Scully’s Travers Day Handicapping Blog

My betting strategy for the 150th running of the Travers Stakes involves two horses. Tacitus is the most likely winner on paper, a horse who appears on the verge of putting it all together with a major win, but he’s been his own worst enemy at times losing the last three starts. Perhaps blinkers will make the difference but concerns remain about his early positioning.

Similar to last year, I expect a moderate pace that puts late runners at a disadvantage. Tacitus will be included in all multi-race wagers, but Looking at Bikinis is my top choice.

Plenty of chatter surrounds the dead rail on the Jim Dandy program (July 27), but the day before featured one of the most negative rail biases I’ve ever seen. The inside played like quicksand and speed had no chance on July 26, with wide rallying horses winning every race prior to the Curlin Stakes, and Looking at Bikinis took the absolute worst of it in his first two-turn start. He still ran huge to finish third in my estimation.

Javier Castellano tried to stay a few paths off the inside with the front-runner but when Rowayton advanced to engage him on the backstretch, Looking at Bikinis basically got forced up against the rail for the final half-mile of the race. The poor positioning took its toll, but Looking at Bikinis never quit trying in his stakes debut and outfinished a rival late for third.

Considering his inexperience, Looking at Bikinis looks poised to improve off the first career setback. The Chad Brown-trained colt possesses good speed and should be either showing the way or very close to the action from the start. It’s easy for me to anticipate the right trip and I have no concerns about the 1 ¼-mile distance: the Lookin at Lucky colt is out of a mare by Travers winner Bernardini and counts Machiavellian and Sadler’s Wells as his second and third damsires.

I am betting Looking at Bikinis (6) to win and place, and will box him in the exacta with Tacitus (10). And use both exclusively in any multi-race bets.

Here are some thoughts on the undercard stakes:

Ballerina (G1): Doesn’t appear to be the strongest edition of the Ballerina and there is plenty of speed entered. Dawn the Destroyer (7) will be running late and is intriguing to me at a price. It looked like she didn’t like the surface at Belmont Park in in her last two starts, struggling to stay within contention during the early stages and basically only running through the stretch. However, the mare ran some big races at Aqueduct earlier this year (102 and 103 BRIS Speed ratings) and showed an affinity for Saratoga previously, finishing third in the six-furlong Prioress and taking an allowance at today’s seven-furlong by open lengths. She could get the right set-up at long odds.

Ballston Spa (G2): Secret Message (3) was in too tough last time against the likes of Sistercharlie, Rushing Fall and Homerique, but offered a solid run for fourth and can rebound in this spot. I like how she’s improved at age 4 for Graham Motion.

Personal Ensign (G1): Elate (4) has dropped both starts against Midnight Bisou this year but those races came at 1 1/16 miles. She enters on the upswing Bill Mott, recording an impressive win in the Delaware H. (G2) last out, and can turn the tables on her rival. Midnight Bisou is winless from three attempts at the distance and I’ll play straight exactas over a pair of distance specialists, Wow Cat (5) and Golden Award (6).

Sword Dancer (G1): Horses who relish the Saratoga turf can hold their form while stepping up in class. We witnessed it earlier this meet from Get Stormy, who parlayed a win in a restricted stakes win for distaffers into a victory over males in the Fourstardave (G1). And last year, Glorious Empire won the Sword Dancer at 15-1 after dead-heating in the Bowling Green (G2) earlier in the meet at long odds. Channel Cat (4) fits the same bill. He ran a big race in the United Nations (G1) at Monmouth Park two back, missing by less than a length in third, and carried that form forward in the Bowling Green, gamely digging in to score by a half-length in a career-best. The four-year-old colt registered excellent BRIS Speed (102) and Late Pace (106) numbers and I expect another big effort here.

Good luck on Travers Day!

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Saratoga Scouting Report: Kentucky Horses & Travers Day Stakes Selections for Saturday, August 24

With Churchill Downs coming off perhaps their strongest spring meet in history, the horses based in Kentucky should perform even better than they have in years past.

Chances are, in many cases, they won’t get the respect they deserve. There is value to be had, but on the flipside, some of the Kentucky invaders might not be as good as they look on paper.

That’s what I’m here for.

For the entirety of the Saratoga meet, I will provide “scouting reports” for the Kentucky-based horses – good, bad and indifferent.

Horses are listed in order of preference, with a short comment playability notation in the wrap.

I’ll also provide brief analysis and selections for the seven graded stakes.

Race 3 – LADY ROSALIE (Ire) (#11) (15-1)

Hustled away from the gate from the rail off a 10-week layoff at Ellis Park, she enjoyed an advantageous, pocket trip through even splits. She was blocked behind a wall of horses turning for home, allowing others to seize the momentum away from her. She split horses late and finished fairly well.

Comment: Needs to take a step forward here and she might. Looks more like an underneath type and only useable in the multi-race wagers if you’re spreading deep.

Race 4 – TIGHT TEN (#3) (15-1)

One of more precocious Steve Asmussen-trained two-year-olds of 2018, he flourished in a pair of sprint efforts in advance of a trio of route failures. He set a slow pace and just missed when finishing on the wrong lead in the Iroquois at Churchill Downs, and then finished up the track in both the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) and Lecomte (G3). He should have run better, but there were excuses for both of those clunkers.

Comment: Off seven months, he returns in a sprint off a series of forward drills. He’s going to need to run faster than he did as a two-year-old in order to be competitive here. Looks more like an underneath type and only useable in the multi-race wagers if you’re spreading deep.

Race 7 – TWELFTH LABOR (#3) (50-1)

Hung three-wide stalking a fast pace over a wet fast track at Churchill on May 12, he rallied five-wide off the turn, took full command and drew off. On May 31 over a bone-dry track, he stalked a hot pace while three-wide, but inexplicably failed to fire. Stretched out to a one-turn mile last out, he broke alertly, raced four-wide behind a contested pace, drew even on the turn and grinded out the win.

Comment: Shancelot will be a single on many tickets and for good reason. Even if you have an alternative opinion and want to take a stand against him, it’s tough to envision this guy pulling off the massive upset.


Race 5 – Forego (G1)

On paper, this looks like a match race between Promises Fulfilled and Mitole. The former is perfect from two starts at Saratoga, while the latter was third last out in the Alfred G. Vanderbilt (G1) in his only previous appearance over the track. Mitole has won both hoof to hoof match-ups, but which horse is better right now?

Top Pick: Promises Fulfilled (#1) (5-2)
Main threat: Mitole (#3) (4-5)
Best Longshot: Air Strike (#2) (15-1)

Race 6 – Ballerina (G1)

Prior to her second in the Ogden Phipps (G1) behind Midnight Bisou over a one-turn 1 1/16 mile distance, Come Dancing could have been pegged as an Aqueduct specialist. Seven furlongs should suit her to a tee, and she appears on edge to fire a fresh shot off a sharp work tab. Separationofpowers is a big threat, but she’s likely to be over bet. Minit to Stardom wasn’t respected in her front running Honorable Miss (G2) upset. If allowed to set reasonable fractions, she might forget to stop once again.

Top Pick: Come Dancing (#2) (6-5)
Main threats: Separationofpowers (#4) (9-5), Minit to Stardom (#6) (8-1), Mia Mischief (#5) (5-1)
Best Longshot: None

Race 7 – H. Allen Jerkens Memorial (G1)

Just how good is Shancelot? Undefeated from three starts while taking massive steps forward each time, he most recently overcame post 12 to win the Amsterdam (G2) by more than a dozen lengths. Alert breaks have been part of his game, so the potentially detrimental rail post position shouldn’t pose a problem. The main threat could come from Rowayton. Excuse the two-turn run in the mud in the Curlin, and he did have a troubled trip in Dwyer before that.

Top Pick: Shancelot (#1) (1-2)
Main threat: Rowayton (#8) (6-1)
Best Longshot: Mind Control (#6) (15-1)

Race 8 – Ballston Spa (G2)

This isn’t a very strong race for the level and the lack of early pace makes it an even tougher puzzle to piece together. Indian Blessing ran extremely well in all three of her U.S. starts last year, and if not for excuses in all of them, she may have actually finished better. Despite not having the cleanest trip, Secret Message actually held her own in a super-tough edition of the Diana (G1) and she might be on edge to run the best race of her life in this one. Mascha did what she needed to do first off the boat to win a first-level allowance, but chances are she has even more to give.

Top Pick and Best Longshot: Indian Blessing (#5) (8-1)
Main threats: Secret Message (#3) (3-1) and Mascha (#9) (9-2)

Race 9 – Personal Ensign (G1)

Midnight Bisou defeated Elate twice this past spring at Oaklawn, but the latter was ridiculously impressive in her two starts since and I like her chances to turn the tables here. Off since her runner-up performance in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1), Wow Cat finished second as the favorite in her return run. She should take a step forward here.

Top Pick: Elate (#4) (7-5)
Main threat: Midnight Bisou (#1) (6-5)
Best Longshot: Wow Cat (#5) (5-1)

Race 10 – Sword Dancer (G1)

Channel Cat upset many of these in the Bowling Green (G2) and he might be able to win right back. He’s really taken solid steps forward since taking the blinkers off in June, and his recent effort is even better than it looks on paper. He fended off several challenges and really dug in late. Channel Maker got shuffled back just a bit in the Bowling Green and a wide run off the turn may have hindered his chances just enough. On the Chad Brown front, Ya Primo got a dream run at the hedge in the Bowling Green and actually led late before being out-gamed to the wire and I’m not sure Annals of Time wants 12 furlongs against this level of competition.

Top Pick: Channel Cat (#4) (5-1)
Main threat: Channel Maker (#8) (3-1)
Slightly against: Ya Primo (#6) (7-2) and Annals of Time (#7) (5-2)
Best Longshot: Pillar Mountain (#5) (10-1)

Race 11 – Travers (G1)

The Travers might lack star power, but it’s a fascinating betting race. Off less-than-advantageous trips in the Belmont Stakes (G1) and Jim Dandy (G2), Tacitus will be the favorite, but he’s no slam dunk to even hit the board. Focus doesn’t really seem like an issue for him, so the blinkers could actually have an adverse effect on his performance. Game Winner didn’t make the Travers, but Bob Baffert’s replacement could win the race anyway. Mucho Gusto gave Maximum Security all he could handle in the Haskell (G1), his arrow is pointing up, and he should be in line for a sweet trip in a race that lacks speed. I don’t trust Tax, especially from the extreme outside post, and I’m not sure Code of Honor wants 10 furlongs. Owendale may have been best in the Preakness Stakes (G1) and his Ohio Derby (G3) win was better than it looks.

Top Pick: Mucho Gusto (#7) (6-1)
Main threats: Owendale (#1) (6-1), Tacitus (#6) (5-2) and Code of Honor (#2) (4-1)
Slightly against: Tax (#12) (6-1)
Best Longshots: Highest Honors (#3) (10-1) and Endorsed (#11) (15-1)

PHOTO: Saratoga Race Course (c) Adam Coglianese Photography

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How to Bet the 2019 Personal Ensign Stakes at Saratoga

A spectacular field showcasing some of the top fillies and mares in training will vie in Saturday’s $700,000 Personal Ensign Stakes (G1) at Saratoga. The nine-furlong affair attracted four Grade 1 heroines in what is the top race of the Distaff division to this point of the 2019 season.


The pace could be lively with Coach Rocks (#2) (20-1), She’s a Julie (#3) (12-1) and Golden Award (#6) (8-1) all likely to show a good measure of pace. Midnight Bisou (#1) (6-5) will track in behind along the rail, with the other duo a few lengths behind the filly.


$10 Exacta 1 with 4,6 = $20
$5 Trifecta Key 1 with 4,5,6 = $30

MIDNIGHT BISOU (#1) (6-5) – Division leader is perfect from five starts in 2019 leading up to the Personal Ensign. Steve Asmussen trainee was super impressive in a handy Molly Pitcher (G3) score in preparation of this one, and she draws well on the rail. Midnight Lute four-year-old is twice Grade 1-placed at Saratoga and the Kentucky-bred figures to sit the garden trip in the affair under Mike Smith.

COACH ROCKS (#2) (20-1)Longshot in the cast was game in defeat in the Molly Pitcher but will need a huge step forward here to make a top-three case for trainer Dale Romans. Oxbow filly was unplaced in her pair of prior attempts at The Spa.

SHE’S A JULIE (#3) (12-1) – La Troienne Stakes (G1) vixen dueled on the lead before checking in third in the Shuvee (G3) on the course and distance most recently. Steve Asmussen pupil has run well in both local attempts, but she will need a forward move in this stern test. Ricardo Santana Jr. has the assignment.

ELATE (#4) (7-5) – Standout mare missed by a neck in a thriller here in 2018 and rates a major chance with her best effort. Bill Mott trainee comes off a smashing victory in the Delaware Handicap (G2), and she put in a strong half-mile move on the Oklahoma training track most recently. Medaglia d’Oro mare looms large beneath Jose Ortiz.

WOW CAT (#5) (5-1)Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) runner-up was a huge second in the Shuvee in her seasonal bow for Chad Brown. Five-year-old daughter of Lookin at Lucky has a lot of back class and will surely be closer here than she was in 2018 when 10 lengths back in this affair. John Velazquez inherits the mount.

GOLDEN AWARD (#6) (8-1) – Rapidly improving daughter of Medaglia d’Oro gives Bill Mott a pair of fine threats in the field. Four-year-old was much the best in a recent Shuvee tally, and she could be the horse with the highest ceiling in the cast. Half-sister to Kentucky Derby (G1) hero I’ll Have Another gets a nice draw outside and will be tracking the pace throughout beneath Tyler Gaffalione.

PHOTO: Midnight Bisou (c) Coady Photography/Sam Houston

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McKinzie surges to top of Breeders’ Cup Classic division

Watson, Weitman and Pegram’s McKinzie moved to the fore in early stretch and powered home a convincing 1 3/4-length winner of the $980,000 Whitney S. (G1) at Saratoga on Saturday. The sensational son of Street Sense earned an automatic berth to the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) for his work after clocking nine furlongs in a brisk 1:47.10.

The four-year-old colt earned a 109 BRIS Speed figure on Saturday and has been first or second in each of his five performances in 2019. Trained by Bob Baffert, McKinzie has always run well at Santa Anita, too, and he looms a menacing figure in the Classic if he retains his form.

Multiple Grade 1 victor Yoshida was a smart second in the Whitney when rallying from last, finishing more than four lengths clear of his nearest foe under the wire. The Japanese-bred son of Heart’s Cry loves the Saratoga surface and could be pointed to a title defense in the upcoming Woodward S. (G1).

Gold Cup S. (G1) victor Vino Rosso and Suburban S. (G2) hero Preservationist finished third and fourth, respectively, and they remain in the Classic hunt. Each will need to step up his game in a hurry, however. Two-time Dubai World Cup (G1) winner Thunder Snow was scratched the morning of the race.

Allied Racing Stable LLC’s Mr. Money is vaulting not only towards the top of the sophomore division, but also into a classic contender with his continued ascension. The Bret Calhoun pupil won his fourth Grade 3 contest in a row, and each one has been more impressive than the previous.

In the West Virginia Derby (G3) on Saturday, the Goldencents colt took over readily prior to the turn for home and waltzed clear to a six-length romp under jockey Gabriel Saez. The three-year-old will need to get a bit faster and prove that he can run with open company, though.

Here are my top six current Breeders’ Cup Classic contenders:

  1. McKinzie — Top-notch performer was visually dynamic on Saturday
  2. Thunder Snow — $16 million earner might benefit from skipping the Whitney
  3. Elate — Standout mare would be a worthy opponent for the boys
  4. Seeking the Soul — Grade 1 winner might be getting better with age
  5. Gunnevera — World Cup third gearing up for his return assignment
  6. Yoshida — Classy closer was coming late in the 2018 Classic

Photo of McKinzie capturing the Whitney, a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Classic (c) NYRA/Coglianese Photography/Chris Rahayel

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Golden Award joins the Breeders’ Cup Distaff party

The division for the top fillies and mares leading up to the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) has been a busy one in recent weeks. The superb Elate started things off two weeks ago with a sublime tally in the Delaware Handicap (G2) at 1 1/4 miles for conditioner Bill Mott. Five-year-old daughter of Medaglia d’Oro is the queen of the10-furlong affair, and if she continues to run with her gender, the Kentucky-bred mare will be tough to upend.

But, this weekend showcased a handful of other standout fillies and mares that put their best foot forward in the most exciting division in racing right now.

The sublime Midnight Bisou kicked things off on Saturday with a facile triumph in the Molly Pitcher (G3) on the Haskell Invitational undercard. Trained by Steve Asmussen, the classy filly settled just off the pace while saving ground inside to late stretch against her overmatched foes, and she won at ease once clear at Monmouth Park.

Four-year-old is perfect from a quartet of starts in 2019 and is currently a clear leader in the division. She is halfway through a historic season with triumphs in the Apple Blossom Handicap (G1), Ogden Phipps (G1) and Azeri (G2), prior to her most recent waltz.

Saratoga played host to the Shuvee (G3) on Sunday and displayed a trio of fantastic horses. The up-and-coming Golden Award sent notice to her fellow distaffers that she will be a horse to deal with throughout the second half of 2019. Also conditioned by Mott, the half-sister to 2012 Kentucky Derby (G1) hero I’ll Have Another beat a pair of accomplished ladies by 2 1/4 lengths in posting her biggest win to date.

Golden Award, who is also by Medaglia d’Oro, earned her first of what could be multiple graded wins this campaign. The bay filly is getting really good at the right time of the year.

Second in the Shuvee was Wow Cat, the multiple Group-1 winning Chilean import who finished an excellent second in the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Distaff. The Chad Brown trainee was making her first run since the fall and has a lot of room for improvement as a high-class mare with a proven track record.

Shuvee third She’s a Julie might be a notch below a few of the other in the Distaff race, but she is no slouch. The Asmussen pupil bagged the La Troienne (G1) and Bayakoa (G3) this season and is consistently excellent.

Brown’s Guarana is a rapidly rising three-year-old filly who is unbeaten from three lifetime runs. The Ghostzapper sophomore added the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) on Saturday to her previous Acorn (G1) trophy, and there is no telling what her limits might be. The Three Chimneys homebred is a fantastic prospect that might be ready to challenge her older counterparts in the near future.

With apologies to the brilliant Monomoy Girl, who is unraced in 2019, here is my current Top 6 in the Distaff Division:

1. Midnight Bisou — Four-for-four this season, and she does it with panache
2. Elate — Robust mare would be a clear number 1 if the Distaff was at 1 1/4 miles
3. Guarana — Unbeaten lass passed her two-turn test with aplomb at The Spa
4. Wow Cat — Great comeback race for the defending Distaff runner-up
5. Golden Award — Mott trainee is peaking at the right time
6. Dunbar Road — Exquisite Mother Goose (G2) heroine just scratching the surface


Golden Award (c) Adam Coglianese Photography/Joe Labozzetta

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Classic a better fit for Elate than Distaff

Elate loves a 1 ¼-mile distance and has never been better than she was in the July 13 Delaware Handicap (G2). Fifth entering the far turn, she received her cue from jockey Jose Ortiz and the race was over before the completion of the bend.

Her turn of foot proved sensational as Elate blew by a couple of respectable foes (Escape Clause and Blue Prize) into a clear lead rounding the far turn and Ortiz began easing up his mount about a sixteenth of a mile from the wire. The final winning margin (4 ½ lengths) didn’t illustrate her dominance.

This classy five-year-old mare loves a route of ground, so much so that 1 1/16 miles is too short for her. The Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider homebred has dropped all five starts at 1 1/16 miles, including a pair of decisions to Midnight Bisou earlier this season. She’s had some success at 1 1/8 miles, posting a pair of stakes wins including a 1 ½-length triumph over Blue Prize in the June 15 Fleur de Lis (G2), but Elate owns an overall two-for-five record at the distance.

The daughter of Medaglia d’Oro prefers the distance of the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), winning three stakes starts at 1 ¼ miles by a combined 13 ¼ lengths. If the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff were held at 1 ¼ miles this fall, Midnight Bisou and the rest of the field would be competing for second.

However, 1 1/8-mile Distaff distance favors Midnight Bisou, who is four-for-four in 2019. The race offers $4 million less than the Classic and looks like a more difficult assignment for Elate given the quality of this year’s projected Classic field.

In the latest Breeders’ Cup Classic rankings, compiled by a panel of 36 Thoroughbred racing media, the top three contenders are:

1 McKinzie (Met Mile runner-up was 12th in last year’s Classic and 0-for-2 at 1 ¼ miles)
2 Thunder Snow (winless from four U.S. starts)
3 Seeking the Soul (winless in stakes races outside of Churchill Downs)

Barring a three-year-old emerging as a legitimate threat over the coming months, Elate won’t have any rivals to fear in the 2019 Classic field. Bill Mott knows how to ship horses to Santa Anita, recording four of his 10 Breeders’ Cup race wins in Southern California, and Elate’s BRIS Speed numbers (104 in Del ‘Cap) are on par with her male opponents.

The Classic is shaping up to be a better fit for Elate than the Distaff.

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How to Bet the 2019 Delaware Handicap

The top-two finishers from the recent Fleur de Lis Stakes (G2) at Churchill Downs – Elate and Blue Prize – top a field of nine in Saturday’s lucrative $750,000 Delaware Handicap (G2). The 1 1/4-mile affair attracted some nice fillies and mares, but the race will go through this accomplished duo.

ANOTHER BROAD (#1) (10-1) – Obeah Stakes third draws the rail for trainer Todd Pletcher and will appreciate the added distance in this spot. The Include filly is a cut below the top guns in the affair, but she will save ground throughout beneath jockey Jorge Vergas Jr. The bay is four-for-five on a wet surface, so she moves forward with any moisture on the ground.

GOTHAM GALA (#2) (8-1) – The improving sort was a clear winner of the Obeah most recently in just her second two-turn race on the main oval. The Arnaud Delacour charge is getting good right now and distance shouldn’t pose a problem for the Smart Strike filly. Daniel Centeno rides.

ESCAPE CLAUSE (#3) (5-1) – This speedy sort missed by a nose in the Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) two prior to prove her class. The Grade-3 winning Manitoba-bred mare might be the one to catch from this post beneath Tyler Baze if the horse to her inside doesn’t break swiftly.

QUEEN NEKIA (#4) (20-1) – Anthony Pecoraro trainee is ambitiously placed following a runner-up finish in a second-level allowance tilt at Laurel Park. The Harlington filly would be a huge shocker.

PROMISE OF SPRING (#5) (12-1) – Steve Margolis trainee has placed in a pair of Grade 3 events this campaign, and the chestnut might appreciate the added ground of this affair. The Kentucky-bred will have to get faster in a hurry to challenge for the top prize in this field, however, but she can pick up a piece late.

BLUE PRIZE (#6) (7-2) – Classy mare from the Ignacio Correas IV barn has superb form coming in for her third run of the season. The Argentine-bred daughter of Pure Prize was a strong second in the Fleur de Lis most recently, and she has been first or second in a fantastic 15 of 19 lifetime performances. Joe Bravo will guide the six-year-old.

ELATE (#7) (7-5) – Bill Mott trainee is the defending champion in the field coming off one of her better performances at Churchill Downs last out. The Medaglia d’Oro mare is two-for-two on this course and is tailor made for the 1 1/4-mile distance. Regular rider Jose Ortiz comes along to guide the robust mare.

VENTE TO GO (#8) (20-1) – Obeah fifth was all out to beat allowance foes going one mile here two races back. The El Padrino filly has never faced this kind and looks to be overmatched.

GOODONEHONEY (#9) (10-1) – Great Notion filly was runner-up in the Obeah and she has flashed nice potential more than one occasion. The Michael Moore trainee was done no favors drawing widest of all in the affair, and she will need marked improvement to be in the mix inside the final furlong here.


Gotham Gala and Escape Clause are the inside speed players, and they will be closely watched by Goodonehoney from the outside. The tempo will be moderate and the majority of the field will be within a few lengths of each other along the back side.

I expect Blue Prize and Joe Bravo to get the jump on favored Elate, setting up a thrilling duel inside the final furlong.


$30 Exacta 6 with 7 = $30
$1 Superfecta 6, 7 with 6, 7 with 1, 2, 5 with all = $36

PHOTO: Elate (c) Coady Photography/Churchill Downs

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Horses to watch on Rebel Stakes Day at Oaklawn Park

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — The biggest non-Racing Festival of the South Day in Oaklawn Park history? Saturday’s card is surely in that discussion with two divisions of the Rebel (G2) featuring the current favorites for the Kentucky Derby (G1), a tremendous renewal of the Azeri (G2) for older fillies and mares, and nine of the 11 races carrying six-figure purses. Throw in abundant sunshine and an expected huge pre-St. Patrick’s Day crowd, and you have all the markings of a record day.

Here are thoughts on the blockbuster card.

Race 1

#6 ALL ABOUT WILL (6-1) caught slop in his debut last September at Churchill and could only rally mildly for fourth. Can improve on that, especially if Ortiz can avoid a wide journey.

Race 2

We’ll see if a long-standing track record of nearly 62 years is threatened in this 1 1/2-mile starter allowance. Though winless in seven previous tries here, #2 UCANTHANKMELATER (20-1) was a clear second in the 1 3/4-mile Trail’s End starter here on Arkansas Derby Day last season. Enters with the benefit of a couple preps earlier in the meet.

Race 5

#6 INCORRIGIBLE (7-2) turned in a nice race on Southwest Day last month off the layoff despite being run down by Comedian and just lasting for second. Working well for barn that’s starting to heat up after a slow start to the meet.

Race 6

Despite having spent most of his time on turf since last fall, #3 FIGHT ON (8-1) still has potential to be a capable dirt router. Has tried a two-turn route on a fast track only once previously, and surely a better horse since having outrun his odds in a pair of graded stakes on the grass in December.

Race 7 — Azeri (G2)

#5 ELATE (8-5) ran two terrific races in the Delaware H. (G2) and Personal Ensign (G1) last summer before injury cut her season short. However, Mott had her ready to win the 1 1/4-mile Del ‘Cap off an eight-month break, so firing fresh off a near seven-month break, even against this stronger field, perhaps not so daunting.

Race 8 — Rebel (G2) 1st division   FREE Brisnet past performances

#9 IMPROBABLE (3-5) looks ready to pop in his season debut for Bob Baffert. #8 Galilean is also well-regarded, but we’ll look to key Improbable in an Exacta over the Richard Mandella-trained #1 EXTRA HOPE (6-1), a distant third to Improbable in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) and most recently a convincing allowance winner at Santa Anita.

Race 9 — Essex H.

He doesn’t have a reputation for winning often, but #3 SONNETEER (5-1) does tend to fire when least expected, especially over this track. Very good efforts in the 2017 Rebel (G2) and Arkansas Derby (G1) come to mind, and he shocked in the $125,000 Fifth Season here at 29-1 last meet. Last month’s Razorback H. (G3) only his second start since May, and he was a good fourth there. Needs plenty of help up front, but may get it.

Race 10 — Rebel (G2) 2nd division   FREE Brisnet past performances

Champion juvenile #5 GAME WINNER (4-5) will be tough to topple if he’s improved at all since November. Fellow Californians #6 Omaha Beach and #8 Gunmetal Gray bring respectable merits, but #4 JERSEY AGENDA (15-1) has the potential to rebound from an awful trip in the Southwest and complete the Exacta at a respectable price.

Race 11

Two intriguing first-time starters in this six-furlong maiden. #6 GILES (9-2) is by 14% debut sire Candy Ride and out of the the juvenile stakes-winning Stage Top, who has already reared Sapling (G3) winner She Digs Me, juvenile stakes winner Stageplay and the classic-placed Mylute, who also was a stakes-quality performer at two. #10 FIRECROW (4-1) is by 18% debut sire Maclean’s Music and shows a string of solid works, including a bullet five-furlong move on March 2.

Take advantage of’s Rebel Double Bonus on Saturday. Opt in and play a Double involving one or both of the Rebel divisions for your chance to earn a share of $1,000 in bonus cash. A share of a $500 Winner’s Bonus is also available for those that hit Doubles that involve both divisions of the Rebel.

Our Rebel Double Bonus play will be in Races 10-11: 5 with 6,10.

Good luck to all!


Photo by Vance Hanson

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How to bet the 2019 Azeri Stakes

A compact but stellar field of fillies and mares will travel 1 1/16 miles at Oaklawn Park on Saturday in the $350,000 Azeri Stakes (G2). Four of the six entered are Grade 1 winners in what appears to be a fascinating affair.

TAPA TAPA TAPA (#1) (10-1) draws inside in her toughest assignment to date. The Tapit mare comes in off a five-length romp in the Wayward Lass Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs and has trained swiftly in the interim. The multiple stakes heroine from the Timothy Hamm barn was fourth in the Honeybee Stakes (G3) last campaign in her lone Oaklawn performance to date. She figures to be the pacesetter from this post under jockey Antonio Gallardo.

Multiple Grade 1 winner and Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) third-placer MIDNIGHT BISOU (#2) (6-5) has never finished out of the top three in advance of her second run of 2019. The Steve Asmussen pupil had a solid prep with a score at Sam Houston last time in the Houston Ladies Classic (G3), and she will retain regular pilot Mike Smith. The classy four-year-old figures to improve in this spot second off the bench.

SUMMER’S INDY (#3) (30-1) has finished in the money in two straight allowance races at the meeting, but she faces a daunting task in here. The Take Charge Indy filly, a former claimer, looks overmatched against the classy cast. David Cabrera has the call.

Alabama Stakes (G1) queen ESKIMO KISSES (#4) (5-1) closed out 2018 with a pair of unplaced efforts but was a dual winner at Oaklawn last year, including an 11-length allowance/optional claimer romp. The Kenny McPeek charge is a one-run closer who lands in a spot without much pace, which might hurt her chances first off the layoff. Alex Canchari has the assignment.

Claiborne homebred ELATE (#5) (8-5) is a dual Grade 1 winner who is spectacular on her best day. The Medaglia d’Oro mare has raced just twice since 2017, but her works look solid and she has run well while fresh in the past. The five-year-old has tactical speed and might get a jump on a few of her rivals for trainer Bill Mott. Regular rider Jose Ortiz will be in the irons.

Champion SHAMROCK ROSE (#6) (6-1) ran fourth in her 2019 debut following a game victory in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) last November at Churchill Downs. The Mark Casse-trained daughter of First Dude stretches out to two turns while drawing the outside post in the field. David Cohen has piloting duties.


Tapa Tapa Tapa will be sent from the rail to lead early on. The sneaky exotics contender could be up front for a long way, as her foes generally prefer to come from off the pace.

Elate figures to be forwardly placed some behind a moderate tempo and I think she will get first run on favored Midnight Bisou turning for home.


$40 Tri 5 with 2 with 1 = $40

$10 Tri 5 with 1 with 2 = $10

$5 Tri Key 2 with 1,5 = $10

PHOTO: Midnight Bisou and jockey Mike Smith capture the Houston Ladies Classic (G3) at Sam Houston on January 27, 2019 (c) Coady Photography/Sam Houston

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