Just two weeks are left in this year’s mammoth meet at the Fair Grounds, and the lynchpin of the entire festivities will be held this Saturday when the track will host the Louisiana Derby. To kick start this week’s activities, the Fair Grounds will be hosting a special Wednesday race card.

Here is a closer look at today’s races:

1st: 1-5-7-2…Hotnthirsty (1) broke the maiden last time out and now moves up in class, which is not an easy thing to do and return to the winner’s circle. But the trainer does well with this move up in class (.22% with 36 previous runners). Rail is golden at this mile distance (.28% winners). First two tries against tougher was not good, but won on the class drop and the addition of blinkers. May be able to duplicate that effort today at this level. Stolen Candy (5) has put together a record of 1-3-1 in 10 starts to date. Ran a solid second, but tired in the last one at this level. Cut back in distance should help him at the end of this one. Rollin Smoke (7) gets a drop to a career low level. Gets a new rider for this one, and the trainer, who has been cold all meet, does well with those dropping this much (.23%). Moves from the turf to the dirt, and that may help this one, too. I bet the 1 to win/place/show and then box the top 3 numbers in the exacta.

2nd: (11)-5-10-3-9-7-1-2…If the #11 draws into the body of the race, I think you have to consider, but if not, I go with Masterly (5) in this spot. The 5YO gelding won the last time out at a higher price, but he loses that condition now and will face tougher at this level. Has hit the board in three of the last four and will move to the grass for this try. Trainer struggles with the surface switch (.05%), but this one should be a forward presence throughout. Dam was a Stakes winner and she has thrown two winners from two starters to date. Worth a shot at 8-1 ML odds. Upset Special. Say Charlie (1) will go for a trainer who has not made a start here this meet, to date. But this one has won over the sod before and at this distance. That’s an accomplishment that few in this field can boast. Will get a class drop into the pure claiming ranks. Will be running late. It’s Time to B (3) goes for a trainer who does Ok with the switch from dirt to turf (.15), and this one is out of a Stakes-winning mare who has thrown two winners from three starters to date. Gets a high percentage rider for this one, and he has had the magic tough all meet. Watch out here. I bet the 5 to win/place/show and then box the top 3 numbers in the exacta. I also key the top 3 numbers over the rest in another smaller version.

3rd: 4-8-3-7-1-2…Texas Sky (4) will get his second start at the basement level today. Steadied at the quarter pole in the last try, while going wide and that compromised his chances mightily. This one is a later closer, and will need a clean opening to make his best effort. Gets the meet’s top rider aboard. One to beat. Blues Tour (8) broke his maiden in the last out, running off to a 2-length victory in a front-running effort. Got the blinkers for the first time in that one, and looked much sharper from pillar to post. Moves up to face winners for the first time, but should fit nicely with these types. Trainer does well with claimers (.20% in 249 starters). Than Ya Jesus (3) was right there at the end of his last race, which was the first time at this level. Was wide in that one, though, and could be tougher at the end with a cleaner run. I bet the 4 to win/place/show and then key the 4 over/under all the other numbers in the exactas.

4th: 7-(1A)-10-1-8-9-2-13…Arctic Dynaflow (7) is a first time starter for the barn of trainer Joe Sharp, who may be emptying the barn in hopes of catching Brad Cox in the race for this meet’s Trainer’s Title. This 4YO son of Paddy O’Prado has been training well for the debut, and the trainer does hit with .15% of those making the first start on the grass. The rider has scored with .31% of his 75 mounts with this barn this meet. The dam of this one was unarmed, but has 2 turf winners to date. In 6 starters, she has 4 winners and 2 Stakes winners. The pick. Domino Run (10) goes for a trainer who has made only 2 starts this meet. Has one second in that limited number, but the dam of this one has 2 winners from 3 starters. Ran second last time out at MSW ranks, and could improve on the second try off a long layoff. Zippy (1) and Nunc Pro Tunc could both be in the mix, if that latter draws in from the AE list. The former gets one of the top riders in the market, and should improve on the second time around the oval. Trainer does OK with the surface switch (.12%). I bet the 7 to win/place/show and then box the top 3 numbers in one exacta. I key the top 3 over the rest in a smaller version.

5th: 5-6-4-1A-2-1-3…Picknngrinn (5) won in a gallop over at Sam Houston in his last start on Feb. 9, but moves to the big leagues today. The Texas-bred  will face open company again today, but he did train well here on March 11 and picks up the meet’s leading rider for the first time at the Fair Grounds for the Asmussen barn. Worth a shot in this spot. Drena’s Bullet (6) missed last time out by just a neck, when running from off the pace. Has shown to be a late-closer in the past, and looks to be better on the dirt — which this one fits. Last Drop of Wine (4) should like the return to the dirt today, for a trainer that hits with .33% of the last 21 to make that surface switch. Made a real nice run at this distance three races back, when he won by 6. May be a sleeper in here. I bet the 5-4 to win/place/show and then box the top 3 in the exacta. I key the top 3 over the rest in a smaller version.

6th: (15)-14-10-4-11-9-12-8-2-1…Pat’s Shoes (14) ran well over the sod here on Feb. 2, tiring at the end of that one. But the former owner/trainer reached right back in to claim him back after he was claimed off of them just two back. That’s a good sign, and now he shows up in a spot where he is NOT for sale. The current trainer is one of the best in the biz, and has won .29% of his races this meet. If he can negotiate the far outside post and find a comfortable spot on or near the lead without spending too much energy, he could be tough at this level. Ghurair (10) is another one stuck way outside, but Florent Geroux will try to use some of his speed to do the same thing and negotiate a nice spot early without getting caught wide into the first turn. This one ran second last time out, and could be tougher with the cut back in distance. Peek (4) was beaten just a head last time out and will be closing very late. If he can find a clear trip, the race may set up perfectly for his late run. I bet the 14-4 across the board and then box the top 3 numbers in the exacta. I key the top 3 over the rest in a smaller version.

7th: 4-6-8-2-1…Rock Shandy (4) gets a drop to a career low level for a trainer who has made the trip to the winner’s circle just one time in 20 starts this meet. This one should give him a good shot today, though, if he can duplicate anything close to the race that he showed at Churchill Downs last November. My Best Bet of the Day. Divine Holiday (6) gets a drop back down to the level that he was competitive at two races back. Should fit better here with these kind. Trainer scores with .35% of those making this class drop in the past. Good work here on March 16, and definitely the one to beat. Diamond Delight (8) picks up the services of a top rider, who got familiar with him last time out. Today, though, they get the plunge down to a level that he may find right up his wheelhouse. Move from the sloppy track to a fast one could help, too. Take note. I bet the 4 to win/place/show and then box the top 3 numbers in one exactas, and then I key the 4 over/under all the numbers in two more.

8th: 3-5-2-8-9-7-6…Belgian (3) is a horse that I have touted several times this meet, and he comes into this one off a win and a tough-beat nose second. Has hit the board in 6 of 8 lifetime starts, and appears well spotted for this one today. Joe Bravo, who has been lights out at these turf sprints all meet, gets the call back today. Best Bet. Keep Talking (5) will go for the combo of trainer Tom Proctor and rider Shaun Bridgmohan, who is currently the leading rider at the meet now that Miguel Mena has been injured. This one has hit the board in six of the last seven races, and has been ITM on 9 of 15 races lifetime. Made the lead late in the last try before  tiring in the final strides. New jock will try to stretch him longer. Sonoma Crush (2) will get the services of Florent Geroux, who opts for this one over the one above. Just nipped at the wire in the last try, but that was the third straight second place finish. Rider has 8-1-2-record over the last 7 days. Red hot. I bet the 3 to win/place/show and then key the 3 over/under all the numbers listed.

9th: 5-6-1-3-10-8…Lucky Inferno (5) was claimed out of the last race, where he was second and beaten just a head. Trainer hits with .20% of those making the debut for the new barn after the purchase, and this one had a work since the March 2 race to tighten the screws a bit. New rider gets aboard for this try, but this one has two seconds and a third in the last three and should fit with these. I Am Ready Again (6) goes for a top barn operation, and will drop in class for this one. Returns to the dirt after a debacle on the grass — when wide throughout. Trainer hits with .42% of those making this type of class drop and this one figures to be the one to beat, for sure. Big Em C (1) gets a similar class drop for this one, and the trainer does well with this kind of plunge, too (.32%). Tired in the last one, but figures to be better on the first route try and with the added experience. I bet the 5 to win/place/show and then box the top 3 in the exacta.

Good Luck & All the Best/Gene