San Rafael Stakes
All eyes will be on Square Eddie. He is considered by many to be a top 3 Derby contender and whatever questions that may be surrounding him don't seem to be present in this race. It looks like a fairly soft spot to start his campaign. I'm not totally sold on him however. He's going to be a very short price and for all his accomplishments I don't think he's all that fast. I think if one of the fringe horses steps up they could easily claim his scalp. Brother Keith, Ryehill Dreamer look like good candidates to improve and be factors in this race but the horse I'm going to use is The Pamplemousse. I was very impressed with him visually when he broke his maiden. Although his high rounding stride suggests an eventual future on soft-ish grass courses the rubbery synthetics seem to suit him nicely for now. Going two turns seemed to transform this horse in a very positive way. He should sit a nice trip in towards the rail right behind the speed. Similar to where Square Eddie will be but saving more ground. He could have a slight fitness edge having run more recently. I'm hoping that's enough to pull off the upset.
First Lady Handicap
There is apparently only one thing that Game Face does well, but when you're really good at one single thing you don't need much else. There are some good sprinters in this race including Any Limit, JZ Warrior and Slewfoundmoney but Game Face for me is the one that stands above the others. Once she figured herself out she hasn't lost a sprint. She likes Gulfstream and has put up some big numbers here. She's good off the bench and could be a big factor in the eastern part of this division. Despite likely narrow favoritism I think Game Face will still be good value.
El Encino Stakes
I don't know how the bettors will deal with this race but I'll be hoping that they really come in for Country Star. She's got a big reputation and if she is ready to pick up her development where it seemingly got derailed then she could be tough but she's a horse I want to bet against. Lethal Heat is an extremely underrated horse. She loves synthetics and has only lost once on the surface and it came in a race where she was compromised at the start. I don't think the distance will be her absolute favorite but she should handle it. She has shown enough stamina in the past. I loved the tightener she got on the downhill course. I think it might be her race to lose. One also must heavily consider Ginger Pop but I think her race in the La Brea was a bit of an aberration. I just don't trust her. I much prefer the consistency shown by Lethal Heat. But of course the first race of a 4yo season can often be a tricky thing. A lot of horses get better and it's hard to say exactly who it might be. I'm hoping it's Lethal Heat.