We have a day off today in the Big Easy to do all the things that we couldn’t get done before Christmas, and/or return any gifts that you may decide need to be exchanged for something, let us say, useable. I have no idea what that may be, since we have gone to picking out our own stuff on this thing they call the internet, but I am sure there was something. If you are looking for that exchange, look no farther than www.brisnet.com.  The information that these people provide through their handicapping products is amazing. Really. Almost as amazing as getting that sleigh to fly with a fat man inside powered only by reindeer. The Brisnet Past Performances have more information; sidebar tips and overall in-depth information than any racing publication — ever. And, their Prime Power ratings are amazingly accurate. My testimonial for the day. And, if you check out Tuesday’s picks — you will see we had a pretty good day.

We are leaping ahead and putting up Thursday’s picks at the Fair Grounds. Here is a closer look at that card:

1st: 2-8-3-6-4…A $10,000 MC for LA-breds only kicks off the day, and it is wide, wide, wide open. I go with Star Rocket (2) ran third and was beaten nearly 10 lengths in that try. But he caught a very muddy/sloppy racetrack that day and never could quite make up any ground on the leader. He was heavily bet in that affair, on Dec. 8, going off as the odds-on choice in his first try for a new trainer (who has a win rate of .29% with those that lost as the favorite in their last). One of the meet’s hottest riders stay aboard today and I think he has a shot to make amends. Coffee Cup (8) has 20 lifetime starts with 2 seconds and 4 thirds to show for his efforts. Does have a sprinkling of 4ths in there, as well. This one is a closer and will need some help late. Gets Calvin Borel up today for the first time. To Date (3) nipped the preferred choice in the last try, but was tiring badly at the end of that 1 mile journey and I Don’t Fly Coach (6) both have legit chances to hit the board. The latter is dropping from MSW ranks all the way to this level and the trainer scores with .22% of these types of droppers. I bet the 2 to win/place/show in a demonstration of redemption and then I box the 2-8-6 in one exacta.

2nd: 3-9-8-7-5-4…The first Best Bet of the Day designation comes early and right here with Avanzare (3) for trainer Tom Proctor in this sprint on the grass. The last time we saw this 7YO gelding, he was running in February of 2016.  Yep, nearly 2 years ago. And, he nearly pulled off a win in the G3 Canadian Turf going a mile — finishing 4th that day behind multiple G1 winner Heart to Heart (who ran in this year’s Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar). He’s never been in a claiming race before, that I can see, and has hit the board in 13 of 16 lifetime starts. These are not the types of horses that Proctor (who has been a friend of mine for a long, long time and trained a horse or two for me along the way) normally keeps in his barn. But here they are. This old vet may need a race or two to get his legs back under him, and he may need to go longer. I don’t see that he has ever sprinted before. But he has the back class to easily put away these, if he is ready. And, it looks like he is training well, plus he picks up a red-hot rider. I go with the old man, #3, to win/place/show and then key the 3 over/under all the numbers listed in the exactas. To close with, Proctor has saddled 5 horses at this meet to date. He has 4 seconds and a third.

3rd: 8-2-4-1-1A…U S S Altair (8) last was seen on Sept. 21 at Churchill Downs running in a $20,000 claiming event. Tired late to run 5th of 8 that day, but has since caught a little break and a nice class drop all the way to the cheapest claiming level he has ever seen. Working well for the return, and the trainer knows how to get them ready off the bench for this long (.16% win rate). Picks up Calvin Borel and he should be able to get this one to the rail, and get this one to finish today. Left Coast Dreams (2) had a nice work here on Dec. 20, but moves up in class after being picked up in the last effort (which was dismal). Trainer pretty good with newcomers to the barn (.15%) and she must have some confidence to try tougher ones today. Full Heart (4) ran third in the slop here on Dec. 7. Tries similar foes today, and this will be the 7YOs fourth off an extended layoff. May be ready today. I bet the 8 to win/place/show and then box the top 3 choices in the exacta.

4th: 7-4-1-2-5-6…Looks Super (7) is a stalker with speed who found himself way, way, way back in his last race after being “hammered at the start” (which are pretty harsh terms used by chart callers). Still, this 5YO mare came running, only to get nipped at the wire against tougher foes at Churchill Downs on Nov. 22. Gets a huge rider switch for today’s effort and worked very nicely here on Dec. 19. If she can catch a cleaner break, she may be tough in this spot. Lovemelikeyoudo (4) is 12-1 ML, and I would just love to get those odds at post. Either way, this 3YO filly by Harlan’s Holiday (whom I loved as a sire) is my Upset Special of the Day. She was claimed last time out for $30,000 and moves up today for a trainer that hits with .20% of newbies to the barn after a purchase and with .21% of those that have been off a layoff of 46 to 90 days. She is moving from a race over the slop at Keeneland on Oct. 8 back to the grass, where she seems to run her best. Two races back, she nearly won a tough event at Kentucky Downs. Today, she picks up rider Joe Bravo. The guy has a record of 9-6-6 in just 32 rides. And, he is kicking butt and taking names. Give him a horse to ride, and he will ride. Sunroof (1) gets her first start for trainer Neil Howard, and this daughter of Malibu Moon cost $300,000 as a yearling. Ran a huge third on debut at Churchill Downs in November and worked very well here on Dec. 10. Picks up a solid rider for this try. Can’t dismiss. I bet the 4 (take note) to win/place/show and then box the top 3 numbers in one exacta and then key the 4 over/under in two more.

5th: 5-2-6-3-8…Battle Colors (5)  drops all the way from an Optional Claimer to C15 today for a barn that hits with .22% of those dropping into the claiming ranks for the first time and with .25% of beaten favorites. He was right in the mix of things in the last two, before spitting the bit late. For some reason, lost his action late in the last race and was bumped around a bit. Came back to work really well here on Dec. 16. Shortens back up to a sprint event for the first time since breaking his maiden, and that should help, as well. May be a cull for this operation, but a nice claim prospect for others. My second Best Bet. Gridiron Cat (2) gets a significant drop in here, as well. Last race in November was a debacle, but was steady in the claiming ranks before that. Flatter the Queen (6) was claimed out of his last try at Churchill Downs in November and trainer hits with .20% of first timers in his barn after the purchase. I bet the 5 to win/place/show and then key the 5 over/under all the numbers listed.

6th: 6-9-2…If the Also Eligibles don’t drawn in (particularly the 16 & 15), then I go with Smiley Briley (6) in this turf race for LA-breds only. Just two races back, this filly ran 2nd in a Stakes event at Louisiana Downs, which was open to all and had hit the board in three straight. She got caught wide into both turns here on Nov. 30 and tired late in that one over a good turf. If she catches a firm grass course today, I think she moves up for trainer Al Stall — who is off to another terrific start here. Moonlightnmidnight (9) drops out of an open company allowance event at Churchill Downs into this spot today. Ran second in that race, too, which was her first try on the grass. Looks like she found herself a new home — at least for the time being. Picks up Florent Geroux in the saddle and has to be considered highly. Eskenformore (2) broke her maiden in the last try back in June. Gets back in the afternoon for the first time in a long time today, but the trainer does hit with .15% of those coming off the bench. Has a nice stalking style and the works look solid for this return. I bet the 6 to win/place/show and then box the 6-9 solidly in one exacta.

7th: 2-6-5-8…Lawton (2) has not raced since April 14, when he was a fading and distant third at Oaklawn Park for a different trainer. After an 8 month absence, he gets back to the track today with a new trainer (who scores with .20% of those making the first start in his barn), with blinkers for the first time (and the barn hits with .20% of those adding the equipment) and coming off a terrific work here on Dec. 17. This guy has faced some good ones in his career to date and has a record of 0-1-6 in just 8 starts. Obviously, loves to run third. I think he moves up today to graduate. Ukuru (6) has made just one start since February, and that was at Keeneland in October. Got tired in that one and faded out of contention late. But he returns today to the same track that he has scored a couple of thirds at already — one time against Excitations. Ready? Total Cooperation (5) gets the tack from Tom Amoss, who has a record of 6-7-0 in his first 26 starts here this meet. Tired in the last try at Churchill Downs, and that has been a consistent theme in the first 5 starts. Is there a remedy today? I bet the 2 to win/place/show and then key the 2 over/under all the numbers listed.

8th: 13-8-5-11-6…Wow. What a tough race to handicap. I go with #13, the far outside post, in this sprint over the grass. Will need a much sharper break today than the one he had on debut Nov. 26 at Churchill Downs, but I think he will do to four strong, er, factors. One, he is by The Factor, who had brilliant speed when he ran. Two, he gets the services of rider Joe Bravo, who may be the best gate rider in the world. The guy can get them going early. Three, The Factor is by War Front, one of the world’s top grass sires. And, this one moves to the grass for the first time today. Fourth, the horse that won the last race could turn out to be one of the best 3YOs in the country next year and is on my HTW list already. Don’t like the outside post today, but I think he could be tough today at 10-1 ML odds. My second Upset Special and last Best Bet. War Tom (8) should be the PT favorite after two really nice races to start the career. Nearly won both of them and will be carving out a good stalking position early. Miguel Mean, who normally rides first saddle for this barn, goes elsewhere? Interesting. (Watch the 6?) Zip Your Lip (5) ran third in the slop last time out, must zipped away early in that one only to get tired. Watch out today. I bet the 13 to win/place/show and then key the 13 over/under all the numbers listed.

9th: 2-3-8-4-6…A wide open race for LA-breds only to close the day. Kylie’s Cutie has 3 wins in 9 starts this year, and should fit nicely with these. Elegant Idea (3) faded out of contention late in the last, but gets the return of the meet’s leading rider (who got banged up recently). I Hope (8) and Timebobanna (4) both have credentials, too. I truly don’t know. Throw a dart? If I must, I go with the 2 on top and box the top 3 in the exacta.

Good Luck &

All the Best/Gene