Note: With the potential for awful weather at Saratoga which may lead to off-turf or soft-turf races, I have decided to focus on some of the wide open races on West Virginia Derby day at Mountaineer, plus one race on the dirt at Saratoga. Check the very end for a couple of bonus races picks as well.
Senator Robert C. Byrd Stakes – Race 6 at Mountaineer – Post Time 4:25 PM Eastern
Heartwood, Awesome Gent and Colonel Sharp are the three win contenders in my opinion, based on a very fast and contested early pace courtesy of Sevier and Shadow Tracer, drawn next to each other on the outside in the gate. It makes no sense whatsoever Balandeen is the morning line favorite off one win this year, at Will Rogers Downs, and the 4/1 starting odds on Line Judge, although likely correct as Amoss trains, is good because he appears overmatched as a horse whose last four wins came in claiming races and only one was fast enough to threaten any of the three win contenders if repeated. Heartwood is a stakes winner (last fall) in winning form off a strong victory last month with a 107 Equibase figure. He has put wins back-to-back before and can stalk the pace or close from far back. Awesome Gent is 8 for 16 in his career including THREE wins in a row since the Cowans claim back in July of 2017. That was the first and ONLY time he was ever risked for a tag and the race he won on 6/26 of this year was a KEY race from which the 2nd, 3rd AND 4th finishers all came back from to win. Considering he had been off for eight months, Awesome Gent should improve off the effort and run another “A” race. Colonel Sharp won 2nd off a layoff and trainer change (to his current trainer) in February, won two later in April then missed by a neck before a decent 3rd of 12 in a stakes at Presque Isle. He’s at home on dirt and all-weather and his 4/27 win (3 races back) earned a 108 figure on par with Heartwood’s last effort and Awesome Cat’s five from last August and the one he’s going to improve to today.
Bets: Bet ANY or ALL of the three contenders – Heartwood at 5 to 2 or higher, Awesome Gent and Colonel Sharp at 3 to 1 or higher, to win. To make multiple win bets for the best advantage use a “Dutching Tool” like the free one at Amwager.com
Exactas: Awesome Gent, Colonel Sharp and Heartwood over Awesome Gent, Colonel Sharp, Heartwood and Line Judge.
West Virginia Governor’s Cup – Race 7 at Mountaineer- Post Time 4:55 PM Eastern
Secret Passage, Rated R Superstar and Leofric are the three that I feel strongly can win, and with the two starting favorites (Hawaakom and Matrooh) suspect at best this could be a very profitable race. Secret Passage changed barns in March, won 2nd off the change in April then improved mightily to a CAREER BEST effort on 6/1 at Belmont, with a field HIGH 110 Equibase figure. Trainer Diodoro, who wins at a high percentage as it is, is 3 for 6 in graded stakes in the past 18 months and David Cohen, up for the last win, rides back. You can forget every race this gelding ran before the new connections took over and from the rail Secret Passage can save every inch of ground until the far turn then go by the field for the win. Leofric is one of two from the highly potent Cox barn, the other Term of Art (who appears overmatched). Leofric gets the #1 jockey for the barn in Geroux, who ride him to a win in a classified allowance race last month which followed four months off. With a 5 for 10 record and with 107 and 109 figures in two of his last 3 races including when 2nd to Hawaakom in the G3 Razorback Handicap in February, Leofric can be counted on to be there at the wire today as he’s been in six of his last seven races. Rated R Superstar shows up about half the time but when he does he’s very tough as in April when taking the Ben Ali Stakes at Keeneland with a 109 figure. He didn’t like the slop in the Pimlico Special after that and has been rested two and one-half months, which is fine as he won in January off a similar layoff. Having earned over a half-million to date and with leading jockey Quinones riding, count Rated R Superstar in as another win contender.
Bets: Although I give slight preference to Secret Passage as a win contender, that won’t stop me from betting ANY or ALL of the three contenders – Secret Passage, Leofric and Rated R Superstar, at 3 to 1 or higher, to win.
To make multiple win bets for the best advantage use a “Dutching Tool” like the free one at Amwager.com
Exacta: Although we may be making win bets on all three contenders I want to also key them on top in the exacta so the play is Secret Passage, Leofric and Rated R Superstar over ALL.
Test Stakes – Race 8 at Saratoga – Post Time 5:10 Eastern
Minit to Stardom is undefeated in three races, each better than the rest and the most recent on 5/27 off nearly six months on the bench. She’s been working over the track and not only can fire big to win off a layoff but may get a dream trip in third early behind Classy Act and Mia Mischief, who should duel for the early lead exactly as they did in the Victory Ride Stakes last month. Minit to Stardom gets a great outside post to stalk the pacesetters and has a bright future in the female sprint division as her only sibling, a full sister one year older, is 4 for 10 and also a very fast sprinter. Separationofpowers won the G1 Frizette last fall on the circuit in her third career start then tried two turns and finished 4th in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. Rested eight months, her rallying 8th to 4th effort in the Victory Ride was VERY GOOD considering she had lost ALL CHANCE at the start when she stumbled. Ortiz is the only pilot she’s ever known and 2nd off the layoff, as well as with a clean start, Separationofpowers should be a contender for all the marbles. Alter Moon was privately purchased by Peter Brant following her easy win in the Azalea Stakes in Florida and sent to Chad Brown, who also saddles Separationofpowers. Alter Moon has run two superb race in a row, the last when stalking in 3rd in the early stages, and another big effort is likely forthcoming.
Bets: Minit to Stardom to win at odds of 2 to 1 or higher.
Both Separationofpowers and Alter Moon can be bet to win at 2 to 1 or more, but personally I will pick the one at the highest odds near post time for a second win bet, sticking with the exacta below to cover the possibility of the other winning.
Exacta: Any of these can finish 2nd so similar to the West Virginia Governor’s Cup we can consider the exacta wheel with all three as well. The exacta is Minit to Stardom, Separationofpowers and Alter Moon over ALL. Consider a separate three horse box with the three win contenders as well.
West Virginia Derby – Race 8 at Mountaineer – Post Time 5:35 Eastern
Mr. Freeze has done nothing wrong in three starts, winning his first two then missing by a half-length to High North in the Iowa Derby last month. He’s still improving, gets Albarado (who was up for all 3 races to date), gets a good outside post, and is bred to adore this 9 furlong trip. Lionite was third in the Iowa Derby from the six post but gets the rail here which helps him to save ground as he did right before that when winning the Prairie Mile Stakes. Cabrera rode him to the win in the Prairie Mile, not to eh runner-up effort last out, and gets back on and this exceptionally well bred son of Quality Road may be destined for his first graded stakes win today. Rugbyman and High North both warrant consideration for exotic tickets, the former coming out of the much tougher Dwyer Stakes in which Firenze Fire made a mockery of the field, missing by a neck in the Easy Goer Stakes before that to prove he belongs at this level, and the latter winning the Iowa Derby last out and the Northern Spur Stakes two before that.
I am going to take a stand against the two favorites, Once on Whiskey and Draft Pick, at least as win contenders, as I feel their one-two finish in the Los Alamitos Derby was not as good as it appears on paper. Ax Man isn’t a two-turn horse and the others behind them may not be much plus they are coming back three weeks later and may regress.
Bets: Mr Freeze to win at 2 to 1 or more.
Lionite to win at 5 to 2 or more.
Exacta: Mr Freeze, Lionite, Rugbyman and High North over Mr Freeze, Lionite, Rugbyman, High North, Once on Whiskey and Draft Pick.
Whitney Stakes – Race 9 at Saratoga- 5:46 PM Eastern – Backyard Heaven to win at 2 to 1 or higher. Exacta: Box Backyard Heaven, Mind Your Biscuits and Diversify.
Downs at Albuquerque Handicap – Race 6 at Albuquerque – Post time 10:10 Eastern (8:10 Mountain) – Leadem in Ken to win at 9 to 5 or higher.