Picks for a Post-Christmas Fair Grounds Feast

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

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Have you seen the entries for the upcoming Monday card at Fair Grounds? An action-packed post-Christmas slate is on the agenda with nine stakes among the dozen races.

The most intriguing events from a sporting standpoint are a quartet of stakes for two-year-olds. The $100,000 Gun Runner S. and $100,000 Untapable S. respectively serve as qualifiers for the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Kentucky Oaks (G1), while the $100,000 Sugar Bowl S. and $100,000 Letellier Memorial S. have drawn promising fields of up-and-coming juveniles with the potential to develop into Derby and Oaks contenders down the road.

We'll make the four juvenile stakes the focus of this week's Unlocking Winners column:

Race 4: Sugar Bowl S. (six furlongs)

#3 Corona Bolt (8-5) caught my eye when he debuted in a 6 1/2-furlong maiden special weight at Churchill Downs last month. The son of hot young sire Bolt d'Oro tracked the early pace from third position, rallied to take command around the far turn, and then held on gamely down the homestretch to prevail by one length.

Corona Bolt's performance was flattered when runner-up Communication Memo returned to win his next start. Triumphing at Churchill yielded a promising 86 Brisnet Speed rating, and Corona Bolt will race with Lasix for the first time on Monday, a 38% winning move for high-percentage trainer Brad Cox. If Corona Bolt moves forward in his second start (as Cox trainees often do), he can bring his record to a perfect 2-for-2 with a victory over the two-time Louisiana-bed stakes winner #6 Late September (7-2).

Race 8: Letellier Memorial S. (six furlongs)

Corona Bolt isn't the only exciting Cox debut winner racing at Fair Grounds this week. There's also #2 Dazzling Blue (5-2), a beautifully bred daughter of Into Mischief out of the stakes-winning Curlin mare Blue Violet.

Dazzling Blue was an odds-on favorite to prevail in a Nov. 16 maiden special weight sprinting six furlongs at Churchill Downs, and the $500,000 yearling acquisition delivered with a flashy performance. After dashing to the front through fractions of :21.71 and :45.83, Dazzling Blue drew off down the homestretch to dominate by 4 1/2 lengths in 1:10.67, earning an excellent 88 Brisnet Speed rating.

Dazzling Blue is adding Lasix for her second start and retaining the services of hot jockey Florent Geroux, who has gone 4-for-13 (31%) at Fair Grounds this meet. Laurel Park's Smart Halo S. winner #4 Twice as Sweet (4-1) is a talented and consistent opponent, but Dazzling Blue has a lot of upside and might be something special.

Race 11: Gun Runner S. (1 1/16 miles)

#3 Determinedly (7-2) has come to hand impressively since switching from turf to dirt for Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse. After finishing second behind the exciting Arabian Knight in a seven-furlong maiden special weight at Keeneland, Determinedly tackled the same distance and class level at Churchill Downs, where he tracked the pace and pulled away to a 7 1/4-length victory.

Determinedly owns the two highest Brisnet Speed ratings in the Gun Runner field and has enough tactical speed to sit a perfect trip in this largely paceless field. Determinedly's form to date reminds me of War of Will, a Casse trainee who switched from turf to dirt and parlayed a Churchill Downs maiden victory into Road to the Kentucky Derby prep wins at Fair Grounds. I'm optimistic Determinedly can continue down the same path, with established Road to the Kentucky Derby participants #1 Hayes Strike (7-2) and #2 Jaces's Road (3-1) battling for the minor awards.

Race 12: Untapable S. (one mile and 70 yards)

#1 Pretty Mischievous (3-1) opened her career with a pair of victories at Churchill Downs, winning a 6 1/2-furlong maiden special weight before stepping up to nab a seven-furlong allowance optional claimer. Off these encouraging efforts, the Godolphin homebred was a logical contender in the 1 1/16-mile Golden Rod S. (G2) at Churchill Downs, where she settled a few lengths off the early pace before staying on to finish third behind two-time graded stakes winner Hoosier Philly.

The fact Pretty Mischievous has already proven her worth in a Road to the Kentucky Oaks prep race is appealing since the Untapable field is largely comprised of maiden winners stepping up in class. Getting 3-1 on a filly like Pretty Mischievous would be enticing.

For second place, #4 Vahva (7-2) offers appeal. The daughter of Gun Runner was beaten in her first two starts during the summer at Saratoga, but returned in the fall at Churchill Downs to crush a seven-furlong maiden special weight by three lengths. The 92 Brisnet Speed rating Vahva posted is the highest in the Untapable field, so if she handles stretching out around two turns (and there's no reason to think she won't), Vahva is as logical a win threat as any.

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the post-Christmas stakes at Fair Grounds?


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! (Please note: older contest entries can be found here.)

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.

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