We are off to the races. Temps are picking up. So, too, are the horses. Stakes races abound all over the country, and the Fair Grounds has an excellent race card the week after the LeComte Stakes kick started the Road to the Kentucky Derby. Today, we will see all the 3YOs that have been nominated for the Kentucky Derby, in the first round of nominations. Exciting times, for sure.

Here is a closer look at today’s card at the Fair Grounds:

1st: 4-2-5-7-8…Tall Story (4) comes off a poor performance, which was this 4YO gelding’s first try on the grass. He made a push for the front in that one, with the blinkers on for the first time and stretched out to a mile for the first time. A lot of first time changes. Now, he gets back to the dirt, and he gets the career drop from MSW for LA-breds only to MC10 for state-bred. This drop should push him towards the front, maybe this time to stay. Picks up a solid rider change for a barn looking for its’ first win of the meet. Had a super work here on Dec. 30, and I think has a shot against these types. Arnaud (2) ran second against these types at the same level and distance last time out. Faded late in that one, though, and was beaten 6 lengths. Has 4 top 3 finishes in the last 6 tries, so figures with this group. Delta Eight Eight (5) was bet down to 2-1 odds in the last try and had a tough trip. Off slow in that one, he was left to run 5 wide into the turn while sprinting. Will stretch out today for a high percentage trainer who will put the blinkers on for the first time. Figures with these, as well. I bet the 4 to win/place/show and then box the top 3 numbers in the exacta.

2nd: 5-1-2-6-10-8-9…Honor Mission (5) hasn’t shown much in his first three tries, but will slip from the MSW ranks all the way to MC30 today, and the trainer is good for .21% when this happens. This NY-bred showed speed in the last, and will move to the sod today for the second time. On debut, he ran 6th against NY-breds only, but was beaten only 31/4 lengths in a field of 12. The dam of this one has a turf winner, too. Nobutzaboutit (1) goes for a red hot barn/jockey combo, who have combined to win with .33% of their 55 mounts together. Plenty of sample size there to know they click. This one ran 8th here at this level on Dec. 3, but had excuses in that one — like a wide trip. Gets the go-to rider for this barn now and is likely to close late for a shot with these. Rail is hitting at .22% (thanks to the stat of the day by BRISNET). Antrim’s Giant (3) was absolutely taken out of the race in his last when he had to check hard at the 3/8ths pole and bobbled, too, losing all chance. Looked to be in a great spot before that incident occurred. Now back at the same level, trying again with one of the meet’s top riders now getting the leg up. I anticipate a lot of improvement for this one at 15-1 odds. I bet the 5-3 to win/place/show and then box the top three numbers in one exacta and then key the top 3 over the rest in a smaller version.

3rd: 9-1-2-3-4-8-6-7…Deadly Ruler (9) gets my top selection here, despite the fact that the trainer has put together a not-so-impressive record of 0-0-5 from his first 19 starters. This one nearly pulled off the win at odds-on prices in his last here on Jan. 5, and that was his first start in 61/2 months. And, he did that despite the fact that he was completely blocked from the 1/4-pole all the way to the 1/16th pole. Really trained well before that race and looks to be ready to fire. Should be tough at this level and picks up a new rider after the last race debacle. Bushido Samurai (1) picked up a solid win at Delta Downs in the last start before being disqualified and moved to second. He has been in the money in 6 of 10 lifetime starts, but will be making the move to the FG for the first time. If he can run the same race here that he did at Delta, he will be extremely tough on or near the lead. Mitchnjohnny (2) has hit the board in each of the last 7 tries and 8 of the last 9. This will be his second start for this trainer, who is having a solid meet in New Orleans. Meet’s top rider stays aboard and this one will be on or near the lead from the get-go. I bet the 9 to win/place/show and then box the top 3 numbers in one exacta.

4th: 3-9-7-8-1-4…Drena’s Bullet (3) will be making his debut on the grass after running off to a 53/4 length victory to break the maiden last time out at Delta Downs. This one nearly broke the maiden here on Dec. 1, but the sire is by Sadler’s Wells — a top turf runner and sire — and the dam has had 4 starters and 4 winners. This one goes to a route for the first time, as well, for a trainer hitting at .21% on the stretch out. This one looks sharp, even though moving up in class. Create Again (9) drops back into the claiming ranks after an ambitious try against Optional Claimers last time out. Broke the maiden two back in the first try on the grass, and fits better with these today. West of Sabinal (7) broke the maiden against Texas breds two back at Retama Park, and then nearly pulled off the win here on Dec. 1. Claimed out of that race by the current connections, who hit with .15% on first tries after the purchase and with .11% of first timers on the grass. Can’t dismiss. I bet the 3 to win/place/show and then box the top 3 in the exacta.

5th: 7-10-11-1-2-6-9…Tabaddol (7) drops back to the level where he was claimed two starts back. Ran second in that tilt before the new connections moved him up in class. Ran second in that effort, too. Has two wins and two seconds in last four outs, and looks much of the best in this grouping. Montana Kid (10) drops to the bottom for the first time. Trainer sorely needs a winner after a 1-for-32 start here, but before the last two debacles, this one had hit the board in four in a row and 5 of the last 6. Has ability to test the market, even at age 9. Tale of Beaucette (11) has hit the board in 16 of 30 lifetime starts and has three thirds in a row, coming on the heels of three fourths in a row. Underneath? I bet the 7 to win/place/show and then key the 7 over/under all the rest.

6th: 2-6-8-5-1-7…Harlan Strong (2) gets my solid “dot” here after the bullet work at the FG on Jan. 13. That comes a nice third here on Nov. 25, when he closed with a rush that day to lose by less than 2 lengths. Picks up a huge rider switch for this one, and looks to have landing in a good spot for the return, and the trainer hits with .14% off this type of layoff. Miracle Mountain (6) gets his second start off a long layoff for a top trainer here. Made a nice middle move in the run here on Dec. 23, before tiring out. Has come back to work well since then, and should be more fit for this one. Trainer hits with .23% on the second try after this long on the sidelines. Flash Harry (8) has had a bit of tough luck in the last two after breaking his maiden three starts back at Churchill Downs. I think he is better than what he has shown in the previous two and picks up the barn’s top rider for this one. Like the 8-1 ML odds. I bet the 2-8 across the board and then box the top 3 numbers in one exacta, and then key the top 3 over the rest in a smaller version.

7th: 8-7-3-6-4…Wynn Time (8) figures to be the horse to beat in this spot, coming into this one with 3 wins and a second in 4 lifetime starts. Just won here sprinting on Dec. 23, beating a solid field and keeps the same rider. But I’m putting Indian Lover (7) on top in all my selections. This 4YO colt is trained by Larry Jones and is coming out of a $100,000 Stakes event at Laurel Park on Nov. 11. Got a short break and looks to be keen for this one after a terrific work here on Jan. 15. Picks up a hot rider in Joe Bravo, who is hitting with .30% of the last 10 he has ridden for this barn. My first Best Bet of the Day, especially with the 5-1 ML odds. Floroplus (3) had been away from the races from Oct. 2016 to Nov. 30, 2017, but made a nice return for trainer W. Bret Calhoun with a flashy win — over Wynn Time. My question is whether he can string that kind of run back-to-back, but he surely has the talent. I bet the 7 to win/place/show and then box the top 3 in one exacta and then key the 7 over all the numbers listed above in another.

8th: 4-8-9-2-3-6…Combustible (4) is another talented runner exiting the Calhoun barn for the track today. This one nearly pulled off the win here on Dec. 21, and that was after a 13-month hiatus. This one has returned to work well, and should be about ready to pop the cork on the maiden status. The dam has 7 winners from 9 starters and has 4 turf winners. This one will get the grass for the first time today, and the trainer hits with .13% of those types. Jockey, off to a slow start overall, has hit with 40% of the last 10 with this barn. The pick. Compass Zone (8) gets the grass for the first time for the meet’s top trainer — and he loves horses moving to the turf (.32%). Had a super nice work on Jan. 13, and gets a top rider aboard. Love the 6-1 ML odds, but doubt they stick with these connections around. Strike the Flag (9) goes for a trainer who normally takes his time with those making the races. This guy ran third on debut here Dec. 21 and now will get the grass for the first time — for which he is well bred to like. The dam has 2 turf winners to date, and they have earned 3 wins and 1 stakes win. Keep an eye on this guy. I bet the 4-8-9 across the board, and then box those 3 in the exacta. I key those 3 over all the others in a lesser version.

9th: 1-8-2-6-4-7…Retirement Fund (1) comes out of a MSW victory and will tackle winners for the first time today. Normally, I stir clear of these types. Normally, they are over-bet and are found wanting in the race. But this may not be a normal horse. This 3YO colt drew off to win by 71/4 lengths for trainer Steve Asmussen on debut here Dec. 22 and has since returned to train very well (note: Jan. 7 move). One of the meet’s top and hottest riders stays aboard and this one looks to be ready to score again. Private Eye (8) is now a gelding, but he is one that I have watched throughout his career, since breaking his maiden at Keeneland last October. He did that in style against a good bunch, and has since returned to run a third and a second against some good ones — including Principe Guilherme (who ran second in the LeComte Stakes). Don’t ignore this guy. Dark Templar (2) ran third behind Principe in that last try after breaking his maiden at Churchill Downs in November. The horse he beat that day came right back to score the next time out. This one has talent, too. I bet the 1 to win/place/show and then box the top 3 numbers in one exacta.

10th: 12-5-2-6-7-4…I close out the day with a nice selection, if he can handle the extreme outside post. Battle At Sea (12) got to face Free Drop Billy on debut last June, and still ran a good 4th. Came back after a near 6-month break to run third here on Dec. 29 in a turf sprint. Now, he will get back to the dirt, which I think he will prefer. This son of Into Mischief will face LA-breds only and should air these with a clean break. Gets one of the meet’s top riders aboard to try to snap the MSW ranks. Love the 9-2 ML odds. My second Best Bet of the Day, right here. Big Shanty (5) and Maga Man (2) both have solid credentials, if something happens with the top choice. The former is a first timer for trainer Mark Casse, who hits with .15% of these. Has been training very well, especially the move here on Dec. 29. The later nearly won on debut, before tiring to finish second. The winner and the show horse from that affair have come right back to win. Key race. I bet the 12 to win/place/show and then key the 12 over/under all the numbers listed.

Good Luck & All the Best/Gene