Key Bets & Races for Saturday, January 27

Fred W. Hooper Stakes – Race 7 at Gulfstream Park – Post 2:32 PM Eastern Time

Beasley comes back from nearly 2 months off, following the worst race of his career when 8th in the Cigar Mile. Let’s face it, he was overmatched in that grade 1 race but this grade 3 field is a whole different story. Beasley won both of his starts fresh, in his debut and then again off a five month rest last summer. He worked his way through allowance conditions and wasn’t disgraced last October when beaten less than a length in the similar G3 Bold Ruler Stakes, better still beaten a nose for 2nd by millionaire Stallwalkin’ Dude. With a very sharp half-mile workout to cap a consistent series of works for his four year old debut, with Castellano riding for a barn (Hennig) he rarely rides for, and opening at 15/1, Beasley gets top billing. Tommy Macho is a grade 3 horse, no doubt about it. As such, after six straight grade 1 or 2 stakes, he has a big shot to run back to the form shown when winning this stakes race in 2016 or when winning the similar Hal’s Hope Stakes last January at the same one turn mile distance. He won the Hal’s Hope off a two month rest and although this time he’s returning from five months off he still could fire nicely and his starting odds of 6/1 are out of whack with his probability to win. First Growth missed by just a half-length in the similar Mr. Prospector Stakes last month, to X Y Jet, who came back to win again. Finishing 2nd to X Y Jet is really like winning a race and as First Growth makes his third start following three months off he has improving to do and is another win contender here. Eight Town is just slightly less probable than the 3 main contenders because he’s running in a stakes race for the first time. However, considering starting last September he broke his maiden and won at the first two allowance levels, he certainly could be part of the exacta or trifecta here.


I’m taking a stand against starting favorite Tale of Silence, who comes back from 2 1/2 months off and who is facing older for the first time. His best efforts from last year don’t appear to be good enough to beat any of the four listed above.



Win Bets: Bet Beasley to win and place at 3 to 1 or higher, truly a KEY longshot bet on the day.

Consider another win bet, this one on Tommy Macho, at 3 to 1 or higher.


Exacta: Box Beasley, Tommy Macho and First Growth then also Box Beasley, Tommy Macho, First Growth and Eight Town.


Hurricane Bertie Stakes – Race 9 at Gulfstream Park – Post time 3:38 Eastern Time

There’s no doubt Curlin’s Approval is one tough mare who loves Gulfstream, with seven wins in 11 races here including last year’s Hurricane Bertie Stakes. That being said, Marley’s Freedom is a four year old with improving to do and may be just as fast as Curlin’s Approval but opens at much higher odds of 10/1. Marley’s Freedom didn’t do much in her first two starts, as a two year old in the fall of 2016, but when given 11 months off she as a whole different horse. He won her 3 year old debut in September, missed by a neck in October, then dominated in a race on 11/19, earning a stakes quality 109 Equibase figure better than ANY Curlin’s Approval has earned including winning this stakes race last year. She finished 4th of 8 in the Grade 1 La Brea Stakes one month ago, beaten a neck by Mopotism, who came back to win a stakes race since then. Mike Smith rode her just once previously, to the big win in November, did not ride her in the La Brea, but takes the call today, and with this filly’s tactical speed and facing much easier than last out, I expect her to be sitting third or fourth in the early stages and in position to post the upset in the stretch.  Curlin’s Approval finished 2nd in the similar Grade 3 Rampart Stakes last month as the even money favorite, proving she is beatable on occasion. She finished 2nd in the 2017 Rampart before winning this race and certainly she likes to win so we can’t discount her chances, but an discount the potential for betting her to win at low odds as a poor investment. Spice Lady showed a lot of promise in her career debut last February then finished 4th in an allowance race then went on the bench. Returning on 12/15 in an allowance race she romped home by five lengths and if Pletcher thinks she can make the jump from first level allowance to this grade 3 level I will not argue. Likely to improve considerably 2nd off the long layoff and off the 102 Equibase figure earned last month, Spice Lady certainly has a shot to win here.




For some exotic wagers like the exacta and trifecta we should include Rich Mommy and Moonlit Promise, both opening at double digit odds. Rich Mommy has won three straight including posting the 12/1 upset in the similar G3 Sugar Swirl and isn’t getting any respect, while Moonlit Promise won two graded stakes in a row in Canada in October and November and the only question mark is whether she can transfer that form to the conventional dirt surface here at Gulfstream.


Win Bet: Bet Marley’s Freedom to win at 3/1, a true KEY BET on the day.


Exactas: Marley’s Freedom, Curlin’s Approval and Spice Lady over Marley’s Freedom, Curlin’s Approval, Spice Lady, Rich Mommy and Moonlit Promise.

For a smaller wager amount than above (for example $1 instead of $2), play the reverse of that exacta, which is Spice Lady over Marley’s Freedom, Curlin’s Approval, Spice Lady, Rich Mommy and Moonlit Promise over Marley’s Freedom, Curlin’s Approval and Spice Lady.


Gulfstream Park Turf Sprint – Race 10 at Gulfstream Park – Post time 4:14 Eastern Time

Rainbow Heir (3 to 1 morning line) gets slight preference in a very deep field, one in which we can take some shots as no horse stands out. Favorite Pay Any Price is a win machine, with a 6 for 8 record last year and he’s a multiple stakes winner at Gulfstream Park, but he ONLY wins leading from the start and there are a number of horses to pressure him early and are capable of running just as fast. Richard’s Boy (7/2 morning line) has won multiple stakes but has nearly as many 2nd place finishes (8) as wins (9) in his career and has ever run over the Gulfstream Park turf. Additionally, after a near miss in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, Richards Boy finished 3rd as the favorite in a non-graded stakes with no excuse whatsoever. The third morning line favorite, Tombelaine, is another stakes winner but has never raced at this distance nor over the course.

Rainbow Heir missed by a nose in this race last year, the only time he’s ever run on the Gulfstream Park turf. He enters the race in top form off a stakes win on the grass with Irad Ortiz, Jr. in the saddle for the first time, Ortiz riding back, and the 124 last race Equibase Figure is by far the best of any in the race except Richard’s Boy, who earned it just once when 2nd and beaten a head in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint last fall. Simply put, if Rainbow Heir repeats his last race he wins and opening at 6 to 1 odds he’s very playable. Oak Bluffs was involved in a four horse blanket finish in the Pennsylvania Governor’s Cup Stakes last June, in which Richard’s Boy finished 2nd, a neck in front of Rainbow Heir, with this gelding just another half-length back in spite of being steadied in traffic on the turn. His recent form is just fine, with two runner-up finishes at this trip in a row, beaten just a half-length in each, bringing his record at the distance on the Gulfstream Park turf to 2 wins and 3 second place finishes in 6 races. As such, it would be foolish to ignore him when considering our wagers, as he opens at 20/1. Sir Navigator opens at 15/1 and adds more value to our bets, as he was the one that beat Oak Bluffs last month after finishing in the Claiming Crown Canterbury Stakes at the trip three weeks earlier. Both “A” efforts followed the claim by Maker for the Ramsey’s, and with Jose Ortiz riding the horse has a shot to upset as well. Last but not least, Successful Native, opening at 15/1, is hard to drop off any contender list as he has won over a half-million, half of that at this distance here at Gulfstream Park. He’s won two in a row over the course and although he led from start to finish last out he has come from off the pace (as far back as 6th) to win so he could be taken back off all the speed signed on here and run big once again under Gaffalione.



Win Bets at these minimum odds: Rainbow Heir (5 to 2), Oak Bluffs (4/1), Sir Navigator (4/1) and Successful Native (4/1). Consider place bets on any at 10/1 or more. I think “dutching” (betting more than one horse to win) is a great tool to use in these situations where the favorites may be suspect and the dutching too at Amwager really helps determine the right bets to come out with a good profit.

Exactas: Since we’re not totally ruling out the favorites but want to beat them, we will start with exactas keying Richard’s Boy and Pay Any Price over the longshots and let them beat us if by some chance they finish 1st and 2nd, as follows: Richard’s Boy and Pay Any Price over Rainbow Heir, Oak Bluffs, Sir Navigator and Successful Native.

Play the reverse of that exacta above as well, then ALSO play an exacta box between Rainbow Heir, Oak Bluffs, Sir Navigator and Successful Native, which is the bet we really want to cash for a nice return.


South Beach Stakes – Race 11 at Gulfstream – Post time 4:50 PM Eastern

Ghostly Presence shipped in from Woodbine for her local debut o 12/30 and promptly won the Tropical Park Oaks over 10 other horses. Regular rider Hernandez rids back and as the filly proved a liking for this turf course she has every right to win again, even facing older because not only did she beat older last summer the 108 Equibase figure she earned last month is more than good enough to win this kind of race. Better still, she’s got excellent tactical speed so can sit off the very likely early pace battle between I’m Betty G, Conquest Hardcandy and Team of Teams, three absolute need-the-lead types, then go by them late as they tire from their early efforts. Miss Hollywood tried turf just once previously and ran just fine, 2nd to Stormy Victoria, who opens as the 7 to 2 favorite. Leparoux gets on Miss Hollywood, with her last race to be ignored as it was on dirt, so back on the turf we can expect a competitive effort. Stormy Victoria missed winning the Grade 3 My Charmer Stakes on the course last month by a couple of necks, Rosario up then as now, Rosario also aboard for her best race of 2017, a strong win on the turf at Belmont with a 106 figure. She ran even better in the higher level stakes last out when earning a 112 figure so although not the best win bet of the three contenders she is an absolute must to use on any exacta or trifecta tickets.


Win Bet: Bet Ghostly Presence to win at odds of 2 to 1 or higher.

Consider a second, smaller, win bet on Miss Hollywood at 4 to 1 or more.


Exactas: Box Ghostly Presence, Miss Hollywood and Stormy Victoria.


Pegasus World Cup Invitational– Race 12 at Gulfstream – Post time 5:35 PM Eastern

In handicapping a race with the intention of wagering, there can be a significant difference between the “Best Horse,” the one most probable to win, and the “Best Bet,” the horse representing the wager most likely to help make a profit short term and long term. There is no doubt Gun Runner is the “Best Horse” in the Pegasus based on his body of work. Gun Runner first proved himself at this level in the fall of 2016 when winning the Clark Handicap at the distance of the Pegasus, two races later finishing second to the then streaking Arrogate in the Dubai World Cup. After a short freshening, Gun Runner was ready after a couple of months and easily won the Stephen Foster Stakes by seven lengths, with a then career-best 127 Equibase Speed Figure. What followed were two more dominating efforts winning the Whitney Stakes (127 figure) and Woodward Stakes (132 figure). In his final start of 2017, Gun Runner easily defeated 10 other horses in the Breeders’ Cup Classic with a 130 figure effort to cement his standing as the best older handicap division horse in North America last year. Although there may be questions regarding coming back from nearly three months off and what some say may be a disadvantageous post position for the Pegasus owing to the quick run to the first turn, neither of those issues concern me. This is because Gun Runner returned from nearly three months off last February to win easily in his 2017 debut and because the outside post for this nine furlong trip isn’t as bad as some people think it is. According to Stats Race Lens, horses breaking from post positions nine and up at this distance won four times in the last year. As such, Gun Runner is going to be very difficult to beat in this year’s Pegasus.



Now that we’ve gotten past the “Best Horse” we can talk about the “Best Bet” and there are two of them in my opinion, starting with Collected, who opens at 8 to 1 odds. In the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Collected ran second from start to finish behind Gun Runner and prior to that he won the Pacific Classic. Those efforts earned 127 and 128 Equibase figures, respectively, which were as good as those earned by Gun Runner in two of his four victories last year. When Collected returned from a short rest on December 26 for the San Antonio Stakes, he ran nothing like he had run in his five previous starts and was a well beaten third as the prohibitive favorite. Since then, trainer Bob Baffert stated “We didn’t really super-crank him for it” regarding the San Antonio, adding “We’re taking the Pegasus with a different approach” and “He’ll be ready.” As such ,there is no doubt in my mind Collected can run back to his 2017 efforts at the least, which could lead to a top effort good enough for a second or third place finish and perhaps even the upset win.



The other “Best Bet” might be Giant Expectations, who posted the upset at 13 to 1 in the San Antonio Stakes over Collected. Like Collected, Giant Expectations is a newly turned five year old with 13 races under his belt. He has won four of those races, including the Pat O’Brien Stakes in which he earned a career-best 118 figure. Showing versatility in winning from off the pace as well as winning while in front from start to finish, Giant Expectations has never run this far but his sire (Frost Giant) has produced horses that have, including a full brother and so I have little concern about him being able to handle the distance. With Hall-of-Fame jockey Gary Stevens in the saddle the same as for the San Antonio and Pat O’Brien, Giant Expectations can improve in his second start following nearly two months off and if he does could run a lot better than his 30/1 starting odds suggest he can.



Seeking the Soul and Fear the Cowboy are two others that I will consider as contenders, not necessarily to win (although I won’t rule their chances out entirely) but definitely to be in the top three. Seeking the Soul won his last two starts of 2017 including the Clark Handicap with a career-best 117 figure and at the distance of the Pegasus. Jockey John Velazquez rode Seeking the Soul for the first time in the Clark and rides back, another sign for the same or better as in that race. Fear the Cowboy has run well over many tracks in his career, with nine victories including four at Gulfstream Park. He won the Harlan’s Holiday Stakes last month over the track with a 115 figure effort and last year he won the Skip Away Stakes at the distance of the Pegasus.



Two other horses some handicappers and fans will be interested in are ones I don’t consider as win contenders, although they might finish in the top four. West Coast finished a non-threatening third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic in his most recent start. In the race he ran third pretty much from start to finish. The 125 figure he earned was more a reflection of how well Gun Runner ran than his own effort, and the horses behind him aren’t anywhere near as good as Gun Runner, Collected or a few others in here. Previous to the Classic, West Coast won five stakes race in a row but all were against three year olds only and he has yet to prove he can compete at this level versus older horses. Additionally, before the Classic his figures in the Travers and in the Pennsylvania Derby were 110 and those aren’t going to cut it in this field. Sharp Azteca is a brilliant racehorse with eight wins in 16 races. He finished second in the Breeder’s Cup Mile with a 132 figure in November then won the Cigar Mile with a 126 figure in December. The word “mile” is the key to his success, because even though Sharp Azteca has won up to a mile and one-sixteenth, he has never raced at this mile and one-eighth distance. Based on breeding, Sharp Azteca may not be as good at this distance as he has been at shorter distances. According to Stats Race Lens, sons and daughters of his sire Freud have a combined one for twenty-eight record at nine furlongs. As such, I can Sharp Azteca finishing second or third in the Pegasus but I can’t see him winning.


Contenders’ win probabilities and comparable odds. We can use these as a guide for making win, place or show bets at or above the odds listed below.

Gun Runner 55% (4/5)

Collected 20% (4/1)

Giant Expectations 10% (9/1)

Seeking the Soul 9% (10/1)

Fear the Cowboy 6% (16/1)


In the Money contender:

Sharp Azteca

Exactas: Gun Runner over Collected, Giant Expectations, Seeking the Soul, Sharp Azteca and Fear the Cowboy.

Trifectas: Gun Runner over Collected, Giant Expectations, Seeking the Soul, Sharp Azteca and Fear the Cowboy over ALL. 

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Ellis Starr

Ellis is a well respected handicapper and contributor of AmWager. He has been a public handicapper for more than twenty years, educating racing fans of all skill levels with detailed commentary few other handicappers provide.

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