McLean’s Selections for the Fair Grounds on Friday, Feb. 22

Day Results9-5-3-7
2019 Overall 273273/102-103-132
Win % of Top Pick37.36%
Payoff % of Top 3 Picks Overall41.15%
2019 Top Pick in the Money –191 of 27369.96%
Top Selection ITM / FG Nov-Mar 318-45270.35%
Top Selection Win / FG Nov-Mar 175-45238.72%
“Key Horses” @ FG Nov-Mar 99-44-18-1444.44%
“Key Horses” in 2019 71-28-12-1139.44%

What a nice way to kick off the week and head into the weekend on Thursday. Out of the 9 races, we had 5 winners. Our top pick since Jan. 1 has now won 37.36% of the time and our top pick has finished “In the Money” on 69.96% of the time. Not bad.

Still, we are a bit behind our overall averages for the entire Fair Grounds meet, stretching back to November. If we calculate all the races that we have handicapped since then, our top pick has won at a 38.72% rate, and our top pick has hit the board on 70.35% of the races.

We are hoping to build on those numbers this weekend. Here’s a closer look at today’s card, with one caveat. I will be handicapping today’s races as if the track is going to be wet and all the races originally scheduled for the grass will be moved to the main track. Keep an eye out on all the scratches and changes to make sure my assumption is correct, but the weather forecast for today is calling for precipitation.

1st: 2-4-1/6/5…We kick off today’s card with a MCL event going 1 mile over the main track. Price tag for these 3YOs & Up is $12,500 down to $10,000. I will go with Bernardian (2), who is trained by Michael Stidham. Barn having a solid meet, and this one may get better with a return to the dirt track. In 9 career starts to date, he has 3 seconds and a third. Back last summer, he ran second twice in a row over the dirt, including a nice second over the slop at Delaware Park. Winner of that one came right back to win. In two races over an “off track,” he has 2 seconds. Tashkent (4) is dropping all the way from a MSW event to this level, and the trainer hits with .22% of those running on the dirt. Nice work here on Feb. 16 and is coming off two seconds in a row. Gets a top rider in the saddle. Beware. Two Mile Creek (1) breaks from the rail, which has produced .18% winners at this distance this meet. Drops significantly in class for this one, and the barn hits with .18% of those dropping this much. Goes to the dirt for the first time today and is bred to really like an “off track.” Barn hits with .20% of those making this kind of surface switch. I bet the 2-4 across the board and then box the top 3 in the exacta.

2nd: 5-1/4/7-1-2/8…This is the first race carded for the grass, and I will be handicapping as if it will come off the sod and be moved to the dirt track. As such, I will give a slight edge to About Our Time (5) in this 5.5-furlong sprint event. Ran in the slop two back and was third. Ran over a “good” surface three back and was second. In 6 tries over an “off track,” he has a second and two thirds. Goes for a barn doing quite nicely here this meet, and this speedball should appreciate the cut back in distance today. Gets a top rider in the irons. Turner Time (1) was claimed last time out and wheels right back at the same level for the new connections. Comes into this one off two wins in a row. The race two back was over a sloppy track going 6 furlongs, too. Definitely the one to beat, and I like the 8-1 ML odds. Upset Special if h stays anywhere close to these early numbers, but I expect them to drop. I bet the 5-1 across the board and then box those two solidly in one exacta. I will key the 5-1 over/under the 4 in two smaller versions.

3rd: 1-8-3/7-2-4-9…I will go back to the rail in this 1-mile event for LA-bred fillies with Backstage Star (1). This 4YO Star Guitar filly was claimed two back for the bargain bin price of $5,000. Ran third over the slop that day, but was beaten less than a length. That marked the fifth race in a row she had hit the board — with two wins in the mix. First time out for the new connections, she was bumped at the break and never got into the fray. I look for much better today with the meet’s leading rider up. Star Performer (8) ran third last time out in the first effort for a new barn, after being claimed two back. In 5 tries over this track, she has a second and two thirds. Barn is having a solid meet, and the trainer hits with .17% of those going from two straight sprints to a route race. Hannah Banana (3) has raced three times previously over an “off track.” Has a win and a third on the resume, and has a 2-1-1 mark in 9 races here. I look for much better today. I bet the 1 to win/place/show and then box the top 3 numbers in the exacta.

4th: 8/9-11-5/2-7/3-10…This is the second race on the day that is carded for the turf. I am handicapping as if it will be moved to the main track, and I will go with my first Key Play of the Day — Emily Jo (8). This 4YO daughter of Tiago comes from a Stakes-winning mare and although she has not been out since Dec. 31, she did run second over a sloppy racetrack here. Did work very nicely here on Feb. 14 and the trainer is starting to rebound nicely from a horrid start to the meet. He will saddle this one for the first time, and he hits with .35% with newcomers. My solid choice. I bet the 8 to win/place/show and then key the 8 over/under the 9-11-5-2-7-3-10.

5th: 8/2-7-5/1-6…This is a MSW event going 6 furlongs over the main track and I will go with the same formula as the last race — my second Key Play of the Day will be #8 — Stargirl (8). This 4YO daughter of Medaglia d’Oro cost $300,000 to purchase at the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Sale in 2016. Has made only 3 starts to date, but has 2 seconds to show for the efforts. The last one came here on Jan. 26 when she was beaten just a head as the post time favorite. The barn hits with .31% of those returning as a beaten favorite. I bet the 8 to win/place/show and then key the 8 over/under all the numbers listed in the exacta.

6th: 10-12-11/7-5-9/4-6/3…This is the third grass race carded today, and like the others I will handicap as if they are going to run this 5.5-furlong sprint over the main track today. If so, I will go to the far outside for my top 3 selections, led by Warrior’s Kid (10). This 5YO gelded son of Lemon Drop Kid was claimed last time out by a top claiming barn operation. This one has hit the board on each of the last 3 races and 4 of the last 5. In 4 trips over an “off track,” he has posted a 1-1-1 record. I look for improvement today. Riv (12) is entered for the “Main Track Only” and there is a good reason. In two trips over an “off track,” this 5YO Illinois-bred is a perfect 2-for-2. Ran here over a “good track” two races back and ran off to a 21/4-length win. Should be tough stalking the pace today. Blue Wings (11) is another who has been entered as a “Main Track Only” participant. In 6 runs over an “off track,” he has 2 wins and 3 seconds. This one was claimed last time out at the $7,500 level. That was the second time in a row this one was picked out of the claiming ranks. This trainer hits with .25% of those that are making the first start off a claim. Loses the blinkers today, too, and the the barn hits with .13% of those. I bet the 1-12 across the board and then box the top 3 numbers in the exacta.

7th: 2/4-1/6-3-7…Monte Man (2) is my last Key Play of the Day. This 6YO gelded son of Custom for Carlos has been a money-making machine. In 30 career starts, he has 10 wins, 5 seconds and 4 thirds. Earned over $400,000. Not bad for a horse that cost $12,500 to purchase. In the last 9 races, he has hit the board in each. Of those 9, he has won 7 — all in a row. Has a record of 3-0-1 in 4 starts here and has won 3 of 7 over an “off track.” Adds up nicely for me. I bet the 2 to win/place and then key the 2 over/under the 4-1. I bet the 2 over the “all button” in a smaller version.

8th: 9-7-8/4-3-1/2/6-5…The final grass race of the day, and I will assume that this one will be moved to the main track, as well. If so, I will go to the outside and concentrate my betting attention on the top 3 numbers in the sequence — led by Dontblamerocket (9). This 5YO son of Blame has made all 8 starts of his career over the grass. But he does have a pedigree that seems to indicate that he could do well over an “off track.” The sire has produced .20% winners over the mud as opposed to only .15% over the sod. Won the last race here on the grass on Jan. 10. Likes it here. And, gets a solid barn operation that scores with .27% of those trying to repeat in the claiming ranks. Gets a hot rider, too. If he stays in the race, I love the closing style. Harv Won’t Tap (7) is one that has run over an “off track” before, and he got a third for his efforts. This is another consistent sort, having hit the board 14 of 19 starts. Gets a top rider in the saddle today. Look for another late runner here. Zinger (8) should be a tad closer to the pace, and does have a win and two thirds in 7 tries over an “off going.” Picks up a top rider in the saddle and the work here on Feb. 14 was very nice. Only one win all of last year, but drops into the claiming ranks for what appears the first time. Class drop should help with this one today. I bet the 9-7 across the board, and box the top 3 numbers in the exacta.

9th: 5-8/3-4-6…The finale today is a $10,000 MCL event for LA-breds only, and they will navigate only 5.5 furlongs in this sprint effort. I will focus on my top two numbers here, led by Grand Omega (5). This one has a second and a third in three runs here, and is coming off a third here on Feb. 9. Meet’s top rider stays aboard for this one, too. Barn has a 1-1-2 record in just 7 starts this meet. This one could bump that number up. Man Camp (8) drops from the MSW ranks all the way to $10,000 price tag for this one. Barn hits with .23% of those running in the MCL ranks for the first time. Ran well over the slop last summer. Could improve at this class level. I bet the 5-8 across the board and then box those two solidly in one exacta. I will key the 5-8 over (only) the other three numbers listed in a smaller version.

Good Luck & All the Best/Gene

Got a little bit squeezed in the first turn, but I took him back like he likes to run. I had to go a little wide by the three-eighths pole, so I went around. I thought he was going to finish third, and he got a little tired at the end.”

Florent Geroux, Jockey of Hog Creek Hustle, fourth
  • Gene McLean

    Gene McLean

    Gene McLean began his professional career in 1977 as a sportswriter and columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader in Lexington, Ky., and was recognized as one of the state’s best writers, winning the prestigious “Sportswriter of the Year” honor in 1985. Now the President and Publisher of The Pressbox, McLean sets ...

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