My focus today is the 3-race sequence comprising 3 of the 4 contest races on PH.com; the other is the Mac Diarmida at Gulfstream, where I am blindly going with Stately Victor (from my DRF Watch List) at 12-to-1 in an 11-furlong turf race versus some wily veterans such as Al Khali and and Prince Will I Am. My extensive handicapping, hopefully, will yield better than an 0-for-3 finish at FG, but here goes nothing...
Three scratches in the 8th, the Grade 2 Mineshaft (8.5f on the dirt) shrinks the field down to six runners and has me leaning toward Mission Impazible at a 3-to-1 M/L off a decent place finish on January 23 at Gulfstream. I am more than willing to toss the Kentucky Derby effort and simply think this is the classiest horse in the field; plus, I'm banking on bettors favoring Apart (trainer Al Stall is 7-for-15 in graded stakes) and Demarcation (leading jockey). In my view, Midnight Mischief is worth tossing, and Le Grand Cru is only occasionally very fast and could get hooked up in a duel with Z Humor. Not a great betting race in and of itself, but were I putting a Pick 3 ticket together it would be a thrifty $8 play (3,4 w/ 4,5,7,8 w/ 9).
Narrowing down two longer angles in the 9th, the Grade 3 Fair Grounds Handicap (9f on turf), I landed on Joinem (10-to-1 M/L) over 8-to-1 M/L Sleepless Knight. It was difficult to put aside my Monmouth bias, considering that Joe Bravo is riding Sleepless Knight for Kelly Breen, but the DRF past performance notes suggest that Joinem had a difficult trip in his last effort (a Grade 3 event at 8.5f) but still finished a game 3rd versus Gran Estreno and Dubious Miss, two other runners in today's field (at M/Ls of 5-to-1 and 8-to-1, respectively). Dubious Miss gets a good post draw, and Corey Lanerie and Paul McGee are winning at a 25% clip in 16 Fair Grounds races this year, but I anticipate will lock horns with Workin for Hops (9-to-2 M/L) and could tire in the long Fair Grounds stretch. I was willing to throw out the two outside horses, as well as favored (3-to-1) Loup Breton (off since July) and Telling (a one-trick closer who connects every so often...once when I didn't have him), and like the recent efforts of my two selections.
In the Grade 2 Risen Star at 8.5f on dirt, I love Justin Phillip at 8-1 M/L. The LeComte is a throwaway and the horse obviously did not like wearing blinkers, so with the equipment change today, plus the Beyer progression prior to the LeComte would suggest this horse can handle the distance (see the $50k optional claimer on Jan. 1) and is versatile (won at 6f in 2nd maiden special weight event at Belmont on Sept. 18) enough to either score from the lead or stalking the pace. A game 3rd-place finish to Brethren and El Grayling is nothing to scoff at either. I am leaning away from the three morning-line favorites for very specific reasons. Rogue Romance (3-to-1) concerns me a bit even with the rail draw and a bit of Fool's Gold with the long-distance 3rd-place finish in the Breeders Cup Juvenile; I'm just concerned with the track notes with this horse's penchant for running 4w-6w in three of its four races. There is too much noise surrounding Mucho Macho Man (4-to-1), considering the rider change and blinkers off, for me to consider, and 9-to-2 Decisive Moment looks like a good bullring-type runner off the recent Delta Downs score in which half the field were cut off in the final turn by a horse (Aces N Kings) who broke down and veered out in front of the strong closers. I simply like Justin Phillip at a price.