It’s the second biggest day of racing in Louisiana, offering a stakes laden card, headlined by the Rachel Alexandra and the Risen Star Stakes. These are two important stops on the road to the Kentucky Derby, and some very talented horses have come out of these races. The Rachel Alexandra has been won by Serengeti Empress, Monomoy Girl, Untapable, and Indian Blessing over the past several years. The Risen Star has been won by War of Will, Gun Runner, Mucho Macho Man, and Lawyer Ron to name a few. Both races look strong this year, in what is essentially an win and you’re in spot for both the Derby and the Oaks. The weather has not been great over the past few days. I’ll hope they can run the turf races, especially the stakes, on the grass, but I’ll handicap for both surfaces yet again. Do note that post time for the race will be an hour earlier than usual, 12:00 noon local time.
Best Bet: Race 6: Cool Rags (#6, 8-1 ML)
Most Likely Winner: Race 10: Maxfield (#4, 4-5 ML)
Race 1: 7-8-3
This is the first of five maiden special weight races on the card today. This race split into two divisions (Race 1 and Race 3). Famous Attraction (7) caught my eye in her debut on the turf on 1/18. She was away slow, but finished well to be a close up 4th. She’s by Into Mischief, out of a Two Punch mare, so I think the 6 Furlong dirt trip will be well within her range. Candywrapper Crazy (8) didn’t get to run on Thursday, when she was cross entered as a MTO horse in a maiden special weight race. She has been working well for a barn that has had success with a limited sample of first time starters. Rookery (3) makes her first start since November, after a string of three consecutive second place finishes in Kentucky. She’s been getting closer, but I’m not sure the 6 Furlong distance is ideal for her. I like that John Velazquez takes the mount though, as he was quite successful last week on the big card at Tampa Bay Downs.
Race 2: 10-1-2
The state bred allowance feels impossible as there are several live horses. I landed on Dance Away (10) who looked like she wanted no parts of two turns last time out in the slop. She can rate off the early lead, which should be beneficial, because there are many in here that don’t like to make up ground. I think she’ll improve on the cut back. Ronnie’s Peso (1) draws the rail after two solid efforts at the current meet. She’s pretty much committed to try to go gate to wire, which isn’t ideal. However, she’s in better form than most in here. Sunshine Deelite (2) has been primarily a turf horse, but she returned off a layoff at Delta on the dirt, and wasn’t too bad. She’s been right there in her last four tries, and has a live shot again today.
Race 3: 3-1-5
Lady Frosted (3) is one of three daughters of Frosted in this maiden special weight race. She debuted at the end of the fall meet at Churchill, and ran an even 5th that day, less than 5 lengths behind the winner. She’s been working steadily for her local debut and should be able to build off her first effort. Euphoric (1) chased home Li’l Tootsie (who beat OC/Alw foes yesterday) last out in a very strong maiden special weight race last month. She’s been in the hunt in most of her starts. She peeled off the early pace battle that day, which made me think she might not have been super comfortable on the rail. I’ll be interested to see Graham’s tactics today, as she has shown an affinity for setting the pace. Maybe Later (5) might be an interesting horse to use underneath. I like what I’ve seen so far from the progeny of Not This Time, and she has a long work tab of respectable drills in preparation for this start. Michelle Lovell hasn’t won with a firster in a while, but I think this one might be able to run a bit.
Race 4: 3-1-9
This two turn maiden special weight contest also split into two divisions (Races 4 and 6). There’s an interesting side note to this race as Grey Storm (9) is the son of Zardana, who may be best known for defeating Rachel Alexandra in the New Orleans Ladies Stakes in 2010 on this course. Alejandro (2) is the son of Rachel’s Valentina, who was the second foal of Rachel Alexandra. I think both horses are live in here, and while the two of them finishing first and second would make for a cool story, I’m siding with Cash Rocket (3) on top. He came up a little short in his first two turn trip on Lecomte day here. However, he probably traveled a further distance than the top three out of that race as he was pretty wide on both turns. I like that he draws inward now and I think he has a big chance to graduate today. Ghostliner (1) is a well bred son of Ghostzapper out of a Medaglia d’Oro mare. He came up empty with a wide trip in a maiden special weight two months ago, when he was asked to go two turns for the first time. He was given a little time by Casse, and has been working well in the interim. He too, is posted better and I think he can show more today. Grey Storm (9) took a forward step in his last start on the grass at Sam Houston two weeks ago. He closed from 12th place to get up for second over runaway winner, Holy Vow. He moves back to the dirt and I think has a chance to be closing well in the later stages of this race, possibly passing some of the horses stretching out for the first time.
Race 5: 6-7-1a (Turf) / 9-7-2 (Dirt)
This is the first of four races carded on the turf today, and the only non-stakes race in the group. On the grass, Hidden Enemy (6) is the morning line favorite and the most logical player in the group. He ran well enough as a maiden in stakes company on a boggy course at Pimlico three back. He’s been right there in his last two starts and has a notable post advantage over his main threats here. On turf or dirt, I think Weather Prayer (7) is a live longshot today. He was shuffled to 14th place in his debut, but ran on well enough late for his first try. He’s been working well on the dirt and I think he’ll run a better, more competitive race this afternoon at a big number. Freddy Flintshire (1A) draws post 14, so Hernandez will need to be crafty to create a trip for him. He’s had adventurous trips in full fields on the course in his last two starts, but could move up on a softer course. On the main track, I like Sharp Rocket (9) on top. He’ll take money on the turf as well, but I think with the addition of blinkers and trying a two turn race on the dirt for the first time will make him very tough. His pedigree suggests that he can move up in an off track as well. I’ll also upgrade second time starter, Own The Town (2) on the dirt. He’s by Runhappy, so there could be distance limitations, however, his dam sire is Blame so there are some stamina influences there. The rail draw will help his cause for his first route.
Race 6: 6-3-9
It took Cool Rags (6) a little while to figure some things out, but his last three starts have shown much improvement from his first two. Go back and watch the replay from his last race, and you’ll see that he had an interesting journey from post 11. He was ridden hard from the gate, but he doesn’t have the early speed to clear a field like that. As a result, he was very wide and floated back to last place on the first turn. He made a decent middle move, and came within a length and a half of the lead, while wide again on the second turn before flattening out. Calhoun makes a jockey change and he has a more reasonable post today. I think he can move forward with a better trip. Dolder Grand (3) exits the same race, where he went off as the favorite. His trip was much smoother, helping him to a third place finish that day. He’s a consistent horse that has never been off the board, so he’s definitely an exotics player, but I would have liked to see him finish better last time out. Sainthood (9) ships in from Gulfstream for Todd Pletcher, which strikes me as a little odd, seeing as how Pletcher is not represented on any other race on the card. However, his debut in a sprint was solid, and he’s bred to be a two turn horse. He’ll have to overcome the outside draw though, which isn’t always easy here.
Race 7: The Colonel Power: 5-4-1 (Turf) / 4-3-1 (Dirt)
I’m really excited to see the four year old debut from Turned Aside (5) who joins the Mark Casse barn after the Paul Pompa dispersal. I liked what I saw from him in New York in his three year old campaign, which culminated in a win in the Aqueduct Sprint Championship in November, defeating Grade 1 winner, El Tormenta. He moves up with a softer course and could be a big player in the turf sprint division this season. Extravagant Kid (4) is a player on both surfaces here. He’s won just as many dirt races as turf races in his career. He just got nipped on the wire in the Sunshine Sprint race at Gulfstream last month. This 8 year old gelding just keeps firing for Brendan Walsh. Manny Wah (1) has been a hard knocking Midwest based horse that tried the turf for the first time, which resulted in a win in the Duncan Kenner stakes. His last several races have been pretty good. Just Might (3) is live on both surfaces as well, but I’m a little nervous about him on a softer course today. I’d prefer him on the main track under these circumstances.
Race 8: 4-8-3
I love how the Fair Grounds cards allowance races for three year olds on the same card as their Derby prep races. It gives trainers an option to be a little more patient bringing their young three year olds along instead of throwing them to the wolves in graded stakes company. The plan is for Defeater (4) to defect from the Risen Star in favor of this optional claiming/N1X allowance, and I think that’s the right move by Amoss. He was very professional, winning his debut, coming from off the pace. He’s drawn well for this next challenge of facing winners for the first time and has four decent works since his maiden score. A big effort from him could land him a spot in the starting gate for the Louisiana Derby next month. Gagetown (8) was second in his two turn debut last month, in a similar spot on Lecomte Day. As a son of Exaggerator, I think he would definitely move up if the track comes up wet today. Regardless, I think he’s a player in this race. Blameworthy (3) has been the model of consistency with three starts at 6 Furlongs and three consecutive 80 Beyers. He’s bred to be able to handle two turns, and has a decent foundation to do so. He’s another one with a live shot in here.
Race 9: The Al Stall Memorial: 7-9-3 (Turf) / 4-1-3 (Dirt)
This is another race where the potential scratches totally change the complexion of the race. Tuned (11), who would have been my top choice, is out and Mizzen Beau (4) and Dreamalildreamofu (6) are only going if the race is switched to the main track (all as per Marcus Hersh of the DRF, whose updates have been so helpful this week trying in trying to figure out this card). Those defections totally change the race shape in my eyes, and I believe will create a fairly chalky outcome. I’ll side with Dalika (7) to rebound and turn the tables on Secret Message (9) who got the better of her last time in the Marie Krantz Memorial. Most of Dalika’s best races have come when she’s on or near the front end. The major pace presences are only running if the race goes to dirt, so I think she’ll be right near the front end today. She can handle a softer course and could be hard to run down if the early fractions are pedestrian. I loved Secret Message (9) last out in her second race for the Cox barn and had her singled in the Pick 5 that day along with a solid win bet. However, I think that race set up a little more favorable for her than this one today. She’s still a player, and I think she’s got to be on the Pick 5 ticket, but I prefer her rival this afternoon on grass. Pass The Plate (3) showed a lot of promise in her three year old campaign, and she also showed that she can compete on the main track as well. I’m not sure she’s ready to beat the top two, but I think she’ll be improving as the year goes on. On dirt, Mizzen Beau (4) who was 4th in the Black Eyed Susan in her most recent start. She showed a lot of improvement in her three year old campaign, and should be very tough if this race is switched to the main track. His Glory (1) has better dirt than turf form and also makes a lot of sense on the main track.
Race 10: The Grade 3 Mineshaft: 4-2-3
It’s hard to look past the lightly raced and undefeated Maxfield (4) in this spot. I thought the Tenacious in December was a good starting point. His connections flirted with some other higher profile options for his next start before ultimately landing back here. He’s able to adapt to any pace scenario, which is a plus with both Wells Bayou (2) and Blackberry Wine (7) in here. It is worth noting that if the Fair Grounds Stakes comes off the turf, Blackberry Wine is leaning that direction. If that race stays on the grass, his connections are leaning towards running him here. If he defects, Wells Bayou becomes more dangerous, as his game is front end speed. He had an outward post in the Louisiana Stakes last out and Adam Beschizza aboard Blackberry Wine used his inside position to gun it to the front. I thought Wells Bayou did do well to stay on for third while rating off the pace for the first time in his career. I think he will be more fit and able to put away Blackberry Wine this time, but I think if they both go, it creates a dream scenario for Maxfield. I’ll look to Chess Chief (3) to pick up the pieces late and maybe hit the board at a little bit of a price. He saves his better races for this oval and beat a strong optional claiming/allowance field that included next out winner, Enforceable (1).
Race 11: The G3 Fair Grounds: 8-7-4 (Turf) / 1-10-6 (Dirt)
This is the race that will likely be the least intriguing if it switches to the main track. Factor This (8) is coming off a dud at Gulfstream, but that race shape was against him from the start. The winner, Largent, came back to be second in the Pegasus World Cup Turf last month. Factor This started his big run last year on this course, winning this race impressively. We know he loves a softer course, and he ran a monster effort on a bog at Pimlico to win the Dinner Party on the Preakness undercard. I think he’s too classy for this group. Dontblamerocket (7) was second last year to Factor This in the Muniz here, and was getting into really good form last year in his six year old campaign. I’m not sure he can beat the top choice, but he’s an exotics threat for sure. Danceteria (4) makes his second North American start for Motion today after coming up just short in allowance company at Gulfstream last month. He’s shown overseas that he can run of a softer course and would likely be upgraded in that case today. On dirt, I don’t see anyone in here that can beat Blackberry Wine (1) who will only run here if this race comes off the turf. I think he’ll gets a perfect scenario for his running style, and we know he runs well on this oval. I’ll upgrade Captivating Moon (10) who is a notch below the better handicap horses locally, but should be in the mix with for the exotics among whoever is left here. Logical Myth (6) is a threat on both surfaces, winning the first two stakes in this division at this meet so far. The waters get a little deeper, but I think he’s more of a factor on the dirt.
Race 12: The G2 Rachel Alexandra: 2-1-8
I was bummed to learn that Charlie’s Penny (9), winner of the Silverbulletday, suffered a minor injury and will be scratched out of this race, as I wanted to see what she could against a deeper field like this. With her out, there are three horses with tremendous pedigrees that look to have an advantage over the rest. Of the three, the value looks to be with Souper Sensational (2) who was a decent second in her first try on the main track, finishing behind Charlie’s Penny last month. Live Oak Plantation paid $725,000 for this daughter of Curlin, and she lived up to the hype in her first two starts at Woodbine. She’s in her second race off the layoff and I’m thinking she can move forward here. Clairiere (1) is another daughter of Curlin and her dam is one of my favorite racehorses, multiple grade 1 winner, Cavorting. She got up in time to break her maiden in a two turn debut at Churchill, and was a close second to Travel Column (8) in the Golden Rod last time out. She’s been off since then in preparation for this start, and has a significant post advantage over her rival. Travel Column started three times last year, breaking her maiden in her debut on Oaks Day, followed up by a 3rd in the Alcibiades, and a win the Golden Rod. She too has been away, prepping to try to try to give Brad Cox his third win in the Kentucky Oaks. I think she has a ton of potential, but this is where she might be the most vulnerable.
Race 13: The G2 Risen Star: 5-11-6
Thirteen three year olds with Derby dreams entered, but there are two significant scratches. Defeater (9) runs earlier in the card and morning line favorite, Keepmeinmind (12) is opting to go in the Southwest at Oaklawn next weekend. I’m interested to see how this race will be bet as a result. There is a lot of early pace in this race, which could set up beautifully for Senor Buscador (5), from the Todd Fincher barn. He’s been away slow in both starts, but he’s finished with a powerful sweeping move both times. He put away his rivals and won the Springboard Mile by open lengths, earning a big Beyer of 93. He should continue to improve at two turns, and I think he can run down this group once again. I’m interested to see what tactics Geroux will employ with Mandaloun (11) from post 10. He had an outside draw in the Lecomte, and Mandaloun went to the front and was wide all the way around. He stayed on well to get third, and showed improvement in his first real test at two turns. He’s probably not quick enough to clear from this post, so he’ll need to be able to rate off the early leaders to have a realistic chance. I do think he’ll continue to get better though. Midnight Bourbon (6) certainly passed his first test, winning the Lecomte last out, off the three month layoff. He had a dream trip along the rail and definitely had an easier time than Mandaloun. His tactical early foot can create a good trip for him, but I think there’s going to be more early pressure for him to navigate. He’s certainly bred to continue to improve at longer distances.