The Jury: Expert Picks, Bets and Fades for March 23 [Video]

March 21st, 2024

Racing analysts Ashley Anderson, James Scully, and Darin Zoccali talk their best bets and fades for Fair Grounds and Turfway Park, including the Louisiana Derby (G2) and Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3). 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

James Scully:

#6 Northern Flame (5-1) in the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) at Turfway Park. A frontrunning maiden winner at Churchill Downs last fall, Northern Flame has displayed terrific gate speed in last two starts at Oaklawn, leading all the way in a salty allowance before prompting the pace under a strong hold in the Rebel (G2), eventually winding up a respectable third in the Timberlake. From the same immediate female family as Sierra Leone, Northern Flame is bred to appreciate the switch to Tapeta. He’s by Flameaway, who led all first-year sires with four stakes winners last year, including a pair on synthetic, and Northern Flame catches a Jeff Ruby field lacking serious early speed. I anticipate a strong showing on the front end from the improving three-year-old.

Ashley Anderson:

#1 V V's Dream (8-1) in the Fair Grounds Oaks (G2), Race 11 on Saturday. The Mitole filly was last seen finishing fifth in the Rachel Alexandra (G2) at Fair Grounds, but she was returning off a more-than-four-month layoff and was racing over a sloppy track. The Kenny McPeek trainee should get a fast track this time around and drew the rail post, which is winning at a 27% clip and is the same post from which Tarifa broke from when winning the Rachel Alexandra. McPeek is an 18% winner second off the layoff, and regular rider Brian Hernandez Jr. has been red hot at the track lately. V V's Dream also put in three bullet works since the Rachel Alexandra, so I'll look for the Pocahontas (G3) winner to bounce back here.

Top Fade for Weekend Racing


#13 I’m Very Busy (4-1) in the Muniz Memorial Classic (G2) at Fair Grounds. Trained by Chad Brown and ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr., I’m Very Busy figures to be much shorter than his morning line following a rallying second in the Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1). He’s finished second in his last two stakes attempts, placing in four of eight career starts, and the entry-level allowance scorer was never a serious threat to the winning Warm Heart last time despite catching the eye by storming into the picture belatedly. These big late runs for minor awards can be deceiving, often leading to unrealistic expectations and underlaid prices, and I’m Very Busy must overcome an extreme outside post.


#12 Track Phantom (3-1) in the Louisiana Derby, R12 at Fair Grounds. The Quality Road colt drew a similar outside post last out in the Risen Star (G2) at Fair Grounds on Feb. 17, where he was caught late by Sierra Leone after setting slow early fractions. He should face a little more competition for the early lead here with recent maiden winner Antiquarian entered, along with Next Level. I expect another late runner to get up for the win in the 1 3/16-mile Louisiana Derby — in particular, I like #4 Agate Road (8-1) in his second consecutive dirt start after racing on turf and #10 Common Defense (6-1), who just finished second to Kentucky Derby points leader Timberlake in the Rebel (G2). Recent maiden winner #11 Tuscan Gold (8-1) from Sierra Leone's trainer Chad Brown could also be interesting here in his stakes debut.

What Else Is Worth Noting


Three of the top five finishers from the Risen Star (G2) will return for the Louisiana Derby (G2) and shippers include Sam F. Davis (G3) runner-up Agate Road and Rebel (G2) runner-up Common Defense (who intrigues me). Antiquarian has raced up close to the pace in both wins, but he doesn’t appear to be that quick. And neither does most of the field. #12 Track Phantom (3-1) is the only runner with true gate speed in my estimation, and the classy three-year-old appears capable of dictating terms on the lead. 


Closing day at Fair Grounds takes place Sunday and will offer a full 15-race card featuring the Star Guitar S., which includes Star Guitar progeny Touchuponastar and Behemah Star, who will go head to head with recent stakes romper Jack Hammer. Additionally, Ova Charged will go for her fourth straight win for Shane Wilson in the 5 1/2-furlong Page Cortez S., and the final race of the card, the Shantel Lanerie Memorial S., will honor rider Corey Lanerie's late wife. Lanerie has the mount on #8 Free Like a Girl and is currently in a close battle for leading rider at Fair Grounds with Jareth Loveberry, Jose Guerrero, Jaime Torres, and Ben Curtis. As of Wednesday, Loveberry has the lead with 49 victories, but Lanerie and Guerrero own 48, while Ben Curtis has 40, and Torres has 39. By Sunday night, the lead could change, though Lanerie should safely secure the lead by earnings, with $2.1 million at the moment.