We are now fully into 2018, and the Fair Grounds will be embarking on a great end to the first week of the New Year. Here is a closer look to the races in the Big Easy for Thursday, Jan. 4:

1st: 5-6-3-1-7…Surprenante (5) gets the drop to the near bottom today for a trainer that does OK with turf to dirt surface switchers (.14% with 43 such runners in ’17). This well-bred filly has not seen the dirt since the debut on March 19, 2017 at Gulfstream Park — on debut — but should like the shorter distance, too. The work here on Nov. 24 was a good one, and she should fit with these. Red La Rosa (6) is a LA-bred who will face open company in this spot, but may improve with the third trip off a layoff — which the trainer hit on at a .17% clip in ’17. Has but one win in the first 16 starts, but has added 2 seconds and 4 thirds in that mix. So, she figures to hit the board. Reese’s Glory (3) nearly went the whole way at a 1-mile race here on Dec. 15. That was against weaker ones, though, and she faltered late in that one. Another one making the third try off a layoff (trainer won with .13% of those in ’17). Has won over this track. I bet the 5 to win/place/show and then box the top 3 numbers in one exacta. I tread lightly here.

2nd: 1-1A-3-4-2-7-2B…I am going with Eden Grey’s Kitten (1) on top in this 51/2-furlong sprint over the grass course. He tried Stakes company in the last, but now drops back into the optional-claimer ranks, and, once again, will go only against LA-breds. This 6YO gelding has the talent to rebound in this spot for a trainer who won with .28% of those making their third try off a layoff a year ago. Picks up a rider who is very familiar with this guy and has won with him at least twice. Wonder Run (1A) is the stablemate who gets to the grass for the first time since last June. Since then, he has won two of three starts and should like the transfer in the surfaces. These two have the same rider named on both, so one is a likely scratch. But I can go with either one of them. C U Tiger (3) is a deep closer who picks up a new rider today, and he is off to a very nice start here. My Friend Flavin (4) gets class relief in this spot after trying Stakes races in the last 3. Super work here on Sept. 28, and looks to improve with the second off a considerable layoff. Didn’t hit the board in 4 starts last year, but was terrific in 2016. Can he find that old form? If he does, he is a winner. I bet the 1 to win/place/show and then box the 1-3-4 in one exacta, and then key the 1-3-4 over the others in a smaller version.

3rd: 3-7-4-6-1…Ipidate (3) is a speedster who will try to carry that pace lick a bit farther on the stretch out to a mile. Sometimes these types who can’t carry their speed all the way to the wire while sprinting, can relax when stretching out and use that speed a little more judiciously.  The trainer did well in ’17 with horses that sprint twice and then stretch out (.15%) and the first time at a route (.17%). The trainer and jock have teamed up to win 2 of the last 3. Tune My Guitar (7) has not been close when the crowd got to the finish line, to date. But he seems to have found a softer crowd for this MSW event for LA-breds only. Work on Dec. 23 was super good and he hasn’t race since last March — and the trainer hits with .08% off this kind of layoff. Go figure? Neon Sky (4) ran a nice third in the last out, stalking the leaders the whole way. This will be his third try off a layoff and the trainer was 0-for-10 with such in ’17? But this one gets back to the dirt and the trainers does well with MSW conditions — at .20% I bet the 3 to win/place/show and then box the top 3 numbers. I also take the top 3 over the others in a smaller version.

4th: 1-6-4-7-8…Wildwood Dejavu (1) goes for a barn off to a very nice start this meet, and he hit the board in five of his last six starts of ’17 — with two wins in that mix. Training very well here since the move South and looks like the horse to run down, which may be tough to do. M C Squared (6) goes for a trainer/jockey team hat has won at a .35% clip over the past 40 races. This will be the first start for a new trainer, who scores with .12% of these types. Nice work here on New Year’s Eve. Another who will press the pace. Danny’s Turbo (4) has hit the board in 9 of the last 10 races, and has 3 wins in that grouping. Third off a layoff for a barn that scores with .24% of these and gets a weight allowance with the apprentice. Will be trying to catch the first two late. I bet the 1 to win/place/show and then box the top 3 numbers in one exacta and then key the 1 over/under all the numbers listed in two more.

5th: 8-6-4-5-2…Lookout Mountain (8) comes right back at this level after nearly picking off the win on a grass version in the last out here on Dec. 1. Moves back to the dirt where he won the previous time at Evangeline Downs. This one has won here before and the work here on New Year’s Eve was solid. Half Fast Rose (6) moves up in class after a run-away win in the last out here going much shorter. Trainer does hit with .21% of those coming off a win, and the conditioner is having a super good meet. Watch out here. Minister of Wr (4) is a deep closer who will need a clean trip to find the right spot. Finished third against these types on Dec. 1, but now stretches out — where the trainer has a win rate of .11% on the sprint-to-route angle. I bet the 8 to win/place/show and then box the top 3 numbers in one exacta.

6th: 9-3-8-5-4…Whiskey Ticket (9) will get his first start for Anthony Rini after having been trained on the West Coast by Bob Baffert. The new trainer will try the grass for the first time, and the dam has produced 3 turf winners (thanks to BRISNET — the best in the biz of racing info). Watch this one coming off the layoff. He could be ready to fire — as the work here on Dec. 13 suggests. My first Best Bet of the Day. Star Cross (3) will be closing late for a trainer  who is off to a soft start here, what with just one win in the first 8 starts. Was beaten only 11/4 lengths against these types here on Dec. 10 and looks fit enough — with a nice work on New Year’s Eve. Wicked Stride (8) is another who will run at the end of this one, and he did run third against these types here on Dec. 10. I bet the 9 to win/place/show and then key the 9 over/under all the rest.

7th: 3-4-7-1-9-6…The top three numbers are very hard to separate in this 6-furlong dirt race for bottom-end claimers. Still Harbor (3) gets a nice class drop for this one and will be coming off a freshener. Picks up a nice rider switch to the meet’s top jockey. Frakonthelead (4) is a speedy type as the name would suggest, but has developed a tendency to fade considerably in the late going. Can he reverse that trend against these with a jockey change alone? Politicallycorrect (7) has not been out since Nov. 10 at Remington Park. Gets the class drop and his first trip over this track. Trainer is 0-for-20 so far this meet. Can the return of blinkers change that? I bet the 3 to win/place/show and then key the 3 over/under all the other numbers listed.

8th: 4-5-2-6-1…Katie’s Reward (4) is my Best Best Bet of the Day. She ran fourth going 7-furlongs on the funky grass course of Kentucky Downs last September. Beaten that day by a filly that went on to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. The jockey/trainer combo with .38% of the last 34 horses, and the trainer had a super 2017 and is off to an amazing start here this meet (.32%). Nice work here on Dec. 30. The one to beat. Sworn Silence (5) broke her maiden in her last start at the $30,000 price tag for the same trainer as the one above. Goes to the grass for the first time today, and Brad Cox wins with .33% of these types. Street lady (2) definitely has a shot for a high-percentage trainer. She broke her maiden here in style on Dec. 8 and Joe Bravo gets back aboard. I bet the 4 to win/place/show and then key the 4 over/under all the numbers listed.

9th: 7-4-3-9-6…Tom and Ed’s Girl (7) gets a nice class plunge for this try today, and should benefit from the softer company. Trainer is having a solid meet (.22%) and he does well with this level of class drop. Jockey has teamed up to win 2 of last three with this barn. Pound of Hundreds (4) is another getting a significant class drop. Picks up a jock change and they will sprint to the lead and try to hold on in this 6-furlong trip. E.T. Lane (3) broke her maiden in the last out here on Dec. 16. Faces winners for the first time today, but the trainer does real well with this move up in class conditions (.25%). I bet the 7 to win/place/show and then box the top 3 in the exacta.

Good Luck &

All the Best /Gene