The Jury: Expert Picks, Bets and Fades for Feb. 17 [Video]

February 16th, 2024

Racing analysts Ashley Anderson, James Scully, and Darin Zoccali examine the Risen Star (G2) and Rachel Alexandra (G2) at Fair Grounds, along with other stakes action around the country. Ashley and James provide their thoughts in the written portion below. Be sure to check out Darin's opinions in our on-camera portion as well!

Best Bet for Weekend Racing

James Scully:

#1 Ethan Energy (9-2) in the third race at Fair Grounds on Saturday. An impressive maiden winner when stretching to two turns at Fair Grounds in late December, Ethan Energy missed the break but gained valuable seasoning when finishing fourth in the Lecomte (G3) next out. Look for the Uncle Mo colt to keep progressing for Brad Cox off that respectable showing, and Ethan Energy projects to receive a favorable setup with Nash, Tuscan Sky, and Count Dracula mixing it up on the front end. I expect to see Ethan Energy headed back to a Kentucky Derby qualifier following the confidence-building allowance win.

Ashley Anderson:

#4 Sierra Leone (4-1) in the Risen Star (G2), Race 14 at Fair Grounds on Saturday. The Gun Runner colt will make his three-year-old debut in his third career start and will look to rebound from a nose second to Dornoch in the Remsen (G2) at Aqueduct on Dec. 2. Sierra Leone overtook Dornoch in the stretch, but the full brother to Mage was able to regain the lead in time to cross the wire first. The addition of blinkers should help Sierra Leone this time around, and trainer Chad Brown wins at a 22% rate with the equipment change. He's also a 24% winner with horses coming off a layoff of 46-90 days.

The Class Rating (121) Sierra Leone earned for his Remsen second is the best of any runner in the field and two points higher than the career-best Class Rating of morning-line favorite #11 Track Phantom (7-2), which the Steve Asmussen trainee received for his Gun Runner S. score two back. Sierra Leone can also handle a muddy track, and he's likely to get those conditions on Saturday. I'll back the $2.3 million purchase here in his first start at Fair Grounds.

Top Fade for Weekend Racing


Sierra Leone (4-1) is listed as the 4-1 third choice in the Risen Star (G2) at Fair Grounds, but I expect him to easily go favored based upon the noise surrounding the colt - no three-year-old outside of California has a bigger buzz than the twice-raced deep closer. I don't dispute his promise, but Sierra Leone has proven to be anything but a seasoned professional, displaying immaturity the first time out and coughing up the lead in deep stretch of the Remsen after failing to keep up in the opening stages and traveling extremely wide. Unraced for nearly three months, he looks like the type who needs racing experience and given his lack of tactical ability, I’ll look for more down the road from Sierra Leone.


#6 V V's Dream (5-2) in the Rachel Alexandra (G2), Race 13 at Fair Grounds. The Mitole three-year-old has failed as the favorite in her last two starts, both at today's distance, and she was a step slow last out in the Rags to Riches over a muddy Churchill track, where she was far back in third to West Sunset. V V's Dream's last win came three starts back in the one-mile Pocahontas (G3) but she has yet to prove herself racing farther. I prefer the chances of #5 Alpine Princess (7-2) for Brad Cox, who has won this race twice, both times when paired with rider Florent Geroux. Alpine Princess is coming off a win at Fair Grounds in the Untapable S. with a 94 BRIS figure, the highest last race speed rating among the field. #4 Intricate (3-1) for Brendan Walsh also looks like a solid contender after her 5 1/2-length romp in the Golden Rod (G2) at Churchill.

What Else Is Worth Noting


I liked how #11 Track Phantom (7-2) won on a fast pace in December’s Gun Runner and a soft pace in January’s Lecomte , and his progression this winter reminds me of Epicenter, a frontrunning type who earned similar Brisnet Speed ratings in the Gun Runner and Lecomte and entered the 2022 Risen Star as one of the most experienced members of the field, scoring at 7-2 odds. Most of this year’s Risen Star entrants either lack stakes experience or are coming back from a layoff, and while Track Phantom is listed as the morning line favorite, the Steve Asmussen-trained colt seems to be a popular “pick-against” and I won’t be surprised if he drifts up to be the third choice by post time. His racing experience and tactical ability are assets, and I’m not concerned about the outside draw – War of Will easily captured the 2019 Risen Star from post 13 utilizing a similar run style. like Track Phantom’s chances.


Following Fair Grounds' Derby and Oaks prep races on Saturday, Sunland Park will host the Grade 3 Sunland Park Derby and the Sunland Oaks, Derby and Oaks preps, respectively, that will award 20 points to each winner at the New Mexico track. Both the Sunland Park Derby and Sunland Oaks will see Joel Rosario and Steve Asmussen pair up just a day after the two work together in the Risen Star and Rachel Alexandra, where Rosario will race aboard Track Phantom and Perfect Shot. While Track Phantom is the morning-line favorite in the Risen Star, Rosario's best chances of a win in one of the preps this weekend may be aboard #8 Informed Patriot (3-1) in the Sunland Park Derby. The Hard Spun colt has finished third in his last three, including in the 1 1/16-mile Street Sense (G3) over a sloppy track and a one-mile allowance optional claimer that featured Southwest (G3) upsetter Mystik Dan and next-out stakes winner Bergen. Last out, he was third to Catching Freedom in the Smarty Jones, but he should find the competition a bit lighter in the Sunland Park Derby on Sunday. Stronghold will be a tough challenger, but the outside post is a favorable draw for Informed Patriot, and he's looked sharp in recent works ahead of his second three-year-old start.