Newly turned four-year-olds facing older horses for the first time can be in for a rude awakening. With that in mind, I still like Leading Astray in the Marshua's River (G3) at Gulfstream Park on Saturday.
Carded as the 10th race, going 1 1/16 miles on turf, the Marshua's River drew a field of 10 fillies and mares. Chokurei (Ire) and Heavenly Landing look like the older horses to beat, and I would consider using them in the exotics with Leading Astray.
Leading Astray has a 5-2-1 career record from eight starts and showed solid improvement throughout the year. She is coming off of a better than it looks 2nd-place finish in the Mrs. Revere S. (G2) at Churchill. She was in tight stalking a moderate pace and didn't get an open lane until the winner Centre Court was gone. Centre Court pressed that pace in the clear, and she is a solid Grade 2 horse, maybe more. Not only did Leading Astray show improved grit battling for space behind Centre Court, but she was trying in vain to run that one down too.
Leading Astray's final 5/16 in :29-2 was very good, and both that closing fraction and the final time match up well with what the three-year-old males did in the Commonwealth Turf (G3) earlier on the same card (won by Lea, King David 2nd). The jock switch from EE Perez to Jose Lezcano also is an upgrade. Leading Astray is probably my most confident play that I did not put on this weekend's Locksmith Smart Plays.
In other stakes action...the Sham Stakes (G3) at Santa Anita drew a short field of six. Goldencents has serious speed and can get a mile. He'll control the pace, with impressive maiden winner Manando stalking him. Manando finished fast & strong last time when allowed to set moderate fractions. He'll need to improve a little to run Goldencents down. I think the race is between those two.
We analyzed the newly rescheduled Jerome Stakes (G2) on That Handicapping Show this week. I meant to take additional shots at the new Kentucky Derby qualifying system, which looks even more poorly devised by the day. (The Grade 2, two-turn dirt race in New York, for newly turned 3yos, is not worth any points)
I picked Long River, a well-bred A.P. Indy colt with a classic distance profile. He's probably going to be 2-1 or 5-2. This probably isn't the best betting race, but it is worth watching for Ky Derby implications and entertainment.
Gary Stevens Returns
Like most racing fans, I was glad to hear Hall of Fame rider Gary Stevens is attempting a comeback. Stevens is a great competitor and horseman.
It has seemed to me for a couple years now that we are in between eras in terms of the great jockeys. I'd love to see Stevens back in top form, riding in graded stakes.