Champagne's Racing Picks: Saturday

Our horse racing expert Andrew Champagne tells us who he's backing on an action-packed Saturday
Andrew Champagne
Sat, March 14, 4:10 AM EDT

PICK 1: Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Park

2 units: Win, 3

2 units: Exacta key box, 3 w/4,10,11

The Jeff Ruby Steaks (and no, that isn’t a typo) headlines Saturday’s card at Turfway Park. It’s drawn a field of 12 3-year-olds to go nine furlongs on the synthetic main track, and while it’s not traditionally a race that produces Kentucky Derby contenders, it’s not short on betting appeal.

The morning line favorite is talented, but has drawn a terrible post, which I feel opens this race up significantly. I like a bit of a price on top, and I’m excited to dive in!

A Wire-to-Wire Threat

#3 FANCY LIQUOR did something pretty difficult in his debut last month at Gulfstream Park. He won going two turns, and he did so on the front end. Furthermore, that day’s third-place finisher has since come back to win, which means he may have beaten a pretty solid group.

Despite Fancy Liquor being 8-1 on the morning line, I’m high on his chances here. Despite the large field size, there isn’t much other early speed signed on, and rider Florent Geroux has emerged as one of the top early-speed jockeys in the country of late. If he gets comfortable early, I think he’ll be very tough to catch, and such a scenario seems far from impossible. In a race where most of the top contenders have questions to answer, I’ll take my stand here and be thrilled if we get the morning line price come post time.

A Logical (but Beatable) Favorite

#11 INVADER had everything go his way last time out, when he won a listed stakes at Turfway in runaway fashion. He’s 2 for 2 over this synthetic surface, and all-world trainer Wesley Ward’s barn is firing on all cylinders this meet.

However, that number before his name represents a big problem. Perhaps he’s good enough to overcome his far outside post, but he may also get stuck negotiating a wide run around the first turn. I’ll use him as an underneath horse in exotics. However, at his likely price, coming off of what even the past performance notes deem a “perfect trip,” I can’t endorse him on top in vertical wagers.

Bigger-Priced Alternatives

I’m going to get a little crazy and include two horses that figure to be longshots. #4 UNTHROTTLED comes in off of a disappointing run at Fair Grounds on dirt, but he ran well two back on turf to win despite an eventful trip. He earned a 77 Beyer Speed Figure that day, and he may not need to improve too much off of that to be a factor here. Corey Lanerie gets the mount for Dallas Stewart, and I think there’s plenty to like.

Meanwhile, speaking of eventful trips, the van carrying #10 THE STIFF was in an accident at a Kentucky airport earlier this week. Thankfully, the horse appears fine, and I’m going to use him after liking him a lot in the El Camino Real Derby last month. He raced very wide that day on a track that was very kind to inside horses, and I don’t think he has to be incredibly far back to run well. If he can work out a luckier journey from that post position than he did going from the airport to the race track, I think he’ll be a factor.

How I’ll Play It

If Fancy Liquor makes every pole a winning one, I’ll be drinking some come Saturday night. I’ll have win money on him, and I’ll also key him in an exacta box that also uses Unthrottled, The Stiff, and Invader.

PICK 2: Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park

3 units: Win, 1 (if 2-1 or higher)

2 units: Exacta, 1-5

Saturday’s stakes-filled card at Oaklawn Park includes the Grade 2 Rebel, where Kentucky Derby points will be on the line. The race goes as the 10th of 11 on the Saturday program, and it’s drawn a field of eight 3-year-olds.

Some heavy hitters will show up here. Bob Baffert will saddle the likely favorite, and fellow Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen has entered a pair of contenders as well. Let’s take a look at the race!

Can He Go Two Turns?

That’s the question facing #1 NADAL, who comes in having won both of his prior starts at Santa Anita. His most recent victory came in the Grade 2 San Vicente, where he dueled through very fast fractions and fended off Ginobili, who has shown to be a pretty talented sprinter in his own right.

Nadal tries a new trip, but I don’t think it’s going to be an issue. He’s bred to go long, being by Blame and out of a Pulpit mare, and he’s built like a horse that can run all day. The rail draw isn’t ideal, but I think he’s got the early speed necessary to hold his position early, and jockey Joel Rosario is one of the best in the country at working out trips. Nadal is my top pick, and I think anything close to the 5/2 morning line would be generous.

Finding a Price

I’m going against the Steve Asmussen duo. I respect #3 BASIN, who showed lots of talent as a 2-year-old before going to the sideline, but he’s been off since September and this is a tough ask for a runner that’s been away that long. Meanwhile, #4 SILVER PROSPECTOR won the Grade 2 Southwest at this route, but that field seems considerably weaker than what he’ll tackle in this spot.

If you’re looking for a price to use, I’d recommend #5 NO PAROLE. Yes, he’s taking a huge class jump out of Louisiana-bred races to run here, but he proved he could carry his speed two turns last time out and his two most recent works at Fair Grounds were very fast. I think he either makes the lead or sits a perfect stalking trip outside Nadal, and given either scenario, I think he’s got a big shot to hit the board at a price.

How I’ll Play It

Nadal is my key horse, and if he’s 2-1 or higher, I’ll have a win bet on him. I’m also going to play a small, ice-cold exacta (hi, Dave Weaver!) using Nadal on top of No Parole in an attempt to extract a bit more value. Perhaps one of the Asmussen runners beats No Parole, but I don’t think they’re getting to Nadal. In that scenario, the win bet covers the lost exacta bet.

Andrew Champagne
AndrewChampagne
Andrew Champagne is a horse racing handicapper with a specialism in juveniles. One thing is for certain, Champagne gets the party started.
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