Well, it's February, and even though the weather outside isn't exactly hot, racing is really starting to heat up--especially for 3-year-olds. There is solid stakes action from Santa Anita, Gulfstream, Aqueduct, and Oaklawn on the calendar, so let's take a look at some of the major races.
Let's start with the 3-year-olds first:
Robert B. Lewis, Santa Anita
Only seven entered for this two-turn Pro-Ride contest, but it's a good field. This one is being billed a showdown between Hollywood Prevue winner American Lion and the highly-regarded Tiz Chrome, who is undefeated in two impressive starts for Bob Baffert. Both are by Tiznow. There are some other decent looking colts in here, including Macias--also from the Baffert barn--and a pair from John Sadler runners, including Domonation who finished third in the San Rafael.
I'm giving the edge to Tiz Chrome here. American Lion is the only graded stakes winner in the field, but I wasn't overly impressed with his Prevue score. He worked pretty hard to beat an average group of 2-year-olds in that Nov. 21 race and now makes his first start off a more than two-month layoff. Well see.
While Tiz Chrome will be facing a much stiffer test than he did when winning the Stuka on Dec. 19, he comes in with the highest speed numbers, had a sharp five-furlong breeze earlier this week, has the Baffert/Gomez combo working for him, and has all the looks of a star in the making. Baffert is salivating over this guy, almost as much as Lookin At Lucky. He should relish two turns.
The Pick: Tiz Chrome to win, and an exacta key Tiz Chrome with American Lion, Tango Tango, and Caracortado, who is good-looking Cal-bred facing a stiff test but has a win over the course and at the same distance last out.
Las Virgenes, Santa Anita
No way I can pick against Blind Luck, who is probably the best 3YO filly in the nation right now and has two very good runs over this strip. Crisp and Evening Jewel both look like good fillies, but are a step below Blind Luck.
The Pick: Probably not a great betting race if you like Blind Luck, but I would take a shot on a cold exacta--Blind Luck with La Nez, who also likes to come from off the pace and her rider, Mike Smith, certainly knows a thing or two about that style. La Nez finished a solid third against the aforementioned Caracortado last out in the Cal Breeders Championship after a five-wide trip. Her speed numbers stack up well with Crisp and Evening Jewel, who will likely be lower odds.
Is anyone going to try to beat Eightyfiveinafifty here? Not me. Not against an ordinary field that includes only five challengers. Eightyfiveinafifty is getting a two-turn test from Gary Contessa, but I'm not sure we'll learn much against this group. We already know he is lighting fast, but he will probably be so far ahead of the field turning for home that he won't have to do very much in the stretch. As an odds-on favorite (probably around 2-5), I won't play this race, but I'll be watching closely to see Eightyfiveinafifty's performance. Did you see that work the other day? Wow.
Donn Handicap, Gulfstream
I love trying to beat favorites, but Quality Road is another one I just can't play against. He is just too talented on paper and is running on his favorite track, a place where he has three stakes wins and the nine-furlong track record. His quarter crack and starting gate issues are apparently behind him and I think he is the on his way to a super 4YO campaign.
With Quality Road certainly an odds-on choice, you have to find someone to play with him. I'll go with Dry Martini, who at first glance seems to be regressing based on his four straight losses. But he ran a good race in the off-the-turf Ft. Lauderdale, had a huge bullet work on Saturday, gets maybe the hottest rider in the county in Javier Castellano, and has excelled at this distance with four career wins at nine furlongs. He is also the highest earner in the field (more than $1.2 million).
The Pick: Quality Road to win. Cold exacta Quality Road with Dry Martini. Trifecta Quality Road with Dry Martini, Past the Point, and Dubai Gold, an improving claimer who won at the distance over the same track last out.
Quick picks in other stakes races are Never On Sunday, a group one winner in Europe making his U.S. debut in the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap and will likely be third choice behind Court Vision and Take the Points; Rendezvous in an upset over Misremembered in the Strub; and Interactif, who likely will be a heavy favorite in the Hallandale Beach Stakes on Sunday.
Good luck this weekend. Who do you like?