by Dustin Fabian
February 22, 2018
No matter where you look this weekend, there’s something great to watch and play. Gulfstream is once again loaded and showcases a massive 13-race card Saturday. And Santa Anita still has the biggest pools and guaranteed wagers in the game! Their Late Pick 4 is guaranteed at $500,000 every Saturday and Sunday.
Plus, this weekend, Turfway and Sunland join the conversation, as they host key preps for upcoming Triple Crown prep races. Call them the ‘preps’ preps.’ Some intriguing three-year-olds will be on display, so they’re races worth keeping an eye on. Finally, Saturday is Closing Night at Sam Houston, and they have four stakes races that day.
Here’s my list of highlights:
Friday, February 23
Turfway Park – Race 5 (8:11PM ET) - John Battaglia Memorial Stakes
Our weekend journey starts in Florence, Kentucky (Florence Y’all) with the $75,000 John Battaglia Memorial at Turfway Park. This ‘Triple Crown Trail’ race isn’t worth any Kentucky Derby Points, but it is the key local prep for next month’s Grade 3 Jeff Ruby Steaks (formerly Spiral Stakes). And that’s why it’s important to pay attention. Maybe you’re betting Friday. Maybe you aren’t. But when March 17 rolls around and it’s Jeff Ruby Day, you’ll probably take a look. And that’s why I recommend getting to know these horses now. Truth Be Tolled is a two-time winner at Turfway, while Driven by History won 4-times at Presque Isle last summer. Horses with synthetic experience may have an advantage over dirt-track only shippers Roaming Union, who earned a big Beyer last out at Aqueduct when breaking his maiden by 12 ¼-lengths. Wesley Ward wins with 1-of-3 Turfway starters and sends out Arawak, who has been to New York, Great Britain, Kentucky and California in his young career.
Saturday, February 24
Gulfstream Park – Race 6 (2:30PM ET) – Texas Glitter Stakes
We head about 1,100 miles south of Florence for a loaded Gulfstream Park card. They’ve got guarantees on their Late Pick 4 ($300K), Late Pick 5 ($250K) and Rainbow 6 ($2 Million, assuming nobody hits it). The stakes action kicks off early with the Texas Glitter for three-year-olds sprinting on the lawn and I’m particularly intrigued to see how Salmanazar performs off the layoff. He was one of those precocious babies that ran last spring at Keeneland, but he was (apparently) injured in the Tremont at Belmont and hasn’t been seen since. He drew the rail (bummer), but looks like a horse that’s all speed and is a good candidate to excel in turf sprints like this. Wildcat’s Legacy, Red Kan and Bourbon Currency are three others in here with ‘win now’ credentials.
Santa Anita – Race 4 (5:00PM ET) – Daytona Stakes (G3)
We go coast-to-coast for the Grade 3 Daytona at Santa Anita, a race run over Santa Anita’s unique downhill turf course. Stormy Liberal, who starts Stateside for the first time since his massive 30/1 upset in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint at Del Mar, is back from Hong Kong, but meets a field that won’t be easy to one-up. He was 4-for-4 on this course last year, but Calculator (3-for-3 in 2017/18) and Conquest Tsunami (1-for-1) are also undefeated here recently. Plus, What a View is a very accomplished miler and he adds even more intrigue to this field. This one is going to be one to circle on the calendar. Seven entered and four or five would come as no surprise.
Gulfstream Park – Race 12 (5:35PM ET) – Hal’s Hope Stakes (G3)
We head back to South Florida a bit longer for the Hal’s Hope, and why wouldn’t we? After all, this is the seasonal landing spot for three serious racehorses – Irish War Cry, Economic Model and Send It In. Irish War Cry is the ‘known’ horse of the bunch, having won the Holy Bull and Wood Memorial last year. He was also runner-up in the Belmont. Send It In freaked out and ran a 119 Beyer (119!) in last April’s G3 Excelsior at Aqueduct, but we can’t expect that again…can we? His previous career best had been 104. Economic Model has earned $553K, but has yet to break through in a graded race. Oh, and Gulfstream lover, Malagacy and the under-the-radar, Conquest Big E, spruce things up even more. Betting this one? My colleague, Jeremy Plonk has done the dirty work and handicapped it.
Sam Houston – Race 8 (10:16PM ET) – Maxxam Gold Cup
We travel west across the Gulf of Mexico for a strong Closing Night card at Sam Houston, headlined by four stakes, including the $100,000 Maxxam Gold Cup. This year’s field isn’t as deep as past years, but you’ve still got premier players like Blueridge Traveler (2nd in last year’s G3 Spiral) and $413K earner, Social Misfit, who’s in from Louisiana. A big contingent is in for Steve Asmussen, who has all but sewn up the Sam Houston Training Title. Tom Morley’s Shivarelli adds a lot of intrigue in the Sam Houston Sprint Cup.
Sunday, February 25
Sunland Park – Race 9 (5:55PM ET) – Mine That Bird Derby
Our final stop is in New Mexico, for the $100,000 Mine That Bird Derby, named after the unlikeliest of longshots who scored big in the 2009 ‘Run for the Roses.’ And like the John Battaglia, there are no ‘Derby Points’ on the line here, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t an important prep. It’s a key step on the path to the Sunland Derby on March 25, so again, these are horses you’ll want to know. Runaway Ghost is a potential standout. He won here last month by 7 ¾-lengths and won the Golden Nugget at Golden Gate by 7 ½. He’s as legit as it gets. Steve Asmussen’s Reride will take money off a narrow victory in the Big Drama Stakes at Delta. The card also includes the Island Fashion for sophomore fillies and the Curribot Stakes for older horses.