Handicapper J. Keeler Johnson shares his weekday picks and plays for Monday, Jan. 25 at Delta Downs, Mahoning Valley, and Turf Paradise, including three exacta plays.
Delta Downs: Race 2: Allowance Optional Claiming (6 1/2 furlongs, 2:22 p.m. ET)
Veteran stakes winner #1 Gotta Go (1-1) boasts a 3-for-4 record at Delta Downs and enters off back-to-back sprint wins over this track. The Shane Meche trainee was particularly dominant two starts back, crushing a 6 1/2-furlong allowance race by 5 1/4 lengths with a 92 Brisnet Speed rating.
Gotta Go will stick to the same track and distance on Monday while facing slightly easier company. Meche has been on fire, going 9-for-20 (45%) since the beginning of 2020, and jockey Gerard Melancon (a 20% winner overall) retains the mount. Any way you slice it, Gotta Go looks poised for a third straight victory.
#5 Scarlettsblackjack (9-2) and #6 Extirpator (4-1), both stakes-placed at Delta Downs, can battle to round out the exacta and trifecta.
$12 exacta: 1 with 5,6 ($24)
$3 trifecta: 1 with 5,6 with 5,6 ($6)
Mahoning Valley: Race 1: Maiden Special Weight (1 mile, 12:45 p.m. ET)
#4 Skipshot Lilly (7-5) is favored after hitting the board in three straight races over this class level at Mahoning Valley, posting competitive Brisnet Speed ratings in the 61-64 range. But the late-running daughter of Skipshot has never run farther than 6 furlongs, so stretching out over a mile is a big question mark. There’s virtually no speed entered in Monday’s race, so Skipshot Lilly is unlikely to receive a quick pace to enhance her rally.
In contrast, #7 Cause of Love (8-5) employed pace-tracking tactics to finish second by a length over this track, distance, and class level on Dec. 9. Cause of Love likewise brings competitive Brisnet Speed ratings to the mix, and a runner-up effort sprinting 6 furlongs on Jan. 6 suggests she’s still in good form.
We’ll bet Cause of Love over Skipshot Lilly in a straight exacta.
$25 exacta: 7 with 4
Turf Paradise: Race 2: $30,000 Maiden Optional Claiming (1 mile on turf, 2:58 p.m. ET)
Four of the seven starters in this maiden optional claiming test are exiting an identical race held at Turf Paradise on Jan. 4, in which #7 Macedonian Ruler (8-5) gained three lengths through the final furlong to finish third by just a nose. Formerly based in Southern California, the Neil Drysdale trainee is a logical favorite to win his second local start.
But another Southern California expatriate—#4 Squared Straight (9-5)—also warrants respect in his first run over the Turf Paradise grass. Trained by Doug O’Neill, the son of Square Eddie has been competing primarily against California-bred maiden special weight foes, most notably finishing third in a mile test last year.
Squared Straight has tactical speed, so in a race without much pace, he may hold an advantage over Macedonian Ruler. We’ll bet the race accordingly, playing Squared Straight over Macedonian Ruler in a cold exacta.
$25 exacta: 4 with 7