had some very tough trips of late (wide off a gold rail last time, very wide on both turns behind a very slow pace two-back in the Discovery, even going back to April when he was wide off a gold rail in the Gotham over this track in March) and favorite Royal Posse (7-5) really had to work very hard to win the Claiming Crown Jewel last time and maybe he’s tailing off form. We’ll take the one with the upside. (NOTE – As I type this, they just ran the second race at Aqueduct, and it looks like the gold rail from the last two days is back, which puts a big crimp into Sunny Ridge, but we’ll see how the next two races go).

Aqueduct 8th – Candid Desire (5-1) is the play here after he’s been stuck in behind horses in the lane in each of his last two starts (especially his last one). That said, the outside stalking trip we’re looking for might not be a winning one on a gold-rail track. A gold-rail (which again, as noted based on the first two races today, and Friday’s card, might be present) would significantly aid Little Popsie, a speed-ball breaking from the inside.

Aqueduct 9th – They also had a gold rail at Aqueduct on December 29th, and Lynnie B (5-1) was wide chasing off the gold rail, running well in her debut. She should improve and is the pick in the finale.

Good luck today!

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