by Jeremy Plonk
November 25, 2019
I’m most thankful for the horseplayers who make this game go. So as we approach one of the year’s most treasured holidays this week, let us share our handicapping passion. Here’s how I see a series of Thanksgiving weekday stakes races, and hope you cash a cornucopia of your own.
Besides the Penn Mile in June, Thanksgiving Eve is Penn National’s only other day on the calendar where the national interest grows. Races 2-3-4 are stakes with some serious New York influence and get you out before 7:30 pm ET on a card that begins at 6 pm ET. In the $100,000 Swatara (Race 2), Name Changer returns from a nearly 1-year layoff and likely will be under-laid with Irad Ortiz, Jr. in the saddle. The play is Monongahela, runner-up in this race a year ago and capable vs. these after being overmatched in his last pair. In the $100,000 Blue Mountain Juvenile Fillies for Pennsylvania-breds, Chad Brown’s Nov. 3 Aqueduct debut winner Autunomous and John Servis’ 14-length debut Parx winner Precious should dominate the tote. But the value will be with Ebo Special, and who wants to bet against a 2-year-old by Constitution right now … especially at what figures to be an overlay? The featured $200,000 Fabulous Strike (Race 4) would seem to be an easy check for Breeders’ Cup Sprint fifth-place finisher Firenze Fire. He will go much shorter than the 8-5 morning line under Irad Ortiz, Jr. if he runs; but note he’s cross-entered in the Fall Highweight at Aqueduct on Thursday. Inside-speed Midtowncharlybrown is a threat to wire this race for the second straight year and the key rival to the favorite even if Firenze Fires shows up. ‘Brown is the play for sure in the chalk’s absence.
Thanksgiving Day at Aqueduct includes an 11:50 am ET early first post time. The feature is the 6-furlong Fall Highweight Handicap (Race 7). Under 134 pounds, Firenze Fire carries top weight but could opt to run at Penn National the night before where cross-entered. In a race with a ton of speed, the lighter-weighted, closer No Distortion is an Aqueduct horse-for-course who will be a big price on the class rise. He could be key to exotics in the underneath positions. The program also features the $100,000 Winter Memories (Race 8), where I’m very interested in Keeneland import allowance winner Tuned, a daughter of star turf mare Zagora.
It’s opening day at the venerable Fair Grounds in New Orleans (first post 1 pm ET). The traditional feature is the 6-furlong Thanksgiving Classic (Race 7) for a purse of $100,000. With just a field of 5, it’s not a 5-star kind of betting race to say the least. But 8-5 morning line favorite Bobby’s Wicked One has had more troubled starts than wins in his career and might not be a rubber-stamp to the winner’s circle. But the outside draw in a tiny field gives him every chance to overcome his gate issues and improve to 4-for-5 at Fair Grounds.
Churchill Downs’ traditional Turkey Day card includes the Grade 2 Falls City Handicap (Race 9) and has 3-1 morning line co-favorites in Chilukki winner Sally’s Curlin and Locust Grove heroine Go Google Yourself. The former has established herself as a potent closer in 1-turn miles, while the latter comes in fresh and more accomplished in 2-turn affairs. But it’s New York-bred Ratajkowski who looks to be potential lone speed and the one to beat/catch off sharp local workouts to get accustomed to the CD footing. Julien Leparoux rides this lightly raced Drosselmeyer mare in search of her fourth straight win.
Black Friday annually has a golden feel on the stakes calendar. Major races at Aqueduct, Golden Gate and Churchill Downs are on the marquee.
The Grade 3 Comely at Aqueduct (Race 8) is a great stakes jumping-on point for unbeaten Maryland raider Arrifana. The Curlin filly is 4-for-4, including an allowance roadtrip win at Saratoga and has been handled very patiently by Kelly Rubley. Remington Park Oaks 2-3 finishers Gold Standard and Classic Fit re-match and are win contenders. We’ll get the benefit of seeing how RP Oaks winner Lady Apple runs in Wednesday’s Zia Park Oaks for Steve Asmussen for some additional strength-of-schedule quality.
The $50,000 Golden Gate Debutante (Race 7) puts 2-year-old sprint fillies in the spotlight. Bob Baffert sends Eclair north for the first time. Misirlou has won all 3 starts on the Tapeta at Golden Gate since debuting second on dirt at Santa Rosa. The fleet local debut winner Mischievous Curlin should offer another big price after that 19-1 score vs. Cal-breds. She’s capable.
Churchill Downs’ Friday card is topped by the Grade 1 Clark Handicap (Race 11), which includes the likes of Seeking the Soul, Tom’s d’Etat, Mocito Rojo and Owendale. Last year’s runner-up Bravazo makes his first start since the Pegasus World Cup in January. There appears plenty of early speed in here to give Churchill-loving Seeking the Soul a chance to launch his late rally like he did in the Stephen Foster. Owendale is the other beneficiary of such a set-up. The Grade 2 Mrs. Revere (Race 9) boasts Chad Brown’s Grade 2 Sands Point winner New and Improved. Give a longshot look to Winter Sunset, an impeccably bred filly who just didn’t fire at Keeneland and is better than that last effort suggests.