Key Bets & Races for Saturday, March 31
Honey Fox Stakes – Race 11 at Gulfstream Park – Post Time 4:47 PM Eastern
Stormy Victoria put in an incredible late kick when winning the South Beach Stakes in late January over the course, making up 10 lengths in the last 3/16 of a mile. Before that she closed from last of nine to miss by a pair of necks in the similar Grade 3 My Charmer Stakes, won by On Leave, who also can win but who will likely go to post at lower odds. With a field high 116 Equibase figure from that win which is better than the 113 On Leave beat her right before that, Stormy Victoria gets slight preference among a quintet of contenders. On Leave has won two of her last three, the My Charmer at this mile turf trip in December and a stakes at Laurel last September. She’s only run two poor efforts in the past year, both when in Grade 2 stakes, so in this Grade 3 another “A” effort looks to be forthcoming and if it is she may earn her eighth career win. Res Ipsa goes for her third straight win, the only knock being the last two came in September and October. She has only run in a stakes once before, before the two wins, and it was a poor effort but she matured a lot in the fall and both wins came with Leparoux in the saddle, who rides her again, so she must be considered a contender. Lull won the similar G3 Autumn Miss Stakes at this mile trip in October, but that was against three year olds only. She did beat older in September sprinting on the turf at Kentucky Downs and finished a fine second in the Grade 2 San Clemente Stakes in July. Overmatched when last seen in a grade 1 stakes, she should appreciate the class relief ad could rebound to top form. Glory to Kitten is another very competitive mare, with six wins and three runner-up finishes in 14 starts. What’s odd is she was claimed out of a win for 30K 13 months ago over the track then took six tries to move through the first allowance condition but was narrowly defeated in two of those races. Claimed once again, on1/15 out of a win at this mile trip on the GP turf, Glory To Kitten ram the best race of her career last out to run her record on the GP turf to five-for-five and she’s on a pattern to run even better here, likely at a decent price.
Win Bets: Stormy Victoria at 5 to 2 or more.
Consider smaller win bets on any of the other four contenders, at these minimum odds, with preference to whichever horses are the highest odds at post time: On Leave 5 to 2, Res Ipsa 7 to 2, Lull 7 to 2 and Glory to Kitten 4 to 1.
Exacta: Box Stormy Victoria, On Leave, Res Ipsa, Lull and Glory to Kitten
Consider a trifecta box among the same five horses.
Race 11 – Stormy Victoria, On Leave, Res Ipsa, Lull and Glory to Kitten
Race 12 – Take Charge Paula, Cache, Princess Warrior
Race 13 – Hi Happy, Bigger Picture, Sadler’s Joy
Race 14 – Storm Runner, Hofburg, Mississippi
Pan American Stakes – Race 13 at Gulfstream Park – Post Time 5:56 PM Eastern
Hi Happy is one of three that can win, the other two Sadler’s Joy and Bigger Picture. The rest are a bit overmatched compared to these three and of the three Hi Happy is likely to offer the best value for win bets. In his native Argentina, Hi Happy crushed a field of 14 by four lengths at a mile on turf, no easy task, then finished second in a group 2 stakes before reeling of four straight group 2 or group 1 stakes wins. Given 11 months off to acclimate to the U.S. he started his career in California and was so highly regarded he made his stateside debut in a grade 2 stakes. He didn’t do much in his first three U.S. starts but when stretched out to 12 furlongs for the first time in the U.S. he ran his best race in nearly 18 months, leading late and missing by a neck on the wire to grade 1 winner Hard Aces. Rested again, this time for 8 months, and sent to the Pletcher barn, Hi Happy came back in February in the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf Stakes and missed by a neck and 3/4 of a length in a huge effort he is very likely to improve off 2nd off the layoff. Considering his last two efforts yielded 111 and 112 Equibase figures which compare favorably to the 111 to 115 figures Bigger Picture earned in grade 1 and 2 stakes in the last year, Hi Happy can add to his $1 million earned to date and give the Pletcher barn yet another win at the meeting. Sadler’s Joy earned a 112 figure winning the Grade 1 Sword Dancer Stakes last summer at Saratoga, which is on par with Hi Happy’s last two efforts. However, Sadler’s Joy did run even better in his most recent effort when rallying from far back, 12th and last, to win the Mac Diarmida Stakes on the course four weeks ago with a 122 figure. Repeating that effort, the rest are running for second, but in spite of having won 6 of 15 on the turf and 2 of 3 on the grass at GP, Sadler’s Joy can be beaten although we cannot for a second discount his chances so he must be used on any exotic bets we make including exactas and pick 3/pick 4 tickets. Bigger Picture is the third millionaire in the field, having gone over the mark with a win in the Grade 3 Connally Stakes when last seen at the end of January at this marathon 12 furlong trip. He has only run on the GP turf once previously, missing in a four horse photo in the 2017 Mac Diarmida, which Sadler’s Joy won last month. Jose Ortiz rides Bigger Picture exceptionally well, up for three of his last four wins, and so we should expect this veteran to be in the thick of the action on the wire.
Win Bets: Hi Happy at 2 to 1 or more.
In the unlikely event Sadler’s Joy or Bigger Picture is anywhere near 2 to 1 at post time, bet the one at the highest odds to win as well. Use a “dutching tool” like the one at Amwager to help allocate your wagering dollars over multiple horses for the best result in these kinds of situations.
Exacta: Box Hi Happy, Bigger Picture and Sadler’s Joy
Doubles: Hi Happy, Bigger Picture and Sadler’s Joy in race 13 with Storm Runner, Hofburg and Mississippi in race 14
Florida Derby – Race 14 at Gulfstream Park – Post Time 6:30 Eastern
Hofburg is making only the third start of his career and only his second start as a three year old. In spite of giving away a lot of experience to the others he has a decent shot to win this year’s Florida Derby because there are some significant question marks surrounding some of the others. Storm Runner and Mississippi ran first and second, respectively, in a highly rated race over the track in February and if they repeat those efforts the can win as well. I’ll make cases for all three based on other factors after I explain why I believe so many horses in this field are NOT win contenders.
First, Tip Sheet and Millionaire Runner are overmatched as they have never run well in stakes or recently. Then there’s Holy Bull Stakes winner Audible. The first question mark for him is returning off a 56 day rest into a nine furlong race. That’s not necessarily a big issue as his trainer is Todd Pletcher and as Mississippi and Catholic Boy also made their last starts in the first 10 days of February. The main issue is the 97 Equibase Speed Figure was a regression off his career best 99 figure in his last start as a two year old and three year olds normally run better as they are more physically mature. Also, that 97 figure doesn’t hold up to the 110 or better figure it’s going to take to win this race, similar to the 115 figure Promises Fulfilled earned winning the Fountain of Youth Stakes four weeks ago. With Audible having his work cut out for him, we next move to the first and second place finishers in the Fountain of Youth and I can’t back either, at any price because of how that race was run. Promises Fulfilled was allowed to gallop on a lonely lead with no challengers, actually running slower in the second quarter mile as compared to the first, and slower still in the last quarter mile leading to the last 110 yards. His 24.99 fraction from the 3/16 pole to the 1/6 pole was dawdling and appears only to show me what was behind him wasn’t much. Fountain of Youth runner-up Strike Power ran second from start to finish and after having run first from start to finish in his other two races, that effort only proves he’s a need-the-lead type. Catholic Boy returned to finish second in his first start as a three year old in the Sam F. Davis Stakes, following two months off after a stirring victory in the Remsen Stakes last December. However, after making the lead turning for home against early leader Flameaway, Catholic Boy could not put away his foe and came up a half-length short on the wire. When Flameaway came back to run second behind Quip in the Tampa Bay Derby, with a seriously lower Equibase figure (106 in the Sam F. Davis to 96 in the Tampa Bay Derby), and with the third quarter mile split in the Sam F. Davis a pedestrian 24.81 which Catholic Boy could not make any headway, I just don’t see him as the type to leap forward and win the Florida Derby.
Back to the main contenders – Hofburg is a half-brother to multiple graded stakes winner Emollient, who finished second in the Demoiselle Stakes at a mile and one-eighth in only the second start of her career and who also won the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes on conventional dirt. Bill Mott trained Emollient as he does Hofburg, a son of tremendous sire Tapit, whose foals have won nearly 20% of over 220 dirt route stakes for three year olds in the past five years. Mott knows what he has and has no problem moving Hofburg into a grade 1 stakes of his maiden win, with a 102 Equibase figure that was a 20 point improvement off his only other race and which suggests Hofburg could show us a breakout effort in the Florida Derby.
Storm Runner earned a career best 111 figure winning his second start as a three year old, first on dirt, on February 4 over the track and he did so in spite of running greenly, which means he didn’t know exactly what to do. One month later in the Fountain of Youth Stakes, Storm Runner fought the jockey in the early stages then when he was let run, he went inside the early leader, only to be shut off and lose his momentum. Shut off one more time, when asked to run on the turn the colt refused to respond and ended up fading to seventh. With a change in jockey and a significant workout (best of 42) coming into the race, Storm Runner has a nice shot if he stays out of trouble.
Similarly, Mississippi can win if he can repeat or improve off that last effort. Before that he missed by three-quarters of a length to recent Louisiana Derby winner Noble Indy and then in that February 4 race, Mississippi moved up nicely to miss by a neck at the end and was nine lengths clear of the third horse. Blinkers added for the Florida Derby can help him focus on the task at hand in the late stages and if that does the trick Mississippi can stamp himself Kentucky Derby contender.
Win Bets: Bet Hofburg to win at odds of 3 to 1 or more.
Also Consider win bets on Storm Runner and on Mississippi at odds of 7 to 2 or higher.
Exactas: Hofburg, Storm Runner and Mississippi over Hofburg, Storm Runner, Mississippi, Strike Power, Promises Fulfilled, Catholic Boy and Audible.
San Francisco Mile Stakes – Race 8 at Golden Gate – Post Time 6:45 Eastern
Full of Luck looks extra live in his U.S. debut. A Chilean bred by Lookin At Lucky out of a Fusaichi Pegasus mare, he was bred to be any kind and has turned out that way, winning 5 of 7 last year and 8 of 14 overall for $262K, a huge bankroll for a horse having run exclusively in Chile until now. Privately purchased since his last race in October, partially by Hollendorfer, he appears to have come to hand quickly with a sharp 1:12 six furlong workout a few weeks ago. The fact that Hollendorfer gets Prat to ride, taking off a whole day at Santa Anita, is very significant and if the horse is as ready to run off the rest as he appears to be, he could pick up where he left off in the fall with a stakes win. Editore ships up from Southern California as well and the last time he did that was in November, winning the Grade 3 Berkeley Handicap, the only real difference between that race and this one (also a grade 3) the Berkeley was on the main track. However, Editore won a turf route at Santa Anita before that and he hasn’t been disgraced one bit in his two races since, finishing third twice in a row to the multiple stakes winner Itsinthepost, who would be the odds on favorite here. Syntax is another shipper from Southern California, dropping in class significantly from the Grade 1 Kilroe Mile three weeks ago, where in spite of being overmatched he managed to rally for fourth at 38 to 1. He missed by a half-length two races in a row to tougher before that and is another likely to move up on the change in company.
For the place position on exacta tickets, in addition to the win contenders we will also use Camino Del Paraiso and Frank Conversation, the former having just run the best race of his career when second in a stakes on the Santa Anita turf in late January and the latter a horse that doesn’t have a lot of late kick but who has managed to finish second or third in two graded stakes in his last four races.
Bets: Full of Luck to win at odds of 2 to 1 or more.
Consider win bets on Editore and Syntax at odds of 3 to 1 or more, for a smaller amount than on Full of Luck.
Exacta: Full of Luck, Editore and Syntax over Full of Luck, Editore, Syntax, Camino Del Paraiso and Frank Conversation.