Thursday’s Best Bets and Quick Picks: Ambitious 10-1 longshot

January 18th, 2024

Handicapper J. Keeler Johnson shares best bets and quick picks for Thursday, Jan. 18 at Sunland Park and Turfway Park, along with analysis of non-jackpot carryovers at Gulfstream Park and Fair Grounds.

Today’s special offers from TwinSpires include:

  • Winter Money Back: Receive refunds on win bets (up to $10) if your horse finishes second or third in select races every Thursday-Sunday.

Best Bets and Quick Picks

Sunland Park: Race 8: Corralito Steak House S. (six furlongs, 5:28 p.m. ET)

#7 Community Leader (2-1) has won six of his seven starts and finished second by less than a length in his lone defeat. He has tactical speed but isn’t a need-the-lead type, as he demonstrated when closing from third to dominate the six-furlong New Mexico Classic Cup Juvenile Championships S. by three lengths last time out.

That victory yielded an 83 Brisnet Speed rating, the highest number in the Corralito Steak House field. A repeat can send Community Leader to yet another victory, with #5 Marking Canyon (5-2) and #1 Milk It (3-1) battling for a place in the exacta.


  • #7 Community Leader (2-1)
  • #5 Marking Canyon (5-2)
  • #1 Milk It (3-1)


  • $15 Exacta: 7 with 1,5 ($30)

Turfway Park: Race 3: $50,000 Maiden Claiming (6 1/2 furlongs on Tapeta, 6:55 p.m. ET)

#9 Midnight Ambition (10-1) didn’t have the best luck when debuting in a $50,000 maiden claimer sprinting six furlongs over the Churchill Downs dirt, racing off the pace before passing a few rivals to finish fifth.

But there are reasons to believe Midnight Ambition can improve on Thursday. The Tapeta track at Turfway tends to play kindly toward closers, so switching surfaces is a positive. The competition figures to be a little easier at Turfway as well. Finally, Midnight Ambition will be racing on Lasix for the first time, which is a 23% winning move for trainer Gregory Foley.

Let’s place a win bet on Midnight Ambition.


  • #9 Midnight Ambition (10-1)
  • #8 Early Munny (12-1)
  • #12 Fall Again (8-1)


  • $25 to win on #9 Midnight Ambition (10-1)

Turfway Park: Race 6: $12,500 Claiming (6 1/2 furlongs on Tapeta, 8:25 p.m. ET)

#4 One Last Hand (12-1) has hit the board in five of his last six starts on dirt, but it seems pretty clear he prefers racing over Turfway's Tapeta. His 5-2-1-1 local tally includes victories in $15,000 and $30,000 claimers during the first two months of 2023.

One Last Hand’s recent Brisnet Speed ratings aren’t eye-catching, but perhaps returning to Turfway can trigger the improvement necessary to vie for victory in Thursday’s contest. We’ll take a chance betting One Last Hand to win.


  • #4 One Last Hand (12-1)
  • #3 Louisianimal (7-2)
  • #9 Epimythium (4-1)


  • $20 to win on #4 One Last Hand

Carryover Watch

Gulfstream Park: Race 1: $7,825 Pick 6 carryover (3:45 p.m. ET)

Many U.S. racetracks are canceling cards because of winter weather, but Gulfstream Park in Florida has unsurprisingly escaped the cold and is kicking off their Thursday card with an $8,689 Super High 5 carryover up for grabs in Race 1.

The Thursday opener is a $12,500 maiden claimer for fillies and mares racing 1 1/16 miles on Tapeta. The morning line favorite is #8 Pep Rally (8-5), and her credentials are solid. She finished a respectable fourth with a troubled trip in a $25,000 maiden claimer over the Tampa Bay Downs turf course last month, and two starts back she set the pace in a $25,000 maiden claimer racing 1 1/16 miles over the Gulfstream Tapeta before succumbing to finish second by a neck.

Returning to the Gulfstream Tapeta and dropping in class for a $12,500 maiden claimer should make Pep Rally tough to beat for the red-hot jockey/trainer duo of Paco Lopez and Kelly Breen, who have won at a 42% rate together over the last two months. The fact Breen wins at a 25% rate with horses dropping multiple levels down the class ladder adds to the appeal.

#3 Grey Princess (2-1) is the other key contender. Her 11-0-6-1 record over the Gulfstream Tapeta includes a second-place finish in a $12,500 maiden claimer on Dec. 28 and multiple runner-up efforts in $25,000 maiden claimers last summer.

Here’s how we’ll bet the Super High 5:

  • $1 Super High 5: 8 with 3 with 2,5,6,7 with 2,4,5,6,7 with 2,4,5,6,7 ($48)

Fair Grounds: Race 5: $7,825 Pick 6 carryover (3:45 p.m. ET)

The Thursday card at Fair Grounds is highlighted by a $7,825 Pick 6 carryover.

One of the trickiest legs to handicap is Race 6, a maiden special weight for three-year-old fillies racing 1 1/16 miles on dirt. The par winning Brisnet Speed rating for this type of race is 82, but none of the experienced fillies have posted a number higher than 75.

That’s why we want to include the first-time starter #1 Pretty Ana (8-1) as a live longshot. The stoutly bred daughter of four-time Grade 1 winner Quality Road out of Molly Pitcher (G2) heroine Quiet Giant is a half-sister to 2017 Horse of the Year and successful sire Gun Runner.

Pretty Ana is bred to run long and has put together a decent work tab for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, highlighted by five furlongs in 1:00 2/5 at Fair Grounds. The one concern is the fact Asmussen has gone 0-for-16 with horses debuting in routes at Fair Grounds since 2019, but five of those starters finished in the top three, and the fact Pretty Ana will be ridden by hot jockey Florent Geroux suggests this bay filly has a shot to outrun her 8-1 morning line odds.

Good luck!