If you are Thoroughbred racing fan and an avid handicapper, it doesn't get much better than what's on tap this weekend.
In addition to the four Derby prep races, there are 12 other graded stakes - nine of the coming on Saturday. Fair Grounds' card is spectacular, led by the $600,000 Louisiana Derby, which we covered earlier in the week. Exciting filly Rachel Alexandra will be in the Fair Grounds Oaks, and the Mervin Muniz and New Orleans Handicap also came up very strong.
Before we briefly go over the Rebel, Tampa Bay Derby and San Felipe, another reminder to join me right here for a live blog from noon-1 p.m. EDT on Saturday. I've lined up professional handicapper "TopTurfTeddy", who had a documented $73 winner in the 8th race at Gulfstream on Thursday. Teddy will not only have his selections for the four prep races, but will also give his top 10 Derby horses, based on his unique mathematical formula. Looking forward to you joining us.
Now to the races...
As most of you who follow this blog know, I am a relatively small player who looks for value. Rarely do I go with the favorite, but on this particular weekend I am going to get a little bit chalky - mainly because the fields for the Rebel and San Felipe came up very week.
In the Rebel, Old Fashioned faces only a single stakes winner and that is Silver City, who he beat easily in the Southwest. The San Felipe should be even more of a cakewalk for Pioneerof the Nile, especially since the original field of seven will probably be reduced to only three or four with some expected scratches.
Now, your choices are trying to beat Old Fashioned and Pioneerof the Nile, who are probably the top two Kentucky Derby betting favorites at this time, play them in exotics or just sit and watch. I'm probably going to sit and watch these two races, but will offer my opinions a couple horses that look playable for exotics.
In the Rebel, Wise Kid seems like the most likely candidate to upset Old Fashioned. The well-bred son of Lemon Drop Kid is a late-bloomer who did not start as a 2-year-old. He has won two of three starts this year, including a pretty impressive 4 1/4-length optional claiming win Feb. 27. That was over the same ground and at the same distance as the Rebel. Wise Kid, who is trained by Tim Ritchey, is a horse that has rated nicely in his two wins and that running style might be favorable here. His should only improve off his 89 Beyer last out.
The way I would play the Rebel is to key Old Fashioned and Wise Kid in the first two spots of a trifecta and play "all" underneath. Asmussen's Captain Cherokee, who won an allowance at Fair Grounds impressively last month, might also be worth using in a small exacta with Old Fashioned - at a big price.
In the San Felipe, it looks as though He's Really Big and New Bay are definite scratches, and Feisty Suances and Kelly Leak might also not go. If that's the case, don't even bet this race. If Kelly Leak should go, I like him to fill out the exacta. He comes off a nice allowance win on the turf and has faced the likes of Midshipman, This Ones for Phil and Flashman's Papers - all pretty good horses. He looks to be improving.
The Tampa Bay Derby is best betting race of three, but even here I am leaning towards chalk. I loved Hello Broadway's effort in the Hutcheson, as he dueled through a :46 half-mile and was still game in the stretch when battling eventual winner Capt. Candyman Can, who had the perfect trip. Barclay Tagg shipped up north so he could go two turns, which was a smart move. He looks like he might be a legit Derby horse.
I also like the second choice General Quarters, who looks as if he's a horse-for-the-course. In talking to his former trainer Mark Miller and current trainer Tom MCCarthy, General Quarters loves the track at Tampa. Miller said the Sky Mesa colt, who was a former $20,000 claimer, wasn't even breathing hard after the Sam Davis, where he set a new stakes record and was 1/5 of second off Street Sense's track record. All of this with the jockey never completely asking him. McCarthy said he is in tip-top shape going into this race.
I willl use Musket Man to complete my trifecta box, based on him having beaten General Quarters two starts back and his terrific works the last couple of weeks.
Again, sorry for the chalky picks this week. It's not my usual style, but sometimes there is no other way around it. I'll probably take some shots on the undercard races, including 20-1 Star Guitar in the New Orleans Handicap. This Louisiana-bred goes in open stakes company for the first time but was once a legit Derby prospect who Jess Jackson nearly bought for $1 million as a 3-year-old. He has won four in a row.
Good luck and let me know who you like!