Key Bets & Races for Saturday, February 17

Maryland Racing Media Stakes – Race 7 at Laurel – Post Time 3:30 PM Eastern

Not Taken started her career on dirt, winning at first asking at a mile and one-sixteenth, which is no easy task. Most of the rest of her career so far has been on grass, including 10 of her last 11 starts, including her other two wins. With little question of being able to run well on the main track, the focus switches as to whether she’s good enough to win this $100K stakes race, and that answer is yes based on her last start when leading late and battling the length of the stretch before coming up a nose short in the $150K Forever Together Stakes at Aqueduct. She won before that and both “A” races came with Dylan Davis in the saddle, who accompanies her from New York today. She’s got tactical speed so can follow likely early leader Bishop’s Pond (the 5/2 morning line favorite) in second in the early stages and she doesn’t need much improving to beat the likely favorite at Bishop’s Pond earned a 101 figure winning the similar Thirty Eight Go Go Stakes last month while Not Taken earned a 99 figure almost winning the Forever Together Stakes.


Bishop’s Pond needs the lead to win, no question about it, with her last three wins coming when she led from the start, something she’s done in her last six races. On grass two back she finished fifth in the same race Not Taken finished 2nd, but on dirt she’s been tough, winning a classified allowance race around two turns at Delaware Park last summer with a 107 figure and with a 101 figure earned in last month’s stakes win at Laurel. With the rail for this race, unless another horse and jockey want to go with her, thereby committing pace suicide, Bishop’s Pond should be on the kind of early lead she likes and from there it’s just a matter if she can hang on as she’s done in three of her last five races, or be passed late as occurred in the other two.


Felini led late and lost by a nose last time out just like Not Taken, in a one turn mile race at Aqueduct. It was the best route effort of her career in which she earned a 98 figure. Her last pair of two-turn efforts were excellent efforts as well, coming up a neck short of winning last September and dominating by 18 lengths in the slop last August. Even though inches short last month in defeat, Felini was four lengths clear of the next horse and based on that effort and her tactical speed she should be right there with the other two main contenders from start to finish.


Win bet: Bet Not Taken to win and to place at 3 to 1 or more.

Exacta: Play an exacta box consisting of Not Taken, Bishop’s Pond and Felini.

Exacta: Play an exacta of Not Taken, Bishop’s Pond and Felini over ALL.


Minaret Stakes – Race 10 at Tampa Bay Downs – Post Time 5:30 Eastern

I can’t get past Grand Prix in this race and her 8/1 starting odds are very sweet indeed. She’s had been first or second in five straight, including three wins, before a third place finish in September before the freshening she’s coming back from today. Now in the barn of high percentage trainer Keith Nations, the filly put in six workouts since New Year’s eve, all at Tampa, and all have been very strong in terms of ranking among all the workouts on the day, for example the most recent which was 8th best of 74 for a half-mile. Ferrer rode her once previously, when in another trainer’s care back in September, to a win in a $100K stakes race, so not only is the fact Ferrer rides here a good sign, the jockey and trainer win nearly 25% of the time they get together. With very consistent Equibase figure of 96 to 102 for her last four dirt sprint starts, and likely to be very fit off those works, Grand Prix appears to be the epitome of a KEY BET on the day.


For exotics, logical contenders Stormy Embrace (3/1 morning line), R Angel Katelyn (4/1 morning line) and Just Be Kind (6/1 morning line) must be considered.


Win bet: Bet Grand Prix to win and place at odds of 2 to 1 or more.

Exacta: Play an exacta box consisting of Grand Prix, Stormy Embrace, R Angel Katelyn and Just Be Kind.

Exacta: Play an exacta of Grand Prix over Stormy Embrace, R Angel Katelyn and Just Be Kind, then also play the reverse of that exacta, which is Stormy Embrace, R Angel Katelyn and Just Be Kind over Grand Prix.


Buena Vista Stakes – Race 7 at Santa Anita – Post Time 6:00 Eastern

Sassy Little Lila has rarely been off the board in her career, with three wins and five runner-up efforts from 11 career starts, all on turf. Six of those 11 races were stakes, two of them grade 1 stakes efforts, both in which she gamely finished second. The first came in the winter of 2016 when she missed by a nose in the G1 American Oaks to Decked Out and the other came last June when she came up just three-quarters of a length shy in the G1 Just a Game Stakes to Antonoe. She didn’t like the yielding turf last summer at Saratoga but on a firm course finished second last fall at Belmont before a poor race that led to the layoff she comes back from here, making it a race to draw a line though as if it never happened. Now in the hands of Hall-of-Fame trainer Dick Mandella and with his #1 rider Flavien Prat aboard, she’s apparently ready to run big, otherwise Mandella would have sought an easier spot. There’s no concern about coming back from the three month rest as Sassy Little Lila returned from five months off to win last May with a career best 109 figure effort and although the best in here have been earning in the vicinity of 115-117 figures in their stakes wins this gal may still have not run the best she can. Furthermore, she likes to run on the lead early and there is only one other horse among the five drawn inside her that has any interest in being up close early so either she gets the lead and goes wire-to-wire or she sits second and rallies late for the win.


Madam Dancealot has run in three straight grade 1 stakes so this drop to the grade 2 level, particularly after missing by a half-length last time out in the 2017 G1 American Oaks (the same race Sassy Little Lila nearly won the year before) makes her a strong contender. She does face older for the first time but she fires nearly every time she runs and Nakatani has ridden her three times, up for her win in the similar G2 San Clemente Stakes last July and for her runner-up efforts in a stakes last June and the American Oaks, in which she earned a 116 figure.


Madame Stripes won the G3 Megahertz Stakes strongly last month in spite of hopping in the air at the start and like the relationship Nakatani has with Madam Dancealot, Kent Desormeaux really knows how to get Madame Stripes to run well. In their last five races together, the mare has won three times and finished second the other two, the best of which came last month when she earned a career best 117 figure.


We should include Insta Erma on any exotic tickets played, because she’s trained by Richard Baltas the same as madam Dancealot and because she led late in the Megahertz and was still a strong second at the wire with a 115 figure.


Win bet: Bet Sassy Little Lila to win at odds of 2 to 1 or more.

Win bet: Consider a second win bet, on Madam Dancealot, at odds of 5 to 2 or more.


Exacta: Play an exacta of Sassy Little Lila over ALL then play the reverse as well, which is All over Sassy Little Lila.

Exacta: Play an exacta box using Sassy Little Lila, Madam Dancealot, Madame Stripes and Insta Erma.


Trifecta: Consider a trifecta box among those four horses as well.


El Camino Real Derby – Race 7 at Golden Gate – Post Time 6:45 Eastern

Paved gets slight preference here among four that might be good enough to win, the other five not likely to get the job done but with a couple we may consider for second and third on exacta and trifecta tickets played. Although he may be the second betting choice near post time, Paved may still be a low odds overlay considering how much he has improved in his two starts to date since his debut. His dominant five length win at 9 furlongs on grass last month in a field of 11 earned a 105 Equibase figure, BETTER than the 102 figure effort it took for Choo Choo (who opens at 9/5) to win the California Derby two weeks later. This is a FILLY against males, so she gets a five pound allowance, and she should save ground from the rail before coming around horses to launch what might be the winning move. Drayden Van Dyke takes off an entire day of mounts at Santa Anita to ride this gal, who is by Quality Road, whose son Frank Conversation won this race in 2016.


Epical is another last out maiden winner in a stakes, having earned a comparable 104 figure winning at a mile on grass in his career debut just 20 days ago. Veteran trainer Cassidy has made this move before, winning with three of 11 horses he’s placed in stakes off a maiden win, so this son of Uncle Mo can be taken very seriously here as a contender, opening at 10/1.


Choo Choo ran great in his first all-weather surface race, moving from turf to the surface the same as Paved, Epical and a few others are doing for this race. The 102 figure he earned was just fine and his transitioning to the all-weather was no surprise as he is out of the same dam as multiple stakes winner Blueskiesandrainbows, so another top effort is to be expected although he’s no standout.


Blended Citizen ships up from Southern California for Doug O’ Neill, who won this race in 2016 with Frank Conversation. Just like with Paved and Epical, Blended Citizen moves from turf to all-weather, which is really not a big deal as evidenced by the win by Choo Choo in the California Derby last month. Blended Citizen beat Choo Choo last time out when fourth in the Eddie Logan Stakes, from which Choo Choo moved forward to win the California Derby, so there is reason to expect this colt to take a big step forward as well.


Win bet: Bet Paved to win at odds of 3/2 or higher, a low odds overlay.

Win bet: Make a smaller win bet on Epical at 3 to 1 or more.


Exacta: Play an exacta and trifecta box consisting of Paved, Epical, Choo Choo and Blended Citizen.

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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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