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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, January 17, 2024 – For the first time this new racing season, Fair Grounds has appeared on our radar.

For us, Lecomte Day is the signal to keep an eye on developments from NOLA, and Fair Grounds’ Late Pick 4 Saturday boasts four high-profile events even if they are meant as building blocks for bigger and better:

The Silverbulletday Stakes for three year old fillies is the first stop on the Fair Grounds road to the Kentucky Oaks. The Colonel E R Bradley forges a path to the graded grass events offered later in the meet.

The card concludes with a pair of Grade 3 events, the Hagyard and the Lecomte. The Hagyard has international interest as Brad Cox is using the run as a bridge to next month’s $20 million Saudi Crown in Riyadh.

But it is the Lecomte, which leads to Louisiana Derby and hopefully beyond for some of Saturday’s rivals to the big dance on May’s first Saturday, that is of greater interest.

In the Hagyard Louisiana Stakes, Saudi Crown (9-5) will be making his first start since tiring badly after chasing the Breeders’ Cup Classic pace. The Pennsylvania Derby winner has trained steadily for his return including a recent 1:00 1/5 breeze, 4th fastest of 51 on the day. Florent Geroux takes the ride.

The Grade 3 mile and-a-sixteenth is no walkover, however. Smile Happy (8-5) makes his 5-year-old debut off a six-month absence for Ken McPeek.  Lest we forget, the Runhappy horse was a good second to Epicenter in the Risen Star here in 2022.

Prior to his stalk/fade effort in the G1 Stephen Foster, Smile Happy took the G2 Alysheba beneath Brian Hernandez, who reunites with him Saturday. At today’s 1-1/16 miles trip, he’s a perfect 3-for-3.

In the G3 Lecomte, Track Phantom (9-5), winner of the Gun Runner here DEC 23, is looms a worthy favorite.

The next two in line are Brad Cox trainees: Nash (5-2), third beaten three lengths in the Gun Runner, and Ethan Energy (4-1), an impressive maiden winner at the trip on his second start.

Geroux sticks with Nash. Luis Saez takes the call on Ethan Energy.

Because it’s a prep for a $20 million race, we’re not expecting that Brad Cox will have the classy, lightly raced Saudi Crown to be fully cranked, far from it, but he has to be fit enough that an effort will help him build, not face a physical regression.

Further, there’s enough speed signed on to test the favorite early. However, by any measure, he is a layover on class lines, superior figures and excellent energy distribution. He need not be 100% to handle this group.

Smile Happy is the logical main rival, having never lost at this trip and raced well here as a 3-year-old. But he’s not the only rival with a solid late punch. Red Route One (5-1) is an in-and-out type but when he fires, it’s a big shot. The same can be said for Happy American, who should benefit from his recent third in the Tenacious.

Half of the eight-filly Silverbulletday can win this Kentucky Oaks points race, from the rail out, Perfect Shot (4-1), Miss Code West (9-2), West Omaha (2-1) and Sistina Chapel (7-2).

Perfect Shot was straight and strong in her maiden breaking second run around two turns. Joel Rosario forsake West Omaha for this ride.

Miss Code West is a stone runner. Undefeated in four starts, Okla-bred handled open fillies with authority;  all races at Remington.

West Omaha never has taken a backward step and Cox runners are 29% second-time long. Sistina Chapel finished well twice behind streaking Alpine Princess, especially so two back at Churchill.

SILVERBULLETDAY STAKES                                                                     Race 10


BEST VALUE:  Perfect Shot and/or Sistina Chapel (tote dependent)

EXOTICA:  Miss Code West

COLONEL E R BRADLEY  STAKES                                                       Race 11

MOST PROBABLE WINNER:  Strong Quality (3-1), class relief, well posted, good spacing, sharp local breeze, switch to Geroux.

BEST VALUE:  Rising Empire (5-1) raced wide every step in Diliberto last out, barn 18% effective in LAY 3 scenario, switch to Saez good fit.

EXOTICA:  English Tavern (6-1), Leave It To Kitten (12-1), Beat Box (5-2)




EXOTICA: Happy American (6-1), Red Route One (5-1), Smile Happy (9-5), Five Star General (8-1)


MOST PROBABLE WINNER: Track Phantom (9-5), a scopey type, raced keenly yet powered away through the stretch and won geared down. More in the tank.

BEST VALUE: Can Group (6-1) finished strongly too late when fourth by 2 in BC Juvenile Turf, Prat saying after that he will like more distance, which he gets here. Third to Timberlake in second start.

EXOTICA: Ethan Energy (9-2) showed strong turn of foot in maiden breaker this track and trip but Geroux shifts to mate here; mixed signals. Nash (5-2) unattractive action but still should benefit from last. Lat Long (8-1) exits sharp maiden win.


SUNSHINE CLASSIC STAKES                                                       Race 9         

MOST PROBABLE WINNER:Octane (7-5) was still willing after chasing solid pace while wide throughout G3 Harlan’s Holiday; class relief, good energy distribution, well posted.

BEST VALUE:  The Skipper Too (6-1) uncoupled mate of favorite was good third in sprint prep; class and distance suit, reunites with winning partner Jaramillo.

EXOTICA:  Lure Him In (5-2), Slim Slow Slider (9-2)

Classified Allowances                                                               Race 10

MOST PROBABLE WINNER:  Super Chow (3-1) is fastest on the Thoro-Graph scale, looms speed of the speed at trip; Delgado 22% effective second-Lasix.

BEST VALUE:  Deer District (9-2) and/or Baby Yoda (5-1) [tote dependent]. Deer District gets class relief and goes well fresh. Baby Yoda ships down sharp from New York, stretches to optimal distance; tactical and has the pole with Johnny.

EXOTICA:  Capture the Lion (10-1)

when more than one horse is listed, selection is in order of preference

this is a live column and will be updated throughout the week; gulfstream to come

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4 Responses

  1. Looking at Santa Anita `s jockey standings i noticed something that i have never seen before, nor even ever thought about it before ,that is, three of the top five riders are Italian born ;Dettori , Rispoli and ,the ‘latest sensation “, Sardinia` s own Antonio Fresu.. Bravi !! Would like to read something more about Fresu since he is the new one I`m sure he would have interesting things to share about his ‘California Experience’.By the way,Sardegna is a nice place to visit and not just if you own a multimillion yacht by the Costa Smeralda .Great fishing,too that ‘s why there are too many foreign ships, including Japanese, Chinese ones there for the Tuna and other types..I will check with the Italian daily sports paper sites if they have any articles about Fresu.They Should by now !

    1. An idea JG, Check out the Santa Anita website for a jockey bio page or similar, I will too …

  2. My god the Pegasus card is RIDICULOUS. I’m gonna need to start on this one the second TG drops. Non BC or Belmont Stakes cards don’t get any better than this one.

    1. Couldn’t agree more, Doc. TG should have been up already; lots of interest in this.

      The Pegasus, Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby cards rival any major racing day in America.

      Indeed, we need the handicapping time when programs are this deep and competitive.

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