Handicapper J. Keeler Johnson shares his weekday picks and plays for Thursday, Dec. 31 at Fair Grounds and Santa Anita. Three stakes races are the highlights of the day.

Fair Grounds: Race 2: Louisiana Futurity (6 furlongs, 2:29 p.m. ET)

The colts and geldings division of this 6-furlong sprint for Louisiana-breds has drawn seven starters, with #6 Swot Analysis (5-2) likely the best of the lot.  Although the gray colt tired after pressing a fast pace in his debut at Churchill Downs, he took a big step forward when facing fellow Louisiana-breds at Fair Grounds last month, dominating a 5 1/2-furlong maiden sprint by 9 3/4 lengths.

This runaway victory produced a 93 Brisnet Speed rating, by far the highest figure in Thursday’s field. Facing easier competition may have been the ticket to Swot Analysis’ success, though it’s also possible the Mark Casse trainee improved while racing on Lasix for the first time.

In any case, Swot Analysis will race on Lasix again in the Louisiana Futurity, setting the stage for another big victory. We’ll play him on top of a trifecta while emphasizing recent Fair Grounds allowance winner #4 Jimmy Two Times (3-1) underneath.

  • $9 trifecta: 6 with 4 with 2,5 ($18)
  • $6 trifecta: 6 with 2,5 with 4 ($12)

Total: $30

Fair Grounds: Race 10: Louisiana Futurity (6 furlongs, 6:21 p.m. ET)

The fillies’ division of the Louisiana Futurity drew ten entries, but #6 Big Time (5-2) may be a standout. Trained by Dallas Stewart, the daughter of Astrology has gone undefeated in two starts while displaying a variety of running styles. In her June 18 debut at Churchill Downs, she led all the way to win by a head. And in the Dec. 12 Louisiana Champions Day Lassie S. over the same track and distance as the Louisiana Futurity, Big Time settled two lengths off the lead before pouncing to victory by 3 1/2 lengths.

With Brisnet Speed ratings of 84 and 90 to her credit, Big Time is the fastest filly in the Louisiana Futurity field. In a race with plenty of pace on paper, her ability to settle and pounce is a major asset. For good measure, hot jockey Brian Hernandez (a 20% winner at Fair Grounds) retains the mount.

Let’s bet Big Time over the speedy Fair Grounds allowance winner #2 Winning Romance (3-1) in a straight exacta.

$25 exacta: 6 with 2

Santa Anita: Race 7: Blue Norther S. (1 mile on turf, 6:30 p.m. ET)

#1 Javanica (5-2), #4 Quattroelle (5-2), and #6 Pizzazz (2-1) were separated by small margins when finishing 2-3-4 in the Jimmy Durante (G3) at Del Mar last month. But though they’re bound to attract wagering support, there’s no guarantee they’ll reach the winner’s circle on Thursday—not with #3 Carpe Fortuna (6-1) in the mix.

Carpe Fortuna made a great impression in a 1-mile maiden race over the Del Mar turf course last month. The daughter of Carpe Diem was clearly full of run while tracking the pace along the inside, and when an opening appeared between rivals on the far turn, she quickened readily to challenge the pacesetter. Down the stretch, Carpe Fortuna drew away strongly under a hand ride, dashing the final two furlongs in about :11.64 and :11.27 to score by 2 1/4 lengths.

This excellent turn-of-foot suggests Carpe Fortuna will be a factor while stepping up in class for the Blue Norther. At 6-1, we’ll bet the chestnut filly to win and play her over the favorites in the trifecta.

  • $18 to win on #3 Carpe Fortuna
  • $2 trifecta: 3 with 1,4,6 with 1,4,6 ($12)

Total: $30

Good luck!