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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, February 18 — Oh, to be in the Crescent City today, as the Triple Crown class of 2022 gets its first meaningful Kentucky Derby qualifier of the season.

With 50 points to the winner, the 1-1/8 miles Grade 2 Risen Star is virtually a Derby win-and-in affair. It has drawn a classy and accomplished field of 10 in which a serious case can be made for half of them.

In post order:

#1 Pappacap (4-1) Twice runnerup to juvenile champion Corniche last year, Gun Runner colt is sure to benefit from his season’s and Fair Grounds debut in the G3 Lecomte.

Mark Casse runner sat a good trip inside throughout, battled the runnerup from the inside through the lane, but tired in the final yards as if a bit short of top condition.

Given pole position and switch to Tyler Gaffalione, looking for a much better finish.

#5-Epicenter (4-1) ran a winning race in the Lecomte, unlucky to lose a head-bobber at the wire. He set comfortable fractions throughout beneath Joel Rosario, who takes the re-ride here. Might be slightly better with a target and also has license to improve.

#7-Zandon (9-2) is making season’s debut for Chad Brown. Shows seven works since his nose defeat in the G2 Remsen, which makes him the only colt with nine furlong experience in this contest.

Has some snappy works for this barn–not a Chad trademark–over deepish Payson Park. Jose Ortiz replaces Johnny Velazquez, who could not have been pleased the Aqueduct stewards took no action against Irad Ortiz Jr .

inside the eighth pole, Irad looked to his inside, allowed Mo Donegal to drift in, not only bumping Zandon twice in the final jumps but he extended his left elbow out in a final act of intimidation. We thought Zandon was best on the day.

Giving a call to Jose, we believe Zandon will be in this early and stalking throughout. Then we’ll see if he’s fit enough, and good enough, and what possibly might comes next.

#8-Smile Happy (7-2) is undefeated in two lifetime starts and following the G2 Jockey Club victory, in which he earned a layover Thoro-Graph figure , he’s worked six times at Gulfstream Park yet makes his debut here.

Reasons for this likely include the longer stretch, the non-speed-favoring nature of the Fair Grounds strip, the longer trip, and favorable timing for a season’s debut. It ultimately will be a question of intent by Ken McPeek.

Will that big engine open up on all cylinders today? We tend to doubt that, but he might be a special enough to win while only at 80-90% fit. Very interesting to see if he makes a transition from 2 to 3.

#10-Slow Down Andy (9-2) If he does, that would be a first. He came out running to win at 5-1/2 furlongs on debut at Santa Anita, mid-moved but beaten a half length in a Cal-bred Stakes at Del Mar, then was clearly best winning the G2 Los Al Futurity, his first start rounding two turns.

Racing in the clear and wide throughout, he launched a strong rally between rivals three wide on the turn and, despite racing greenly as he lugged in through the lane, he lengthened stride at the wire and won going away late.

Runnerup Messier returned to crush rivals by double-digits in the Robert B Lewis Memorial.

Slow Down Andy obviously doesn’t need to carry a racetrack around with him. He’s had seven works for Doug O’Neill in preparation for this and regular rider Mario Gutierrez returns.

As this is written, a straight wager on Pappacap and 3-1 or greater is in order, and giving thought to key-boxing Pappacap first and second in all popular multiple pools.

Race 9 Albert M. Stall Memorial

For those so inclined, the All-Stakes Pick 5 commences with fillies and mares racing 1-1/16 miles on the turf.

Amiche (5-1) is being patiently handled by former Chad assistant Cherie DeVaux who had her breakout last year.

Four-year-old filly is straight forward on the Thoro-Graph scale, albeit slower than several rivals, showed tenacity, and confirmed liking for the surface in the Pago Hop. Be running late beneath Hernandez.

We’re taking her straight at 7-2 or greater and making an exacta box including pole sitting Krantz Memorial victress Pass the Plate (3-1) and Abscond (7-2) who has been competitive at the graded level.

G3 Mineshaft Stakes

Olympiad (3-1) is a talented late developer training well for Bill Mott at Payson; should get his graded stripes here, unless Miles D (7-2) comes out super sharp for Chad in 4-year-old debut. Has less to prove than the first choice and spots four pounds.

O Besos (6-1) made successful 4-year-old debut after flirting with Classics trail last year. Looks straight forward and could prove value play against top pair. Straight wager will be game time decision.

Meanwhile, a three-horse exacta box plus super exotics part wheel including fast and classy Midcourt (8-1) shipping southeast for layup ace John Shirreffs and late developing Toddster Untreated (9-2) who has shown signs of being this good.

G3 Fair Grounds Stakes

Left five horses open in compelling nine furlongs on the turf.

G1 Hollywood Derby winner Santin (12-1) makes 4-year-old debut for Walsh/Tyler team with series of stirring trials. Long striding Distorted Humor colt finished up with 11.88 final furlong and should have pace table set. Will pay to find out if good enough.

Halo Again (6-1) has found new life on turf and was going best of all in recent three-horse Bradley photo. Largent needed recent return from long layup badly and should benefit sharp blowout and Saez re-rides. Bradley winner Forty Under (8-1) won only start at the trip and looms big price on early line.

Taking Santin to win at 6-1 or greater, an exacta box including Halo Again and Largent, and a super exotics part wheel, filling out the play with Two Emmys (3-1) and Forty Under (8-1).

G2 Rachel Alexandra Stakes

Another wide open prep for Fair Grounds Oaks but primarily Kentucky Oaks. Awake At Midnyte (7-2) attempted to swoop the ground in G2 Santa Ynez for this but stayed one-paced late. Benefits and bred both sides for added ground.

Hidden Connection (3-1) bobbled at the start of BC Juvenile Fillies but there was no beating dominating champion Echo Zulu anyway; prior was uber impressive G3 Pocahontas at Churchill.

Divine Huntress (6-1) won 3-year-old prep debut for this over ordinary rivals but could not have won more easily–officially “galloped home in hand” for Graham Motion, reaches out for Jose Ortiz today.

Another game time decision to win, but would take Divine Huntress at 5-1 or more, all else being equal, a three-horse exacta box with her rivals above.

Would fill out super-exotics with debuting Thoro-Graph fastest filly Dream Lith (6-1), and Goddess of Fire (8-1) who roared home too late in Tampa’s 7F Gasparilla prep for this and has worked briskly since.

Note: Straight and multiple pool wagers should be in proportion. All exotics made at available pool minimums and straight wagers at $2 level or multiples thereof

this column is live and will be upgraded throughout the weekend

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12 Responses

  1. Races like this event are what attract me most to the sport. 57 varieties and loaded with anticipation, Riders Up! I will be more than content on just watching vs wagering, as if I could ever preview the outcome. A best guess type race. Suspect McPeek will win, but at 80 or 90 ready, it is a tough read. None of them at this point will be at 100, but it sure will be fun watching.

  2. Proof positive that this must be a sport–if you can enjoy a horse race without betting on it. Good you you, McD.

    Personally, Derby prep season ranks right behind the Triple Crown, Breeders’ Cup and Saratoga

  3. Since I have finally accepted the fact that Gulfstream is,and will be,one of the top tier tracks in the horseracing game, I will be charting first and betting later from next week on , my *spot* system,I d like you,Pricci,if you will have the time,inclination to express your opinion on if there has been,or there is/are noticeable track differences among the so called * Synthetic*,Rubber ones like GG,Turfway,others and especially Gulfstream.Any tactful advantages/biases( on fast track only) ? Understanding that even in Turf there might be differences from track to track, I still wonder if each new track traction deserves special attention in different distances..Thanks !

  4. JG, like turf, or dirt, for that matter, not all surfaces are created equal. When Santa Anita had a synthetic track, it was a Pro Ride surface. They have Tapeta at Woodbine, Golden Gate, Presque Isle, Turfway and now Gulfstream.

    In the main, all synthetic surface favor horses with stamina. But that bias can shift day to day so professionals who wager daily, must track these things for themselves.

    In a perfect world, all else being equal, the form at WO, PID and GG, play the fairest vis a vis consistent form. I have never been able to figure TP out, and am not alone in that. GP Tapeta is a work in progress, different from other Tapeta footings because of a preponderance of heat and daily summer storms.

    And, being new, I’m sure the surface needs to settle further, and will do so with time. As with any track, there are certain horses for certain courses.

    1. Just what horseplayers needed,more angles to consider,weight in and worry about. !! How many days until Belmont,,and, will It Become another year round *rubber carpet* ?? ( Say it Won’t Be So !!) .Agreed on Turf.Park ,just like betting on Aussie,British tracks. Thanks.

  5. Horseplayers are absolutely under no obligation to bet on tracks/surfaces they don’t like or are confident betting.

    In fact, players would do well to concentrate on areas of their personal expertise; sprints, routes, turf, dirt, young horses, older claimers, whatever. It’s all about comfort zone.

  6. I did not have a wager in the Remsen, but once I saw the head on. I would have bet Mo Donegal was coming down. Zandon deserved better that day. I do believe Chad will have him fit today. Smile Happy, depending on his fitness level today is the main threat. He’s one serious race horse. We all saw what Classic Causeway did last weekend at Tampa. Smile Happy beat him easily.

    This is a deep and talented Risen Star field.

    1. Interesting take and your points are well made, T. Indeed, it’s a deep renewal of the Risen Star, just as last week’s Sam F Davis might have been its best edition ever. Prep season in full swing and thus far it’s been a most entertaining and challenging one.

  7. John’s “Riders Up” comments and interest in Papacap and Slow Down Andy drew me back into the Risen Star.

    50 cent tri box day it is.
    Race 9: 1,3,8
    Race 11: 3,7,10
    Race 12: 5,9,11
    Race 13: 1,8,10

    Two bucks also down on Santin for the Win in the Fair Grounds Stakes. Go get some of them bad guys for Where in the World is Vino John Boy.

  8. Try not to gloat when I get things right or whine when I’m wrong, McD. But wow, I did not come close all day, handicapping as well as my horse ran, which is to say not at all!

    Decided I’d much rather get beat in a photo then have so many horses not show up at all. Embarrassing.

    But, given the nature of this game, that sound you hear is one of a horseplayer turning the page…

  9. Not to worry John, as long as we have another rising sun ahead tomorrow. The simple fact we are able to wager on a few races shows how blessed we really are. Always try and give a little back on the sunny days, and that will more than offset a few of the poor performance days. And never be embarrassed when you give it your best shot my friend. Embarrassed was back in your Loughlin days when you arrived unprepared, when you hasn’t completed the homework assigned and got your ’embarr’ ass kicked on an exam. Ain’t no sunshine on those days.

    1. I was always prepared in high school, less so in college. Thing about handicapping is that the axiom plays out nore often than one cares to admit: Study long, study wrong.

      You care correct in the overview and yesterday was just one of those days when the signature track of the day turned into the Un-Fair Grounds. Must be all that voodoo they do during Mardi Gras.

      Laissez les bons temps rouler

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