Key Races & Bets for Saturday February 3rd, 2024

Withers Stakes – Race 8 at Aqueduct -Post Time 3:55 PM Eastern

Win Contenders: Speed Runner, Uncle Heavy, Lightline

Speed Runner is the ONLY horse in the field to have won at this mile and one-eighth distance, having done so on December 8 in only the second start of his career, and off a two month layoff. After stalking the leader in second for the first three-quarters of a mile, Speed Runner engaged that horse to be a head off the lead with a quarter mile to run, opening up by a half-length, then remained steadfast in holding off the runner-up by a neck. Considering he’s going to run even better second off the layoff, that Lezcano rides back, that he draws the rail so he can lead early or sit just off the pace without losing ground, and that Pletcher trains, Speed Runner is the one to beat, and to bet, ae he opens at 5 to 1.

Uncle Heavy opens at double those odds, 10/1, making him hard to ignore as well. The high odds are due to his shipping in from Parx and having beaten Pennsylvania breds last out on 12/27 but that was a two turn win, in a $200K stakes, with an 87 Equibase Speed Figure the SAME as Speed Runner earned in his win. Sanchez accompanies the colt to New York after being aboard for both wins, and trainer Butch Reid is no stranger to winning stakes races, including this one in 2010 with Afleet Again.

Lightline starts as the 8 to 5 favorite although he’s just one for three in his career. The win came in a maiden race at a mile in September and he won by 13 lengths with a 93 figure. He finished second in both races since, both allowance races (not stakes) with the most recent on 12/31 with a 91 figure. He ships in from Oaklawn for Brad Cox, who won this race with Hit Show off an allowance win at Oaklawn last year so there’s no arguing Lightline is a contender to win, just not a good win bet at low odds.

Handicapper Picks

Win: Speed Runner at odds of 2 to 1 or more. Uncle Heavy at odds of 3 to 1 or more. Lightline would be well below 2 to 1 fair odds if he goes to post near his morning line odds.

As it is we have TWO excellent win bet opportunities in this race, and so using a DUTCHING TOOL, which prorates our wagers for the best value, is quite useful. There’s a free DUTCHING tool at Amwager which I use all the time and which helps us gain the best edge possible when betting more than one horse to win.

ExactasEarn a 20% Payout Bonus, up to $50, on winning exotic wagers on this race when you opt-in and bet with AmWager! 

Box Speed Runner, Uncle Heavy, Lightline

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Robert B. Lewis Stakes – Race 5 at Santa Anita – Post Time 5:15 PM Eastern

Win contenders: Stronghold, Nysos, Mc Vay

Nysos is one of three in this race trained by Baffert, who has saddled the winner of this race five times in a row. Nysos will be the prohibitive favorite after winning his only two starts by an average of nine lengths. However, he is running two turns for the first time and there is a long term strategy in not betting a horse at prohibitively low odds trying something for the first time. Sure, repeating either of his last two efforts, in October and November, with 104 and 105 Equibase Speed Figures, respectively, makes him tough to beat, but others have run more recently and have run two turns.

When Nysos beat Stronghold last November in the Bob Hope Stakes at seven furlongs, he did so by nearly nine lengths. Stronghold had won six weeks earlier at a mile and fairly decisively, then right after the Bob Hope Stronghold stretched out to two-turns again, for the Los Alamitos Futurity, where he rallied from fourth to make the lead with an eighth of a mile to go then was overtaken late. Beaten just a half-length, top trainer Phil D’Amato adds blinkers to insure the horse doesn’t get distracted in the late stages as might have been the case in the Futurity. Having improved from an 82 figure to 88 then to 89, and with a sparkling 59.2 five furlong workout, likely in new blinkers, coming into the race, Stronghold’s experience running around two turns may be enough for him to post the mild upset, particularly as the colt could lead early in a potentially paceless race.

Mc Vay finished seventh in his debut last summer, was given nearly five months off, then finished second to a seven length winner on January 20. The 86 figure earned matches up with Stronghold’s last two figures and considering Mc Vay will be making his second start off a long layoff he’s got improving to do. Noting he cost $1.25 million at Auction, this son of Constitution is well regarded, and it must be noted that usually very cautious trainer John Sherriffs would not be putting a maiden in this stakes if he didn’t think the horse could run well. Sherriffs has a history of doing well with three year olds, including Giacomo (2005 Derby winner), Gormley (2017 Santa Anita Derby winner), Honor AP (2020 Santa Anita Derby winner), Royal Mo (this race in 2017), A P Warrior (2006 San Felipe winner) and Tiago (2007 Santa Anita Derby winner) so we should not ignore this horse when considering our bets and his likely high odds.

Handicapper Picks

Win: Stronghold to win at odds of 5 to 2 or more.
Mc Vay to win at odds of 5 to 1 or more.

This is another race where betting two horses to win provides a nice opportunity for profit, particularly with a likely odds-on favorite in Nysos who may not be all he’s cracked up to be. As such, the free DUTCHING tool at Amwager will be useful.

Exactas: Earn a 20% Payout Bonus, up to $50, on winning exotic wagers on this race when you opt-in and bet with AmWager! 
Box Stronghold, Nysos, Mc Vay

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Holy Bull Stakes – Race 12 at Gulfstream – Post Time 5:48 PM Eastern

Win contenders: Hades, Inveigled, Fierceness

As is often the case in big races for three year olds during the first few months of the year, particularly with top two year olds from the previous fall, one of the first questions we must ask ourselves is “What is the goal for this horse?” Fierceness is a perfect example of how this question relates to a race like the Holy Bull Stakes. Certainly, if he repeats his effort when last seen winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile two months ago, it is likely even the best of the other seven entrants will be running for second place in this race. However, considering the goal is to run better and better over the course of the next three months until the Kentucky Derby, we can also assume he may not be asked to run as hard as he might otherwise be if there is a battle with another horse (or horses) during the race. With an exceptionally high 110 Equibase Speed Figure earned in the Juvenile, the question of intent, as well as physical fitness after three months off compared to others who have run much more recently, comes into play. Of course, there’s also the fact Fierceness is going to be the prohibitive betting favorite, so looking elsewhere for possibly the second best horse, at higher odds, is a factor to consider.

With that question of the Holy Bull not being the ultimate goal for Fierceness in play, Hades is the horse I think has a decent probability to win this race. A perfect two-for-two to date in his career, Hades won his debut at five and one-half furlongs in December with a visually impressive rally from sixth to first in the final eighth of a mile, all after running wide on the far turn. That effort earned a pretty strong 97 Equibase Speed Figure which is the second highest last race figure in the field, and it is likely to be improved upon in the horse’s third career start. Both wins have come at Gulfstream Park, a track Fierceness has yet to run over, and jockey Paco Lopez was aboard for both victories and rides again. There is little doubt Hades can stretch out to two turns based on his pedigree, as he is out of a Quality Road mare who (per Race Lens) has produced a dirt route winner. His sire is Awesome Slew, who is by Awesome Again and who has only had one crop of three year olds to date. Most importantly, looking at the GPS data available for his last race, Hades ran the fastest of any horse in this race (including Fierceness) in the last two one-eighth mile segments of his last race. His averaged 37.1 miles per hour in the second to last segment and 36.5 miles per hour in the last segment. In winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Fierceness averaged 35.3 and 35.6 miles per hour, respectively. As such, if Hades repeats or improves off his last effort, he can post the upset and win this year’s Holy Bull Stakes.

Inveigled is another interesting horse, particularly with a jockey angle in play. Eclipse award winning jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. rides Inveigled for the third straight race. He rode the horse to an easy four and three-quarter length win in December at Gulfstream Park and rode him again last month in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes. In that race Inveigled was behind a wall of horses with a quarter mile to run then was widest in a group of four entering the stretch. In watching the video of the race, although once guided outside Inveigled was lengthening his stride and coming on, Ortiz, Jr. sensed he was not going to get there so in the final 50 yards was saving something for this, his next race. Two races before that, Inveigled earned a 97 figure equal to the one Hades earned in his recent win. If Inveigled can improve off that effort, which appears possible considering he may not have been fully asked in the late stages of his most recent race, he too may have the possibility to win this race.


Handicapper Picks

Win: Hades and Inveigled should be considered for win bets at odds of 5 to 2 or more.

Exactas: Earn a 20% Payout Bonus, up to $50, on winning exotic wagers on this race when you opt-in and bet with AmWager! 
Box Hades, Inveigled, Fierceness

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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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