Key Bets & Races for Saturday, December 16

Rampart Stakes – Race 5 at Gulfstream Park – Post time 2:05 PM Eastern Time

This race is a very good betting race by virtue of the fact the second and third morning line choices are suspect in my opinion. Lewis Bay, who opens at 7 to 2, comes back from a year on the bench and no matter how good Chad Brown is overall, his stats are not that great with this type of comeback (2 for 10 in dirt routes off six months or more over the past year). The filly is a stakes winner but she would need to be in tip-top shape off a year on the bench to compete here and I don’t think she is. Nonna Mela, who opens at 5 to 2, failed to fire even the least bit when last seen in October at Keeneland and earned her most recent win in a 2nd level allowance race. Her stakes win came as a two year old and there’s no proof she can be competitive at this level.


With two suspect low odds horses out of the way, we’re down to the favorite, Curlin’s Approval and a very logical horse at high odds in Lirica. There’s no need to talk up Curlin’s Approval, because if you draw a line through her races outside of Gulfstream, she’s won 4 of her last 5 including a grade 2 stakes around two turns and a grade 3 stakes like this one at 7 furlongs. This one turn mile trip is right up her alley and her recent 4 furlong work says she’s in shape to run back to her best efforts. Lirica is a three year old with a rock-solid record of 5-4-2 in 14 starts at Gulfstream. She’s earned over 200K so she’s  no slouch which is why the 20/1 morning line can be taken advantage of. She earned her best Equibase Speed Figure (106) in her most recent race winning at 7 furlongs and that’s to be expected of a 3 year old in the fall so she fits on all counts to be right there and at high odds. That 106 figure stacks up very nicely against Curlin’s Approval as that one earned 104 and 110 figures in her two most recent wins.


Bet Curlin’s Approval to win, a KEY  BET, at odds of 1/1 (even money) or better if you can get it.

ALSO, Bet Lirica to win at odds of 4 to 1 or more and bet her to place at 6 to 1 or higher.


Play an exacta consisting of Curlin’s Approval and Lirica.

Play a trifecta consisting of Curlin’s Approval and Lirica over ALL over Curlin’s Approval and Lirica.

(by playing both bets above we cover them coming in 1st & 2nd or 1st and 3rd).


Sugar Swirl Stakes – Race 7 at Gulfstream Park– Post time 3:05 PM Eastern Time

Similar to the Rampart, but with not nearly the value, we have two contenders here- the favorite Dearest (opening at 6/5), and Pretty Perfection (opening at 9/2). The early pace scenario in this race will be the key to being right, as it appears Stella Performance and Girls Know Best, at the least, will want the lead from the start at any cost. Throw True Romance into the mix and we have a barn burner from which NONE of the pacesetters or stalkers will have much left to hold off the closers. Pretty Perfection has run the two best races of her career in her two most recent races, incidentally both since moving from turf and all-weather to dirt. She won the first of the two by 4 1/2 lengths with a 102 Equibase figure and the 2nd of the two at Churchill Downs last month with a 104 figure, both good enough to win a grade 3 stakes like this one. Nik Juarez was up for both and rides Pretty Perfection right back, giving us more reasons to believe she can run another “A” race good enough to win. She does have to beat Dearest to do that, Dearest  having won the Sugar Swirl last year with a 103 figure when dropping from grade 2 stakes to this grade 3 level just as she’s doing this year. She’s been working well and loves the main track here as she’s earned 4 of her 5 career wins in seven races at Gulfstream Park.



Bet Pretty Perfection to win at odds of 8 to 5 or higher.


Play an exacta box consisting of Pretty Perfection and Dearest.


Harlan’s Holiday Stakes – Race 9 at Gulfstream Park – Post time 4:06 PM Eastern Time

I’ll start with the best profit opportunity (among horses we might consider for win bets) among the contenders and that’s Conquest Big E, who dominated in two races in a row in June and July here at Gulfstream, the latter a stakes with a 50K purse. Both were at the distance of a mile around one turn but in his 2nd career start, back in the fall of 2015, Conquest Big E won at a mile and one-sixteenth around two turns so I’m not concerned. He opens at double digit odds (15/1) because after the two wins he ran poorly (4th and 6th) BUT neither of those was at Gulfstream. The win on 7/23 came off a short rest like the one he’s coming back from today and to get the early lead all to himself the way he likes it, Conquest Big E and jockey Batista only need to get over from Richard the Great in the first 50 yards to get the rail and relax, from where I’m hopeful the horse will get brave and win as he did last spring and summer. Mr. Jordan is really the one to beat here, opening at 4/1, not morning line favorite Destin, as Mr. Jordan just ran the one of the best races of his career with an 11 length win on 11/11 at this trip. Zayas was up for the very first time and rides back. He ran even better last year when he won the Millions Classic Preview with a 113 figure so he’s capable of even better, as well as capable of running back to back winning races as he did last fall.

Richard the Great finished a far flung 2nd (11 lengths back) to Mr. Jordan last month. He’s won four times at Gulfstream, all at 7 furlongs or less, but could get a piece again today. Destin is a suspect favorite, bet mostly because people remember he  finished  2nd in the 2016 Belmont Stakes. Since then, he has an allowance win and a win at 1 3/4 miles to his credit in seven races. His best effort (that NW3X allowance win in August) earned a 103 figure which is about on par with the other contenders, but not enough to beat Mr. Jordan or Conquest Big E if they repeat their similar best efforts this year. Page McKenney through in a rare clunker last month when a non-threatening 5th and can be a factor, plus has a strong competitive instinct, but may need time off. Fear the Cowboy also ran a poor effort with no excuse in his most recent race on 11/22. I’ll use the latter two in 2nd on exacta tickets and 2nd as well as 3rd on trifecta tickets but for the most part I am trying to beat them.


Bet Conquest Big E to win at 3 to 1 or more. Add a place bet at 5 to 1 or higher.

Bet Mr. Jordan at odds of 2 to 1 or higher.


Play exactas consisting of Conquest Big E and Mr. Jordan over Conquest Big E, Mr Jordan, Richard the Great, Destin, Page McKenney and Fear the Cowboy.


Tropical Turf Stakes – Race 10 at Gulfstream Park – Post time 4:37 PM Eastern Time

Galton was claimed by Mike Maker in June for $62,500, after he had won 8 races following the claim by Tom Amoss a year or so earlier. Maker game him two months off and Galton finished 2nd in a stakes right off the claim, three later earning a strong win on 10/19 on the grass in a classified allowance race. Maker is very strong off a short layoff into a turf route with 20% wins on nearly 250 starts and 50% of those in the money. Considering Galton has won 8 times on grass and been 1st or 2nd in 15 of 28, for nearly $400K in earnings, the 10/1 starting odds suggest we may get a very nice return on this gelding if he runs back to any number of good races in the past year or so. You can, and should, draw a big line through the last race of All Included in his past performances, a good rule when a horse runs badly and that effort leads to a layoff. Before that he ran big in three straight including winning the similar Grade 3 Appleton Stakes on the Gulfstream Park turf in April. Castellano was up for the win and gest back on, a very good sign for the same kind of effort. Additionally, Pletcher is very adept at bringing horses back from this kind of layoff into a route, winning at a 27% clip. Western Reserve opens at double digit odds (12/1) similar to Galton and is also very playable. He too was claimed for $62,500 this spring, and he immediately won a 100K stakes on the grass off the claim. 5th and 3rd since then, he drops from grade 2 to grade 3 and picks up Lopez, who rides this course very well. Having missed by a neck in the similar Grade 3 Bradley Stakes last January at Fair Grounds, Western Reserve‘s 12/1 starting odds are undeservingly high but that’s just fine for us to make a profit.


Tower of Texas and Shakhimat are both from the barn of superb trainer Roger Attfield, having finished 3rd and 1st, respectively, last month in a 100K stakes on the grass at Woodbine at this mile trip. Both have credentials to run competitively here and worked in company in preparation for this race at Payson Park on 12/11. I just don’t know what to do with 2/1 starting favorite Blacktype, because although his effort one before last winning the G2 Knickerbocker Stakes would be competitive here, he ran poorly when 4th at 7/5 last month with no excuse whatsoever in a non-graded stakes on the grass in New York. His best efforts yield 111-115 figures, still not good enough to beat All Included if that one repeats his efforts with 117 and 118 figures last winter at Gulfstream, but good enough to be competitive. I can’t entirely discount Blacktype as a contender, but I certainly wouldn’t mind if he through in another clunker.


Bet to Galton and Western Reserve to win at odds of 3 to 1 or more. Bet either or both to place at 6 to 1 or higher.

Consider a win bet on All Included at 2 to 1 or higher.

To bet more than one horse and get the best profit, use a ditching tool like the one at Amwager, which helps allocate your bets to get about the same gross profit.


Considering this is a decent size field and two of the three main contenders open at 10/1 or more, the risk-reward ratio may make it worth playing a decent size exacta. As such, play an exacta consisting of Galton, Western Reserve and All Included over Galton, Western Reserve, All Included, Tower of Texas, Shakhimat and Blacktype.


Play the reverse of that exacta as well. 

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Ellis Starr

Ellis is a well respected handicapper and contributor of AmWager. He has been a public handicapper for more than twenty years, educating racing fans of all skill levels with detailed commentary few other handicappers provide.

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