Happy Opening Day, everyone! I’m excited to be back for another year, and I’m looking forward to hopefully helping you have some fun times at one of horse racing’s last remaining cathedrals.
If you’re new, here’s how this works: All of my stuff will be available in print in The Pink Sheet and online at AndrewChampagne.com. I’m in California and work a day in advance to mitigate the time difference. Wednesday’s content will be online Monday night, Thursday’s content will be up Tuesday night, and so on.
In addition to my selections in the pick box and detailed analysis of every race, I’ll have this space, which offers room for some quick thoughts and a bankroll play for each day of racing. If you’ve got any questions or comments you want me to address, tweet me at @AndrewChampagne. I’m an easy guy to connect with, and I’m always happy to engage with folks who enjoy my stuff. Let’s make some money!
THURSDAY’S PLAY: We begin with a reminder that all action assumes races carded for the turf stay there, and that surface changes render tickets null and void. With that in mind, if the sixth race stays on the lawn, I love #2 ALBA’S STAR, who looks like the lone speed second off the bench and returns to a two-turn route she’s shown she loves. I’ll kick off the meet with a $25 win bet on that one.
TOTAL WAGERED: $25.
Best Bet: Lady Scarlet, Race 5
Longshot: Skyro, Race 3
Grit and Glory
#4 WAGON BOSS: Gets a tepid nod in a pretty wide-open lid-lifter. He beat a similar-level field last time out at Churchill and may get the type of stalking trip he’s shown he prefers beneath world-class jockey Joel Rosario; #7 GRIT AND GLORY: Has a chance to win the first race of the meet for the second year in a row. He’s got back races that are good enough to win this, and he’s shown he can rally late, which could come in handy in a race that appears to have plenty of early speed; #5 CHARLIE’SARCHANGEL: Finished a half-length behind my top pick last time out and has since moved to the barn of Robertino Diodoro, who’s very strong with new acquisitions. He may go favored, and he’s not without a chance, but he hasn’t won in a while and sure seemed like he lost with a perfect trip when we last saw him run.
#9 SPEEDOMETER: Ran like a horse that needed her debut effort in last month’s unveiling at Churchill Downs, when she was third behind a good-looking winner that’ll take money in today’s co-feature. She’s a full sister to hard-knocking sprinter Nitrous, her experience should help her, and the outside draw should allow her to settle down a bit; #7 ZMUDA: Made a mild move to be fourth in her first start, and she did so for a barn whose first-time starters often need a race. Her work tab includes some fast moves at Keeneland, and she’s another eligible to move forward; #4 MICROBIOME: Hammered for $100,000 at auction last September and is working like a good horse. Pay attention to the track condition, as her pedigree (by Twirling Candy, out of a Smoke Glacken mare) says she’ll move up over a wet surface.
Wudda U Think Now (MTO)
St. Joe Louis
#9 ST. JOE LOUIS: Came north after a frustrating debut at Tampa Bay Downs and walloped a field that included a next-out winner. This is his first try out of the maiden ranks, but he’s bred to be a very good horse and it’s not like this field has any monsters in it; #4 SKYRO: Tries turf for the first time and has a bottom-side pedigree that says he’ll love it. His dam is kin to a horse named Jambalaya, who was one of the better turf routers in the country in his day, and this one’s shown enough talent on dirt to intrigue at his likely price; #7 SO SUAVE: Makes his U.S. debut off of a long break, but gets Lasix for the first time and is certainly in capable hands. His best races overseas came over firmer going, which may be the reason he was sent here after showing enough promise to be 4-1 in a Group 3 last summer.
Gem Key (MTO)
Big Bad Diva
#12 OCEAN AIR: Has run well twice at this level downstate and goes back to two turns, a configuration she won over in Florida. It sure seems like there’s a lot of early zip in this field, and I think she’s likely to be rolling late; #10 BIG BAD DIVA: Comes in off a freshening and will make her first start since March. She has tactical speed but doesn’t necessarily need the lead to run well, and she’s yet to miss the board in five career starts; #1 CLADDAGH’S RUN: Certainly moves up in class after several wins against claimers at Tampa, but there’s no denying she’s in good form and would benefit from a pace meltdown. Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez sees fit to ride for George Weaver, and nothing says she can’t get a piece of this at a bit of a price.
#3 LADY SCARLET: Dueled through fast fractions in her debut, when she was second beaten less than two lengths and topped the third-place finisher by four. Her recent bullet drill over the training track jumps off the page, and between her experience and evident talent, I think she’ll be quite imposing; #6 SOLASTA: Sold for $300,000 at auction last year and sports several fast works over this track. She’s a half-sister to Grade 1-winning sprinter Mia Mischief, and everything here says she’s got lots of talent; #7 ECHO ZULU: Also sold for $300,000 a year ago and is by promising first-crop sire Gun Runner. Among her half-siblings are Grade 1 winner Echo Town and Grade 3 winner J Boys Echo, and if there’s any hesitation here, it’s because I think she may want a bit more ground.
Courageous Girl (MTO)
#2 ALBA’S STAR: Looks like the lone speed in this inner turf event, and that’s always incredibly dangerous. She set a pretty fast pace for the level last time out and was third behind a next-out winner. A return to two turns should help her, and she could sit a very easy trip; #11 JAZZY LADY: Was claimed back by Ray Handal last time and exits a win over a weaker group at Churchill. The outside post is far from ideal, but she overcame a funky trip when we last saw her, and Rosario’s presence is a plus; #10 TWO CENT TOOTSIE: Drops into restricted claiming company after knocking heads with solid state-breds in her two most recent outings. This sure seems like an easier spot, and perhaps she can use her tactical speed to clear most of the field going into the first turn.
PLETCHER ENTRY: I prefer #1 ARHAM, who’s run several races fast enough to get the job done here. He tries two turns for the first time, and his pedigree says he’ll love that journey; #4 DACK JANIEL’S: Got pretty good late last year when third beaten two lengths in a Grade 2 on the Breeders’ Cup undercard. His most recent effort at Churchill was pretty good, and he’d certainly benefit from any moisture in the track (rain, not whiskey); #8 DUST DEVIL: Makes his first start for Bill Mott and does so while returning to two turns. He splashed home to a six-length score in his last two-turn outing and was most recently third in the same race my top pick exits.
#3 GOLDEN PAL: Ran one of the most impressive races of the 2020 season here when he romped in the Skidmore Stakes at this route. We haven’t seen him since the Breeders’ Cup, but he’s working well ahead of his return and would be a handful if he’s ready to run; #9 JAXON TRAVELER: Looms the main danger and has not finished worse than second in seven career starts. He was a decent second on a synthetic surface last time out, and there’s every reason to believe turf won’t be a problem; #8 REBEL POSSE: Is undefeated in two turf starts and showed an impressive turn of foot last time out. If you believe Golden Pal needs a race, or that he could be compromised by a speed duel, this one makes sense as a price play.
#1 PRETTY BIRDIE: Won her debut impressively, and if that day’s third-place finisher runs well in the second race, it could bode well for this Norm Casse trainee. She appears to have bounced out of her unveiling well, and she’d be a popular winner given the name on the “owner” line; #7 HAPPY SOUL: Romped in two races downstate for 2-year-old maestro Wesley Ward and will almost certainly go favored. This daughter of a horse I will not name (not until I get the same money everyone else is getting, Mattress Mack!) has shown precocity, but this seems like a far stronger group, and any regression would make her vulnerable at a short price; #9 CARTEL QUEEN: Adds blinkers after a professional victory last time out at Churchill. She’s fired back-to-back bullets ahead of her first try against winners, and seeing Tom Amoss and Irad Ortiz, Jr., at 12-1 is undoubtedly enticing.
Big Georges Kingdm
#12 RUSE: Stayed on well when pressing a very fast pace for the level in his first start since January. He adds Lasix for this race, and his lone two-turn effort saw him run a close-up second at Aqueduct; #10 BIG GEORGES KINGDM: Makes his turf debut and has a pedigree that says he’ll like the footing. He’s by Animal Kingdom, out of a Big Brown mare, and comes in off of back-to-back second-place finishes this past spring against OK groups on dirt; #8 CLEVER FELLOW: Will likely be a pretty heavy favorite given his connections, but I see several red flags. He’s been a beaten chalk in each of his last three starts, it’s his first time going two turns, and why have they waited until now to add blinkers? At his probable price, I can’t endorse him on top.