By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
Although this week's Unlocking Winners blog post is
publishing before entries for the Memorial Day races are released, there's no
shortage of quality Saturday stakes races worth handicapping.
They might not the most prestigious events of the
weekend, but I personally am intrigued by the Paradise Creek Stakes at Belmont
Park and the Daytona Stakes (gr. III) at Santa Anita. Let's dig in and come up
with a couple of plays....
There won't be much wagering value involved, but I'm
excited to see Fog of War return to
action in the seven-furlong Paradise Creek Stakes at Belmont Park. Trained by
Chad Brown, this beautifully-bred son of War Front caught my eye when he unleashed
a strong late rally to win his debut sprinting 5 ½ furlongs at Saratoga last
summer, leaving the future graded stakes winner Current 2 ½ lengths behind in
Subsequently, Fog of War stepped up sharply in class and
distance for the Summer Stakes (gr. I) at Woodbine, where he overcame a
somewhat troubled trip to rally relentlessly and wear down the future Preakness
Stakes (gr. I) winner War of Will to win by a bit less than a length. His final
time of 1:33.90 Was on the quick side, but unfortunately, Fog of War was
sidelined after the Summer Stakes and missed the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf
Despite the injury-induced layoff, I expect Fog of War to
give a good account of himself on Saturday. He's been breezing every week like
clockwork since the beginning of March, and Brown wins at a high percentage off
layoffs, so there's no reason to think Fog of War won't be fit enough to sprint
seven furlongs in the Paradise Creek Stakes. Brown wins at a solid 28% rate
with horses returning from layoffs of six months or more, and Fog of War is
catching a relatively easy field—four of his seven rivals have never even won
on turf. This race should serve as a springboard to bigger and better things
for Fog of War.
But rather than leave you with just a chalky win play,
I'll also throw out an idea for the exacta. Pole Setter has spent the majority of his career running a mile or
farther, but he stepped up his game nicely when cutting back in distance for a
6 ½-furlong allowance race at Keeneland last month, dueling from start to
finish to win by a nose in the quick time of 1:16.18, which translated to an
excellent 93 Beyer. That race was on dirt, but Pole Setter easily won his debut
over the Ellis Park turf course last summer, so the switch back to grass shouldn't
be an issue. Pole Setter might find his niche sprinting on turf, and it doesn't
hurt to back a Brad Cox runner at Belmont Park, since Cox has gone 5-for-10 to
start the meet. Throw in the fact that Pole Setter will carry just 117 pounds,
six less than Fog of War, and we might be looking at an upset possibility. How
about a boxed exacta with Fog of War?
Stakes (gr. III)
Traditionally, the Daytona has been contested at 6 ½
furlongs over the downhill turf course at Santa Anita, but this year the race
has been shortened to five furlongs and will be conducted over the regular turf
course. That should absolutely play to the strengths of Eddie Haskell, a former claimer with a 9-6-1-2 record sprinting
five furlongs on grass.
Quite simply, this is Eddie Haskell's ballgame. He's
capable enough over the downhill course, but going five furlongs he can hang
with the best. Two starts back, he defeated the two-time Breeders' Cup Turf
Sprint (gr. I) winner Stormy Liberal in a five-furlong allowance race at Santa
Anita. Four starts back, he beat the graded stakes winners Calculator and
Cistron while traveling the same distance at Del Mar. The last time he lost a
race at this distance, he dueled for the lead through a blazing :20.94 opening
quarter-mile, and even off that crazy fraction he was still beaten less than
Eddie Haskell has tactical speed but doesn't need the
lead to win, so he should work out a perfect trip in the Daytona, which has
attracted only one true front-runner. And as with Fog of War, Eddie Haskell has
managed to find a field where he's one of relatively few accomplished grass
runners—three of his six rivals have never won on turf. Gee whiz Beaver, that
wise guy Eddie Haskell might be pretty neat this Saturday!
Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the weekend stakes
Want to test your handicapping skills against fellow Unlocking Winners readers? Check out the Unlocking Winners contests page—there's a new challenge every week!
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 www.theturfboard.com.