Handicapper J. Keeler Johnson shares his weekday picks and plays for Friday, Jan. 8 at Fair Grounds, Santa Anita, and Tampa Bay Downs. Dirt routes, a turf sprint, maidens and winners, favorites and mid-range longshots—there’s something for everyone.
Fair Grounds: Race 6: Allowance Optional Claiming (5 1/2 furlongs on turf, 4:25 p.m. ET)
#1 Luvin Bullies (5-1), #6 Sterling Miss (9-2), and #3 Whimsical Muse (3-1) finished heads apart when running 1-2-3 over this course, class, and distance on Dec. 13. But all three of these stretch-running mares benefited from fast fractions carved out by #5 Lillie Dell (6-1), who ultimately finished just a neck away from victory in fourth place.
A pure front-runner, Lillie Dell had never previously missed the trifecta in half a dozen starts sprinting on turf. After throwing down Brisnet E1 and E2 Pace ratings of 101 and 105 on Dec. 13, it’s clear Lillie Dell has serious speed. If she rations it a bit better on Friday, she can turn the tables on her conquerors and spring a mild upset.
- $20 to win on #5 Lillie Dell
- $5 exacta: 5 with 3,4 ($10)
Santa Anita: Race 4: Maiden Special Weight (1 mile, 5:05 p.m. ET)
#5 Agreetodisagree (4-1) has knocked heads with some tough rivals in her first two starts sprinting. Kalypso, Nasreddine, Frosteria, Queengol… all have gone on to win or place at the stakes level.
Chances are, Agreetodisagree will encounter somewhat easier competition while stretching out over a mile on Friday at Santa Anita. The added distance is a question mark since her sire, Runhappy, was a champion sprinter. But Agreetodisagree’s dam was a two-time stakes winner running a mile or farther, and damsire Closing Argument finished second in the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby (G1).
In any case, Agreetodisagree owns by far the fastest Brisnet Speed rating in Friday’s field, having posted an 86 when finishing fourth at Del Mar in November. She’s training forwardly and is a logical win threat even while tackling two turns for the first time.
#8 Peachtree Road (2-1) has also faced quality competition and can round out the exacta for Hall of Fame connections Mike Smith and Richard Mandella.
- $20 to win on #5 Agreetodisagree
- $10 exacta: 5 with 8
Tampa Bay Downs: Race 2: Maiden Special Weight (1 mile and 40 yards, 1:12 p.m. ET)
Trainer Christophe Clement is primarily known for his success training top-class turf horses, but over the last five years, he’s gone 3-for-6 (50%) saddling 3-year-old colts and geldings on dirt at Tampa Bay Downs. With this in mind, surely Clement’s #3 Broadway (5-2) will be tough to beat in Friday’s second race at Tampa?
Broadway showed a bit of potential in his debut sprinting 6 furlongs at Gulfstream Park, rallying mildly to finish fourth while beaten a length for second place. The 77 Brisnet Speed rating he earned is the highest in Friday’s field, and stretching out in distance should only help Broadway’s chances, considering he’s a stoutly bred son of Quality Road out of a Tapit mare.
With Tampa’s top jockey Samy Camacho in the saddle, Broadway can lead #1 Hachure (9-2) and #2 Last Investment (3-1) across the finish line.
- $20 to win on #3 Broadway
- $5 exacta: 3 with 1,2 ($10)