Weekend Stakes Action: Risen Star & Fountain of Youth Edition

Optimizer looks for back-to-back victories over the Fair Grounds turf course on Saturday. - Matthew Stockman

You want stakes action this weekend? We got stakes action this weekend. The Fair Grounds and Gulfstream Park are the sites for seven of Saturday's eight graded stakes races, including the G2-Fountain of Youth and G3-Risen Star Stakes. The eighth graded race is the G2-San Carlos at Santa Anita.

The two Derby preps scheduled for Saturday -- the Fountain of Youth and the Risen Star -- will garner a lot of the attention this weekend but there are a ton of good betting races across the country to take note of. A couple of wide open handicaps in New Orleans (the Mineshaft and the Fair Grounds Handicap), and a tough seven furlong sprint at Santa Anita are just a few of the top races on the schedule this weekend.

Let's take a quick run through some of the biggest races on tap this weekend, but take note for all of the turf races at the Fair Grounds this weekend: the course is likely to be on the soft side due to all the rain in NOLA this year and the issues with course not drying out quickly. Odds are the going will be Good-to-Yielding, at best, and possibly more towards Yielding-to-Soft. "Buyers Beware" on any horse that needs firm ground.

G2-Fountain of Youth, Gulfstream, 5:35 pm ET

I'd love to come up with some kind of incredibly insightful handicapping analysis that leads to a horse other than 3-Violence (9/5) winning this race but I just don't see that happening. The pace should be honest on the frontend as 4-Majestic Hussar (6/1), 5-Elmutahid (20/1), 6-Cerro (IRE) and 10-Falling Sky (6/1) (if he doesn't scratch), all prefer to run right up on the lead. Violence should be able to sit just off those early leaders and, if he's fit enough, put them all under pressure at the top of the lane. If Violence falters late, 1-Orb (12/1) will have a shot to run him down at the wire.

G2-Risen Star Stakes, Fair Grounds, 5:57 pm ET

9-Normandy Invasion (5/2) will attract the most attention after exiting what appear on paper to be a pretty strong running of the G2-Remsen in late November. But November is almost a lifetime ago when talking about developing three-year-old colts and we have to wonder how cranked up this colt will be in his first start off the bench. If he runs back to that Remsen form (and, in the process, validates the strength of that race), he'll be tough to beat. If, however, he's not at his best on Saturday, there are a bunch of colts that could spring the upset.

2-Code West (6/1) has yet to face stakes competition but I really like the way he improved in his first start of 2013, even if it was a 3 ½ length loss to Super Ninety Nine. That race doesn't look so bad after the winner came back to blow away the field in the Southwest at Oaklawn last week. Code West isn't your typically Baffert "need-to-lead" runner and should get better as the distances get longer. At 6/1 on the ML, he's a nice option in the Risen Star.

5-Mylute (6/1) ran huge in his last race and was geared down in the stretch by Rosie Napravnik when winning by 10 ¾ lengths. Napravnik, however, jumps from Mylute to Pletcher's Palace Malace for this race, leaving Shaun Bridgmohan to pick up the mount. Bridgmohan is having a nice meet at the Fair Grounds but it's a little distressing that Rosie elected to go elsewhere in this spot.

I'm not a big fan of 12-He's Had Enough (10/1), but he's a grinder and he just might be able to chug up for a piece of the price during the long stretch drive at the Fair Grounds.

G3-Mineshaft Handicap, Fair Grounds, 4:55 pm ET

7-Infrattini (5/2) rolls into the Mineshaft off of four straight victories and in the best form of his career. This five-year-old gelding took a while to develop, sort of similar to Nate's Mineshaft last year, but he appears to have finally figured out what the racing game is all about. I like him to make it five-for-five.

G3-Rachel Alexandra, Fair Grounds, 5:25 pm ET

7-Unlimited Budget (5/2) is your morning line favorite but I'm going to go in a different direct given the presence of several other speed fillies in this field.

9-Midnight Ballet (8/1) was a bit flat in the G1-Hollywood Startlet back on Dec. 8 but she's had time to re-charge her batteries over the winter and I like the move back to dirt for her 2013 debut.

6-Promise Me More (12/1) stretched out nicely in her most recent start, a win against OC/N1X company at the Fair Grounds on Jan. 31, and she could have a nice fitness edge over some of these fillies in the final furlong.

G2-Davona Dale, Gulfstream, 4:35 pm ET

3-Dreaming of Julia (4/5) makes her first start since finishing 3rd in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies and I'm not sure I'm ready to jump on board with her just yet. First, I'm not convinced she's at her best when running two-turns. Second, while this field is small I don't think it will be a walk in the park for the Frizette winner. 4-Live Lively (5/2) should be right on the favorite's hip pocked all the way down the backside which could get things up perfectly for 1-Private Ensign (4/1) to score a mile upset.

G2-San Carlos, Santa Anita, 7:07 pm ET

The San Carlos is one of those tricky seven furlong sprint events where there isn't a lot that I really love in the field. 1-Comma to the Top (4/1) looks like he could be the speed of the speed in here, something that could give him a big tactical advantage over his rivals. He's run well enough at the distance and at Santa Anita in the past but he comes into the race off of a bit of a clunker in the G2-Palos Verdes.

8-Drill's (12/1) form has dipped in his last two starts and I don't really care for his disinterested running style in the early stages, but he's good at seven panels (4-3-0-0) and, what the hell, let's try and get a Leparoux price horse home in this spot.

7-The Lumber Guy (5/2) attempts to bounce back from a simply awful effort in the G1-Malibu back on Dec. 26. He was unlikely to be at his best that day after a tough race in the Breeders' Cup Sprint just six weeks earlier and he should be in line for significant improvement this time out.

G3-Canadian Turf, Gulfstream, 5:05 pm ET

I really love 10-Za Approval's (5/1) last few races, with the exception of his flop on yielding ground, but breaking from the 10-hole isn't going to do him any favors in this spot. He was a good second to Corporate Jungle at this same distance while breaking from the 11-hole back on Feb, 18, 2012, but there's no doubt that he's got to overcome a difficult post in order to win. If his odds were to drift to the 8/1 to 10/1 range I might be a buyer.

If 1-Joes Blazing Aaron (6/1) and 7-Global Power (20/1) set a legitimate pace, I think things could set up perfectly for 2-Beau Choix (6/1). This horse can really bring it over the final half mile and, if the trip is clean (which is always a question in these turf races), he could be right there at the finish.

G3-Fair Grounds Handicap, Fair Grounds, 4:25 pm ET

It's tough to get away from 7-Optimizer (3/1) in this spot. He's run decently over softer turf courses in his career and he's the only horse in the field that really wants to go right to the front. It could be an easy stroll around the course for the Lukas trainee if no one decides to go with him.

I like 6-Two Months Rent (12/1) as a long shot play in this spot based of his strong race at Hawthorne over soft ground last October.

Date Track Race Gr. Age Sex Dist. Surf.
23-Feb GP Fountain of Youth 2 3yo 8.5 Dirt
23-Feb GP Davona Dale 2 3yo f 8.5 Dirt
23-Feb FG Risen Star Stakes 2 3yo 8.5 Dirt
23-Feb SA San Carlos Stakes 2 3up 7.0 Turf
23-Feb GP Canadian Turf 3 4up 8.0 Turf
23-Feb FG Fair Grounds Handicap 3 4up 9.0 Turf
23-Feb FG Mineshaft Handicap 3 4up 8.5 Dirt
23-Feb FG Rachel Alexandra Stakes 3 3yo f 8.5 Dirt
23-Feb FG Gentilly Stakes LA 3yo 8.5 Turf
23-Feb FG Bayou Handicap 4up f&m 8.5 Turf
23-Feb OP Downthedustyroad Stakes 3up f&m 6.0 Dirt
23-Feb TAM Super Stakes 4up 7.0 Dirt
23-Feb AQU Kings Point 3up 8.5 Dirt
23-Feb TUP Turf Paradise Derby 3yo 8.5 Dirt
24-Feb SA Sensational Star Stakes CA 4up 6.5 Turf
24-Feb GP Ladies Turf Sprint 4up f&m 5.0 Turf
24-Feb OP Nodouble Stakes 3up c&g 6.0 Dirt

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