Without question, the best part of flipping a calendar to January for horseplayers is the way the game renews itself, from yearling to precocious juvenile, from juvenile to classic hopeful and from talented sophomore to mature handicapper at four and beyond.
It’s what makes today and Saturday a little special as three major winter venues, Aqueduct, Gulfstream and Santa Anita, kick off the baby steps on the road to Louisville come May, or whenever Derby Day comes.
For us, this is the best part of Derby, deciphering the promise and the pitfalls along the way.
In begins in New York with today’s listed Jerome Stakes which features the largest three-year-old purse of the weekend, $150,000, but hardly one that excites today or in the tomorrows that follow, at least not on paper.
Saturday’s Mucho Macho Man, which has a 20% chance of being affect by wet track conditions as of this posting, is the most interesting of the three in terms of bet-ability and potential.
Ten sophomores at a flat mile with a graded stakes winner trying to transition from turf to dirt, and several others to see if they belong in prime time or give an indication that the answer and key to their future lies when a second turn is added.
But, per usual, it will be a graded three-year-old stakes in Southern California that features, of course, a small field and a 2-5 Bob Baffert trained favorite, and will grab the headlines.
After all, it was in the 2019 Grade 3 Sham when Baffert introduced future Derby-winning and future BC Classic conqueror, the aptly named Authentic.
On Saturday, all will know whether a colt who broke maiden on debut by 9-1/2 lengths in 1:15 2/5 is as authentic as his older mate. Given that on DEC 27 he worked six furlongs in 1:10 2/5 for this is an indication he will handle the assignment. For Baffert, Life Is Good.
AQUEDUCT: GRAVESEND STAKES
THE BET: My Boy Tate (2-1) loves trip, needs perfectly timed late run for minor upset
EXOTICA: Exacta box with Dubb/Rudy-off-claim speedster Pete’s Play Call (5-2)
GULFSTREAM: MUCHO MACHO MAN
THE BET: BIG THORN (5-1) impress at “Calder” taking state-bred stakes, training well at GP, value at early odds
EXOTICA: Exacta box with classy Mutasaabeq (5-2) training lights out at PBD for hot Toddy
TOTEBUSTER: Jirafales (15-1) lacks experience but can finish, very capable barn.
THE BET: Lucifer’s Lair (5-2) Saratoga Horse to Watch, drops, training strongly
EXOTICA: Exacta box with Hit the Woah (3-1) key race maiden winner last out.
SANTA ANITA PARK: G2 SAN GABRIEL-G3 SHAM STAKES DOUBLE
THE BET: Count Again (2-1) to win; cold double with Life Is Good
EXOTICA: SAN GABRIEL exacta and trifecta key-box Count Again 1-2- with Bowies Hero (6-1) and Bob and Jackie (4-1).
SHAM Keys: exacta and trifecta Life Is Good on top with Medina Saint (6-1) and Parnelli (5-2) beneath
HRI EXTRA: FAIR GROUNDS
Race 9: Jungle Cat (8-1) to win, exacta box with Saranya (5-1)
Race 6: No Mo Temper (4-1) to win, exacta box with Repatriated Gen (5-1)
(Suggested plays ratio minimums: $2 win, $1 exacta, 50-Cent trifecta, Dime superfecta)