Key Horse Races & Expert Handicapper Bets - March 06, 2021

Gotham Stakes – Race 9 at Aqueduct – Post Time 5:07 PM Eastern

If the race goes as drawn, there’s little doubt Capo Kane and Freedom Fighter will become the immovable object and irresistible force, both absolute need-the-lead types that can’t help but run faster than average early and tire late. Of the three quality stalkers – Highly MotivatedWipe the Slate and Crowded Tale, I’ll start with Wipe the Slate at appealing starting odds of 6/1. No match for Life is Good (who is running in the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita) in that one’s maiden win, Wipe the Slate was a strong second then improved a ton next out winning by three. Put into the Robert B. Lewis Stakes last month, the colt didn’t run a lick and finished last of six. However, Doug O’Neill, who knows how to train a top three year old, having saddle top horses such as Nyquist and I’ll Have Another, ships the colt cross-country and takes blinkers off, thinking he will like the one turn mile considering he earned that big win at seven furlongs. That may be the key here, and the “blinkers off/fast workout” pattern in the last month suggest Wipe the Slate will return to winning form today.

Crowded Tale and Highly Motivated both come from Chad Brown’s barn, the former opening at 9/2 and the latter at 8/5. The reason Highly Motivated is 8/5 is because he won the Nyquist Stakes last fall at Keeneland on Breeders’ Cup weekend. Otherwise he’s just a maiden winner the same as his stablemate, with the Nyquist win coming in a sprint so both are stretching out to a mile for the first time. Crowded Tale actually ran faster than his stablemate did when that one broke his maiden and Brown has a very strong record with three year olds maiden winners in stakes stretching out so if the odds are right on Crowded Tale he can be bet to win as well as Wipe the Slate.

Handicapper Picks

Win: Wipe the Slate and Crowded Tale to win at odds of 2/1 or more.

When making multiple win bets, use a “Dutching” tool to do the work of allocating your wagering dollars for the best edge. A Dutching tool lets you set the amount you want to bet or the amount you want to win, then based on the odds your bets are proportioned accordingly. Amwager has a great dutching tool available, among many other great features.

Exacta: Box Highly Motivated, Wipe the Slate and Crowded Tale

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Tampa Bay Derby – Race 11 at Tampa Bay Downs – Post Time 5:25 PM Eastern

On paper, Candy Man Rocket is the horse the other 11 will have to defeat to win and is a legitimate favorite. Candy Man Rocket proved his nine length victory in January was no fluke when winning by a shorter margin, just one length, in the Sam F. Davis Stakes last month. Although earning a 90 Equibase Speed Figure in the Sam F. Davis as compared to a 94 when winning a sprint before that, Candy Man Rocket did so very professionally when stalking pace setter Boca Boy from the start then taking over while three paths wide on the turn and holding off Nova Rags and Hidden Stash, who is running back in this race as well. Being as it is likely Boca Boy will want the lead from the start as he’s had in his last two races on dirt, and being as it is also likely Promise Keeper will have to go fast from the 11 post to get good position from the start, Candy Man Rocket will have a great stalking position under jockey Junior Alvarado from the ground saving three post. Although there are a couple of horses which have earned higher figures in their most recent starts, one of those (King of Dreams – 96) was on turf and the other (Helium – 93) was around one turn and more than four months ago, potentially giving Candy Man Rocket an edge with which he can win his second stakes race in a row.

That being said, King of Dreams has an upset chance if he can transfer his turf form to dirt and offers exceptional value for a win bet opening at 20/1. The 96 figure he earned winning at this distance on turf at the end of January is the best figure earned by any horse in this field, period. He did lead from start to finish in that race but given he does not wear blinkers I do not believe he is a need-the-lead type similar to Boca Boy or Promise Keeper and so he too could take up a stalking position in the early stages. Getting the services of Tampa Bay Downs leading jockey Sammy Camacho is a good sign, as is the fact trainer that Juan Avila just saddled the 50/1 upset winner in the Davona Dale Stakes last weekend as well as the 49/1 upset winner in the 2020 Tampa Bay Derby, King Guillermo. Considering the dam is a daughter of A.P. Indy who has produced three dirt route winners from seven other foals, I have little doubt King of Dreams can transition successfully from turf to dirt and run a competitive race.

Hidden Stash was far back in eighth in the early stages of the Sam F. Davis last month, which is much farther back than he had been in his previous two route races last fall, both of which he won, earning 87 and 89 figures. Following two months off, Hidden Stash returned in the Sam F. Davis and the early pace was much faster than he experienced previously, which helps to explain why he was farther back than usual. Nevertheless, with three-sixteenths of a mile to go, Hidden Stash swung to the four path and commenced a rally from eighth to third, just a neck from the runner-up. Watching the replay, I note Hidden Stash was ridden out after the wire giving him a bit of an education in passing the top two finishers even though the race was over. Being a son of hot sire Constitution, whose son Tiz the Law won 2020 Florida Derby, I have little doubt Hidden Stash fits at this level. With veteran jockey Rafael Bejarano coming in from Kentucky to ride and with logical improvement in his second start off the layoff, Hidden Stash must be given a lot of respect as a contender to win the Tampa Bay Derby.

In spite of the potential to get into a hot early pace battle with Boca BoyPromise Keeper is intriguing enough to consider as having a chance in this race. Also a son of Constitution, Promise Keeper stretched out to a mile for the first time last month in his second career start and dominated by five lengths in a field of 11, earning a 90 figure. His dam, the Curlin mare Mira Alta, produced stakes winner Wicked Awesome so there’s a lot of quality in his pedigree. Trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden again by Luis Saez, if Promise Keeper can get the early lead over Boca Boy from his outside post and not expend too much energy he has potential to get confident and possibly hold off the challenges of Candy Man RocketKing of Dreams and Hidden Stash.

Handicapper Picks

Win: We will have to make money if Candy Man Rocket wins in other pools like the exacta because even though he has the highest probability to win, in this 12 horse field I can’t recommend betting him to win at 2/1.

Therefore the win bets should be:

Hidden Stash to win at odds of 5 to 2 or more.

King of Dreams to win at odds of 9 to 2 or more.

This too is the perfect race for using a “Dutching” tool like the free one at Amwager, because it will allocate the win bets based on odds, putting more on the lower odds horse automatically. That is just one of many other great features and perks at In this case, with it likely Hidden Stash will be about 4 to 1 near post time and King of Dreams 20 to 1, the calculations done automatically by a dutching too really give you an edge.

Exacta and Trifecta BoxCandy Man RocketKing of DreamsHidden Stash and Promise Keeper

Then, because Candy Man Rocket is too low for a win bet: Candy Man Rocket over King of DreamsHidden Stash and Promise Keeper.

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San Felipe Stakes – Race 6 at Santa Anita- Post Time 5:45 PM Eastern / 2:45 Pacific

Royal Centurian can post the upset here, opening at 8/1. Life is Good opens at 4 to 5 and will go to post at even lower odds which keeps the odds fair on Royal Centurian. This son of Empire Maker stretched out to two turns on January 3 in his second career start and took to the distance like a duck takes to water, rallying from ninth of 10 to win by nearly four lengths. Stepping up to the big leagues off the maiden win for the Robert B. Lewis Stakes, Royal Centurian wasn’t disgraced one bit although ignored at 11/1 as he steadily rallied from sixth, seven back in the early stages, getting to winner Medina Spirit with every stride to miss by a neck. In that race, while Medina Spirit ran on the lead near the rail, Royal Centurian went 4-5 paths wide into the stretch, then got into a bumping match with Hot Rod Charlie (who finished third), which may have caused him to expend physical and mental energy otherwise left for the final yards when trying to run down the leader. With Juan Hernandez riding back, even though Baffert’s two charges Life is Good and Medina Spirit (both who led from start to finish in their most recent starts) are not likely to both be sent for the lead, the horses themselves may have other ideas. Even if they don’t the presence of The Great One in the field, who also has had the lead at the third call in his last three races (all routes) insures a strong pace I feel Roman Centurian can take advantage of to get up in time and win.

There are no real knocks in terms of win probability on Life is Good or Medina Spirit and they should be used on consecutive race bet tickets like doubles and the pick 3. Additionally, Dream Shake is a complete unknown as he’s just a sprint winner in his only start, but that win was easy and he’s bred to improve around two turns, logically in his second career start as well. Further, he’s a closer like Roman Centurian who can benefit from a fast pace. I’ll use him as well on consecutive bet tickets played in the exacta plays below.

Handicapper Picks

WinRoman Centurian to win at 2 to 1 or more.


Box Roman Centurian and Life is Good. Box Roman Centurian and Dream Shake. Box Roman Centurian and Medina Spirit.

Play exactas of Roman Centurian over The Great One and Govenor’s Party

Santa Anita Handicap – Race 10 at Santa Anita- Post Time 8 PM Eastern / 5 PM Pacific

Independence Hall is a KEY bet on the day, a low odds overlay opening at 4/1 because Maxfield opens at 8/5. Maxfield is a good horse, make no doubt about it, but there’s a lot of hype on this undefeated four year old which hasn’t proven out yet. Independence Hall is a four year old just like the favorite. He started his career in similar fashion to Maxfield, winning three first three races including two stakes, before a runner-up finish in the Sam F. Davis Stakes last February. After an awful effort in the Florida Derby, Independence Hall was given seven months off and shipped to California and to the barn of Mike McCarthy. There is nothing wrong with previous trainer Mike Trombetta, but McCarthy has a way of developing horses, exactly what he did with City of Light a few years back, eventually winning the Pegasus World Cup. Sprinting first out for McCarthy in November, Independence Hall won easily before a poor fifth in the Malibu Stakes in December. Stretched out to nine furlongs and entered in the Pegasus World Cup on January 23, Independence Hall ran about as good as a horse can run behind freakish winner Knicks Go, who he was no match for. Nevertheless, Independence Hall missed second by a neck with a career best 110 figure which is nearly IDENTICAL to the 111 figure Maxfield earned last month winning the Mineshaft Stakes and for which he opens at much lower odds. Being a son of Constitution (sire of Tiz the Law), I have no doubt Independence Hall can get 10 furlongs successfully and with the ground saving rail and just slight, and very logical, improvement off his last effort, this colt can post the mild upset.

Express Train and the aforementioned Maxfield are the other contenders, but open at 3 to 1 and 8/5 so I have no interest in win bets. Kiss Today Goodbye and Idol can finish third and we will play them in the trifecta.

Handicapper Picks

WinIndependence Hall to win at 9 to 5 or higher, a KEY LOW ODDS overlay win bet on the day.

TrifectaIndependence HallMaxfield and Express Train over Independence HallMaxfield and Express Train over Independence HallMaxfieldExpress TrainKiss Today Goodbye and Idol.

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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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