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Updated: GRADED DERBY PREPS, TURF FROM BOTH FLORIDA TRACKS, PLUS THE BIG A’S WITHERS

HALLANDALE BEACH, February 5, 2022 – With winter storms scheduled to continue wreaking havoc around the country, handicappers can turn their thoughts to spring.

And it’s not a stretch to consider this weekend the first meaningful preps of Kentucky Derby 2022.

At prognosticating issue are three Grade 3 events; the Holy Bull from Gulfstream Park, the Withers in New York, and Sunday’s Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita Park.

We’re focused on Saturday’s action there plus a pair of meaningful turf events from Tampa.

As indicated, the choices for the Holy Bull and Endeavor Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs are in our video section each Saturday which features the best action from South and Northern Florida.

In Hallandale, we opted for recent conditioning and controlling speed to trump classy returnees upon their sophomore debuts. In Oldsmar, we might be looking at the latest special turf filly from Chad Brown.

Simplification (4-1) with Javier Castellano should control things throughout the Holy Bull, the first graded two-turn route of the Championship Meet for 3-year-olds.

Obviously, Mo Donegal (5-2) and Giant Game (7-2) will take some beating to get that job done. But Tiz the Bomb (6-1) and White Abarrio (6-1) deserve closer looks.

Price shoppers can do worse than consider Bill Mott trainee Galt (15-1) who responded to the removal of blinkers for his two-turn debut on dirt. We’re certainly looking at Medaglia d’Oro’s son for price support in the verticals.

There are four stakes in support of the Holy Bull, all for 3-year-olds and all Grade 3, two for the boys and two for the girls, two on turf and two on dirt. The 7-furlong Swale and Forward Gal can portend a classics future, the latter for Kentucky Oaks hopefuls.

From a betting perspective of particular interest to rolling double fans, is Saturday’s 10th event, the Sweetest Chant. Of the five fillies we left open, we’ve narrowed down to three, Roughly a Diamond (15-1), Ambitieuse (6-1) and early line favorite Opalina.

Roughly a Diamond was driven out but with confidence by Gallardo at Tampa, and Ambitieuse was a good third in career and turf debut to Spicer despite a tough between-rivals trip.

But for today, the 3-1 favorite should benefit from her season’s debut where she appeared a short of best condition, tiring late.

However, that was only after being ridden as if she were much the best, 3 to 4 wide throughout, alternately stalking and pressing the leaders, and immediately jumped on after taking a narrow lead at headstretch.

The next day,  the Derby road courses through Arcadia with the $200,000 Robert B. Lewis. Happy Jack is the buzz horse as he steps into stakes company for Doug O’Neill. More about his chances on Sunday.

For informational purposes and not construed as an invitation to gamble (remember those PSAs?), at fair odds, we’re betting Simplification, Opalina, and In Italian to win.

Will Chad Have Breakthrough Derby Year?

When Chad Brown has the opportunity talks about young sire Upstart, he seldom fails to bring up the name drops the name of Zandon. He often puts the colt in the same sentence as Kentucky Derby.

His head-bob Remsen form gets a chance to be defined in the Holy Bull when nose conqueror Mo Donegal makes his sophomore debut in the Holy Bull. Zandon has yet to race this season.

But he has another 2021 juvenile who might be as promising, Early Voting, the 3-1 early favorite for this afternoon’s G3 Withers going nine furlongs at Aqueduct. How good is unknown, but what is proven is that he’s fast enough to run with anyone, given a 1-1/2 length Big A score going a mile on debut.

Whether he will be effective going farther Saturday will be revealed when he meets 10 rivals on the frozen tundra of Queens.

Clearly, he’s one of three holding the best hand, along with Constitutionlawyer (7-2), who breaks from the rail for Ray Handel and Jose Lezcano, and Cooke Creek (6-1) from the extreme outside, Manny Franco at the reins for Jeremiah O’Dwyer, which is where we land today.

He’s had four races, three in stakes, winning a listed event in October at Delaware. He’s run as fast as the Brown runner, handles any footing, and the barn has been on a roll, winning at 24% since mid-November. At early line odds, the decision seems clear.

We’re taking Cooke Creek to win at 4-1 or greater and will key-box exactas with his rivals above.

This is a live column that will be updated periodically

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