Key Bets & Races for Saturday, March 24 & Sunday, March 25
Saturday, March 24
Race 7 at Santa Anita – Post Time 6 Eastern Time (3 Pacific Time)
Unlike most of the other six entrants in this race, General Mach Four is NOT a need-the-lead type. In his career debut last Marth cat Santa Anita, he rallied from sixth of seven in the early stages to draw off handily by five lengths. That was his ONLY dirt sprint, his three starts since a dirt route and two turf sprints. Having changed trainers since his last start in May, General Mach Four finds himself in the Doug O’Neill barn with a consistent series of workout for his comeback, a good outside post, and a red hot Giovanni Franco in the saddle, who earned his first Grade 1 win last weekend and who now is just shy of 25 wins at the meeting. With Bad Bad Leroy, Quick Finish, Caray and possibly Treasure Hunter likely to want the lead from the start or to press the horses that do lead early, General Mach Four, who already proved capable of winning fresh, can do just that today. Spokane Eagle ran very well once and poorly in his other three starts BUT like General Mach Four his winning effort came in a race similar to this one, at this 6 1/2 furlong trip over the track in February. His only start since was around two turns and as he cuts back to one turn he also gets Flavien Prat to ride for the first time, another reason to really like his chances.
Win bet: General Mach Four and Spokane Eagle at odds of 5 to 2 or more.
Exacta: General Mach Four over ALL and then also the reverse of that exacta, which is ALL over General Mach Four
Race 7 – Spokane Eagle, Quick Finish, General Mach Four, Bad Bad Leroy
Race 8 – ALL
Race 9 – Saltini
Pick 3: (optional ticket 2)
Race 7 – Spokane Eagle, General Mach Four
Race 8 – ALL
Race 9 – Saltini, Itsinthepost, Hayabusa One
Louisiana Derby – Race 11 at Fair Grounds – Post Time 6:21 Eastern Time (5:21 Central)
My Boy Jack improved significantly in his second race as a three year old when winning the Southwest Stakes in convincing fashion last month and appears very capable of taking another step forward on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. As a two year old, My Boy Jack won the Zuma Beach Stakes on turf with a career best 114 Equibase Speed Figure before a better-than-looked seventh place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, a race in which he was beaten just three lengths in a field of 14. Rested two months following that race, My Boy Jack returned in January in the Sham Stakes, his first dirt race since his debut seven months earlier. In the Sham, although no match for the top two finishers, My Boy Jack did manage to finish third, earning a 98 figure. That demonstrated enough for trainer Keith Desormeaux to enter him in the Southwest Stakes, a test he passed with flying colors to earn a 106 figure. Shipping back to the trainer’s home base in Southern California since the Southwest and putting in three workouts, My Boy Jack comes east once more while appearing capable of running back to his 114 figure effort last summer, that kind of effort making him the one to beat in this year’s Louisiana Derby.
Snapper Sinclair, like My Boy Jack, was a stakes winner last year on turf, capturing the Turf Showcase Juvenile Stakes in September. After a 12th place effort in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, Snapper Sinclair took a similar path as My Boy Jack as trainer Steve Asmussen tried him on dirt in his first start as a three year old and for the first time since his career debut last summer. In that race, the LeComte Stakes, Snapper Sinclair ended up third of 13 after pressing the pace in the early stages. Five weeks later, Snapper Sinclair ran his best race to date when battling head-and-head for the last seven-eighths of a mile in the Risen Star, coming up a nose short on the wire to Bravazo with a career-best 110 figure. With five weeks of rest since that effort, Snapper Sinclair should run as well or better in the Louisiana Derby, particularly with a jockey change to Jose Ortiz, currently the fifth leading rider in North America.
Noble Indy finished third behind Bravazo and Snapper Sinclair in the Risen Star as the second betting choice at five to two odds. That was just the third start of his career and although he did not win as he had in both his previous races, Noble Indy earned a career-best 106 figure in the process. Trainer Todd Pletcher is equipping Noble Indy with blinkers for the first time and that just may be what he needs to run better based on the fact he was third over the course of the entire stretch run of the Risen Star. If the new equipment helps him to focus more on the task at hand in the late stages and to improve his figure just a bit, Noble Indy could stamp himself a strong contender for the Kentucky Derby in six weeks.
Bravazo was my choice in the Risen Star last month based on the fact he placed second in a graded stakes (the Breeders’ Futurity) as a two year old and had an excellent prep race in January when making his first start as a three year old. That January 13 effort earned Bravazo a career-best 104 figure, which improved to a 110 figure when he won the Risen Star. Now third on the Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 54 points, Bravazo just needs to stay in top shape as that point total assures him a spot in the starting gate in Louisville on the first Saturday in May. Bravazo worked exceptionally well in preparation for the Louisiana Derby so another top effort should be forthcoming. However, it may be other horses that need to finish first or second in the race may run the best races of their careers while Bravazo won’t be pushed to his limit until the Kentucky Derby, leading to one of the other contenders emerging victorious in this race.
For exotic wagers such as the exacta, we should consider Hyndford, who improved to a career-best 95 figure last month when second in an allowance race at Tampa Bay Downs last month. Although that figure isn’t in the ballpark of the 106 to 110 figure the main four contenders have earned, the fact is he could improve markedly off that effort as the horse that beat him, Magnum Moon, got on the Road to the Derby radar in a big way by winning the Rebel Stakes last Saturday, improving from a 98 figure to a 109 figure. If Hyndford improves similarly off his 95 last race effort, that puts him squarely in range of an in-the-money finish in the Louisiana Derby.
Win Bets: Bet My Boy Jack (9) to win at odds of 2 to 1 or more.
Consider a win bet on Snapper Sinclair (7) at 5 to 2 or more.
Exacta: My Boy Jack (9), Snapper Sinclair (7), Noble Indy (2) and Bravazo (1) over My Boy Jack (9), Snapper Sinclair (7), Noble Indy (2), Bravazo (1) and Hyndford (6).
Consider playing the opposite of that as well, which is My Boy Jack (9), Snapper Sinclair (7), Noble Indy (2), Bravazo (1) and Hyndford (6) over My Boy Jack (9), Snapper Sinclair (7), Noble Indy (2) and Bravazo (1).
San Luis Rey Stakes – Race 9 at Santa Anita – Post Time 7 Eastern Time (4 Pacific)
When a trainer the caliber of Dick Mandella moves a horse from a first level allowance win to a Grade 2 stakes like this one, I take notice and ask “what does he know that I don’t” which when it comes to training horses is a lot. Saltini didn’t do a thing in his first two starts, in 2016, as a three year old, but both were on dirt. Coming back last summer on turf, Saltini showed a ton of ability when missing by inches at 40 to 1. After breaking his maiden in October and given time off between November and January, Saltini returned to finish 2nd then won last month at 10 furlongs on grass with a career best Equibase figure of 113. That isn’t what it will take to win this as multiple graded stakes winner Itsinthepost earned a 122 winning this race last year and a 124 figure winning the San Marcos at 10 furlongs last month, BUT Saltini could jump up the 11 points necessary to post the upset, particularly as he is a half-brother to millionaire Champ Pegasus, also trained by Mandella, who won graded stakes at this marathon 12 furlong trip and who was moved by Mandella off a NW1X allowance win into a Grade 2 Stakes early in his career, nearly winning the Sunset Handicap in the process. As such, I’ll take the value offered on Saltini, who opens at 10/1.
Hayabusa One and Itsinthepost were separated by a nose on the wire in the San Marcos last month and Hayabusa One may have won if Espinoza didn’t drop the whip with 110 yards to go. Espinoza will attempt to make up for that mistake here and these are both two very tough horses in their element today. For exotic wagers (second on one exacta ticket, third in the trifecta) we will also add Rye, Aquaphobia and Responsibleforlove, all nice horses but a cut below the top three.
Bet: Saltini to win at 2 to 1 or more and add a place bet at 5 to 1 or higher.
Trifecta: Saltini, Itsinthepost and Hayabusa One over Saltini, Itsinthepost and Hayabusa One over ALL
Exacta: Saltini, Itsinthepost and Hayabusa One over Saltini, Itsinthepost, Hayabusa One, Rye, Responsibleforlove and Aquaphobia.
Sunday, March 25
Bill Thomas Memorial Stakes – Race 9 at Sunland Park – Post Time 6:13 Eastern (4:13 Mountain)
Concord Fast has won three of his last four races, the most recent a similar stakes at Sunland last month. He gets a great outside post to stalk the pacesetters and could easily add to his very strong record of 9 for 18 first or second, the last four all sprints like today. Blameitonthelaw ships in from California for John Sadler. He was overmatched badly in the G2 Pat O’Brien Stakes when last seen in August, but before that he won very nicely in an allowance race with a strong 108 Equibase Figure, which stacks up with the 109 figure Concord Fast earned in his most recent race last month. Also with a good stalking style, Blameitonthelaw has every right to win this $100K stakes. Counterforce rallied for 2nd in a similar stakes at Sam Houston last month, two before that running the best race of his career with a 110 figure. Ricardo Santana gets on for the trainer (Asmussen) who provides most of his wins and as the horse is in the best form of his life he’s another to be respected as a contender. Mt Veeder won five of 10 races last year and finished 2nd to Concord Fast in Texas last month in his 2018 debut after leading from the start. Juarez rides him very well, up for his last six wins, and rides back. The 107 figure effort was very strong and makes him competitive here if he repeats it.
Bets: Concord Fast to win at 2 to 1 or more
Make a second win bet on Blameitonthelaw, Conterforce or Mt Veeder, whichever goes to post at the highest odds, as long as 2 to 1 or more.
Exacta and Trifecta: Box Concord Fast, Blameitonthelaw, Conterforce and Mt Veeder
Race 9 – Concord Fast, Blameitonthelaw, Conterforce and Mt Veeder
Race 10 – ALL
Race 11 – New York Central, Peace, Choo Choo
Sunland Park Derby – Race 11 at Sunland Park – Post Time 7:15 Eastern (5:15 Mountain)
Choo Choo appears well spotted by an excellent trainer in Hollendorfer, and may catch a lot of bettors by surprise opening at 8 to 1. Although he’s coming off a fifth place finish with no excuse in the El Camino Real Derby, that race is starting to prove productive as last weekend El Camino Real Derby third place finisher Blended Citizen posted the upset to win the Jeff Ruby Steaks in Kentucky. Although Choo Choo has been running exclusively on turf and all-weather since his debut last summer in a dirt sprint, he is bred to run very well on the dirt as his full brother (same sire and dam) is multiple graded stakes winner Blueskiesnrainbows, who ran very well as a three year old when finishing third in the 2012 Santa Anita Derby and winning the Swaps Stakes on his way to earnings of $670,000 and a win in the Native Diver Stakes at the distance of the Sunland Derby as well as Grade 2 San Pasqual Stakes. Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, who also trained Blueskiesnrainbows to those latter two wins, handles Choo Choo as well. With the colt having put in back-to-back 102 Equibase figure efforts including when winning the California Derby in January and with the removal of blinkers as well as an off-the-pace running style that should benefit from a likely early pace battle between All Out Blitz, Shane Zain and Runaway Ghost, Choo Choo could be on his way to Kentucky with the 50 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby that comes with a win in this race.
New York Central is an improving type and a son of Tapit trained by Steve Asmussen, who goes to his #1 jockey in Ricardo Santana, who rode the colt to a game win by a neck last month with a career best 96 Equibase figure. Making his third start of the year, New York Central has improving to do and is another with an off-the-pace style so he should be in a great position to be in the action at the finish in the Sunland Derby.
Peace didn’t show much when fourth behind McKinzie and Bolt d’Oro in the San Felipe or when fifth prior to that in the Robert B. Lewis but considering Hall-of-Fame trainer Dick Mandella wheels him back on just 14 days rest we should take notice. Mandella is a very prudent trainer and must believe the colt didn’t have much taken out of him in his other race this month. Over the past two years, Mandella has only brought back nine horses in under a month and among those nine, three won, all in graded stakes including Paradise Woods in last year’s Santa Anita Oaks and Beholder in the Grade 1 Vanity Mile in 2016. Even though Peace finished fourth last time out, the 107 Equibase figure earned is the best last race figure in the field. As such, we must consider Peace as a major player in this race.
Three horses, All Out Blitz, Seven Trumpets and Runaway Ghost, appear a cut below the top three contenders but can be used on some exacta tickets in the second position.
Bets: Bet Choo Choo to win at odds of 5 to 2 and add a place bet if 5 to 1 or higher.
Consider a win bet on New York Central at odds of 5 to 2 or more.