A fantastic weekend of racing action kicks off across the country featuring the return of several Breeders' Cup horses, along with a couple of key prep races on the road to the 2012 Kentucky Derby. Amazombie, Perfect Shirt, Royal Delta, The Factor, and Union Rags are just a few of the horses scheduled to race this weekend. Let's take a quick tour of the major stake races this Saturday.
G3-Fair Grounds Handicap
3-Mr. Vegas (9/2) has been in excellent form as of late with three straight wins and a score in the G3-Colonel Bradley Handicap at the Fair Grounds back on Jan. 21st. Since November of 2010, Mr. Vegas has finished out of the top three only once. Most of his success has come against optional claiming/allowance company but he fits in against today's rivals and his gate speed should be a huge advantage in this spot.
8-Mister Marti Gras (5/1) returns to the lawn where he's found moderate success over the course of his career.
There is a ton of speed in the Rachel Alexandra, much of it trying two turns for the first time. 5-Inny Minnie (5/1) chased into moderate fractions when finishing 3rd behind Believe You Can and Summer Applause in the Siverbulletday on Jan 21st. She's already shown that she can run well at the distance and she should be a much better pace situation in this race. She could be tough to handle in the late stages.
The Rachel Alexandra was supposed to be the graded stakes debut of Applauding, a brilliant winner in her first two starts but trainer Al Stall decided to scratch the filly following a sub-par work on Monday.
The field for the Mineshaft came up a bit soft, in my opinion, with only a handful of consistent graded stakes horses among the nine that will enter the starting gate. The race should set-up fairly well for 3-Tres Borrachos (7/2) but he's struggled the few times he's ventured outside of California to race during his career. On the other hand, he's the most accomplished horse in the field and has performed reasonably well against graded stakes company over the last year.
7-El Padrino (2/1) is probably the colt that most will have their eye on in today's Risen Star. He's posted several strong races over his first four starts but both of his victories came over sealed tracks, a fact that makes him a bit of a question mark in this spot. If the Fair Grounds main track stays dry and he can duplicate his last race, El Padrino probably wins this race in a walk. However, if he runs a race similar to his Remsen it's tough to see him as a good wager at short odds.
If we're looking for a bit more from the tote board, 5-Z Dager (5/1) appears to be developing nicely for Steve Asmussen and could be sitting on a sizable improvement in his third start in his current form cycle. He stepped up from the maiden ranks to miss by a head in the LeComte and there's no reason to think that a step forward from that race will once again put him in the mix at the wire.
Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic winner 2-Royal Delta (6/5) return to the track in a tune-up for an expected start in next month's Dubai World Cup at Meydan. She didn't exactly land in a soft spot for her 2012 debut as 3-Awesome Maria (8/5) will run her first race since winning the G1-Ogden Phillips Handicap at Belmont on June 11th. There won't be a lot of betting value in this race, but it should be an excellent match-up between two top class females.
Another Breeders' Cup winner returns to the track at Gulfstream as 4-Perfect Shirl (3/1), winner of the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf at odds of 28/1, will take on a field of 13 in the Very One. Despite the Breeders' Cup win on her resume, I don't expect this mare to take a ton of action at the windows given her inconsistent career.
8-Good Karma (ITY) 15/1 finished 2nd behind Arc de Triomphe winner Danedream (GER) in the G2-Oaks d'Italia last May but could only could only muster a 3rd place finish in her North American debut at Aqueduct last November. She seems to prefer a little less ground than she'll be attempting today and she's got a decent amount of speed to contend with given the distance of the race.
5-Casablanca Smile (CHI) really fits in well with this field. She's shown that she's got the stamina to perform well at the distance, she's been raced lightly since coming to North America but has run well of off layoff every time, and she's displayed a versatile running style that allows her to sit on or just off of the lead. This could be the perfect spot to score a her second graded stakes win in America.
A wide-open field of three-year-old fillies will compete in the Davona Dale, led by Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies runner-up 2-Grace Hall (9/5). The Anthony Dutrow trainee is the most accomplished filly in the field and she likely be a tough nut to crack if she can run back to her Breeders' Cup form in her 2012 debut. If she falters, then this race could really be won by any of the fillies in the field.
7-Disposablepleasure (2/1) scored a nice win in the G2-Demoisel at Aqueduct last fall but will need to shake off the rust in a hurry to win after a three month layoff.
If it seems like there are a lot of Breeders' Cup horses making their debut this weekend, it's because there are. 2-Amazombie (8/5) will make his first start since winning the Breeders' Cup Sprint when he squares off against Bob Baffert's 3-The Factor (7/5) in the San Carlos. Like the Sabin at Gulfstream, there probably won't be a whole lot of big money to be made betting on this race but this should be a great duel between two very fast horses.
Edit: I should also add that Sway Away is an interesting part of this field as he works his way back after an injury last spring. He's in a tough spot with the two favorites to his inside but could be an interesting colt to follow going forward.
G3-Tampa Bay Stakes
This race was originally scheduled to be the spot where Animal Kingdom made his 2012 debut. The decision by his connections to run him at Gulfstream last weekend took a little of the punch out of this race.
12-Lentenor (8/1), a full brother to Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro, tries graded stakes company for the first time since September of 2012. He's run well against allowance company in his career but has yet to prove himself as a stakes quality horse.
6-Hoofit (NZ) (8/1) comes into this race off of a couple of dreadful performances. After scoring a win in the G3-Phoenix at Keeneland over the Polytrack, he finished 11th in both the G2-Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint and the G3-Fort Lauderdale. He seems to be a lot better on synthetics than turf.
8-Successful Mission (9/2) is a half-brother to Algorithms, the favorite for Sunday's Fountain of Youth. It would be a great weekend for the dam, Ava Knowsthecode, if both of those horses were to take home graded stakes honors.