Canadian Stakes – Race 8 at Gulfstream Park – Post Time 2:53 PM Eastern

Venezuelan Hug just won a stakes on this turf course and although it was a race restricted to Florida breds it was as good as the runner-up grade 3 stakes effort Eon put in. Now having won five of nine in his career (three of five at Gulfstream), Venezuelan Hug earned that win without Lasix, an important factor to consider as we handicap stakes races with new rules. If you ignore his 10 furlong (too far) try in October, Venezuelan Hug has won three in a row including two stakes and he appears very capable of winning his third stakes in a row.

Olympic Runner is also a legitimate contender, having won a highly rated allowance race on the course one week after Venezuelan Hug. That effort earned a 108 figure, just shy of the 109 figure Venezuelan Hug earned in his win last month. Although in top form, comparing his career record of 4-5-2 to Venezuelan Hug’s 5-0-1 record, it could be assumed Olympic Runner may not have the same winning instinct Venezuelan Hug has. On the other hand, Olympic Runner ran in five graded stakes last year compared to two for Venezuelan Hug, and he was no worse than fourth in any of those. As such, Olympic Runner must be strongly considered as a contender.

Winter’s Back was beaten a head by Olympic Runner in that allowance race last month and won two in a row before that. He’s sitting on another top effort on a pattern of 104-108 (figure) and can’t be ruled out as a contender for a second. Eons rallied from eighth to second in the Tampa Bay Stakes three weeks ago, and this being his third start off a layoff he could run as well or better. He won the Kent Stakes 18 months ago so rounds out a quartet we should at least use on any double, pick 3 or 4 tickets played involving this race.

For the trifecta, I’ll also add Bizzee Channel (who has good early speed and who can hang on for a piece) and Monarchs Glen (first off the clam by Joseph and first or second in 9 of 22 career turf races).

Handicapper Picks

Win: Venezuelan Hug to win at 2 to 1 or more.

Exactas:

Venezuelan Hug over Olympic Runner, Eons and Winters Back

Trifectas:

Venezuelan Hug over Olympic Runner, Eons and Winters Back, Bizzee Channel and Monarchs Glen over Olympic Runner, Eons and Winters Back, Bizzee Channel and Monarchs Glen

Double:

Race 8: Venezuelan Hug, Olympic Runner, Eons and Winters Back

Race 9: Eye of a Jedi, Performer, Avant Garde

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Gulfstream Park Mile – Race 9 at Gulfstream Park – Post Time 3:27 PM Eastern

Eye of a Jedi, Avant Garde and Performer finished second, third and first in the Fred W. Hooper Stakes one month ago, a nearly identical one-turn mile stakes. There’s no doubt Performer can win again, but considering he only beat Eye of a Jedi by a neck, and considering he picks up two pounds, there’s no guarantee he can repeat that effort or that Eye of a Jedi can’t turn the tables on him, so opening at 8/1 Eye of a Jedi is certainly a better in bet. Eye of a Jedi has been first or second in four straight, including a runner-up effort in the Harlan’s Holiday Stakes before the Hooper. With 112, 107, 106 and 111 figures in his last four, compared to 106, 112, 101 and 112 figures for Performer, I think Eye of a Jedi has the same probability, not 75% less (8/1 vs 2/1).

Then there’s Avant Garde, who won the Claiming Crown Rapid Transit Stakes before his third place effort last month. He won before that as well and put in FOUR straight wins last year, bringing his record to six for 12. He’s no slouch and must be respected opening at 10/1.

All three above have MUCH more probability to win than false second choice Tax, the reason being no Lasix in this race. All three of the contender ran without Lasix in the Hooper, whereas the two times Tax ran without Lasix in the past 14 months he finished 10th and 5th. Additionally, he adds blinkers for this race and although I may be wrong, I believe this is because the trainer does not really know what to do to get this fairly unreliable horse (with two wins in his last 10 races) to run his best.

Handicapper Picks

Win: Eye of a Jedi and Avant Garde to win at odds of 5/2 or more.

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Exacta: Box Eye of a Jedi, Performer and Avant Garde.

Box Performer and Eye of a Jedi

Box Performer and Avant Garde

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Very One Stakes – Race 13 at Gulfstream Park – Post Time 5:36 PM Eastern

Kalifornia Queen makes her U.S. debut for Brown, who also saddles Bacchanalia. Kalifornia Queen is much more interesting, as she’s a group 2 stakes winner in Europe, Germany to be exact, where they run without any medication. Not to belabor the point, but stakes races being Lasix free now, horses that have run well should be considered whereas horses who are taking Lasix off can run well, but may not. Kalifornia Queen gets Gaffalione and Brown’s record of 7 for 28 with horses coming back from 4 – 8 months off in turf route stakes making their U.S. debut is pretty good, so I’ll start with this filly who was facing much tougher group 1 company when last seen on Arc day in France last October.

Belle Laura and Tuned finished third and fourth, respectively, in the Grade 3 Marshua’s River Stakes at a mile on this course last month. The winner and runner-up are not back so these two must be strongly considered here as they ran well without Lasix. Belle Laura is making her second start back after four months off and won before the break as well as won a non-graded stakes last summer at Gulfstream. Tuned won in her U.S. debut in the fall of 2019 and is winless in four since, but nearly won a non-graded stakes on this course in November and may be sitting on her best U.S. effort in this situation.

Handicapper Picks

Win: Fair (minimum) odds for considering a win bet on Kalifornia Queen, Belle Laura and Tuned are 7 to 2 and I would not hesitate betting two of the three to win at those odds or above near post time.

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Exactas:

Box Kalifornia Queen, Belle Laura and Tuned

Double:

Race 13: Kalifornia Queen, Belle Laura and Tuned

Race 14: Drain the Clock, Tarantino, Greatest Honour

Fountain of Youth Stakes – Race 14 at Gulfstream Park – Post Time 6:10 PM Eastern

Greatest Honour was well regarded by bettors as the second choice in the Holy Bull Stakes last month and rewarded his backers with a visually impressive win by almost six lengths. Rallying from seventh in the early stages, Greatest Honour swept past his rivals on the far turn while four paths wide to lead by a length in the stretch before drawing off with ease. Bringing his record to a perfect two-for-two at the distance of the Fountain of Youth, Greatest Honour earned a 103 Equibase Speed Figure. That was not his best figure, but the 106 figure Greatest Honour earned winning one race before the Holy Bull is the best figure earned by any horse in the field. The only other horse in the field to have broken the 100 threshold is Fire At Will, who earned a 105 figure winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf last year. Considering how easily Greatest Honour won the Holy Bull, I think he could have run faster and earned a higher figure if needed and that is why he is the one to beat in this year’s Fountain of Youth Stakes.

Drain the Clock appears to be on a pattern, that if continued, would allow him to run well enough to win the Fountain of Youth. On the same date of the Holy Bull last month at Gulfstream Park, Drain the Clock put in a visually impressive six length victory in geared down fashion and earning at 95 figure. Four weeks prior to that, Drain the Clock earned an 88 figure winning the Limehouse Stakes and if he can improve about the same seven points as he did in the Swale, Drain the Clock could run as well as Greatest Honour is expected to run. Excluding his effort in November when losing his jockey when a piece of equipment broke, Drain the Clock is a perfect four-for-four in his career. Although the Fountain of Youth will be his first attempt at two-turns, the fact that he draws the ground saving rail and has shown the ability to stalk the pacesetter in second or third before winning suggests no matter how the early pace unfolds, Drain the Clock should have no problem being a very strong contender in this race.

Tarantino was no match for Greatest Honour when second and beaten five and three-quarter lengths in the Holy Bull, but he ran very well nevertheless. Earning a career-best 94 figure in his first race on dirt after three races on grass to start his career, Tarantino was nearly four lengths clear of the third horse in the field of nine. With jockey Edgard Zayas getting off to ride Drain the Clock, Tyler Gaffalione gets on and there is no issue with the quality of the man in the irons. Making his third start off a layoff suggesting physical improvement, and making his seconds start on dirt, there is every reason to believe Tarantino can take another step forward on his quest to be a contender as we move towards the Florida Derby next month and the Kentucky Derby in 10 weeks.

Fire At Will would certainly be a top contender for me if he were not coming back from nearly four months off and trying to go two-turns on dirt for the first time against horses which have run well and much more recently. Fire at Will finished sixth in his career debut last summer then reeled off three straight wins, all in stakes. He improved from an 80 figure, to 96, to 105 when winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf in a field of 14. One of the wins came on a sloppy dirt track (in a race scheduled for turf) so it appears he can run on the surface just fine and there’s no doubt he can run this far as he won the Pilgrim Stakes on turf at the distance. Still, it’s a doubly big question to ask a horse to run well enough to win off this long of a layoff in a two turn race at this level and as such I’ll be taking a stand against Fire At Will in this situation.

Handicapper Picks

Win: Drain the Clock at odds of 2 to 1 or more.

Tarantino at odds of 3 to 1 or more.

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Exactas:

Greatest Honour over Drain the Clock and Tarantino

Box Greatest Honour, Drain the Clock and Tarantino

For the minimum ($1 or $2): Greatest Honour, Drain the Clock and Tarantino over Sososubtle, King’s Ovation and Papetu

Trifecta:

Greatest Honour, Drain the Clock and Tarantino over Greatest Honour, Drain the Clock and Tarantino over Greatest Honour, Drain the Clock, Tarantino, Prime Factor, Sososubtle, Fire At Will, King’s Ovation and Papetu