Three Races, Three Picks for Thanksgiving Week

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.

Thursday, 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. Kenner Stakes.

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 Grounds.

Friday, Churchill Downs Race 10: Clark Stakes (G1)

#3 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 Classic (G1).

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 impressive.

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.

Saturday, 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%) record.

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 week?


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, 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

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