Key Races & Bets for Saturday, March 30, 2019
Pan American Stakes – Race 13 at Gulfstream Park – Post Time 6 PM Eastern
Focus Group actually looks like a standout, or at the least a key in exotic wagers and a great win bet, if he goes to post anywhere near his 4 to 1 starting odds. I nearly always toss the race that led to a long layoff so although his 11th to 3rd rallying finish in the Grade 1 Canadian International in October was good, I’ll look back to his two efforts before that so she what he’s capable of, and that’s a lot. Last July at Saratoga at 11 furlongs on turf, Focus Group rallied from 7th of 8 early to win by ¾ of a length then he followed that up with a win in the 13 furlong (1 5/8 mile) John’s Call Stakes at Saratoga in August, rallying from last of nine to get up by a nose. He always cuts is close when he wins but he’s got a powerful kick and in this field he can blow by the field. He’s won three of six since adding blinkers and although he’s been away for five and one-half months, at this marathon 12 furlong trip that’s not an issue, particularly for the Brown barn which wins with a STRONG 33% of its horses coming back from layoffs like this one.
Canessar, Melmich, Soglio and Bigger Picture are the other four contenders, with some shot to win and a big shot to run 2nd or 3rd. Canessar was sent off at 3 to 1 in the McKnight in January and had a very troubled trip but he was 2nd in two straight marathons, both graded stakes, prior to that. Melmich rallied fast from 9th to 2nd in the Mac Diarmida four weeks ago and Castellano rides back so he could be putting in a big late run again. Maker trains both Soglio and Bigger Picture and Maker’s starters finished 1st and 3rd in the Mac Diarmida plus Soglio just missed in the stakes race at two miles in December on the course while Bigger Picture won a grade 3 stakes at this 12 furlong turf trip in his most recent start.
Win Bets: Focus Group to win at odds of 2 to 1 or more.
Exacta and Trifecta: Focus Group over Canessar, Melmich, Soglio and Bigger Picture.
For about half the base amount of the exacta above (for example $2 compared to $5), play an exacta consisting of Canessar, Melmich, Soglio and Bigger Picture over Focus Group.
Focus Group in Race 13 with Hidden Scroll, Harvey Wallbanger, Bourbon War, Everfast, Bodexpress and Code of Honor in Race 14.
Focus Group, Canessar, Melmich, Soglio and Bigger Picture in Race 13 with Bourbon War in Race 14.
Optionally, Focus Group, Canessar, Melmich, Soglio and Bigger Picture in Race 13 with Hidden Scroll, Harvey Wallbanger, Bourbon War, Everfast, Bodexpress and Code of Honor in Race 14.
Florida Derby – Race 14 at Gulfstream Park – Post Time 6:36 PM Eastern
Bourbon War makes his third start as a three year old and based on his pattern of improvement appears to be sitting on the best race of his career. Off an impressive maiden win last fall around one turn, Bourbon War was asked to step up his game tremendously when entered in the Remsen Stakes and checked in fourth of nine while never threatening to win. Returning in mid-January as a much more mature horse and debuting around two-turns without a prep race, Bourbon War won by the same two and one-quarter length margin as he had in his debut, but with a then career-best Equibase Speed Figure of 107. Six weeks later in the Fountain of Youth, Bourbon War improved again, this time earning a 110 figure while rallying from ninth in the opening quarter mile to second at the wire, beaten three-quarters of a length by Code of Honor and making up nearly four lengths on that rival in the last eighth of a mile. As a son of Tapit, who produced 2014 Florida Derby winner Constitution, Bourbon War should run even better at this nine furlong trip and with more improvement in his Equibase Speed Figure expected, may be very tough to beat in this race.
Code of Honor won in his debut last summer then, after stumbling at the start, rallied from 10th to second in the Champagne Stakes in the fall. Rested three months, Code of Honor returned to finish a non-threatening fourth in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes in January. Trainer McGaughey took the blame for that poor effort and stated between that race and the Fountain of Youth he worked Code of Honor very hard, resulting in a rebound of the first order when the colt won at odds of 9 to 1. Code of Honor earned a 111 figure in that race, which was not only a career-best but the highest last race figure in this field. As he is making his third start off the three month layoff, better is certainly possible. As such, Code of Honor deserves a lot of respect when considering who can win this year’s Florida Derby.
Bodexpress will likely go to post at high odds, opening at 30 to 1, which in my opinion will be unjustified because he’s got a decent shot to be a contender in the Florida Derby. Horses don’t often earn the first wins of their careers in graded stakes as three year olds but it’s not unheard of either, and in recent “Road to the Derby” races horses have won following their maiden wins. Bodexpress ran the best race of his career last month when second, beaten a neck, in a seven furlong sprint. The 103 figure was a bit shy of the 111 and 110 figures earned by the top two contenders in this race, but with improvement, his effort and figure could be in that range and so he must be given a long look as another upset possibility in a month where there have been so many in Derby prep races. Additionally, as a son of Bodemeister, who produced 2017 Florida Derby winner Always Dreaming, Bodexpress is bred to go the distance. Additionally, if (as it appears) stretching out Hard Belle and Maximum Security go for the lead and if Hidden Scroll runs as he did in the Fountain of Youth where he set a sizzling early pace, Bodexpress could be passing many, if not all of the field, in the late stages.
Harvey Wallbanger posted the 29 to 1 upset in the Holy Bull Stakes over the track in February and has waited for this race ever since, passing the Fountain of Youth while continuing to train exceptionally well in the morning. His most recent workout on March 23 was the best of 100 on the day for the distance of four furlongs, indicating he’s in peak form. The Holy Bull effort earned him a career-best 104 figure which would be competitive with the main contenders if he improves on it and opening at 15 to 1 he’s very playable. Additionally, Harvey Wallbanger rallied from ninth in the Holy Bull and if a hot early pace scenario comes to pass in this race he is another who could be strongly rallying in the stretch.
As for Hidden Scroll, it may have been the case he was pushed by another horse (Gladiator King, who since won the Hutcheson Stakes) and forced to run way too fast in the early stages before fading to fourth as the favorite in the Fountain of Youth. It could be just as likely he has yet to learn to relax and is a need-the-lead type. With Hard Belle and Maximum Security both stretching out from sprints and both likely to be running faster-than-average in the early stages while on or very close to the front, I’m taking a stand Hidden Scroll will get tired from either trying to go with those two or chasing a hot pace and I therefore I don’t consider him a contender to win this race.
I also want to throw in Everfast, Hidden Scroll and Maximum Security in the second position on exacta tickets particularly so not to be kicking myself later of Bodexpress or Harvey Wallbanger happens to win.
Win Bets: Bourbon War to win at odds of 2 to 1.
For a smaller amount (perhaps just a token $2 or $5) Bodexpress to win and place at 6 to 1 or higher, and Harvey Wallbanger to win and place at 6 to 1 or higher.
Exacta: Harvey Wallbanger, Bourbon War, Bodexpress and Code of Honor over Harvey Wallbanger, Bourbon War, Bodexpress, Code of Honor, Everfast, Hidden Scroll and Maximum Security.
San Carlos Stakes – Race 6 at Santa Anita – Post Time 6:58 PM Eastern
Solid Wager shops back into the top Miller barn after a foray to New York where he won the similar Toboggan Stakes at this seven furlong trip, beating a very good horse in Skyler’s Scramjet, followed by a fine 2nd in the mud at a mile, which is just a bit farther than he wants to run. He’s six for seven at this distance including a very sharp win in the Cary Grant Stakes last fall, with a career best 120 Equibase figure which, if repeated, puts these to shame. Miller rarely uses Pedroza but is 4 for 10 at SA this year and last when he does and the gelding fires big shots off short rests like the one he’s coming back from today, plus gets a great outside post in a field of seven to settle in third or fourth early behind likely leader Ax Man and St. Joe Bay.
Although not nearly as probable to win, Touching Rainbows has a decent shot to succeed as well, owing to a very strong 7 for 12 record on dirt including a pair of wins at this trip. Five of his seven wins came here at SA including his most recent at the end of January with a 111 figure. That effort if repeated doesn’t beat Solid Wager’s best if he repeats that, but Touching Rainbows earned a career-best 116 figure last April off a layoff and here at SA to posting the mild upset isn’t completely out of the question.
Ax Man is the only one of the three Baffert entrants who could have a say in the outcome here, with a seven furlong win in February, his most recent start, in a classified allowance which was also his first start versus older horses. He won a restricted stakes last May on Preakness weekend but there’s nothing about him, except for the barn he calls home, which truly justifies favoritism in this race as is suggested by his 5 to 2 starting odds. Similarly, Kanthaka opens at 3 to 1 and although he did win the Barrera Stakes over the track that was last May and it was against three year olds only. He ran 2nd to one of the best sprinters in the world in Roy H two months ago in the G2 Palos Verdes and he’s three-for-four at this trip so he must be respected but again he would need to run a new career best and Solid Wager would need to run poorly for Kanthaka to win. St. Joe Bay missed by a head at 42 to 1 in last year’s San Carlos off a decent effort and although he was 5th and not a threat in the Palos Verdes when last seen he’s been freshened and ran big off a layoff prior to that.
Win bets: Solid Wager to win at 7 to 5 or more.
For a smaller amount, Touching Rainbows to win at 5 to 2 or higher.
Exacta: Solid Wager and Touching Rainbows over Solid Wager, Touching Rainbows, Ax Man, Kanthaka and St. Joe Bay,
Santa Ana Stakes- Race 7 at Santa Anita – Post Time 7:28 PM Eastern
India Mantuana is a grade 3 stakes winner in a grade 3 stakes, having won the Red Carpet Handicap last fall on the Del Mar turf. That was a mile and three-eighths race, the same distance she won at two races prior to that last August. In both races, she led from start to finish and in this race unless Stradella Road and Franco don’t go for the lead from the start or if India Mantuana and Desormeaux get to the front in the first few yards over Stradella Road, India Mantuana is likely to have the early lead all to herself. Considering those two wins at 11 furlongs earned her 106 and 104 Equibase figures, she’s going to be tough to beat from there and opening at 10/1 she gets top billing.
If we’re willing to excuse the fact Elysea’s World needed her last start, on 2/23, following four and one-half months off, she’s a strong contender here. First or second in 11 of 23 career starts, all on turf, she’s also a multiple winner at this Grade 3 stakes level, most recently back-to-back last July and September. She was overmatched and that’s why she finished 8th of 9 in the G1 E P Taylor Stakes in October, then was moved from Brown to Baltas, from New York to California, and given the aforementioned time off. In the comeback on 2/23 at a mile she rallied from last of nine to sixth, beaten just a length or so for 3rd. She should move forward nicely 2nd off the layoff and her six furlong workout on 3/17 shows she’s fit and ready to run her best.
Tell Me More is a bit below the top two contenders both on the level of class (having never run in a stakes) and speed, as the 102 and 101 recent figures not near the 106 figures India Mantuana and Elysea’s World have earned. However, she’s been first or second in five of her last six races, all on turf, with the best of those coming at 9 furlongs when last seen in December. She’s bred in spades to get the 10 furlong trip on both sides of her family tree and she opens at 10/1 so she has some potential to post the upset win.
Win bets: Indian Mantuana to win at odds of 5 to 2 or more.
For a smaller amount, Tell Me More to win at odds of 4 to 1 or more.
Exactas: India Mantuana, Elysea’s World and Tell Me More over ALL.