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This Saturday will feature four Kentucky Derby prep races. The top five finishers in each race will receive points toward being in the starting gate of the 2023 Kentucky Derby. Matthew DeSantis shares his picks and analysis for each of the races.
ANALYSIS

Saturday Free Horse Racing Picks: Fountain of Youth, San Felipe, Gotham, and Battaglia

The winners of the Gotham, San Felipe, and Fountain of Youth will receive 50 points toward qualifying for the Kentucky Derby and virtually guarantee their inclusion in the starting gate. The second through fifth-place finishers in each race will receive 20, 15, 10, and 5 points, respectively. The winner of the Battaglia Memorial will only receive 20 points, with the second through fifth-place finishers earning 8, 6, 4, and 2 points, respectively.

Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct

  • Post time: 4:56 PM ET
  • Distance: 1 mile
  • Field size: 14 (plus one Also Eligible)

The Gotham will feature a ton of early speed, with as many as six horses wanting to reach the front. Pushing such an aggressive early pace should set up well for horses sitting mid-pack or further back.

Other front-running horses, Eyeing Clover is the most intriguing as he's won both career starts for trainer Brad Cox, who is winning 43% of races he's entering at Aqueduct in a small sample size. However, Eyeing Clover has yet to run a mile and will be tested from the 13-post position. Drawing outside should allow jockey Florent Geroux the ability to judge the pace and determine where he wants to slot Eyeing Clover, but it'll be a challenge. Meanwhile, Eyeing Clover's stablemate, Slip Mahoney, has run against the best competition and should sit a good trip. Despite just breaking his maiden, he previously lost to the winner of the Sam F. Davis Stakes (Litigate) and to one of the hottest horses on the Derby Trail (Tapit Trice). If he can rate, I think he has a big shot of ending up in the winner's circle.

There are two former Bob Baffert horses running in the Gotham, Fort Warren, and Carmel Road. Baffert had to transfer horses to different trainers if the horses were to be eligible for Kentucky Derby points as part of his two-year ban from entering horses in the race. Fort Warren, now trained by Brittany Russell, is coming off a third-place finish in the San Vicente Stakes against two of the best horses Baffert still has running, Havnameltdown and Faustin, but he was well beaten. Carmel Road, trained by former Baffert assistant Tim Yakteen, is coming off a layoff and last run at Los Alamitos in December. The recent barn switches, shipping east, and dealing with new weather conditions don't seem like it will equate to immediate success.

Finally, Lugan Knight won going this distance over this track last time out in a stakes race. He has come from off the pace before but might be too far back in this race to be able to launch a successful closing bid. Longer shots General Banker and Uncorrelated, are good potential selections to use in vertical exotics as they have a chance to hit the board at a big price. General Banker always seems to end up in the top three, and Uncorrelated is trained by Chad Brown, who is winning at a 40% rate at Aqueduct this meet.

Gotham Stakes Picks

  • Win: Slip Mahoney
  • Place: Lugan Knight
  • Show: General Banker

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San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita

  • Post time: 5:30 PM ET
  • Distance: 1 1/16 miles
  • Field size: 11

The San Felipe is probably the strongest field we have seen during the Kentucky Derby Prep season in 2023. Five of the 11 entries have recorded a 90+ Beyer Speed Figure in their career. For a current crop of 3-year-olds that lack speed, this field makes up for it. Trainer Tim Yakteen has five entries, three of which were recent transfers from Bob Baffert. However, the race might just come down to a Richard Mandella-trained horse with only one previous career start. Geaux Rocket Ride has blazing speed and should be able to make the lead. His pedigree would suggest that he can get two turns and do the distance. He blew the barn doors off a nice Baffert horse in debut, Sonoran, who came back to win the next time out. Front-end speed can hold up well at Santa Anita, so it's possible that Geaux Rocket Ride gives the field the slip and takes them all the way home.

However, he's going to have some excellent horses chasing him, particularly the trio of Hejazi, National Treasure, and Practical Move. Hejazi has dazzling speed and finally broke his maiden after finishing third in the Grade I American Pharoah Stakes. He won't let Geaux Rocket Ride too far ahead, but there is a question of whether he can get the distance chasing a fast pace. Meanwhile, National Treasure will sit off the pace and is the type of horse that should prefer the longer distance. He's not going to wow you with great speed or a stunning turn of foot, but he grinds away and slowly reels in the leaders. His best performances have come in two Grade I races at 1 1/16 miles, so expect a strong effort. Then, there is Practical Move, who is a homegrown Yakteen runner. He won the Grade I Los Alamito Futurity but has not raced since December. He's been clocking amazing workouts, and I think he stands a big shot in this race. He's been steadily improving and seems primed to upset the former Baffert entries.

If you're looking for a bigger price, Skinner and Chase the Chaos are good options. Skinner had just come back from a layoff and ran a huge speed figure when breaking his maiden. He'll come from off the pace and should get a good ride from Victor Espinoza. Chase the Chaos already won a Kentucky Derby Prep in the El Camino Real at Golden Gate Fields. Yes, he's switching to dirt after running on synthetic, but he's got a great closing kick and should pick up some pieces.

San Felipe Stakes Picks

  • Win: Practical Move
  • Place: National Treasure
  • Show: Chase the Chaos

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Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park

  • Post time: 5:43 PM ET
  • Distance: 1 1/16 miles
  • Field size: 10

The Fountain of Youth does not lack star power as it features the return to the track of the 2022 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Champion, Forte. The Todd Pletcher-trained colt was the class of the crop as a 2-year-old but has not raced in four months. He's logged five workouts over the last several weeks, and while the times will not overwhelm you when you watch the workouts, he's blowing his workout partners away without being asked for much. Based upon video footage of his schooling in the paddock on Wednesday, he's filled out beautifully during the time off and looks the part. However, it's important to remember that winning the Fountain of Youth is not the goal for Forte and Pletcher. They want to win the Kentucky Derby, so I'm willing to take a shot against this impressive favorite because he might need one race under his belt after coming back.

As a result, there are several intriguing horses. General Jim and Mage present great value, and both have a logical path to the winner's circle. General Jim is coming off a win in the Grade III Swale Stakes at 7 furlongs. However, he's successfully run the 1 1/16 mile distance before on turf and won both times. Additionally, his trainer Shug McGaughey has won this race three times in the last ten years and has been heating up in South Florida. General Jim has the far inside post and should be able to save all the ground while getting a nice stalking trip behind the early speed of the race. Speaking of early speed, Mage represents the ONLY speed in the race. With so many speed horses in Gotham and San Felipe, the Fountain of Youth is the opposite, as nearly the entire field wants to sit off the pace or close from the back of the back. As a result, Mage, who only has one career start, should get an easy lead. Gulfstream Park is a speed-favoring track on big days, and early speed can be deadly. If Mage is allowed to get to the front and set his own fractions, he's got to be considered a threat to wire the field. 2022 Grade I Champagne Stakes winner, Blazing Sevens, is also making his 2023 debut for trainer Chad Brown. However, I'm fading based on the long layoff and the fact his win in the Champagne could be attributed to sloppy conditions. However, if you're looking for even bigger value, Bill Mott's pair of Rocket Can and Shadow Dragon will present a great opportunity as they finished first and second, respectively, in the Grade III Holy Bull Stakes last time out.

Fountain of Youth Picks

  • Win: General Jim
  • Place: Forte
  • Show: Rocket Can

Battaglia Memorial at Turfway Park

  • Post time: 9:25 PM ET
  • Distance: 1 1/16 miles
  • Field size: 12 (plus two Also Eligible)

Not to be forgotten, the final Kentucky Derby Prep race of the day will be run on the synthetic surface at Turfway Park. While the field might not contain many familiar names to racing fans, it's important to remember that the Turfway Park circuit produced last year's Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike.

When handicapping races on synthetic, I tend to prioritize previous form on the surface. Dirt horses can struggle transitioning to synthetic, while horses with previous turf experience tend to adjust a little more smoothly. Of the horses with synthetic experience, the former Bob Baffert horse, Gilmore, now trained by Brendan Walsh, has recorded the highest speed figure. His effort the last time out at the El Camino Real was impressive, given that it was his first time trying the surface, and he was coming back from a layoff. He closed well and showed maturity by doing so on the inside rail in tight quarters. I love that he shipped to Turfway Park early and has an official workout over the synthetic.

Meanwhile, Bromley and Scoobie Quando are not far behind. Bromley finished well the last time out in the Grade III Lecomte, but that was against a much tougher field, and he seems to prefer the synthetic over dirt. Trainer Paolo Lobo is always a threat at Turfway Park, and when he teams up with jockey Gabriel Corrales, they win at a 21% clip. Scoobie Quando is the more interesting of the two, though. He's raced twice with a win and second-place finish to his name. Last time out, he finished a close second while stretching out and drawing the far outside post. He should save more ground this time and show good progression from his maiden to his second start.

The biggest name in the field might be Congruent, who has run against top turf competition the last two times out but has come up short. He's never worked out on synthetic, and trainer Antonio Sano is only winning 6% of races when switching surfaces. Also, he'll be breaking from the far outside post and should have a wide trip. I think Moon Landing and Aristocracy present nice options to use underneath. Moon Landing is getting back to his preferred surface for trusted trainer Kevin Attard while Aristocracy won last time out against an allowance-level company over the Turfway Park surface. Plus, he's trained by Brad Cox, who is winning a 27% clip at Turfway Park.

Battaglia Memorial Picks

  • Win: Scoobie Quando
  • Place: Gilmore
  • Show: Aristocracy

Article Author

Horse Racing

Matthew DeSantis is a horse racing handicapper with a fondness for lightly raced horses with improving speed figures. You can find him at the track playing surface changes and second off the layoff.

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