The Player’s Edge – March 29, 2013: Gulfstream Park & Fair Grounds

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Matt Carter

March 29th, 2013



photo: Matt Carter

Gulfstream Park - Florida Derby

Gulfstream Park - Skip Away Stakes

Fair Grounds - Louisiana Derby

Fair Grounds - New Orleans Handicap

Gulfstream Park - Florida Derby
Florida Based Three-Year-Olds Look for Points

The Saturday card at Gulfstream Park is one of the best offered at the track during the meet with five graded stake races, highlighted by the Grade 1 Florida Derby. This is always an important stop on the way to the Kentucky Derby and especially this year with the new point system.

Two horses that are on many short lists of 2013 Kentucky Derby contenders are Shanghai Bobby and Itsmyluckyday, but those two horses, as it stands now, would be on the fence for getting into the Derby. Shanghai Bobby has 24 points and sits at 12 with Itsmyluckyday at 10 points in a nine-way tie for 20th. Itsmyluckyday has the most graded earnings of those and would win the tiebreaker. Of course with a one-two finish on Saturday, both runners would lock up a spot in the field of 20.

The top horse in the field, based on points, and looking to spoil the party is Orb. The son of Malibu Moon has 50 points and is a colt on the rise. Orb has won three straight races including the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth and is drawn outside his rivals in the Florida Derby. In the Fountain of Youth he got a ready-made pace scenario and that again appears likely with Shanghai Bobby, Itsmyluckyday and Merit Man.

Back to Shanghai Bobby and Itsmyluckyday as the two come out of the Grade 3 Holy Bull at Gulfstream, which was won by Itsmyluckyday by two lengths over the Breeders' Cup Juvenile champion Shanghai Bobby. By all accounts Itsmyluckyday is a faster and better horse than his rival and may start favored on Saturday. It's a must win or place scenario for the connections of Itsmyluckyday.

Those are the main three that bettors will focus their monies on. Between them they have 13 wins with earnings of over $2.5-million. Picking the horse to round out the superfecta may be the biggest challenge in the race. Of the rest, Pick of the Litter and Indy's Illusion look best.

Pick of the Litter and Indy's Illusion have both run at the nine furlong distance of the Florida Derby. Pick of the Litter broke his maiden in an off-the-turf event last month by over seven lengths, earning a huge speed number. A bounce is possible, especially off of a top after a poor debut race.

Indy's Illusion actually has three runs at nine furlongs; fifth in the Grade 2 Remsen with a third and a second in a pair of allowance races. The son of A.P. Indy appears to be getting better with races so beware the long shot. He's going to need a career best; however, to beat the favorites.

Rounding out the field are Pontiff, Frac Daddy, Are You Kidding Me and Narvaez with post time scheduled for 6:19 ET.

Gulfstream Park - Skip Away Stakes
Cigar Street Looks for Three Straight

Two races prior to the Florida Derby, and the start of the late pick-4, is the Grade 3 Skip Away for four-year-olds and upward. With Graydar going to Fair Grounds all eyes will be on the Bill Mott-trainee, Cigar Street, who is looking for his third straight win.

Cigar Street began his career in the Steve Margolis barn and went out as the favorite in his debut, but ran into the runaway winner Bourbon Courage. Cigar Street then blitzed maidens on the stretch out to two turns before finishing a good fourth in the Louisiana Derby. Off for almost nine months after that, Cigar Street came back to the races in December and defeated six overmatched foes. He then came right back to score another allowance win and enters the Skip Away as a horse to watch in 2013.

The favorite has a high cruising speed so jockey John Velazquez will have some options when the gates open. He can send if the pace is slow, or stalk the pace if they go fast early.

The only true front-runner in the race may be Take Charge Indy, who is drawn just to the inside of Cigar Street. Take Charge Indy ran in the Kentucky Derby last year and this year his half-brother Will Take Charge leads the Kentucky Derby Point standings.

In his own right, Take Charge Indy is just as good. He won the Grade 1 Florida Derby last year and was third behind Graydar and Bourbon Courage in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap over the track last month. New pilot Rosie Napravnik is a master at getting horses to relax early. A theft may be on her mind.

Golden Ticket and Pants On Fire are likely to be up close in the early stages as well. Golden Ticket was the dead-heat winner of the Grade 1 Travers last year and won an allowance race at Gulfstream Park in January. He does have a bit of hang in him so he may be best used underneath.

Pants On Fire also loves Gulfstream Park with two wins in three starts. His last race was on a sloppy and sealed track, but he won by five and one-quarter lengths and is making his third start off a layoff. In his two wins over the track, Pants On Fire was on the lead after a half-furlong. Jockey Paco Lopez may have to work hard early in order to gain that position in the Skip Away.

If they go too fast early, O'Prado Again is the best threat from off-the-pace. The caveats are that he is completely pace dependent and has not won since November 2011, a winless streak that has now reached five races.

Eldaafer, Where's the Baby, Flatter This, Gourmet Dinner and Al Qasr complete the field.

First post on Saturday at Gulfstream Park is 12:30 with the Skip Away scheduled to break from the gate at 5:03.

Fair Grounds - Louisiana Derby
Fourteen Go Nine

While the Florida Derby looks to be a three-horse race, the Louisiana Derby looks to be a little more wide open. The Grade 2 race drew a full field of 14; let's take a look.

Trainer Todd Pletcher is well represented in the bayou with Palace Malice and Revolutionary, who will break next to each other in posts two and three. Palace Malice finished third in the Grade 2 Risen Star over the track and is making his third start off a layoff. He has yet to finish worse than third, but may be overlooked on the board.

Revolutionary, on the other hand, could start favored. The son of War Pass has back-to-back wins including a rallying neck victory in the Grade 3 Withers in February at Aqueduct. Revolutionary broke his maiden one race before that by over eight lengths, both races on the inner dirt at the New York track. With Verrazano headed to the Wood, Pletcher opted for the Louisiana Derby for Revolutionary. He should love the long stretch run.

In addition to Palace Malice; Code West, Golden Soul, My Lute and Proud Strike are also coming out of the Risen Star.

Code West had the best finish of the five, a nose second to the longest of long shots I've Struck a never. Code West has five route races and has yet to be worse than second in any of those races. The son of Lemon Drop Kid is bred to get any distance and is worth a long look for the Hall-of-Famer Bob Baffert.

Proud Strike may deserve a reprieve for his eighth place finish in the Risen Star. The Smart Strike colt found himself on the early lead, but then was in a steady retreat and finished three and one-half lengths behind the winner. He now breaks from an outside post and can make amends. He is another tote board check.

Of the new faces, the pair of Al Stall-trainees are the ones to back. Sunbean won a state-bred stakes on the same day as the Risen Star and Departing is a perfect three-for-three.

Sunbean is now three-for-four with and is making his open company debut on Saturday. The owner, Brittlyn Stable Inc, also campaigned the great Louisiana-bred runner Star Guitar. Perhaps this colt can continue the stables sucess.

Departing is the complete opposite of Sunbean with regal blood lines, bred by Claiborne Farm and Adele B. Dilschneider. It's about time Al Stall has a serious three-year-old and Departing may just be that colt. He has yet to win a race by less than two lengths. Up the class ladder and into the winner's circle? It's a tough spot to make his graded stakes debut.

Another horse deserving of a mention is Titletown Five, who runs for D. Wayne Lukas, the Hall-of-Fame trainer who can do no wrong lately with three-year-olds. Titletown Five is likely to be the pacesetter on Saturday, making his two-turn debut. Being by Tiznow, Titletown Five may just relish the added distance.

Hip Four Sixtynine, Whiskey Bravo, Brazilian Court, Groud Transport and the California-shipper Nina's Dragon round out the field. The winner of this race gets 100 points and assures himself of a starting gate on the first Saturday in May.

Post time for the Louisiana Derby and start of the Black Gold Pick-5 is 6:44 ET.

Fair Grounds - New Orleans Handicap
Graydar Versus Mark Valeski

What the Skip Away is to Gulfstream Park on Saturday, the New Orleans Handicap is to Fair Grounds. Bourbon Courage and Graydar don't want any part of the added distance and Cigar Street in Florida so they ship northwest to Louisiana to face their horse for course, Mark Valeski.

The connections for Mark Valeski had visions of the Kentucky Derby last year after two wins in three races to start his career. That soon; however, faded with back-to-back seconds in the Risen Star and Louisiana Derby and unhappy with his training for the Derby, Mark Valeski was pointed to the Peter Pan at Belmont the week after. The time and training did him good as he responded with a daylight victory.

After the Peter Pan, Valeski went to the bench, but came back with a good second in January in the Louisiana Handicap then score an impressive win in the Grade 3 Mineshaft last month. The only difference for the colt this weekend is that with Rosie Napravnik in Florida to ride Shanghai Bobby, James Graham will be in the irons.

Graydar and Bourbon Courage may have a say about that and will be bringing Florida pride into Louisiana on Saturday. The two exit the Grade 1 Donn Handicap, which was won by Graydar by an impressive three lengths.

Graydar was overlooked in the Donn both on the tote and on the track. The gray son of Unbridled's Song sped to the early lead and never looked back. Bourbon Courage simply chased his rival around the track, finishing five lengths clear of Take Charge Indy in third. Graydar will once again be controlling speed and will be tough to run down.

Both James Graham and Javier Castellano on Bourbon Courage will have to decide early when to put their horses into the race. Too early and it may set up for a closer, too late and Graydar may have given them the slip. A jockey's job is never an easy one.

Flat Out probably wishes this was at Belmont even though the seven-year-old is two-for-two at Fair Grounds. He needs a form reversal after finishing fourth as the 2-1 favorite in the Donn.

Macho Macho looks to be the only other one that could round out the superfecta. The son of Macho Uno has been first, second or third in seven of his eight career starts including a win in the Grade 2 West Virginia Derby last year. The New Orleans Handicap will be his first race since finishing second in the Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby at Parx in September.

The remaining horses in the race are Dreaming Blue, second in the Maxxam Gold Cup at Sam Houston, Majestic Harbor, winner of an allowance race in his last, and Cool Street, second to Mark Valeski in the Mineshaft.

The Saturday card at Fair Grounds is another great one with four graded stakes and seven stakes overall. First post is 2:00 ET with the New Orleans Handicap off at 5:55.


Thoroughbred Racing Action

Great racing action from across the country this weekend.  Watch these races all on

Saturday– March 30

  • Gulfstream Park:  Florida Derby - G1, $1-million, 3yo, 9f
  • Gulfstream Park:  Skip Away Stakes - G3, $100,000, 4yo & up, 9.5f
  • Gulfstream Park:  Gulfstream Park Oaks - G2, $300,000, 3yo f, 9f
  • Gulfstream Park:  Rampart Stakes - G3, $150,000, 4yo & up f&m, 9f
  • Gulfstream Park:  Orchid Stakes - G3, $150,000, 4yo & up f&m, 12f turf
  • Guflstream Park:  Appleton Stakes - G3, $150,000, 4yo & up, 8f turf
  • Gulfstream Park:  Sir Shackleton Stakes, $75,000, 4yo & up, 6.5f
  • Fair Grounds:  Louisiana Derby - G2, $1-million, 3yo, 9f
  • Fair Grounds:  New Orleans Handicap - G2, $400,000, 4yo & up, 9f
  • Fair Grounds:  Fair Grounds Oaks - G2, $500,000, 3yo f, 8.5f
  • Fair Grounds:  Mervin H. Muniz Jr. - G2, $400,000, 4yo & up, 9f turf
  • Fair Grounds:  Crescent City Derby, $75,000, 3yo, 8.5f
  • Fair Grounds:  Crescent City Oaks, $75,000, 3yo f, 8f 70y
  • Fair Grounds:  Costa Rising Stakes, $60,000, 4yo & up, 8.5f
  • Santa Anita:  Echo Eddie Stakes, $200,000, 3yo, 6.5f
  • Santa Anita:  Evening Jewel Stakes, $200,000, 3yo f, 6.5f    
  • Oaklawn Park:  Rainbow Stakes, $60,000, 3 & 4yo f, 6f

Sunday – March 31

  • Fair Grounds:  Bayou St. John Stakes, $60,000, 4yo & up, 5.5f turf