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
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