Key Races & Bets for Saturday March 12th, 2022

Challenger Stakes – Race 8 at Tampa Bay Downs – Post Time 3:49 PM Eastern

The forecast is for rain, perhaps heavy at times, so among the stakes races on the Tampa Bay Derby card I’m sticking with those scheduled for dirt, expecting the turf races to have scratches and either short fields or more unpredictable on yielding or soft ground. That’s not a disadvantage, because in this race the two horses which share the highest probability to win open at odds of 10/1 and 12/1, respectively.

Wolfie’s Dynaghost is the first of the pair, drawing the ground saving rail for this route and winner of both previous starts on wet tracks. Better still, he enters the race looking for his third straight win, with his win two back on turf, his win last time out on all-weather, and those two wins on dirt I previously mentioned making up the four victories in his 10 race career. He has improved considerably in his last three starts, going from a 102 Equibase figure to 105 and then to 109 last time out in a $60K handicap, so the step up to this $100K grade 3 stakes is not a concern. He’s got tactical speed and can lead from the start or from off the pace and the last race 109 figure is not only the fastest last race in the field but there are only a couple of other horses in this group who have run that fast, ever, so repeating that effort on January 29 gets him the win here at nice odds.

Scalding is the other main contender to win, opening at 12/1. His three routes after a sprint debut have been big races, first second then winning the last two. He won by five lengths in a very highly rated allowance race at the distance over the track when McGaughey shipped him from Gulfstream, likely in preparation for this race, then he was shipped back to the trainer’s home back near Gulfstream. Castellano was up for both wins and rides back and the colt is on a pattern for a new career-best and has every right to win.

Handicapper Picks

Win bets:  Bet both Wolfie’s Dynaghost and Scalding at odds of 3 to 1 or more.

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Tampa Bay Derby – Race 11 at Tampa Bay Downs – Post Time 5:23 PM Eastern

After running two-one in last week’s Derby prep, the Fountain of Youth, we’ll try to do it again and this time lead with a double digit (morning line) contender in Happy Boy Rocket, with favorite Classic Causeway, as well as Shipsational, other possibilities to win, and with Major General and Money Supply horses to use on exacta and trifecta tickets.

To share why I think Happy Boy Rocket can post the upset and win this year’s Tampa Bay Derby, we have to go back to the 2021 Sam F. Davis Stakes. In that race, Bill Mott saddled Candy Man Rocket to win fairly easily in a field of nine. Prior to that race, Candy Man Rocket broke his maiden in his second career start, first as a three year old, five weeks earlier at Gulfstream Park. In doing so Mott proved once again why he’s in the Hall-of-Fame as he can recognize when a young horse is capable of stepping up in class and competing at graded stakes level. Notably, Candy Man Rocket finished 11th in last year’s Tampa Bay Derby, which is precisely why I feel Mott waited for this year’s Tampa Bay Derby to move Happy Boy Rocket from maiden to stakes. Adding blinkers for his second career start and first route in that maiden win, Happy Boy Rocket ran a visually impressive race as he was three paths wide for most of the race and five paths wide on the turn when he went from third to the lead entering the stretch, then just coasted home. The 91 Equibase Speed Figure wasn’t sensational nor even close to the 104 figure Classic Causeway earned winning this year’s Sam F. Davis, but we can expect about a 10-14 point improvement if history repeats. Not only did Mott saddle Candy Man Rocket to a Road to the Derby win in last year’s Sam F. Davis off a maiden win, he also saddled 2020 Risen Star Stakes runner-up Modernist off a maiden win, and more importantly 2019 Tampa Bay Derby winner Tacitus off a maiden win. In all, based on a Race Lens query, Mott has won seven of 25 dirt route stakes (and finished second four times) with horses coming off a maiden win over the last five years. From a good inside post, Happy Boy Rocket can stalk likely early leader Classic Causeway and if he shows the kind of passing ability on the turn as he did in his most recent race, Happy Boy Rocket can win this year’s Tampa Bay Derby.

Classic Causeway won the Sam F. Davis pretty easily in the end, by nearly four lengths, with a field high 104 figure that should be improved upon in his second start following two and one-half months off. After breaking his maiden at first asking at the distance of seven furlongs last summer, Classic Causeway improved nicely although third when facing much better in the Breeders’ Futurity, also his first try around two turns. Earning a then career-best 95 figure when second in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes in November to finish off his two year old campaign, Classic Causeway returned even stronger as a three year old and could be the one to catch once more.

Shipsational was no match for Classic Causeway in the Sam F. Davis as the winner controlled the tempo from start to finish, but did manage to pass five horses when rallying from eighth to second and was pulling away from the third finisher at the end. Last year Shipsational earned a strong 95 figure winning the one-turn Bertram F. Bongard Stakes before a 94 figure effort winning the Sleepy Hollow Stakes, also a one-turn race. The Sam F. Davis was his first two-turn race and the 98 figure he earned is likely to be improved upon as he had been off for three and one-half months before the race. As such Shipsational has a shot to leap frog Classic Causeway in terms of how fast he can run and is likely to go to post at higher odds as well.

Honorable mention goes to Major General and Money Supply. Major General is two-for-two including a win in the Iroquois Stakes at the distance of the Tampa Bay Derby, but that was nearly six months ago. Trainer Todd Pletcher has had success off long layoffs in routes and sons of Constitution have done well on the Road to the Derby, particularly Tiz the Law, who won the 2020 Florida Derby. Money Supply not only tries two turns for the first time but also goes from maiden to stakes. Then again, trainer Chad Brown is no stranger to the move, having won the Withers Stakes this year with Early Voting and also the 2021 Withers with Risk Taking off maiden wins.

Handicapper Picks

Win Bets:

Happy Boy Rocket should be bet to win oat odds of 3 to 1 or more.

Shipsational can be considered for a win bet at odds of 3 to 1 or more.

Classic Causeway will not be a good win bet as he opens at much lower than 3 to 1, but we can play exactas to cover any potential of him winning.

Exactas:

Happy Boy Rocket, Shipsational and Classic Causeway over Happy Boy Rocket, Shipsational, Classic Causeway, Major General and Money Supply

Classic Causeway over Happy Boy Rocket, Shipsational, Major General and Money Supply

Trifecta:

Happy Boy Rocket, Shipsational and Classic Causeway over Happy Boy Rocket, Shipsational, Classic Causeway over Happy Boy Rocket, Shipsational, Classic Causeway, Major General and Money Supply

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Captiva Island Stakes – Race 10 at Gulfstream Park – Post Time 5:10 PM Eastern

The contenders to win and to complete the exacta are Tobys Heart, Miss Auramet, Miss J McKay and A G Indy, BUT A G Indy is the highest odds of the quartet (8/1) on the morning line and as such is the key to a nice profit. A G Indy is the only Pletcher trainee in this race, but may be underbet because Reyes is riding as most of the big names are at Tampa. The mare did virtually nothing wrong last year, with a 3-1-2 record in six races and over $200K in earnings, all coming after being claimed by trainer Doug O’ Neill in California in January. She was a superstar in short turf sprints like this one, nearly winning four in a row between August and November, with her only defeat coming by a nose, and one of those wins came in a stakes race with a $200K purse. Privately purchased after that 11/5/21 win, she was rested nearly three months and sent to Pletcher, who may have not found a condition she fit as she was a stakes winner so instead entered in the Grade 2 Inside Information Stakes on dirt (where she had lost her only start previously on the surface) on 1/29. Although she checked in eighth of 10 in that race, it did not deter Pletcher from entering her here and putting her back on grass, and if she repeats any of her last three efforts at this five furlong turf trip, she can post the upset. At the least she can finish second as she’s done in four of 12 other races she didn’t win, to complete a decent exacta.

Handicapper Picks

Win bets:

A G Indy at odds of 3 to 1 or more

Exactas:

 

Box A G Indy and Tobys Heart, Box A G Indy and Miss Auramet, Box A G Indy and Miss J McKay

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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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