by Johnny D
March 4, 2021
Saturday, a trio of important sophomore races have attracted nationwide connections desirous of mandatory hotel reservations in Louisville, Kentucky on the first Saturday of May. If you’re keeping score at home, this year Derby Day is May 1 and that’s as early as it possibly can be. That’s in stark contrast to last year when extenuating circumstances (you may have a more colorful description on the tip of your tongue) forced the race to be moved to September 5, the latest date ever in 146 years.
Let’s not do that again.
With the future looking bright by May, why not hunker down with Xpressbet Saturday to watch and wager on the Gr. 3 Gotham at Aqueduct, the Gr. 2 Tampa Bay Derby and the Gr. 2 San Felipe Stakes from Santa Anita. There’s half a chance that in one of those races you’ll see this year’s eventual Kentucky Derby winner in action.
Below is one man’s horse-by-horse analysis of those Saturday stakes races:
AQUEDUCT // RACE 9 (5:07PM ET) // GRADE 3 GOTHAM STAKES // 1 MILE
50 - 20 - 10 - 5 KENTUCKY DERBY POINTS
1. ATLANTIC ROAD (PLETCHER/VARGAS) - 30/1
This son of Quality Road broke maiden last out going 7 furlongs at the Big A. It was a hard-fought victory, but this race will require much more. Pass.
2. THE REDS (KIMMEL/MORALES) - 30/1
This Big Red Machine took 5 starts to break maiden last out but did it while going one mile and one-eighth as favorite. While he holds a fitness edge, he’ll need to be much faster to do damage in here. Exotics only.
3. HIGHLY MOTIVATED (BROWN/CASTELLANO) - 8/5
Winner of 2 of 3, this son of Into Mischief will attract plenty of attention. Away since November when he demolished foes in the Nyquist at Keeneland in fast time going six and one-half furlongs, he returns for 45% Aqueduct trainer Chad Brown. This is a one-turn mile, so he won’t be forced to negotiate an additional bend. Still, it’s difficult to go from age 2 to 3, come off the bench, stretch out and defeat fit and fierce foes. Granted, this guy faced solid competition in limited starts—both second and third-place finishers in the Nyquist returned to win next out—but a very short price based on headlines earned in one race sometimes get the job done at a short price. This is the time to go against the favorite. Exotics Only.
4. WIPE THE SLATE (O'NEILL/CARMOUCHE) - 6/1
This guy’s connections decided to duck the Life is Good show in the San Felipe at Santa Anita for a cross country ship and shot in the Gotham. With good reason, too. Life is Good beat this guy by more than 9 lengths when they met in November going six and one-half furlongs. This colt’s got California speed and that will play well in the Big Apple. Jockey Kendrick Carmouche is familiar with the lead and that’s where he’ll be with this guy. He’s liable to take this field a long way. Contender.
5. CROWDED TRADE (BROWN/CANCEL) - 9/2
It’s interesting that trainer Brown decides to enter this recent maiden winner against #3 Highly Motivated, also trained by Brown and the race favorite. Brown also attracts 20% jock Eric Cancel to ride and they are 3 for 7 together in 2020-21, according to Daily Racing Form stats. Connections must have a high opinion of this son of More Than Ready purchased for $185k at Keeneland as a yearling. Exotics Only.
6. CAPO KANE (WYNER/DAVIS) - 5/1
He’s a speed horse that’s made the lead in all three races since his debut at Parx in October. He will find it difficult to gain the lead from #4 Wipe the Slate in here. If he demands it, he will have nothing left for the finish. He should be fit after a decent Gr. 3 Withers effort, but he’ll be pressured in here. Pass.
7. FREEDOM FIGHTER (BAFFERT/FRANCO) - 5/2
Here’s another from the left coast with speed. Baffert runners rarely ‘take back’ and this guy ought to have his game face on as soon as the gate opens. The outside post position is an advantage because jockey Franco will be able to ‘clock’ what’s happening with the other speed horses drawn inside of him. Connections of this son of Violence hope that #4 Wipe the Slate and #6 Capo Kane tangle early so that Freedom Fighter can stalk in the garden spot. He’s fit, too, having raced courageously from the rail in the 7-furlong Gr. 2 San Vincente stakes Feb. 6 to finish second to another highly regarded Baffert runner in Concert Tour. Two bullet works at Santa Anita since then will make him very tough to beat. Pick to Win.
8. WEYBURN (JERKENS/MCCARTHY) - 20/1
Drawn outside, this son of Pioneer of the Nile has speed and 1 win from 3 starts. He should be outrun early by a few of these but won’t be too far behind. The real question with him is how good is he? A few of these seem to be better at this point. Pass.
Are you ready for a dose of coast-to-coast Baffert? We know, ‘Not him again.’ The guy’s loaded with 3-year-olds on his way toward an attempt to win a record seventh Kentucky Derby. Who are we to stand in his way? #7 Freedom Fighter is ‘all systems go’ in the Gotham and catches the talented #3 Highly Motivated coming off a layoff. #4 Wipe the Slate, also a California-based runner figures in the picture as well. It’s not impossible one of the sharp recent maiden winners could run well in here, but we’ll stick with the proven horses.
$20 Exacta ($40)
1st: #7 Freedom Fighter
2nd: #3 Highly Motivated & #4 Wipe the Slate
TAMPA BAY DOWNS // RACE 11 (5:25PM ET) // GRADE 2 TAMPA BAY DERBY // 1 1/16 MILES
50 - 20 - 10 - 5 KENTUCKY DERBY POINTS
1. MY LIBERTY (MEJIA/MEJIA) - 30/1
Broke maiden last out going 7 furlongs at Tampa after missing in 3 previous starts at Gulfstream Park where best race was a 5-furlong turf sprint. It will take more than that to win this race. Pass.
2. SUPER STRONG (JOSEPH JR/GALLARDO) - 8/1
This son of Super Saver was purchased for $77k as a 2-year-old and won his only start—a Grade 1 Stakes race—by coming from off the pace while going 7 furlongs in the slop. What’s interesting about the victory is that it came in Puerto Rico. Normally, this colt would be easy to dismiss but there are some interesting connections. Trainer Saffie Joseph wins at a 21% rate overall—but only 9% at Tampa and this is one of 3 runners he’s entered in the race. Jockey Antonio Gallardo hits at an impressive 24% at Tampa. The colt’s work pattern is solid with moves every 7 days at Palm Meadows, including a best-of-30 :59 3/5 bullet Feb. 13. Blinkers go on for this. Like we said, there’s some interesting stuff going on here. Exotics Use.
3. CANDY MAN ROCKET (MOTT/ALVARADO) - 2/1
Winner of the Gr. 3 Sam Davis last out and 2 of 3 starts overall, this son of the Candy Ride will be favored in here. He’s trained by Hall of Fame resident Bill Mott and figures to be close to the early pace. He has a nice :48 3/5 Feb. 28 Payson Park bullet blowout to strengthen his case. Win Contender.
4. KING OF DREAMS (AVILA/CAMACHO) - 20/1
This $180k 2-year-old purchase has 1 win in 2 starts. That was last out going a mile and one-sixteenth on turf at Gulfstream at 16-1 odds. His first attempt was a sloppy seven furlongs at Aqueduct where he showed speed and stopped. Pass.
5. BOCA BOY (WINEBAUGH/ARROYO) - 15/1
Expect this son of Prospective to attempt to set the early pace. He tried those tactics last out when he faded to fourth, beaten 4 lengths, in the Sam Davis. In his defense, he had been off since winning a state-bred stakes race at Gulfstream going a mile and one-sixteenth in the slop in September. He may have needed his last race. If that’s the case, he could hang around a bit better than before and that could put him in the exotics picture at a decent price. Exotics Only.
6. AWESOME GERRY (JOSEPH JR./DIAZ JR.) - 15/1
This son of Liam’s Map is one of trainer Saffie Joseph’s 3 entries in the race. Since breaking maiden for $50k at Gulfstream in July and then winning an optional $60k claiming race, this colt has been pitched exclusively against stakes foes at Keeneland, Delta Downs and Gulfstream. He managed a second, third and fourth in those races before finishing nowhere in the Gr. 3 Holy Bull—his first try around two turns. He’s usually about mid-pack early in the race and blinkers come off today. While he’s faced creditable competition, he would be a huge surprise as the winner. Pass.
7. MOONLITE STRIKE (JOSEPH JR./CENTENO) - 20/1
Another in the trio of Saffie Joseph runners making the trip from the east coast of Florida. This colt paired two virtually wire-to-wire scores back to back at Gulfstream in November and December. He did not do as well when shipped to Oaklawn Park for the Smarty Jones where he was beaten by nearly 18 lengths in late January. 20% local winner jockey Daniel Centeno has the mount. Pass.
8. HIDDEN STASH (OLIVER/BEJARANO) - 4/1
Here’s an interesting runner. This son of Constitution was purchased for just $50k as a yearling at Keeneland. He’s earned over $121k in 5 starts, including 2 wins and a third last out in the Gr. 3 Sam Davis at 8-1 odds. In his first start since November, he rode the rail in the Davis, angled out in the stretch, lugged in a bit but kept coming to finish just one and one-quarter length behind favorite #3 Candy Man Rocket. Hidden Stash never changed leads that afternoon but also didn’t change leads when he won a $75k optional claimer at Churchill in November. Perhaps that’s just him. In that race he was 4-wide the entire 2-turn mile and one-sixteenth journey. Jockey Rafael Bejarano, who’s 2-for-2 on the colt returns for this race. It’s worth noting that this colt has improved Beyer Speed Figures in all 5 of his races. Bottom line on this guy is that he tries. He may not be good enough to win but he’ll go down trying. Use Him.
9. UNBRIDLED HONOR (PLETCHER/LEPAROUX) - 20/1
This lightly raced son of Honor Code returns off a maiden win at Tampa going one mile and 40 yards. He has improved Beyer Speed Figures in each race but he will need another jump to contend here. He’s been well bet in his last two starts. Pass.
10. HELIUM (CASSE/FERRER) - 6/1
This son of Ironicus has been away since October when he won the Display. That was his second win in as many starts—both 7 furlongs over Woodbine’s artificial surface. He will need to stretch out to two turns, handle dirt for the first time and overcome the 10 post. Lots to prove. Pass.
11. PROMISE KEEPER (PLETCHER/SAEZ) - 8/1
Fourth, beaten more than 10 lengths by #3 Candy Man Rocket, in his first start going six furlongs at Gulfstream, Promise Keeper rebounded strongly going one mile over a sloppy track to win by 5 lengths. Did the extra distance or ‘off’ track provide impetus for the change in performance or has this son of Constitution merely responded to the pending Hall of Fame member trainer Todd Pletcher? Expect this colt to have something to say about the early pace of the Tampa Bay Derby, but he’ll need to show he can perform over a ‘fast’ track as well as he did in the slop. Pass.
12. SITTIN ON GO (ROMANS/ALVARADO JR.) - 20/1
He’s pretty much been a graded stakes fixture ever since he broke maiden at Ellis Park in August. Right off the bat he won the Gr. 3 Iroquios at 24-1 with a roaring closing finish. Since then things have been more difficult: ninth in the Gr. 1 BC Juvenile, sixth in the Gr. 2 Kentucky Jockey Club and sixth in the Gr. 3 Holy Bull. This a tough post from which to turn the ship around. Pass
#3 Candy Man Rocket looks a solid favorite. If you’re willing to take a shot or two against him, #8 Hidden Stash is worth consideration. He should be a solid price and might improve on his finish the last time they met. #5 Boca Boy figures to get more heat this time around but should be fitter. #2 Super Strong is a complete question mark but has positive connections for his first mainland start.
$10 Exacta ($10)
1st: #3 Candy Man Rocket
2nd: #8 Hidden Stash
$5 Exacta ($10)
1st: #8 Hidden Stash
2nd: #3 Candy Man Rocket & #2 Super Strong
SANTA ANITA // RACE 6 (5:45PM ET) // GRADE 2 SAN FELIPE STAKES // 1 1/16 MILES
50 - 20 - 10 - 5 KENTUCKY DERBY POINTS
1. LIFE IS GOOD (BAFFERT/SMITH) - 4/5
This son of Into Mischief brings an unbeaten, untied and unscored upon slate into the third start of his career that shows he’s never been behind another horse at any call. He’s got speed and will use from the rail under Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith. Stablemate #3 Medina Spirit was getting to him in the final strides of the one-mile Sham Stakes and this is a sixteenth of a mile further. Was Life is Good showing weakness at the conclusion of the Sham or was jockey Mike Smith just saving as much energy as possible? The colt has worked fabulously for Baffert since the Sham. He’s the one to beat but Baffert also saddles the one that can beat him. Win Candidate.
2. DREAM SHAKE (EURTON/ROSARIO) - 5/1
This colt’s first start was something to behold. He absolutely dominated foes with a strong run around the leaders off the turn. What’s even better than his performance is the 15-1 odds his backers got. Trainer Peter Eurton did a fantastic job ‘hiding’ this one. The colt’s connections obviously thought he could run because they hired top jock Joel Rosario to ride him first time out. The price undoubtedly was inflated because Bezos, a highly touted runner from the Bob Baffert barn, also was in the race and burned a great deal of money. The step from a scintillating first out sophomore maiden sprint score to the Grade 2 mile and one-sixteenth stakes winner’s circle is huge. We would be surprised if this guy can seamlessly make it. Exotics Only.
3. MEDINA SPIRIT (BAFFERT/VELAZQUEZ) - 7/2
In the Sham Stakes, his second career start, this Protonico colt purchased for just $35k, threw a legit scare into heavily favored barnmate #1 Life is Good, when closing serious ground in the final sixteenth of the one-mile Sham Stakes. At the time, some viewed the close finish a result of the winner easing himself to the wire. However, Medina Spirit’s dead game performance in winning the Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita last out going one mile and one-sixteenth suggests that as time goes on and distances increase #1 Life is Good may not be that much better than Medina Spirit. In the Lewis, Medina Spirit set a swift early pace, discouraged all closest pursuers into the turn and then was hooked by Roman Centurian and Hot Rod Charlie in the lane. At that point, Medina Spirit appeared to be in hot water, but he courageously battled to a neck victory over a ‘good’ track. That effort suggests that the further they go the better he’ll perform and he has early pace, too. That’s a dangerous combination. Oh, and he’s trained by Bob Baffert. If anyone is liable to defeat #1 Life is Good, it’s this guy. Most Probable Winner.
4. NONE ABOVE THE LAW (MILLER/PRAT) - 30/1
This Cal-bred son of Karakontie. battled to less than two length defeat to Big Fish in the Cal Cup Derby at a mile and one sixteenth at Santa Anita. That was the gelding’s fifth race and he hasn’t won since first out for state-bred $50k in July at Los Alamitos going five furlongs. Pass.
5. THE GREAT ONE (O'NEILL/CEDILLO) - 4/1
Purchased for $185k as a 2-year-old, this son of Nyquist has improved Beyer Speed Ratings in each of 5 starts. That’s a solid sign for a 3-year-old, especially for one that won his last race by 14 lengths. That was his maiden victory and before that he finished second by a nose to Spielberg (second in the Southwest last Saturday behind 2-year-old champ Essential Quality) in the Gr. 2 Los Alamitos Derby. He has speed and can be expected to use it under regular rider Abel Cedillo. Bottom Exotics Only.
6. GOVENOR'S PARTY (FRANKO/GUTIERREZ) - 50/1
This will be this son of Governor Charlie’s eighth career start. He broke maiden by disqualification and won a $50k starter at Golden Gate before finishing a well-beaten third in the El Camino Real Stakes there. Pass.
7. ROMAN CENTURIAN (CALLAGHAN/HERNANDEZ) - 8/1
This son of Empire Maker has posted huge Beyer Speed Figure ratings leaps in 3 starts—65, 80, 91—and that’s a good sign for a 3-year-old. First out he finished more than 12 lengths behind #1 Life is Good going six and one-half furlongs. Next out he romped in a one mile and one-sixteenth maiden race. Last out he had dead aim on #3 Medina Spirit in the stretch of the Robert B. Lewis and wasn’t quite able to get the job done. For that reason, we’re against this guy in here. 20% winner at the current meet jockey Juan Hernandez returns in the saddle. If things get too hot up front and #1 Life is Good shows weakness in the lane, this fellow could once more join #3 Medina Spirit in having the best for last. Exotics Use.
#1 Life is Good and #3 Medina Spirit are the most logical winners of this race. No scoop there. We give the edge to the latter based on his apparent ability to improve with time, distance and price. #7 Roman Centurian and #2 Dream Shake are the most likely to complete exotics. There’s not much money to be made playing this race unless you can find a way to upset Bob Baffert’s starters in this graded Santa Anita stakes race. By the way, that’s usually a terrible plan of attack.
$1 Superfecta ($6)
1st: #3 Medina Spirit
2nd: #1 Life is Good
3rd: #2 Dream Shake, #7 Roman Centurian, #5 The Great One
4th: #2 Dream Shake, #7 Roman Centurian, #5 The Great One
$.50 Superfecta ($3)
1st: #3 Medina Spirit
2nd: #2 Dream Shake, #7 Roman Centurian, #5 The Great One
3rd: #1 Life is Good
4th: #2 Dream Shake, #7 Roman Centurian, #5 The Great One
In the final qualifying round of the 2021 Beat the Host season, former Chicago Black Hawks star Eddie O’s performance as host came up 3 goals short of a hat trick. That left last chance Beat the Host challengers firing at an open net. Many took advantage of the golden opportunity--127 to be exact--and they now will advance to the BTH Championship March 12 along with 743 other qualifiers.
Fuguo Wong proved best for the week, barely, over Ajiet Thiara, $148.50 to $146. Eric Gielata finished a close third at $143. They each earned $1,000, $750 and $250, respectively.
This season a total of 24 unique players won weekly prizes, with Greg Peterson the only duplicate collector. He finished third Jan. 23 with a $164 total to collect $500 (prizes were doubled and carried over from the previous canceled week) and then returned Feb. 20 to top all players with a whopping season-high total of $273, good for a $1,000 prize.
Steven Cziguth’s total of $230.50 on Feb. 20 was the second-highest earnings total of the season. Even though he finished first just once on Jan. 23, Craig Yoshino topped all players in weekly earnings at $2,000. Weekly prize totals were doubled because they were carried over from the previous week when BTH play was canceled.
Maria Cimino topped all players with a seasonal earnings total of $621, clear of runner-up Steven Cziguth at $565.50. Joseph St Pierre finished third at $559.50. Greg Peterson $533 and Andrew Ma $505 complete the top five prize winners. Cimino and Cziguth earn seats to the Pegasus World Cup Betting Championship--$6,000 value each. St Pierre, Peterson and Ma will participate in this Saturday’s Ultimate Betting Challenge on Xpressbet—a $3,000 value each.
Cimino’s winning seasonal total of $621 averages out to a tick over $77.50 per week. Based on $5 Win wagers, that computes to one $31 winner, two $15.50 winners, or roughly three winners returning $5 each per competition. Three $5 winners per competition? Doesn’t sound too difficult does it? Trust us, it is.
The BTH Championship will be decided March 13. Participants will be required to make $5 Win wagers in 10 competition races ($50). Wagers are ‘live,’ so players keep what they win. There’s no host to beat and participants will play against each other for 7 tournament seats worth from $6,000 to $1,500. Competition races will be posted Friday, March 12 before 5 pm.
A hearty congratulations to all of the BTH prize winners and qualifiers. Best of luck to everyone in the Championship Round. And, last but certainly not least, thanks to everyone who played BTH this season.