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Weekend Stakes Preview: All Eyes on Gulfstream Park (Updated 4x)

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Lots of good racing action across the country this weekend and most of it will take place at Gulfstream Park: Florida Derby, Florida Oaks, Swale Stakes, along with Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic winner Unrivaled Belle making her 2011 debut in the Rampart Stakes on Saturday and Belmont Stakes winner Drosselmeyer returning in the Skip Away on Sunday's Florida Derby undercard. 

Changes
Aqueduct
Gulfstream
Santa Anita

Day Post Time (ET/PT) Race Track Age/Sex Dist. Surf. Winner $2 Win
Sat 5:03 / 2:03 G3-Las Flores SA 4up, f&m 6.5 Dirt 5-Gilded Gem $7.20
Sat 5:15 / 2:15 G3-Excelsior AQU 3up 9.0 Dirt 2-Inherit the Gold $4.80
Sat 5:36 / 2:36 G3-Rampart Stakes GP 4up, f&m 9.0 Dirt 3-Awesome Maria $3.80
Sat 6:11 / 3:11 G2-Gulfstream Oaks GP 3yo, f 9.0 Dirt 5-R Heat Lightning $3.20
Sun 1:55 / 10:55 G2-Swale Stakes GP 3yo 7.0 Dirt 6-Travelin Man $2.80
Sun 4:33 / 1:33 G3-Appleton GP 4up 8.0 Turf 1-Little Mike $4.20
Sun 5:06 / 2:06 G3-Skip Away GP 4up 9.5 Dirt 10-S.S. Stone $12.60
Sun 5:42 / 2:42 G1-Florida Derby GP 3yo 9.0 Dirt 7-Dialed In $7.80
Sun 7:07 / 4:07 G2-Potrero Grande SA 4up 6.5 Dirt 2-Amazombie $9.20

 

UPDATE #4: Little Mike is slowly but surely establishing himself as quite a miler after winning his second consecutive graded stake at Gulfstream at 8 furlongs.

UPDATE #3: Pletcher is picking up right where he left off with wins in the 2nd and 3rd races at Gulfstream Park, including an impressive win by Travelin Man at 2/5 in the Swale.  Todd has now won 7 of the last 14 races in South Florida, prompting one member of the Twitter universe (@NotTheToddster) to go bold in the Pick 4.

Travelin Man's splits in the Swale:

1/4: 23.39
1/2: 23.21
3/4: 23.56
Finish: 11.79

A very consistent race.

UPDATE #2: Todd Pletcher wins 5-of-12 on today's Gulfstream card...yeah, he dominated.

The Rainbow Six carries on after another day without a single unique winner.  Tomorrow's Rainbow Six will feature a $902,175.94 carryover.

UPDATE #1: A huge performance by R Heat Lightning in the Florida Oaks as she cruises to an easy victory over a helpless field of three-year-old fillies.  After tracking a quick pace down the backstretch, R Heat Lightning pulled away from her rivals under a handride by John Velazquez and hit the wire in 1:49.27 for the mile and an eighth distance.

Second choice It's Tricky came up extremely flat at the top of the stretch (as did the rest of the field) and was far back of the winner at the wire.  

ORIGINAL POST: Below is a quick look at some of this weekend's major stakes races.  I'll have a seperate preview of the Florida Derby on Saturday.

 

G3-Excelsior Stakes

A bit of a lackluster field at Aqueduct for the Excelsior as only five colts find their way into the entry box, two of which are Todd Pletcher trainees (1-Understatement and 5-Modern Cowboy). 

2-Inherit the Gold (9/5) is the morning line choice after four consecutive wins on the inner dirt this winter, including three in listed stakes company.  He's got a couple of nice 100 Beyers popping off the form but it's hard not to be a bit skeptical of a horse that has run his best races on the inner and was facing New York-breds all winter long.  Despite the flashy numbers, he might be just a cut below this group.

Of the two Pletcher runners, Modern Cowboy seems to fit in the best in terms of class, although it's really a stretch to call this a Grade 3 quality field.

G2 - Gulfstream Oaks

5-R Heat Lightning (8/5) is coming off a powerful win in the G2-Davona Dale back on Feb. 26th, her first win since Sept. 5th at Saratoga in the G1-Spinaway.  It's tough to get a read on that Davona Dale field as none of the fillies in that race ran the final ¼ mile in anything but a crawl.  Only one of the eight have come back to race again; 7th place finisher Mending Hearts finished 4th in an N1X even on March 19th

7-It's Tricky (2/1) is a sterling 3-for-3 over her brief career after an easy win in the listed Busher Stakes at Aqueduct on Feb. 20th.  She's got a ton of tactical speed at her disposal and the pedigree suggests that she should love the extra distance.  Her dam, Catboat, was a solid 13-5-2-4 at two-turns during her career. 

The odds aren't going to be very big but I like It's Tricky to continue her winning ways in the Gulfstream Oaks.

G3-Rampart Stakes

Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic winner 2-Unrivaled Belle makes her 2011 debut in the Rampart Stakes, a race that is anything but a given with two very talented fillies drawn to either side of her.

3-Awesome Maria (2/1) really put it all together when she dominated six other fillies in the G3-Sabin on Feb. 19th at Gulfstream, a race that shouldn't have been surprising given her solid form the last two years.  She just missed beating Devil May Care in the G1-Frizette in Oct. of 2009 and she was only 2 ½ back of No Such Word in the G1-Gazelle last November.  She figures to be part of a tightly bunched pack with Unrivalled Belle and Persuading in the early stages.

1-Persuading (6/1) hasn't won that "big" race in her career but she's the kind of filly that churns out decent performance after decent performance.  In her last three races she's finished 2nd in the Honey Fox, 3rd in the Suwannee River and 2nd in the Marshua's River.  The Marshua's River has turned out to be a very solid race with three of the fillies finishing behind Persuading coming back to win at next asking, two against stakes competition (Cherokee Queen/Suwannee River and Trip for A.J./Sunshine Millions F&M Turf). 

Persuading's best races have been on the lawn but she's displayed enough of a dirt form early in her career to suggest she'll be able to transfer her form back to the main track. This is a tough spot to come up with that breakthrough victory but you get the feeling that it's coming one of these days.

It would be a huge surprise is Unrivaled Belle doesn't run a good race in this spot given how consistent she's been throughout her career.

G3-Las Flores Stakes

A small field of six fillies and mares will line up for the Las Flores on Saturday led by the Bob Baffert trained 3-Mother Ruth (2/1), a Speightstown mare that finished 4th in the G1-Santa Monica on Jan. 30th. For all her accomplishments on the track, Mother Ruth hasn't done particularly well when facing off against graded stakes competition, something that is a bit of a concern.

The other Baffert runner, 5-Gilded Gem (5/2), finished 2nd to Switch in the Santa Monica (3 ½ lengths back) and seems like she possesses the versatility to be a big factor in this spot.  She runs best when sitting just off the lead but she's been able to make a solid run in the stretch when she's been shuffled towards the rear.  She struggled in this race last spring, but that edition of the Las Flores bears little resemblance to this once with the introduction of the new dirt surface at Santa Anita.

Trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Joel Rosario don't hook up that often (just 13 times in the last 90 days), but when they do, they run well (11-of-14 In-The-Money, 85%). 

G2-Swale Stakes

6-Travelin Man (4/5) got waxed by Flashpoint in the Hutcheson last time out, but so did everyone else in the field and it wasn't like he ran a horrible race.  The outside draw should suit him well against a field that might have a trouble keeping up with his pace out of the gate.  Again, you're not going to get very much in the way of odds, but big prices have been hard to find at Gulfstream the last couple of weeks.

G3-Appleton Stakes

I've been trying to find reasons not to like 1-Little Mike (5/2) in this spot but it's really tough to over look his advantages against this field.  He draws the rail, which is the prime position to be in for a one mile turf race at Gulfstream with the rail at 60 feet.  While the rest of the field is trying to get into position during the short run to the turn, Little Mike should have no problems getting comfortable on the front end.  Additionally, the mile distance is obviously his preferred route of ground (5-4-1-0) and he loves the Gulfstream Park turf course (3-2-0-0).

G3-Skip Away

Truth be told, I don't care for any of the entries in the Skip Away, with the possible exception of 11-Jackson Bend (4/1), who looked okay in the G2-Gulfstream Park Handicap back on March 12th when you consider the tough time he had simply exiting the starting gate. 

Belmont winner 1-Drosselmeyer is going to catch a lot of cash simply due to name recognition but I have a hard time seeing him as the best in this field.  5-Ron the Greek appears to be at a big of a class disadvantage and 4-Colizeo is on good form and possesses a good amount of tactical speed, but I wonder if the abundance of early pace in this race might be a bit more than he can handle.

If the pace is an honest one, and it appears that it will be, Jackson Bend should in an excellent position to roll onto the lead coming off the far turn.  The 4/1 ML odds are decent enough but I wouldn't want to take much less than 7/2 or 3/1 on this colt.