The second stakes race of the meet for older handicap horses, The Fifth Season Stakes, highlights the nine race Saturday program. That race features some hard knocking horses that have had stakes success on this course in the past. The winners of the 2019 and the 2021 Rebel Stakes (Long Range Toddy and Concert Tour), along with the winner of the 2020 Southwest Stakes (Silver Prospector) are entered. In addition, three other runners, Thomas Shelby, Rated R Superstar, and Snapper Sinclair are all stakes placed on this oval. As has been the norm on Saturdays at this meet so far, the weather forecast is not great, with rain that could affect the card.
I’ll be covering this exciting meet on the ITM Blog, along with posting some updates and thoughts from time to time on Twitter @EricSolomon718. Feel free to reach out!
|Race||Top Pick||A||B||C||Exotics Menu|
|2||1||1||7||5,9||DBL, PK3, PK4|
|5||10||10,11,12||5,6||1||DBL, PK3, PK5|
|6||3||1,3||12||5||DBL, PK3, PK4|
A challenging $10K N2L claiming race at one mile starts the Saturday afternoon program. Chase Tracker (#2) and Graves Mill Road (#9) are two of the shorter prices that I’m going to be siding against. Chase Tracker was claimed for $20K last out and drops immediately to the $10K level. He’s trending in the wrong direction for me to take a short price on. Graves Mill Road was claimed for $10K back in August and hasn’t been seen since. He’s entered under the waiver and has some moderate works over the track. However, I’ll opt to watch this race from him. That leaves me with Call of Honor (#1A) and Behavin Myself (#8) as the two principal players here. Call of Honor has two starts on the main track, and his last one two starts back at Keeneland would likely be good enough to win this race by a few lengths or more. He tried starter allowance company against a much tougher group last month at Gulfstream, and faded late. He makes his first start since being privately purchased after that race. We don’t know the terms of the purchase, but he was a $210K purchase in 2018. He was entered with a $15K tag two starts back when breaking his maiden. He was protected in his last start, so I would think he was sold for more than the $10K claiming tag that he’s running for today. I still think he’s the one to beat as his three works over the course are respectable and there doesn’t seem to be much serious competition. However, I will not single him here because of that. I’ll also use Behavin Myself, who is a horse whose lightbulb could have gone off after winning for the first time in eleven career starts at Hawthorne last out. His three career tries on dirt fit this field very well. If the top pick doesn’t fire, he would be the most likely beneficiary.
More N2L claimers go here, this one for fillies and mares running with a $50K tag. Five of the nine runners in this race raced here on 12/31 in two different races. Nisi Prius (#1), Simona’s Choice (#8), and Montgomery Park (#9) are all exiting a speedy race at this same condition, that was won by a frontrunning California shipper on a speed friendly course. Nisi Prius was a surprising favorite in that race, bet down from 8-1 on the morning line to 5-2. She was bumped at the break and then steadied while trying to secure early position on the front end. She was relegated to 9th in the early going and finished with some interest while rallying wide on a day where it looked like you didn’t want to be closing from the outer portion of the track. She ran well enough in that race to explain why there was some serious interest in her while coming off the layoff. She now makes her second start since April and should be more fit after that race. She’s 6-1 on the morning line and that would be a very enticing price on her for me. Hard Street (#7) and Let’s Cruise (#3) both ran in a decent money allowance on that same afternoon. Of that duo, I think Hard Street has some more upside. She was shipping in from Canada for Norman McKnight that afternoon. She didn’t show her usual early foot in that race, but she broke from the inside and got buried on the rail. She made up some ground on the turn before leveling off a bit. I think the wider post, the race over the track, and the drop in class will add up to a better effort from her. Montgomery Park (#9) and Bitter Vixen (#5) are deeper plays for me in here. Montgomery Park ran a big race off the layoff two weeks ago. However, consistency has not been her hallmark, so I’m not sold on her at short odds. Bitter Vixen faced winners for the first time on a sloppy course at Churchill in November. She was a winner two back with $40K maiden claimers there. She has some upside in this race, but I would like her more on a track that was fast.
There’s a lot of early speed signed on for this optional $15K claiming/starter allowance race for fillies and mares. I’m looking for some horses that get can get rolling late to use on the A line, assuming that the track has been playing fairly in the first two races. Mongolian Lotus (#4) was closing well last week when she was claimed out of an open $10K claiming race. She wheels right back in a protected spot. She makes a lot of sense if she can run right back to that effort on the short turnaround. Dutch Treat (#10) returns with open company, facing Arkansas breds at this optional claiming/allowance level. Her best work has been at two turns, but she’s another one that has shown closing ability. She has a wide draw, so she should be able to work out the right trip if the projected pace battle does percolate. Of the speed horses, the two that are most interesting to me are Shi O’Shi (#1) and Princess Lilli Bug (#3). Shi O’Shi has been off since beating a $10K starter allowance field at Keeneland in October. She has a lot of early speed, but in another fast paced race like this last time, she showed patience and the ability to strike from just off the pace. That versatility makes her more desirable to me in this spot. Princess Lilli Bug is another Arkansas bred facing open company here. She’s shown flashes of being a really good horse sprinkled in with some abysmal performances. Soundness has been an issue, so there’s always that to be wary of with her. She dug in to hold off Dutch Treat last out when making her first start off a layoff. She should be more fit, but she’ll likely face more pressure in the early stages as well. When she’s good, she’s good enough to beat these easily, so that is enough of a reason to put her on a multi-race ticket.
This is a solid optional claiming/allowance for three year olds that features the return of the third place finisher in the Del Mar Futurity, American Xperiment (#3). He debuted like a good thing in an off the turf race in the slop at Saratoga this summer. That effort was good enough to ship him out west and take a chance against Pinehurst at Del Mar. He’s been away since that start and has been working nicely for his return. He could be any kind, but this is not a walkover by any stretch of the imagination. I made Mike Maker’s Back to Normal (#7) my top pick, hoping that maybe the rain holds off for a bit and that he’ll get a fast track again today. If you take away his dull effort in the slop two starts back, he has a very nice progression of races on a fast main track. He’s faster than most of these in the early stages, so he’s a gate to wire threat from his wide draw. Magnolia Midnight (#5) passed some tiring rivals to get into third when In Dreams ran a big effort in the slop at this level last month. There should be an honest pace up front and he would be the candidate to get rolling late if the frontrunners falter.
$50K maiden claiming fillies go in the last leg of the early pick-5 and the first leg of the late pick-5 on the nine race card. This might be the most difficult race on the card to figure out as the form of those with experience is pretty even. I think the most talented horses with racing experience are on the outside. Argumentative (#10) is the tepid top choice, making her second start and her first since joining Mike Maker’s barn. She didn’t love the gate in her debut at Churchill, as she expended a good deal of energy leading up to the start of the race. Once in the gate, she was last to leave, spotting the field some lengths in the early going. She passed a few tired rivals to get into 6th, still beaten double digit lengths behind some nice horses, including next out winner, Icy Stare Down. She’s been given a little time and drops in for a tag for her second start. I think she’ll run a better race today. Blame Nellie (#12) is another second time starter that had a debut that was less than ideal. She encountered traffic from an inside draw at this level last out. She ran on well enough to be 5th, less than four lengths behind the winner. She moves to the outside, where she’s likely to have an overland route that may keep out of the trouble that held her back last month. Raceday Attire (#11) has made strides in each of her three career starts. She was third when dropping to this level for the first time last out. She’s now third off the layoff and she’s not likely to get buried on the rail again. On deeper tickets, there’s three first time starters that might go under the radar here, but they look like they figure based on their connections and their workouts. Vita Bona (#5) and Funtimegirl (#6) are both 30-1 on the morning line and both debut for connections (Witt and Prather) that have had debut winners at the meet already, Both have some solid works and could contend at this level. Hot Tub Hottie (#1) will have to contend with a rail draw in a big field, but she also has some zippy drills for Allen Milligan, another trainer who has unveiled a winner at first asking at this young meet. She drilled a three furlong bullet back on 12/29, and she’ll need to flash that speed here, especially with another speedy rival directly to her outside. I think she’s one that might be better next out, but if speed is holding well and the rail looks good, I’d upgrade her chances.
Outasite (#5) for Cox and Geroux is the heavy favorite on the morning line in this $30K-$25K N2L claiming race. He’s been on the shelf since a dull effort in February here in the slop. He broke his maiden here about a year ago with maiden special weight company in a decent final time. However, he was a $380K purchase that has only amassed $70K on the track. He may just be better than these, but I don’t love him entered in this spot. I’ll put him on the C line and think about covering him on some deeper tickets, but I’ll be mostly against him. Ernie Banker (#3) is the logical alternative, coming in from New York for Karl Broberg. I’m hoping that we might get a little better 3-1 (ML) on him with Broberg being cold at this meet thus far (1-34). He was sharp in the mud at Aqueduct in his first race off the claim. He makes his third race off the layoff. On paper, he’s moving up in class, but this is a softer field than what he saw in New York. Windcracker (#1) draws the rail after a pair of allowance tries in his first two starts. These horses are considerably better than what he’s facing today. While the rail isn’t ideal for a horse that doesn’t have a ton of tactical early foot, he is one of only a few in here getting true class relief. Franco will need to work out a trip, but at odds of 10-1 (ML) or higher, I think he’s worth the risk. A bigger price that might have some upside in here is That’s Something (#12) on the far outside. He is definitely taking a significant step up in class after losing in a photo with state bred N2L claimers last out at Remington. His only career win came in a two turn race on the grass, and that was over a year ago. His only off the board finish was in his last start and that was his first over a year layoff. His dirt form is good enough to compete here, assuming he can move forward again off his last try. He’s 30-1 on the morning line, but I see him with more upside than several others with shorter odds.
The last Pick-3 of the day starts with a maiden special weight race for three year olds at one mile. This is not the strongest maiden special weight race field, as most of the horses with some experience here have not shown much on the track. This is a very logical spot for Kupuna (#2) to break his maiden, after narrowly missing to Surfer Dude last out on closing day at Churchill. He makes the progression to one mile after going six furlongs in his debut and seven furlongs last out. He’s drawn well for this challenge and has enough tactical speed to sit the right kind of trip. He’s sired by Hard Spun, and while his dam, Hanalei Hailey, did her best work sprinting, she was bred to be able to handle longer distances. I think he graduates with this group today. The main danger to this short priced favorite is going to be Blue Norther (#10) for Brad Cox. He was wide in the slop in a strong maiden special weight at six furlongs on a sloppy course at Churchill, finishing 6th that day. He’s sired by Frosted, so I’d expect him to take a step forward when going two turns. The ten hole for this race is not ideal, but I do expect him to improve.
Race 8: The $150K Fifth Season Stakes
This race features the return of last year’s Rebel winner, Concert Tour (#5), who is making his four year old debut and his first start since being moved to the Brad Cox barn. After looking like a three year old with a world of potential after winning his first three starts, he struggled when running in the Arkansas Derby, which was not a Grade 1 caliber field last year. He was an absolute nonfactor in the Preakness, which was also a below average race by Triple Crown standards. He faces a field of eight hard trying older horses that can be very tough on their best days. Thomas Shelby (#1) is going to be a gate to wire threat in this spot. He’s been in very good form in his last four races, most recently finishing a close second behind Lone Rock in the Tinsel Stakes here last month. He has a rail draw in a field where, other than Concert Tour, there isn’t a ton of early pace signed on. If Cohen wants the lead with him, I think it’ll be there for the taking. I’ll cover with Silver Prospector (#8) on some deeper tickets in his first start since the Steve Sexton Mile back in May at Lone Star. If Concert Tour is overly aggressive off the layoff, and the stretch out sprinter, Mucho (#9) from the outside gate goes hard as well, there is a chance for a back marker to pick up the pieces. Santana should be able to carve out a midpack trip in the second flight. He’s run several strong races on this course, including a win in the Southwest Stakes and a second to Mystic Guide in the Razorback last year. He’s at 10-1 on the morning line and he might be overlooked in this race
This is a fascinating optional claiming/allowance race restricted to Arkansas breds. Mo Choctaw (#2) is a three year old taking on older horses very early this season. He comes into this race after an absolutely huge effort with state bred maiden claimers in his debut back on 12/12. He has a few sharp works since that effort and now faces a stiff challenge when facing winners for the first time. He might simply be faster than these, and there is an awful lot of early speed signed on here. I think he’s the one to beat, but I’ll also use Gar Hole (#12) who is the morning line favorite for John Ortiz and Ricardo Santana. He ran a very sharp race when making his second career start last month and his first since January of 2021. He found himself in a tight spot, but was able to break free and draw off impressively. On deeper tickets, I’ll give a look to Private Lake (#3) making his first start since August. Before he went on the shelf, he was in decent form when facing open company at Prairie Meadows. He might want to go a little further than the six furlongs here, but he has shown the ability to close in race where many are unproven at doing so. I think he’s more likely underneath, but at longer odds than 15-1 (ML), he’d be worth thinking about.
Favorite Bet Today: Race 5 – Pick-3 ($36 Ticket – $2 Dollar Base Wager)
I will still cover with Blue Norther (#10) in the 7th on other tickets, but I think Kupuna (#2) in that race is the most likely winner on this card. I’ll look to use him as a single in this wager, while trying to beat Outasite (#5) in the 6th race. I’m going to go six deep in the 5th, using the three outside runners and the three first time starters that I talked about above. I like Ernie Cracker (#3) a decent amount in the 6th, but I think Windcracker (#1) and That’s Something (#12) are viable longshots that could add some juice to this wager.
Race 5: 1,5,6,10,11,12
Race 6: 1,3,12
Race 7: 2