Playing Exactas at the Summit of Speed

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman

On Saturday, Gulfstream Park will host the "Summit of Speed," an exciting day of sprinting that includes nine stakes races. There are so many great races to handicap that I've decided to cover more racing action than usual and handicap four races, with a focus on trying to hit some exactas. We've got a lot to discuss, so let's get started! 

Smile Sprint Stakes (gr. II)

Limousine Liberal is the best-known runner in this six-furlong sprint, having competed in such major races as the Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) and King's Bishop Stakes (gr. I)-he even finished second in the latter race behind future champion sprinter Runhappy. He has plenty of tactical speed and usually sets or tracks the pace, but I think it's important to note that he doesn't have the blazing :21-and-change opening quarter-mile speed that can be so critical in a race like the Smile Sprint. Going six furlongs, the pace should be very fast, and I think Limousine Liberal might be run off his feet early on by faster rivals drawn to his inside and outside.

One of those rivals is Delta Bluesman, who has crossed the wire first in three straight races, all of them at six furlongs. He started his streak with an impressive six-length gate-to-wire win at Gulfstream in April, then beat A. P. Indian in the Decathlon Stakes at Monmouth, although he was disqualified for crowding horses on the backstretch. The strength of that race was confirmed when A. P. Indian returned to win the Donald LeVine Memorial Stakes in solid fashion, and Delta Bluesman came back to easily win a six-furlong allowance race at Monmouth by 1 ¾ lengths.

To put it simply, no horse has been within a length of Delta Bluesman at any point of call in his last three starts. Delta Bluesman also doesn't know what it's like to breeze slowly-eight of his last nine workouts have been bullets, including four furlongs in :46 2/5 on June 25th at Monmouth. Perhaps even more significant is that he's been the fastest horse out of the starting gate in his last three races, which could be very beneficial since he's drawn post position one.

Delta Bluesman could face some stiff pace pressure from fellow front-runner Chief Lion, who has shown major improvement in his last three races while being claimed first by Richard Baltas and then by David Jacobson. Of the pair, I prefer Delta Bluesman, but also find Chief Lion's stablemate Eighty Three to be intriguing. A very consistent runner that has finished in the trifecta in all twelve of his races, he chased home Delta Bluesman in the Monmouth allowance race to finish a game second, and if Delta Bluesman gets involved in a speed duel with Chief Lion and/or Limousine Liberal, that could set up the race for a late-running victory by Eighty Three. The odds will dictate which colt is a better play on top, but I think a boxed exacta of Delta Bluesman with Eight Three would have a strong chance to hit and pay nicely.

Princess Rooney Stakes (gr. II)

Birdatthewire brings a strong reputation into the seven-furlong Princess Rooney Stakes, having competed exclusively in grade I and grade II stakes races since the beginning of 2015. She's won a couple of big races during her career, including the seven-furlong La Brea Stakes (gr. I) at Santa Anita last December, but usually needs a contested pace and slow closing fractions to set up her late run. Her competition in the Princess Rooney isn't quite as tough as she's accustomed to facing, which could help her chances, but she's winless this year and could be vulnerable as the favorite.

In recent years, it has seems like trainer Martin Wolfson has owned the major filly and mare races in Florida, and the Princess Rooney is no exception-he's won the race four times overall, including in 2010 and 2013. Cali Star might be his main hopeful this year, considering her three-length win in the one-mile Rampart Stakes (gr. III) at Gulfstream last December, and she has trained very sharply after being given time off following a disappointing finish in the Heavenly Prize Stakes over the Aqueduct inner track. The cutback to seven furlongs could be perfect, since her Rampart win came going a one-turn mile at Gulfstream, and while drawing the rail probably isn't ideal, she drew the same post in the Rampart and had no trouble rallying up the inside to win easily. If Birdatthewire doesn't fire her best shot, Cali Star should be poised to take advantage and could be tough to beat.

Also intriguing is Wolfson's other runner Kiss to Remember, who has finished second in three straight races, including two defeats going a mile against Concealedwithakiss, who is also running in the Princess Rooney. However, in both of those races, Concealedwithakiss secured easy leads through modest fractions, and with the front-running stakes winner My Miss Venezuela likely to ensure a more contested pace, Kiss to Remember could be poised to turn the tables. She finished third in this race last year, closing from off the pace over a track that seemed to be favoring speed, but has enough tactical speed to stay close from the outset and get the jump on Birdatthewire. How about a Wolfson exacta, with Birdatthewire to complete the trifecta?

Carry Back Stakes (gr. III)

When I look at the entries for the Carry Back Stakes, I find it almost impossible to look past Awesome Banner. Although he disappointed in two Derby prep races this winter, the son of Awesome of Course is a perfect 4-for-4 in sprint races (all of them at Gulfstream) and should find the seven-furlong distance of the Carry Back to be absolutely perfect. He signaled his readiness for this race by breezing four furlongs in a bullet :47.05 on June 24th, and although his odds will be very short, I can't envision him getting beaten in this race. He looks like a single in multi-race wagers.

Recent Churchill Downs allowance winner Rated R Superstar is the obvious choice to finish second, but if you want to spruce up the exacta or trifecta with a longshot, why not try Discreet Angel? He lost all chance with a troubled trip over a sloppy track in the Chick Lang Stakes at Pimlico, but had previously been very successful against lesser competition at Camarero racetrack in Puerto Rico, where he showed lots of early speed over a track that doesn't seem to produce fast fractions. He breezed four furlongs in a rapid :46.60 on June 25th at Gulfstream, which suggests he has the speed to be part of the early pace on Saturday, and with a bit of luck, I think he can hold for second or third at nice odds.

Azalea Stakes

There are no sure things in horse racing, but Dearest might be one of the closest things in the seven-furlong Azalea Stakes for three-year-old fillies. The daughter of Midshipman has won three of her four starts in impressive fashion, and her lone defeat came when third behind Cathryn Sophia and Lewis Bay in the one-mile Davona Dale Stakes (gr. II) back in February. Given time off after that race, she returned on June 4th to score a pace-tracking six-length victory in the 6 ½-furlong Royal Palm Stakes at Gulfstream, a race in which she was never seriously asked for run. Like Awesome Banner, she'll be a big favorite, but a defeat would be a major surprise.

For rounding out the exacta, Curlin's Approval looks like a solid choice. Trained by Martin Wolfson, she won her debut sprinting six furlongs at Gulfstream on June 5th by four lengths after making a big move in the second quarter-mile, and off that promising effort, she could be ready for a big run in the Azalea. A straight Dearest/Curlin's Approval exacta might not pay much, but I'm confident that these are the two best fillies in the race, with Royal Palm Stakes runner-up Ballet Diva to round out the trifecta.

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Summit of Speed races?


To help simplify the process of choosing and keeping track of everyone's prime horse selections in our 2016 Road to the Breeders' Cup Classic Handicapping Challenge, I would like to ask everyone to please submit their prime choice each week by leaving a special comment on the official blog page for the contest. This will greatly reduce the chances of any prime horse selections getting overlooked, and will also make it simpler to double-check the standings. Thanks, and enjoy the racing!


J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, blogger, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website

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