Key Races & Bets for Saturday March 4th, 2023

Davona Dale Stakes – Race 12 at Gulfstream Park – Post Time 4:37 PM Eastern

Why most of the field is vulnerable or suspect:
There are some potentially vulnerable low odds horses here, many returning from layoffs, such as Leave No Trace, who although second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies when last seen four months ago has her work cut out for her after that long time off compared to horse just as good as she is who have run much more recently. Others in here, such as Undervalued Asset, Atomically, Positano Sunset and Adeliese’s Smile, proved no match in the Forward Gal Stakes four weeks ago, won by Red Carpet Ready, and there’s nothing to suggest turning the tables on the winner today. Similarly, Lynx was no match for Infinite Diamond in the Cash Run Stakes on New Year’s Day. Guns n’ Graces moves from maiden to grade 2 off a three month layoff and that’s a very tough question.

Win contenders:
That leaves the main contention as Dorth Vader, Infinite Diamond and Red Carpet Ready as the trio from which the winner of this race will emerge. I’ll start with the horse likely to go to post at the highest odds of the group, Dorth Vader, as she disappointed badly at 8 to 5 odds in the Gasparilla Stakes on January 14. Prior to that she had won two stakes on dirt in a row, with pretty strong 82 and then 87 Equibase Figures which stack up with the 90 figures Red Carpet Ready and Infinite Diamond earned in their last two races, both wins. Dorth Vader didn’t necessarily have an excuse for the Gasparilla but she wasn’t ridden as she was in her two prior wins, as she was sent to the front to duel on fast fractions, whereas in the other two she relaxed in third early then drew off late. Getting a good outside post, a jockey change (to Vasquez) and with two fast five furlong workouts over the track since that race, she shows all the signs of rebounding to winning form.

Infinite Diamond was coming back from three months off on January 1 when winning the Cash Run Stakes at this one-turn mile trip at Gulfstream, and so coming back from two months off from that race is of no concern. Jose Ortiz was up for the 1st time in that race and rides back and she should run as well or better in her second start as a three year old.

Red Carpet Ready has been unthreatened in the last 8th of a mile in all three of her career starts, all wins, two in stakes. Her win four weeks ago earned a career-best 90 figure she’s bound to improve upon second off the layoff and Saez rides back. In short, she has no knocks except perhaps odds too low for a win bet.

Handicapper Picks

Win: All three contenders have fair odds of 2 to 1 or more so I would be two of the three at the highest odds at or above 2 to 1. However it is highly likely only Dorth Vader will meet that threshold.

Exactas: I am going to pass on exactas in lieu of a lot of value in the doubles and particularly the pick 3 which ends in the Fountain of Youth Stakes. However, depending on the odds I could see playing an exacta box of Infinite Diamond, Red Carpet Ready and Dorth Vader, or boxes of Dorth Vader and Infinite Diamond and Dorth Vader and Red Carpet Ready, trying to avoid the lowest paying exacta probable of the set.

Race 12: Infinite Diamond, Red Carpet Ready, Dorth Vader
Race 13: Master Piece, Astronaut, Value Engineering (Optional Henley’s Joy, Marwad)

Pick 3:
Race 12: Infinite Diamond, Red Carpet Ready, Dorth Vader
Race 13: Master Piece, Astronaut, Value Engineering (Optional Henley’s Joy, Marwad)
Race 14: General Jim, Shadow Dragon, Rocket Can

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Mac Diarmida Stakes – Race 13 at Gulfstream Park – Post Time 5:09 PM Eastern

Main contenders;

Value Engineering just ran the absolute best race of his career on January 28 on the Gulfstream Park turf in the nearly identical McKnight Stakes, where he rallied from seventh of 11 on the far turn to make the lead, led until mid-stretch, then was run down by multiple graded stakes winner Red Knight. Prior to that he won the 1 5/8 mile Allen Jerkens Stakes, scheduled for turf, but moved to dirt, to prove he really loves these longer races. Those were BOTH right off the trainer change to Mike Maker and Jose Ortiz rode both times and rides back. If he repeats that last effort with a FIELD high 112 Equibase Speed Figure he should win.

Two horses with the best chance of defeating the top pick are Astronaut and Master Piece. Astronaut was last seen winning the identical Red Smith Stakes in New York, following a third place effort in the much tougher Grade 1 Turf Classic. Similar to Value Engineering, both of those top efforts came after the horse moved to the barn of Tom Albertrani. Luis Saez has never ridden Astronaut but he and his agent (former trainer Kiaran McLaughlin) chose to ride this horse over Abaan, Henley’s Joy and Bemma’s Boy, all which Saez rode in their most recent starts. Astronaut also won the identical Del Mar Handicap in the summer of 2021 so if able to pick up where he left off last fall could be very tough.

Master Piece was a half-length behind Astronaut in the 2021 Del Mar Handicap and suffered the same fate to a different horse, this time by a head, in the 2022 edition of that race which is also a grade 2 stakes at 11 furlongs on turf. He was a poor 8th in the Breeders’ Cup Turf and then returned in the Grade 1 Pegasus Turf, BUT although seventh of 12 was only beaten three lengths at the end. Now dropped in class and stretched out a quarter mile to a distance he has proven to have a fondness for, as well as making his second start after nearly three months off and second since moving to the high percentage Saffie Joseph barn, Master Piece must be considered a contender for all the marbles.

Honorable mention goes to Henley’s Joy and to Marwad, the latter the only horse on the also-eligible list. Henley’s Joy returned to competitive form at the end of January at this distance on grass when second to Marwad, and he won the 2019 $1 million Belmont Derby so could have a say. Marwad is a newly turned four year old coming off a career-best effort at the same distance of this race who may come in under the radar of some bettors if he draws into the race and he’s not without a chance to upset.

Handicapper Picks

Win: All three contenders have fair odds of 3 to 1 or more so I would be two of the three at the highest odds at or above 3 to 1. Considering Astronaut was 15 to 1 when last seen, we might expect him to be above those odds as well, and particularly Henley’s Joy is moving from allowance to stakes and was 28 to 1 in his most recent start. Similarly, Value Engineering was 10 to 1 when second in the McKnight so it’s possible all three may go to post about that threshold.

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Doubles (optional particularly if you played the pick 3 in race 12 and one of the contenders won):
Race 13: Master Piece, Astronaut, Value Engineering, Henley’s Joy, Marwad
Race 14: General Jim, Shadow Dragon, Rocket Can

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Fountain of Youth Stakes – Race 14 at Gulfstream Park – Post Time 5:43 PM Eastern

Analysis and Main win contenders:
Before discussing the horses I think have the highest probability to win this year’s Fountain of Youth, I want to talk about the likely favorite, Forte, who I don’t believe is one of the top three contenders to win although the public at large undoubtedly will. So far this year in Kentucky Derby prep races, three horses returning for their first starts of 2023 failed at low odds – Giant Mischief (Rebel), Dubyuhnell (Sam F. Davis) and Arctic Arrogance (Withers). All were bet heavily and as if their most recent race was just a month or so before the current race as opposed to two to three months back. Horses are athletes, and in particular newly turned three year olds often need a race following a layoff before running well enough to win when compared to horses of similar caliber which have run in the past month or so.

History bears this out as well, because only one top Breeders’ Cup Juvenile top finisher has returned to win the Fountain of Youth, and that was in 2011 when Union Rags won this race after a runner-up effort four months earlier. One other horse won this race in his sophomore debut off a long layoff and that was Promises Fulfilled in 2018, who had won the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes the previous fall. Most if not all of the other editions of the Fountain of Youth Stakes have seen horse returning from three to four months off fare poorly. What that tells me is Forte will have his work cut out in order to pick up where he left off with an effort good enough to repeat his career-best 105 Equibase Speed Figure, although he certainly could be in the top three to fill out the exacta or trifecta.

Therefore, General Jim is by far the horse with the highest probability to win this year’s Fountain of Youth Stakes in my opinion. As with a number of top three year olds over the past few years, General Jim ran on turf as a two year old, winning his first start around two turns in the second start of his career last September. Coming right back to win a highly rated two-turn turf race in October, General Jim earned a career best 99 Equibase Speed Figure which is the second highest figure earned by any horse in this field except Forte. After a third place effort in the Central Park Stakes on turf in November, General Jim shortened up to a one-turn mile for a fourth place finish in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes, which he arguably might have won as the two to one betting favorite if he hadn’t been blocked for most of the stretch run. Trainer McGaughey tried blinkers for the colt’s next start, four weeks ago in the Swale Stakes over the track and the result was a strong win in ridden-out fashion with a 92 figure. Jockey Luis Saez has been in the saddle for all three of the colt’s wins and rides back, with the ground saving rail and with a pedigree (Into Mischief out of a Curlin mare) which suggests the colt will love this distance (and longer) on dirt. There’s also history in favor of General Jim moving from that seven furlong stakes to winning the Fountain of Youth because at one time the seven furlong Hutcheson Stakes was a prep for this race as the Swale is now, and in 2014 Wildcat Red used the Hutcheson as a prep to winning this race.

Trainer Bill Mott has a pair of top contenders in the form of Rocket Can and Shadow Dragon, the one-two finishers in the Holy Bull Stakes four weeks ago on the same day General Jim won the Swale. Historically, Holy Bull runners have had a big impact in the Fountain of Youth. Gunnevera (2018), Ete Indien (2020), Scat Daddy (2007) and last year’s winner Simplification all prepped in the Holy Bull before emerging victorious in this race. Both Rocket Can and Shadow Dragon are making their second starts off layoffs and can be expected to improve, and Mott has had a lot of success in Derby prep races with three year olds making their second starts of the year, with three wins and three runner-up finishers from eight starters the past few years. Although Rocket Can earned an 89 figure compared to 88 for Shadow Dragon, both much lower than the career best 99 figure General Jim has earned, both colts deserve the same amount of respect in this race if for no other reason that their Hall of Fame trainer has enough confidence to enter both in this situation.

Handicapper Picks

Win bets: General Jim at 2 to 1 or higher, then the highest odds of Shadow Dragon and Rocket Can if 7 to 2 or more. Personally I have no issue betting all three in a race in which I think there is a lot of value due to a vulnerable low odds favorite in Forte.

Exactas: General Jim, Shadow Dragon, Rocket Can over General Jim, Shadow Dragon, Rocket Can and Forte

Trifectas: General Jim, Shadow Dragon, Rocket Can over General Jim, Shadow Dragon, Rocket Can and Forte over General Jim, Shadow Dragon, Rocket Can over General Jim, Shadow Dragon, Rocket Can and Forte

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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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