Key Races & Bets for Saturday May 3 and May 4, 2024

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Friday May 3 Westchester Stakes (Grade 3) - Race 8 at Belmont - Post Time 4:42 PM Eastern

Contenders:

Charge It won the Grade 2 Suburban Stakes last July at a mile and one-eighth and has won at a mile and one-sixteenth and this one milt trip around one turn, twice. One of those was in the 2022 Dwyer Stakes as a three year old where he crushed the field by 23 lengths with a sparkling 114 Equibase Speed Figure. Something caused him to go to the sidelines for seven months after that and he returned with a 109 figure winning easily. Proving himself stakes quality again, Charge It finished second in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Mile (around one turn like the Westchester) then two later he won the Suburban before three 4th place efforts in a row including the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. Being off for five months and having fired to win off a seven month layoff, there’s no concern about the layoff and frankly, his best race is good enough to win and it appears based on consistent workouts for Pletcher, that should happen.

Adero may have a lower probability to win than Charge It but will likely have higher odds to make up for it and so may be worth betting. He’s won six of 12 and more importantly four of six at a mile including here at Aqueduct. He had shipped up from the trainer’s home base at Parx (in Pennsylvania) for that win and does the same thing today, off a strong win in a two-turn mile. Adorno has been aboard for ALL six career wins and the 110 figure Adero earned in his most recent race is good enough to win if Charge It doesn’t fire.

Winit also won strongly at a mile in his most recent race, four weeks ago, earning a 109 figure. He has won FOUR times at this distance and his only knock is he’s never won back-to-back. He’s also finished second three times so has been first or second in seven of 15 dirt races, nearly 50% of the time, and is a must to use on exacta tickets.

The likely favorite is Post Time, who has won eight of nine including the Grade 2 Carter Stakes last month. In spite of his record, I think he’s better at seven furlongs than one mile, which he’s only run once, beating Maryland breds in January, and he may be better at Laurel than in New York as his two wins before the Carter earned 116 and 111 figures but he was all out to get up by a neck in that race with a 94 figure, in just a four horse field. I’m going to take a hard stand against Post Time and if that works out it could be pretty profitable.

If you’re wondering about Messier, he has a shot as well but I’ll only use him in second on exacta tickets. Formerly trained by Baffert and the next big thing in 2022 after winning the Robert B. Lewis (a Derby prep) by 15 lengths, he finished second in the Santa Anita Derby that year and then 15th in the Kentucky Derby after pressing sizzling early fractions through the opening six furlongs. He really hasn’t been the same since but did improve when moved to Dutrow over the winter, finishing second in January then winning but disqualified to second on March 30. Both of those were two turn races and I think he’s better around two turns than around one like he’s running today.

 

Bets-

Win: We should look to Charge It for a win bet at 2 to 1 or more, but we should absolutely consider Adero for a win bet at 3 to 1 or more. Winit can be considered at 4 to 1 or more but I’d only bet him if Adero isn’t above those minimum odds.  

When betting two horses at greater than minimum odds/fair odds there is a big opportunity to get an edge by using a dutching tool, which prorates wagers for the best value. There’s a free dutching tool at Amwager.com, where you can set the amount you want to bet or the amount you want to win, and the math is done for you to help achieve the best edge. This is just one of many tools, and perks, for bettors at Amwager.com

Exactas: Charge It, Adero and Winit over Charge It, Adero, Winit and Messier.

Friday May 3 Bonus Race - Kentucky Oaks - Race 11 at Churchill Downs - Post Time 5:51 PM Eastern

Leslie’s Rose just won the Ashland Stakes at Keeneland four weeks ago. The Ashland has been one of two historically critical prep races for Oaks winners, the other being the Fair Grounds Oaks. Leslie’s Rose won the Ashland with authority with a quick burst of speed from fourth on the far turn to be in front with an eighth of a mile to run, before drawing away. Her sire, Into Mischief, produced 2023 Oaks winner Pretty Mischievous so there’s no question she can run this mile and one-eighth distance after winning at one mile and one-sixteenth last month. Last year’s North American leading jockey, Irad Ortiz, Jr. (who is in second place this year) has been aboard for all four of the filly’s races, including three wins. Although other fillies in the race have run well and won other prep races this year, some are only making their second or third starts of 2023, whereas Leslie’s Rose is making her fourth start of the year so we can be assured she is in tip-top physical condition and able to repeat or improve upon her Ashland effort to win this year’s Kentucky Oaks.

Thorpedo Anna won the Fantasy Stakes in Hot Springs, Arkansas at the end of March, one week before Leslie’s Rose won the Ashland. That was her first race of 2024 and first after four months off, so we can expect even better in her second race off a layoff. Similar to Leslie’s Rose, Thorpedo Anna has won three of four carer races. In the Fantasy, Thorpedo Anna was as impressive as Leslie’s Rose was in the Ashland, as she stalked the pacesetters in third position early then moved up on the turn to draw off by three lengths, with no challengers in the stretch as she coasted home. Also similar to Leslie’s Rose, jockey Brian Hernandez, Jr. has been in the saddle for all four races Thorpedo Anna has run to date and knows exactly what to do in order to get her to run another “A” race good enough to win.

Tarifa won the Fair Grounds Oaks in her most recent race. As mentioned previously the Fair Grounds Oaks is historically an important prep for Kentucky Oaks winners. Like Leslie’s Rose, Tarifa has run three times this year, winning all three races. Although her best race is good enough to win and to be competitive down to the finish with both Leslie’s Rose and with Thorpedo Anna, when winning the Fair Grounds Oaks jockey Prat had to give Tarifa some encouragement on the far turn to get by the pacesetter and draw off. She did so by three-quarters of a length, a narrower margin as compared to the four lengths Thorpedo Anna was in front of the runner-up in the Fair Grounds Oaks and the three length margin Leslie’s Rose was in front of the runner-up in the Ashland. So although just as fast as those two if she runs her best, I have a slight concern they won their most recent races a bit more easily than she did and that is why I prefer Leslie’s Rose and Thorpedo Anna a bit more than Tarifa. That being said, Tarifa would be no surprise if winning this race as easily as she won the Rachel Alexandra Stakes in February just before the Fair Grounds Oaks.

Where’s My Ring won the Gazelle Stakes in New York four weeks ago in her most recent start, at the distance of the Kentucky Oaks. She ran as well as Leslie’s Rose, Thorpedo Anna and Tarifa in doing so, and she put in an exceptional morning workout at Churchill Downs recently so may fire nicely at high odds. Just FYI won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies last November then after five months off finished second behind Leslie’s Rose in the Ashland. She should improve but I’d prefer she had two races in 2024 under her belt rather than one before endorsing her for a win bet. Still, she could finish second again (and maybe even first) and I wouldn’t argue with anyone who wanted to bet her to win. Our Pretty Woman led from the start in the Fair Grounds Oaks and although passed by Tarifa in the stretch held second very nicely, beaten less than a length for the win. She continues to improve with every start and could be a factor at high odds.

Bets-

Win: We should consider betting Leslie’s Rose to win at 2 to 1, Thorpedo Anna at 5 to 2 and Tarifa at 3 to 1.

I would also consider Where’s My Ring at 6 to 1 or more.

This could be another superb race to use the dutching tool which is free and easy to use at Amwager.com.

Exacta: Leslie’s Rose, Thorpedo Anna and Tarifa over Leslie’s Rose, Thorpedo Anna, Tarifa, Where’s My Ring, Just FYI and Our Pretty Woman.

Saturday, May 4 Honey Ryder Stakes - Race 5 at Gulfstream Park - Post Time 3:04 PM Eastern

Contenders:

De Regreso won four weeks ago over the course with a very sharp effort by a neck on the wire. Jara was up for the first time and rides back and the 93 Equibase Speed Figure is the second best last race figure in the field, and the best among those which haven’t ONLY won leading from start to finish, of which there are four of five here that suggests a very contested pace will be witnessed in the early stages. Therefore De Regreso should be able to run as well as she did last month.

Majestic Venezuela has yet to run on turf but is bred to adore the sod as her only half-brother won six of 10 turf routes including three stakes. She led from start to finish on all-weather when winning four weeks ago but no other horse wanted the lead and the fractions were slow so I don’t expect her to be anywhere near the front in the early stages in this race. She closed from sixth to lead late last fall before settling for second and is a lot stronger now so should be in the picture at the end but needs to improve to do so as her best figure is 83.

Lady Cha Cha found her best stride late a few weeks ago on this course rallying past four horses in the final stages to win. That was right off the claim by Cazares and she may get the same trip here. She’s two for two on grass and makes her third start off a layoff so may have improving to do.

Bets-

Win: De Regreso should be considered at 5 to 2, Majestic Venezuela at 7 to 2 and Lady Cha Cha at 4 to 1

Exacta: Box De Regreso, Majestic Venezuela and Lady Cha Cha

English Channel Stakes - Race 11 at Gulfstream Park - Post Time 6:05 PM Eastern

Contenders:

Please Advise returns from five months off for Weaver, who does very well in turf routes off layoffs such as this. The colt won first out last June in a turf sprint then finished third in a stakes on turf, also a sprint, in September before stretching out to two turns and running brilliantly at Keeneland last fall. In that race, Please Advise moved up easily from fourth and led in the stretch but was run down late, still ending up well clear of the third finisher. He then shortened up to end his two year old campaign and won the Atlantic Beach Stakes on grass in New York. He can handle a sprint, a route, and any pace scenario which comes his way and could fire big in his three year old debut. He also gets a nice pace to run at with need the lead type Prevent on the rail but also with early speed coming from Sentenza, Time Song and Brawn.

In A Jam ran his poorest race in three months last time out on March 9, finishing fourth of nine in the Columbia Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs. It could have easily been he didn’t like shipping or didn’t like that particular turf course, because prior to that on the Gulfstream Park turf he ran three “A” races in a row, first losing by a nose then winning the next two. Both the wins were stakes quality efforts, one from just off the pace early and the other from seventh so this colt with a lot of ability could snap back to winning form over a grass course he loves.

Salvatore Prince was beaten a neck for second in the similar Cutler Bay Stakes on March 30 over this course. He had won a race scheduled for turf but run on the all-weather track two races before that and in both he should a good late kick. He continues to improve with racing and may get away at a big of a price based on his fourth place effort two races back and his third place effort last out but he appears to fit nicely in this group and should have a say in the outcome.

For some exacta tickets we should consider Ninja Star as well as he has finished second or third in all four of his last races on turf, winning the fifth turf race back in December. He’s been entered for an optional claiming price in three of those allowance/optional claiming level races so perhaps wasn’t that highly regarded, but he is now as he ran third in a stakes two back and lost by a nose when ineligible to be claimed in his most recent race on April 12. Ninja Star has a decent late kick but with two career wins and four runner-up efforts he seems to be telling us he’d rather finish second than win. However, his odds may be such we will be kicking ourselves if he does win, so we’ll include him on some exacta tickets as mentioned previously.

Bets-

Win: Please Advise and In a Jam should be considered for win bets at about 5 to 2 odds or higher. Next, Salvattore Prince might be considered for a win bet at 7 to 2 or more, but only if one of the other two is well below those minimum odds.

Exactas:

Box Please Advise, In a Jam, Salvatore Prince

Box Please Advise, In a Jam, Salvatore Prince, Ninja Star

BONUS RACE - Kentucky Derby - Race 12 at Churchill Downs - Post Time 6:57 PM Eastern

Top contenders in preference order with program number:

  1. Sierra Leone
  2. Just Steel
  3. Fierceness
  4. Resilience
  5. Endlessly
  6. Just a Touch

 

Sierra Leone won the Blue Grass Stakes last month, running the third fastest race among all Kentucky Derby entrants this season, with a 107 Equibase Speed Figure which was just a bit behind Just Steel (112) from his runner-up effort in the Arkansas Derby and behind Fierceness (110) in the Florida Derby. For Sierra Leone, that was a strong improvement off his three year old debut winning the Risen Star Stakes in February with a 98 figure. Last November and in only the second start of his career in the Remsen Stakes, Sierra Leone made a sweeping move on the far turn from seventh to first and looked like a winner until a bit of inexperience got to him and he idled waiting for a challenge, allowing Dornoch to come back and beat him by a nose. In February when returning as a three year old, trainer Chad Brown made an equipment change and the result of that change, along with maturity, led to a visually impressive win in the Risen Star with a powerful move on the far turn from seventh. In the Blue Grass Sierra Leone was more impressive as he rallied from seventh past a group of horses on the turn, speeding up from to 39 miles per hour to pass the remaining three horses in the last eighth of a mile before coasting home at 36 mph. In the Derby this kind of on-command acceleration should allow Sierra Leone to quickly pass a lot of horses on the far turn just as many are tiring, enabling him to be in a good position to pass any remaining horses in the final portion of the race and win.

Just Steel earned that field high 112 Equibase Speed Figure when second in the Arkansas Derby behind Muth, who is not running in this year’s Kentucky Derby. Last year’s Derby winner (Mage) had run second to Forte (who had to withdraw from the Derby at the last minute due to injury) in the Florida Derby prior to winning this race which is just one reason Just Steel is a contender. Although Just Steel doesn’t have the ability to speed up on command the same way Sierra Leone does and although he doesn’t have the early speed Fierceness has, he tries hard nearly every time he runs and that has resulted in in second place finishes in three Derby preps this season. As a son of 2018 Derby winner Justify, there is little doubt Just Steel can run well at the mile and one-quarter trip of the Derby and as he’s likely to be somewhat ignored by many bettors, we should not ignore his chances particularly as he’s trained by D. Wayne Lukas, the 88 year old Hall-of-Fame trainer who has won the Kentucky Derby four times to date.

Fierceness is a contender based on how easily and powerfully he won the Florida Derby with the second best Equibase Speed Figure (110) in the field. Winner of three of five career races, Fierceness proved he belongs at the top level with a six length win in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last fall with the same 110 figure. On the other hand, Fierceness may be the kind of horse which, if he has trouble in a race, just refuses to fire, as was the case also in the Champagne Stakes last October and in the Holy Bull Stakes in February. He also likes to lead early in the race, which could be problematic with other horses like Dornoch, Track Phantom and T O Password having the same style. On a positive note, Fierceness is more mature now and his Hall-of-Fame trainer, Todd Pletcher (who has won the Derby twice) likely has trained the horse to recover mentally if things don’t go his way so he could be tough in this year’s Derby.

Resilience, like Sierra Leone, has been a much better horse since adding blinkers, which he wore for the first time when winning the Wood Memorial last month and earning a career-best 103, a 10 point improvement off his fourth place effort in the Risen Star behind Sierra Leone. In both of his wins, Resilience rallied from third on the far turn to get the lead and held it nicely in the stretch. As a son of Into Mischief, Resilience should relish the mile and one-quarter distance and he’s trained by another Hall-of-Fame trainer, Bill Mott, whose Country House ran brilliantly when rallying from ninth to second in the 2019 Derby and was declared the winner when Maximum Security was disqualified for interference. Given that Resilience is on a pattern for another career-best effort, he is another horse we likely should think about when considering our wagers in this race.

Endlessly has only run on grass or all-weather in his six career starts so may be ignored by many bettors in the Derby. However, having won five of six races Endlessly appears capable of running well at the Derby distance on conventional dirt. Sire Oscar Performance, more well known for producing top runners on grass, has also sired eight horses which have won on conventional dirt, including a multiple stakes winner. When winning the Jeff Ruby Steaks, Endlessly made a visually impressive rally from seventh on the turn to be in front in the stretch before drawing off, so his 99 figure might have been higher. He earned a 101 figure before that winning a stakes race and although only one winner of the Jeff  Ruby has competed well in the Derby, that one was Animal Kingdom in 2011, who like Endlessly had only run on turf or all-weather tracks before winning this race. Additionally, Endlessly recently put in a strong half-mile workout at Churchill Downs so he appears to be handling the surface well.

Just a Touch was making only his third career start last month in the Blue Grass Stakes and his first start in a two-turn race. Improving to a career-best 105 figure in that race, Just a Touch moved up from second (where he had been since the start) to make the lead with an eighth of a mile to run before being passed by the more experienced Sierra Leone. Just a Touch continued on in fine fashion to end up nearly four lengths in front of the next horse (Epic Ride). As shown by other top three year olds in this year’s Derby field, experience can really be helpful so as he is making his second start in a two-turn race, and as he is sired by 2018 Derby winner Justify, Just a Touch deserves consideration as a contender in this year’s Derby field.

Betting suggestions: There will be more than a few horses with odds of 15 to 1 or more that can run well, which is normally not the case in many races, so the Derby is definitely a race in which betting on two or three horses to win, win and place or win, place and show may be warranted.

Win bets: Sierra Leone at around 2 to 1 or more.

Win/place/show bets (for smaller amounts than on Sierra Leone): Just Steel, Resilience, Endlessly, Just a Touch.

In terms of minimum odds, I’m looking for 6 to 1 or more on Just Steel and Resilience, and 10 to 1 or more on Endlessly and Just a Touch. Considering Fierceness opens at 5 to 2, relative to the others he’s just not as good of a win bet in my opinion.

Exacta box: Sierra Leone, Just Steel, Fierceness, Resilience, Endlessly, Just a Touch.

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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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