Keeler Johnson’s picks and plays of the day for Jan. 1

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January 1st, 2021

Happy New Year!

Handicapper J. Keeler Johnson shares his weekday picks and plays for Friday, Jan. 1 at Tampa Bay Downs and Fair Grounds.

Tampa Bay Downs: Race 5: Maiden Special Weight (1 1/8 miles on turf, 2:44 p.m. ET)

#3 Aviano (5-2) looms as a deserving favorite in this 1 1/8-mile turf test. Trainer Todd Pletcher is always dangerous when saddling 3-year-olds at Tampa Bay Downs, going 30-for-82 (37%) with such runners since 2015, and Aviano figures to further enhance Pletcher’s impressive resume.

A son of successful sire Medaglia d’Oro out of Obeah (G3) winner Bryan’s Jewel, Aviano sold for $775,000 as a yearling and showed promise in his Nov. 14 debut at Aqueduct. Racing 1 1/16 miles over a yielding turf course, Aviano came charging late to finish second behind gate-to-wire winner Original, who is slated to compete in Friday’s Jerome S. on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.

Aviano will add Lasix for his second start while picking up the services of jockey Antonio Gallardo, a 23% winner at Tampa Bay Downs. All signs point toward a winning performance, so let’s bet Aviano to win and single him to kick off a double.

  • $20 to win on #3 Aviano
  • $20 double: 3 with 7

Total: $40

Tampa Bay Downs: Race 6: $12,500 Starter Optional Claiming (6 furlongs, 3:15 p.m. ET)

With four straight victories and a 6-for-9 record at Tampa Bay Downs to his credit, #7 High Five Cotton (2-1) looks tough to beat in this $12,500 starter allowance race. Since being claimed in October by high-percentage trainer Jose Delgado (a 28% winner this meet), High Five Cotton has gone 2-for-2 at Tampa, wiring an allowance optional claiming race before parlaying pace-tracking tactics into victory for a $20,000 claiming tag.

Sprinting is High Five Cotton’s forte, and his recent record includes six straight Brisnet Speed ratings in the 85-88 range, stamping the son of High Cotton as the runner to beat on Friday. Antonio Gallardo (a 33% winner when teaming up with Delgado) retains the mount, so let’s play High Five Cotton on top of a trifecta and single him to conclude our Race 5 double.

$3 trifecta: 7 with 1,3,4 with 1,3,4 ($18)

Fair Grounds: Race 7: Maiden Special Weight (6 furlongs, 4:54 p.m. ET)

When trainer Tom Amoss unleashes a first-time starter over the main track at Fair Grounds, it’s wise to sit up and take notice. According to data from StatsMaster, Amoss has gone 10-for-29 (34%) with such runners over the last five years, and betting them all equally would have produced a 53% profit.

For these reason, it’s hard to look past #3 Save (4-1) in Friday’s seventh race at Fair Grounds. A daughter of juvenile Grade 1 winner Violence, who sires 18% debut winners, Save has shown speed while training for her first start. On Nov. 10 at Indiana Grand, she blazed a bullet half-mile from the starting gate in :47 4/5.

With hot jockey Florent Geroux (a 23% winner at Fair Grounds) in the saddle, Save appears poised to fire a big shot in her first run under colors. She can lead home #5 Mucho Macho Momma (3-1) in the race to the finish line.

  • $22 to win on #3 Save
  • $8 exacta: 3 with 5

Total: $30

Good luck!