Handicapper J. Keeler Johnson shares his weekday picks and plays for Thursday, Jan. 7 at Aqueduct, Fair Grounds, and Gulfstream Park. On the agenda are three non-favored runners ranging in price from 4-1 to 8-1.
Aqueduct: Race 7: Allowance Optional Claiming (1 mile, 3:50 p.m. ET)
#1 Rock On Luke (8-1) is the only clear front-runner in a small field, so there’s a good chance he’ll shake loose on an uncontested lead. Never out of the trifecta in seven runs, the 4-year-old son of Conveyance has won three of his last four starts at Parx Racing and is 2-for-2 racing a mile or farther.
With four straight Brisnet Speed ratings in the 90-96 range under his belt, Rock On Luke is fast enough to contend against tougher competition at Aqueduct. Speed horses and runners drawn in post 1 have been excelling in 1-mile races at Aqueduct, and Rock On Luke signaled his readiness for Thursday’s test by breezing a quick half-mile in :48 2/5 on Dec. 29.
Any way you slice it, Rock On Luke can outrun expectations at a fair price. Let’s bet him to win and play him over #4 Lil Commissioner (7-2) and #6 Someday Jones (3-1) in the exacta.
- $20 to win on #1 Rock On Luke
- $5 exacta: 1 with 4,6
Fair Grounds: Race 3: $12,500 Maiden Claiming (6 furlongs, 2:58 p.m. ET)
This maiden claiming sprint for Louisiana-bred 3-year-olds hasn’t come up particularly tough, so I’m willing to take a shot with #5 Perfecture (5-1), representing the barn of Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen.
Granted, Perfecture hasn’t finished within 17 lengths of victory in his first two starts. But the son of Tapiture has been facing tough company, most recently dueling for the lead in a maiden special weight for Louisiana-breds before tiring in the homestretch.
Dropping from maiden special weight to maiden claiming company is a winning move 19% of the time for Asmussen, and hot jockey Brian Hernandez (a 21% winner at Fair Grounds) is picking up the mount. For all these reasons, 5-1 seems like a fair price to accept on Perfecture.
- $15 to win on #5 Perfecture
- $1 trifecta: 5 with 3,6,9 with 3,6,9 ($6)
- $1.50 trifecta: 3,6,9 with 5 with 3,6,9 ($9)
Gulfstream Park: Race 9: Allowance Optional Claiming (5 furlongs on turf, 4:42 p.m. ET)
This 5-furlong turf sprint is absolutely packed with speed. Seven of the eight runners have recently shown a preference to set or press the pace. The lone exception is #7 Tiger Blood (4-1), and while he used to be a speed horse too, the 8-year-old gelding has been employing late-running tactics as of late. As a result, he may receive a perfect pace setup on Thursday.
Winner of multiple stakes races in his younger years, Tiger Blood has been competing against quality competition all season long. He’s been particularly effective sprinting 5 furlongs over the Gulfstream turf course, winning four of his rive runs over this configuration last winter.
Jockey Tyler Gaffalione and trainer Mike Maker have teamed up to win at a 25% rate over the last two months, so let’s bet Tiger Blood on top and hope a pace meltdown sends him back to the winner’s circle.
$30 to win on #7 Tiger Blood