by Dustin Fabian
September 27, 2018
It’s time for another massive weekend in horse racing, with Breeders’ Cup Classic contenders taking center stage at Santa Anita (Awesome Again Stakes), Belmont (Jockey Club Gold Cup) and Churchill Downs (Lukas Classic). All of the expected Classic favorites – Accelerate, Diversify, West Coast, Mendelssohn, Mind Your Biscuits and Thunder Snow – will be in action.
And that’s not all. In total, ten Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series ‘Win and You’re In’ tickets will be punched this weekend – eight on Saturday and two more Sunday. Five of those tickets will be punched at Santa Anita Park, where the Saturday card is my primary focus this weekend.
Not only is the racing great, but the wager menu is better than ever. Friday marks the inaugural edition of the Stronach 5, a Pick 5 showcasing races from Gulfstream, Santa Anita, Laurel and Golden Gate that will take just 45 minutes to complete. Plus, it features an industry-low 12% takeout. And if that isn’t enough, Stronach 5 past performances are FREE at Xpressbet and we’ve also got free picks from Brian Nadeau and the XBTV team. Not a bad way to start the weekend.
Plus, Santa Anita is now offering a Rainbow Pick 6 for the first time. That’s right, the 20-cent bet that originated at Gulfstream Park and swept through a number of other top tracks is now at Santa Anita. Friday’s Rainbow 6 features a $250,000 Guaranteed Jackpot Payout (in the event there is only one winner) and Saturday and Sunday feature a $1,000,000 Guaranteed Jackpot Payout.
And if you still aren’t sold, Xpressbet is giving away 5 Million XB Rewards Points for wagers made at Santa Anita on Saturday. Win by placing winning wagers on the day’s best bets, including the Late Pick 4, Early ‘Players’ Pick 5 and Win bets on the top races.
But enough about the highlights – let’s get into the picks!
Race 1 – Maiden Special Weight
A field of seven complete with four first time starters and all of the top barns (Baffert, Callaghan, O’Neill, Hollendorfer) represented. Baffert’s IMPROBABLE has been working lights out in the mornings. He should be ready to roll with Drayden Van Dyke in the irons. ‘DVD’ and Baffert have won at a remarkable 39% clip at ‘The Great Race Place’ in 2017/18. STRETFORD END gets Flavien Prat to ride and has also been working like a nice horse, while TUT was solid in his debut at Los Alamitos on September 7 and should move forward from that.
3. Stretford End
Race 2 – Allowance Optional Claiming
They don’t often sprint 5 furlongs on the lawn at Santa Anita (in fact they never do), which makes this race even more appealing. ROCKY ROGUE was barely caught in a similar race at Del Mar on August 23 and even though he won’t be 29/1 this time around, he’s still worth a long look. JOE JACKSON should get a nice stalking trip from the rail.
1. Joe Jckson
2. Rocky Rogue
3. From the Distance
Race 3 – Maiden Special Weight
Cal-breds are showcased in this maiden event. They’ve reeled in OFFSHORE AFFAIR late in his last two starts, but the stars seem to be aligned this time around. Tyler Baze – a great jockey for speed horses – stays aboard and trainer Carla Gaines adds blinkers, which could help the horse focus late. MOBOU needs to run much better (he cost $390K as a yearling, after all) than his 0-for-2 mark, but he should also move up with blinkers on.
1. Offshore Affair
3. Its Five Somewhere
Race 4 – Maiden Special Weight
OMAHA BEACH was bet like he couldn’t lose in his debut at Del Mar on September 2, but he did. In fact, that race wasn’t really even that encouraging. But maybe it was just the lesson he needed to put it all together this time? I’m skeptical. ALLEVA went right to the front in that September 2 race and outfinished OMAHA BEACH, so he should be respected. NEPTUNE’S STORM is bred to run on the lawn and makes his first turf start for Bill Morey, so I’ll keep an eye on him.
2. Neptune’s Storm
3. Omaha Beach
Race 5 – Claiming
Jack Carava claimed FIRE TO THE WIRE last out for $20K and wheels him back at a similar level here. This horse has a knack for running big at Santa Anita (7-2-2-2 in his career) and he’s got an ideal running style (forward) and mid/outside post. SHORT OF EZ earned a huge 88 Beyer last out, but that race was at Los Alamitos in December 2017. The layoff is tough, but remember the California claiming rules let him come back here without running for a tag. SPOKANE EAGLE would relish a fast pace.
1. Fire to the Wire
2. Short of Ez
3. Spokane Eagle
Race 6 – American Pharoah Stakes (G1)
Hard to go against Baffert and the Del Mar Futurity winner, GAME WINNER, here. With Roadster and Instagrand out, this may be the top threat to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. The stiffest challenge may come from GUNMETAL GRAY, who turned his two-turn debut into a runaway win at Del Mar. And they’ll still need to catch ROWAYTON, who was second in the ‘Futurity after setting the early pace. All three should handle the distance and the favorite figures to be ‘the horse’ heading into the Breeders’ Cup.
1. Game Winner
2. Gunmetal Gray
Race 7 – Allowance Optional Claiming
ICY STREET ran huge to break his maiden last November at Del Mar, but he’s been on the shelf since. Drayden Van Dyke stays aboard, which is a good sign. TARTINI is just 1-for-12 in his career with the lone ‘W’ coming in October 2016 at Nottingham in the UK. He’s been bet in six US starts and has never got the job done. Tread carefully. It looks like they’ll all have to catch IMPETU, who has been gelded since breaking his maiden in February. RED KING has performed well at Santa Anita in his career.
1. Icy Street
2. Red King
Race 8 – Allowance Optional Claiming
I’m betting on Jack Carava to have a big day with recent claims as I’ll make MOON KITTY my top pick here. Carava claimed her for $32K on September 1 at Del Mar and she brings her early speed into this one from a perfect outside draw. She might be able to take this field wire-to-wire. ZUSHA has run in graded races this year (Summertime Oaks and Torrey Pines) and even though she wasn’t a factor this level is more up her alley.
1. Moon Kitty
3. Conquest Flatterme
Race 9 – Chandelier Stakes (G1)
BRILL was all the rage at Del Mar before her flop in the G1 Debutante (at 7/10 odds) so what do we make of her? Jerry Hollendorfer had no excuse for the performance so she wheels right back for another try. Bob Baffert, who has won this race 10 times sends out DER LU, and Simon Callaghan is represented by BELLAFINA, who won the aforementioned Debutante. Neither would be a surprise. And Baffert’s MOTHER MOTHER gets going from the rail, which is a tough draw for her.
1. Der Lu
Race 10 – Rodeo Drive Stakes (G1)
To me, this is a two-horse race between two of the most consistent female turfers in the game. CAMBODIA and VASILIKA squared off in the G2 John C. Mabee at Del Mar and VASILIKA got the better of her that day. Trip made all the difference as VASILIKA got first jump there. I expect Drayden Van Dyke to be more aggressive with CAMBODIA here.
3. Queen Blossom
Race 11 – Awesome Again Stakes (G1)
I think ACCELERATE is a single here. He’s sharp, talented and in the best form of his life. He’s won three straight races at Santa Anita and he’s the expected Breeders’ Cup Classic favorite for a reason. WEST COAST is a deserving second choice, but Bob Baffert has been relatively subdued about his chances and noted that this is a horse that needs to race into shape – nor work into it. And if that’s the case, he wont be 100% Saturday. It’s impossible to make a case for anyone else.
2. West Coast
3. The Lieutenant
Race 12 – Unzip Me Stakes
MS BAD BEHAVIOR is a talented turfer with a penchant for this course. She’s 5-2-2-0 at Santa Anita and is simply the best horse in the field. Assuming she’s still in top form, the Richard Baltas-trainee will be tough to beat. It’s hard to go against Peter Miller in turf sprints, so SUSPICIOUS SPOUSE is worth keeping tabs on, while OUT OF THE FLAMES and PULPIT RIDER will be closing late.
1. Ms Bad Behavior
2. Suspicious Spouse
3. Out of the Flames
Early Pick 5 (Races 1 – 5)
R1: 2, 6, 7
R2: 1, 9
R3: 3, 8
R4: 1, 2, 5, 8
R5: 2, 6
Ticket Cost: $48 for 50-cents
Rainbow Pick 6 (Races 7 – 12)
R7: 3, 4, 5, 7, 9, 10
R8: 1, 4, 5, 6, 9
R9: 5, 6
R10: 6, 8
R12: 4, 9, 10
Ticket Cost: $72 for 20-cents
Late Pick 4 (Races 9 – 12)
R9: 5, 6
R10: 6, 8
R12: 4, 9, 10
Ticket Cost: $6 for 50-cents