The Jury: Expert Picks, Bets and Fades for Feb. 3 [Video]
Racing analysts Ashley Anderson, James Scully, and Darin Zoccali discuss Kentucky Derby (G1) and Kentucky Oaks (G1) prep races at Oaklawn, Aqueduct, Gulfstream, and Santa Anita, plus racing at Fair Grounds. Ashley and James give 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
#6 Liberal Arts (8-1) in the Southwest (G3) at Oaklawn Park. Expect a favorable setup for the late runner, who exits a convincing win in the Street Sense (G3), and Liberal Arts looks poised to keep progressing as a three-year-old. A trio of serious contenders, Carbone, Otto the Conqueror, and Wynstock, do their best running on the lead, and Meycocks Bay, Mystik Dan, and Just Steel are eligible to be prompting the pace. Liberal Arts enters with increasing Brisnet Speed ratings, and the gray son of Arrogate should be rolling late.
#5 Kantex (8-1) in Race 7 at Oaklawn Park, a six-furlong allowance for fillies and mares. The five-year-old drew post 5, just inside the morning-line favorite #6 Zeitlos (5-2) for Steve Asmussen, and comes off a 3 1/4-length victory in a restricted allowance optional claimer at Oaklawn. The Race Rating from that win was a 113, the same rating Zeitlos faced in her last-out, three-quarter-length allowance triumph at Churchill in November. Both Kantex and Zeitlos earned 118 Class Ratings in their most recent victories, and Kantex's 93 Brisnet Speed figure was a point higher than Zeitlos' last-out figure. Kantex is also 4-for-4 from today's distance and 4-for-5 at Oaklawn, where trainer Randy Morse is winning at a 21% clip. Jockey Rafael Bejarano will retain the mount, and late presser types, like Kantex, are winning at the highest rate in six-furlong dirt sprints over the last 17 races at Oaklawn. I'll back the longshot over the favored Zeitlos, who races at Oaklawn for the first time here.
Top Fade for Weekend Racing
#8 Skelly (7-5) in the King Cotton at Oaklawn. His improving form merits serious respect, winning his last six starts, but Tejano Twist is the best sprinter on the grounds and his stablemate, Excess Magic, has been entered to guarantee Skelly doesn’t get away with an easy lead. Skelly has gotten clear in the opening stages of his last four outings, but I expect a different scenario that sets the table for Tejano Twist.
#1 Maycocks Bay (3-1) in R11, the Southwest (G3), at Oaklawn. The Speightstown colt opened up his three-year-old campaign with a 10-length win in a one-mile and 70-yard allowance optional claimer at Fair Grounds and will move back up in class to face stakes company here. As a two-year-old, Maycocks Bay went 1-for-4, with his lone win coming at 6 1/2 furlongs at Parx, and his BRIS figures dropped significantly in his next two starts, when a sixth in the six-furlong Bowman Mill S. at Keeneland and a sixth in a 1 1/16-mile allowance optional claimer at Fair Grounds. The Race Rating from his most recent victory was a light 111, and Springboard Mile hero Otto the Conqueror and Los Alamitos Futurity (G2) winner Wynstock competed against much tougher when recording their stakes scores. Add in the variable of Maycocks Bay getting a new rider, and I'll fade the lukewarm morning-line favorite.
What Else Is Worth Noting
#1 Speed Runner (3-1) will make his stakes debut in Saturday’s Withers (G3), and I favor his chances following a hard-fought score over favored Malarchuk in a 1 1/8-mile maiden at Aqueduct in mid-December. Malarchuk may still prove to be a good one for Chad Brown, and I look for Speed Runner to move forward off the encouraging win. A half-brother to a Grade 1 winner who finished third in the Belmont S. (G1), Speed Runner is bred to relish longer distances and I like how the Gun Runner colt showed positional speed last time. Speed Runner will look to provide Todd Pletcher with another legitimate contender for the 150th running of the Kentucky Derby (G1) this spring.
Kentucky Derby points leader Fierceness will make his three-year-old debut in the Holy Bull (G3) at Gulfstream on Saturday. The 3-5 choice was last seen dominating the Breeders' Cup Juvenile as a 16-1 longshot, rebounding from a disappointing seventh in the Champagne (G1) one start prior. The City of Light colt caught the attention of racing fans on debut with an 11-length win in a maiden special weight at Saratoga, and is back in the forefront of the Derby conversation following his Breeders' Cup romp. His performance in the Holy Bull will tell us a lot more about this horse and whether we can expect him to show consistency as a sophomore. His toughest competition may be unbeaten Otello, who just won the Mucho Macho Man S. at Gulfstream, but more than likely Fierceness will prove to be a step above the field in the Holy Bull.
Santa Anita will also host a Kentucky Derby prep in the Robert B. Lewis (G3) this weekend, headlined by a trio of Bob Baffert runners — $1.7 million yearling purchase Coach Prime, unbeaten Bob Hope (G3) winner Nysos, and Vino Rosso colt Wine Me Up. Looking to play spoiler will be debut maiden winner Scatify and stakes-placed Stronghold among the nine-horse field.
As for Kentucky Oaks preps, the Martha Washington S. will award 20 points to the winner at Oaklawn, along with the Forward Gal (G3) at Gulfstream, on Saturday, while the Las Virgenes (G3) will offer the same points on a sliding scale to the top five finishers at Santa Anita on Sunday.