By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! A fantastic week of racing
awaits at tracks across the country. No fewer than 15 graded stakes races are
on the agenda, including a trio of Grade 1 prizes.
Let's dive in with picks for three races—one on Thursday,
one on Friday, and one on Saturday.
Fair Grounds, Race 9: Thanksgiving Classic Stakes
If you're looking for the definition of "horse for the
course," check out #4 Bobby's Wicked One
in the Thanksgiving Classic on opening day at Fair Grounds. Although the
son of champion sprinter Speightstown is more than capable of taking his game
on the road—he won the 2019 Commonwealth (G3) at Keeneland and placed second in
the 2019 Churchill Downs (G1) over Louisville's famous oval—Bobby's Wicked One is
never more effective than when sprinting at Fair Grounds.
Case in point? Bobby's Wicked One is 5-for-5 dashing 6
furlongs at Fair Grounds and 1-for-12 over all other tracks and distances. He
was in particularly sharp form at Fair Grounds last winter, wiring the 2019
Thanksgiving Classic by three lengths before cruising to a comfortable 4
1/4-length score over Grade 1 winner Hog Creek Hustle in the Jan. 18 Duncan F.
Bobby's Wicked One has been freshened since a pair of disappointing
efforts in the spring and should be ready for a rebound while returning to his
favorite track configuration. At 4-1, I'm keen to back Bobby's Wicked One and
see if his front-running speed can produce another resounding victory at Fair
Churchill Downs Race 10: Clark Stakes (G1)
Code of Honor and #12
By My Standards are the most accomplished runners in the field, but both
seem a bit tough to trust at short prices. Code of Honor has lost three
straight races, albeit while facing tricky pace scenarios, and By My Standards
is running back just 20 days after a sub-par effort in the Breeders' Cup
So why not take a shot with #11 Coastal Defense? A stoutly-bred son of Curlin out of a Giant's
Causeway mare, the Dale Romans-trained 4-year-old has shown improvement since stretching
out around two turns on dirt. Two starts back, he wired a 1 1/16-mile allowance
race at Churchill Downs, beating Kentucky Derby starter Major Fed by 2 1/2
lengths. But a losing effort in Keeneland's Fayette (G2) was arguably more
Absolutely nothing went in favor of Coastal Defense in
the Fayette. Buried inside and behind horses while the leaders carved out a
slow pace, Coastal Defense attempted to shift outside for racing room on the
far turn, but got cut off and was forced to steady in traffic, losing ground a
lot of ground. Turning for home he was bounced around between rivals, and when
he shifted inside to look for a lane down the stretch, he wound up behind a
wall of horses. But despite never getting a chance to really lengthen his
stride, Coastal Defense closed ground to finish fourth by just 1 1/4 lengths.
From a speed figure perspective, Coastal Defense needs
improvement to vie for victory in the Clark. But I believe he was the best
horse in the Fayette, so if you like the victorious #7 Mr Freeze at 6-1, you have to at least consider Coastal Defense
at 20-1. In a race that appears wide-open on paper, I'm willing to take a shot
betting Coastal Defense on top.
Aqueduct Race 10: Long Island (G3)
It's hard to believe, but as bad a trip as Coastal
Defense received in the Fayette, #4
Mutamakina managed to endure an even worse journey in the Zagora Stakes at
Belmont Park last month.
Making her U.S. debut for trainer Christophe Clement,
Mutamakina initially worked out a clean journey stalking a slow pace while
saving ground along the rail. But an opening never appeared, and around the
final turn, Mutamakina became trapped behind a tiring pacesetter. Forced to
take up sharply, Mutamakina wound up getting shuffled all the way back to
eighth place at the top of the stretch.
Even then, Mutamakina's troubles weren't over. While
trying to re-rally, she ran up behind rivals again and had to shift outside for
racing room. Many horses would have given up at this point, but Mutamakina
refused to concede, gaining 3 1/2 lengths down the final furlong to finish
third by just half a length.
With anything resembling a clean trip, I believe
Mutamakina would have won the Zagora for fun. That's why I'm excited to play
her against a similar level of competition in the Long Island. The quality of
her Zagora performance was hardly a fluke—Mutamakina had previously displayed
high-class form in France, finishing second in the 2019 Prix Niel (G2) behind
future Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (G1) winner Sottsass. And trainer Christophe
Clement has been on fire at Aqueduct this meet, compiling a 10-for-29 (34%)
The only concern is the possibility that Mutamakina might
take a step backward in her second stateside start. But if Mutamakina enjoys an
unencumbered journey on Saturday, she might be able to regress a little and
still visit the winner's circle.
Now it's your turn! Which horses do you like during Thanksgiving
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J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, videographer, voice actor, 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.