The Jury: Bets and fades for March 25

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TwinSpires Staff

March 24th, 2023

The first of three consecutive monster weekends of racing kicks off with the Dubai World Cup, Louisiana Derby, and Jeff Ruby Steaks cards on Saturday. Here's what stands out to James Scully, Vance Hanson, and Ashley Anderson after perusing those programs.

What is your best bet?

James Scully: #4 Funtastic Again (6-1) in the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) at Turfway Park. An impressive wire-to-wire winner in two starts over Turfway’s Tapeta, including a 3 3/4-length decision in the Jan. 21 Leonatus, Funtastic Again drew inside the other speed, and jockey Gerardo Corrales will be hustling the chestnut from the break. He’s eligible to catch a breather on the front end, and I’ll tab the improving colt for leading trainer Wesley Ward.

Vance Hanson: I won't sleep on #3 Gentle Soul (5-1) in the Muniz Memorial (G2) at Fair Grounds. Although the beneficiary of an existent bias favoring closers when taking the Colonel E.R. Bradley S. in January, I thought his follow-up against the classy speed Two Emmys in the Fair Grounds (G3) last out was a good performance, given that rival favorite set a very tepid pace. If Two Emmys is kept a little more honest, perhaps by Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) winner Atone, I'm hoping Gentle Soul can make a race of it late at a decent price. 

Ashley Anderson: #3 Olazabal (7-2) dominated by 11 lengths last out in a six-furlong allowance optional claimer at Turfway while posting a 94 Brisnet Speed rating, the highest last race speed rating among the field in the six-furlong Animal Kingdom S. The Eric Foster trainee will move up in class for his first stakes attempt and will keep rider Gerardo Corrales, who is 3-for-5 with a second-place finish paired up with Foster over the last 14 days. Olazabal is also 2-for-3 at today's track, with his lone loss coming when stretching out to a mile. The Bolt d'Oro colt will vie for the early lead with morning line favorite #4 Eye Witness (2-1), who broke his maiden last out at a mile but posted a Speed figure 11 points slower (80) when sprinting six furlongs on debut at Aqueduct.

Who is the horse to fade?

JS: Several projected favorites appear formidable in the all-stakes Pick 5 at Fair Grounds, but I’ll take a stand against #2 Art Collector (8-5) in the New Orleans Classic (G2). He was able to work out a favorable stalking trip from post 6 when upsetting the Pegasus World Cup (G1) last out, but Art Collector has been compromised in previous starts when unable to make the lead from an inside post. He’s got speed to both sides in the New Orleans Classic starting gate, which makes his task difficult following a career-best performance, and Art Collector may prove vulnerable odds.

VH: The only morning line favorite I'm completely fading from my Bluegrass Bayou Pick 5 is #1 Major Dude (5-2) in the Jeff Ruby (G3) at Turfway Park. There are no major objections to his form (he's a multiple graded winner on turf), but having Todd Pletcher and Irad Ortiz Jr. in his corner is going to depress his price significantly in a race that seems fairly wide open on paper. I'm also partial to better-priced rivals that actually have previous form on synthetic, specifically positive stuff over the Turfway strip. 

AA: #9 Santin (3-1) is a vulnerable favorite in the Kentucky Cup Classic, Race 10 on Saturday’s Turfway card. The Distorted Humor son was last seen finishing a non-threatening fourth in the Seabiscuit H. (G2) at Del Mar in November and will make his five-year-old debut here off a layoff of more than three months. The Brendan Walsh trainee has run on turf in 10 career starts and will try all-weather in his debut at Turfway. The 2022 Arlington Million (G1) hero will get a challenge from reigning Kentucky Cup Classic winner #10 King Cause (7-2), who came home 2 3/4 lengths in sixth in the Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) last out and can improve with a surface switch and some class relief. #8 Ocean Atlantique (6-1) and #5 Wolfie’s Dynaghost (6-1) are also coming off stakes victories and have posted some of the top Speed figures among the field when running on all-weather.

What else is worth noting?

JS: Chris Block leads all Fair Grounds trainers with five turf wins this meet, and he has a top contender in Saturday’s Tom Benson Memorial S., She Can’t Sing, who will make a title defense in the about 1 1/16-mile turf affair. I like the “other Block,” #3 Trail Ridge (12-1), who exits an encouraging third in her open stakes debut, the Feb. 18 Albert Stall Memorial S. Block’s runners improve with age, and the four-year-old daughter of Point of Entry brings progressing turf form into this event. The upset candidate has appeal for the vertical exotic wagers, as well.

VH: Longtime readers will know that #8 Master of the Seas (10-1) is a personal favorite of mine, though I've been unlucky over the past couple of years backing him in spots he's narrowly lost or seen him come through at relatively short odds. In the Dubai Turf (G1) at Meydan on Saturday morning (U.S. time), I'm expecting to get the best price of his career on him. He admittedly might be a cut below these (his infirmity-plagued career having in part hindered his rise to the top), but he encountered a difficult trip in his local prep, the Jebel Hatta (G1), while still managing to get within a half-length of the winner at the finish. A lifetime best is needed, but I won't be caught sleeping at double digits if he happens to produce it.

AA: Leading freshman sire Bolt d'Oro has a chance to add multiple stakes scores to his resume this weekend, with two of his offspring listed as morning line favorites in Kentucky Derby prep races — #2 Instant Coffee (2-1) in the Louisiana Derby (G2) and #1 Major Dude (5-2) in the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3). But it's a pair of fillies in the Bourbonette Oaks who have my attention. #8 Flashy Gem (4-1) is one of two runners for Brad Cox in the 1 1/8-mile event — the other is morning line favorite #5 Botanical (2-1) — and the three-year-old just won convincingly in her all-weather debut when racing a mile in an allowance optional claimer. Out of a Smart Strike mare, Flashy Gem has the pedigree to relish the stretch-out in distance and can pull off a slight upset of her stablemate.

#4 Thirty Thou Kelvin (20-1) is another Bolt d'Oro baby in the field who's a worthy longshot. The bay filly won last out at a mile and 70 yards when rallying in the stretch to win over Gulfstream's all-weather track. From there, she transferred to the barn of John Terranova, a 23% winner in non-graded stakes, and will make her first start with the trainer while moving up in class. Irad Ortiz Jr. hopped off Thirty Thou Kelvin to ride #2 Bolivie (5-1), but Thirty Thou Kelvin is in capable hands with rider Kazushi Kimura. She'll need her best race to win here, but she's certainly one to play underneath in exotics.