Risen Star Stakes
What a tricky weekend this is. We've got tons of high quality races with full fields that look anything but straightforward. The Risen Star kicks things off and I think those following this race closely are looking for one thing: A good potential Derby horse. With that in mind it seems logical to assume that Giant Oak and Friesan Fire will dominate the betting. My tactic is always to focus on who might win this race and worry about Derby ramifications after the race. Both Friesan Fire and Giant Oak are solid entrants that offer a different types of threats. Friesan Fire will be close to the pace and Giant Oak will try to mow them all down in the lane. The projected pace of this race is the thing that scares me the most. I have no idea if they'll go fast or slow. Code of Honour, Nowhere to Hide, Au Moon, Flying Pegasus and the Jones pair all have speed but none of them have "need the lead" speed. All of them are capable of setting a good pace but none of them are obliged to go to the front. Unless I get some late hour revelation I may hedge myself for both scenario's. If the pace is slow or moderate I like It Happened Again. I think he is the fastest horse in the race and although he hasn't run a route yet he is built like a two turn horse and his last race (7f at Delta) was actually around two turns. He's got the look of a good one and I think he's better than his stablemate. If we get a fast pace the race plays into the hands of Giant Oak. Prado's only experience on him was a poor one but he still flies in to take the mount. The rumblings are that this is a very good horse. My only problem with him is he seems to let the race be dictated to him and he doesn't seem to have the speed to get closer sooner. Therefore I might just take a shot with another horse that needs a fast pace but he's got more tactical speed. Uno Mas is not a Derby horse. He'll get tired even running this distance but he will stay this trip and his allowance win two back showed that with a fast pace he can beat anyone. He gets over the track very well and has been much sharper in the mornings since the Lecomte. He didn't have a great trip last time and I don't blame Asmussen for trying this group again with him.
He's a major threat who could be a bit overlooked in the wagering. So I'll be going for It Happened Again and Uno Mas mostly because of the price. There is nothing wrong with Giant Oak and he can win but I'd rather take a shot.
It Happened Again
Robert B. Lewis Stakes
People often bet on what they want to believe and some of the best value on the Triple Crown Trail is found because people are betting on who they think will ultimately be the best Derby horse. Not on horses who could win today. Pioneerof the Nile is not a horse I put much trust in. I know he works nothing but bullets these days but he's only won twice in five starts and in all three of his losses he failed to trouble the winner in any way. He will be near even money and he might not get much pace to run at. Brother Keith is likely going to set the gallop and I expect everyone else to back off. One of the things I like in this type of race at this time of year is to look for horses that have suddenly improved. I look for maiden winners who have recently won after a string of indifferent results, especially if that win came when stepping up in distance. The Pamplemousse, Saratoga Sinner and even I Want Revenge are all examples of horses like this who recently fit that criteria and ran well. In this race the horse I want to be on is Papa Clem. I loved his maiden, maybe more than any race anyone in this field has ever run. He looked spectacular, not in a brilliant way but in a "I've got this figured out" way. He's got natural speed but I expect him to sit just off the pace then get first run on the favorite. I think he's the horse they'll all be trying to catch in the final furlong and he's not an easy horse to pass.
San Antonio Handicap
Tiago, Champs Elysees and Well Armed. All of them classy and all of them beatable. None have even managed to win 50% of the time but between them you might be looking at the vast majority of the wagering pool. To me that smells like an opportunity. Champs Elysees needs more ground and has never won on synthetics. Well Armed has been brutal in his last two starts and while I'm rooting for him to put it back together I won't be betting on it. Tiago is the main danger, mostly because of the distance. 9f is his best game by a long margin. The only reason I'm not making him a single is because he's coming off a layoff and he likely needs one race to get tight. But definitely use him in exotics. It might be smart to wheel a few horses over him in an exacta. Once you look past the favorites the rest of the field is wide open. I think Becrux is the main danger. He went sour for Drysdale and the change of barns was much needed. His first race for Sadler was a massive success as he dominated a group of stakes quality sprinters in a 7f allowance run on the Breeders' Cup undercard (Friday). Since then he's been sharp without winning but my feeling is that the synthetic surface will suit him perfectly. I know 9f is further than he has wanted in the past but with age often comes the capacity for more stamina. We saw it with Kip Deville and we could very well see it here. Becrux has a quick move and if deployed correctly it could be a decisive advantage over the more cumbersome Tiago. Ferneley is another horse I consider dangerous but I don't like that he is so far into his form cycle. Also he's unproven on the surface whereas Becrux has shown similar Turf ability but has neither of those questions surrounding him.