McLean’s Selections for the Fair Grounds on Thursday, Feb. 21

Day Results9-2-4-5
2019 Overall 264264/97-100-125
Win % of Top Pick36.74%
Payoff % of Top 3 Picks Overall40.66%
2019 Top Pick in the Money –184 of 26469.70%
Top Selection ITM / FG Nov-Mar 311-44370.20%
Top Selection Win / FG Nov-Mar 170-44338.37%
“Key Horses” @ FG Nov-Mar 99-44-18-1444.44%
“Key Horses” in 2019 71-28-12-1139.44%

We start a brand new week and the final one of the great month of February. How can it not be great? My daughter and step-son were both born in this age of Aquarius. Not to mention, your’s truly. (Blush. Blush.)

So, let’s end it up in style with a great week of racing, handicapping, and, most of all, winning. Here’s a closer look at the Thursday race card at the Fair Grounds — which may be under the same deluge of rains that have assaulted the Bluegrass over the past two months. With that fact, in mind, I have handicapped as if the track will be wet, and the turf will be growing undisturbed — meaning that the grass races will be moved to the main track. Keep an eye out for changes and scratches early on in the proceedings.

1st: 8-7-3/2-1-6…The first race of the day is a $5,000 claimer for LA-bred fillies and mares over the main track, and I will go to the outside to pick out my first two choices. Charlotte’s Wish (8) was claimed by the master horseman Steve Asmussen in his last outing and will make his first start for the new barn today. The trainer hits with .20% of those making the initial start for the new connections, and this 4YO filly will get the series of the meet’s leading rider for the first time. In only two mounts for this barn this meet, James Graham has a win. In two starts over an “off track,” this filly has a win, and she has a 1-2-1 record in 6 starts here overall. Adds up for me. Daylight Deelite (7) ran a nice second here last time out and was third two back when running at this level over a sloppy track. Barn has a 2-1-3 record in just 12 starts here this meet, and this one has a 0-1-3 mark in 6 starts at the distance. Looks better underneath, for me. I bet the 8 to win/place/show and then box the top 3 numbers in one exacta. I will key the 8 over/under all the numbers in two smaller versions.

2nd: 4/2-5-3/6-1-7…This is the first race on the day that is originally carded for the sod. But with the anticipated rains starting to fall on Thursday night and draining on the grounds throughout the morning, and periodically expected in the afternoon, I am looking at this as a race destined to be moved to the main track. As a result, I will go with my first Key Play of the Day and with Just Grace (4) — who comes from the barn of Tom Amoss. In the first start, at Delta Downs on Dec. 21 of last year, this 3YO Graydar filly romped to an easy win on the lead at the MSW ranks. Came out of that sprint to try a route race here at the FG and never got truly untracked. And, she faded badly. The barn hits with .26% of those making the second route race of the career, and the dam of this one is Stakes-placed. Has produced multiple winners, too. Barn hits with .32% of those dropping into the claiming ranks for the first time. If she breaks well and can settle on the lead, look out. I bet the 4 to win/place/show and then key the 4 over/under all the numbers I have listed above.

3rd: 4-2-1/5-7…I will spread out in this spot and focus my betting strategy on the top 3 numbers in the sequence. Overanalyzfakenews (4) comes from the barn of my great friend Buff Bradley, and he looks well-placed in this spot. Drops out of a $30,000 price level to a career-low tag of $12,500. This one ran three straight nice races against much tougher last Fall in Kentucky, and he could overpower this crowd if he can rediscover that kind of run today. Worked super well on Jan. 26, and could pop and go. Baron of Bluegrass (2) has a nice pedigree for an “off track,” especially on the dam side. Mare is by A.P. Indy, and he can have a positive influence in that regard. Ran 7th on debut last June over a sloppy track, but I am willing to forgive that effort, after he made the lead early and wilted. Ran much better in the second outing, and looks to be training OK for the return to the races today. Barn knows how to spot them, and this is quite a drop for this one. Wild Road (1) is one that ran a nice second at this level last time out for the barn of Dallas Stewart. This one has the pedigree to run over an “off track,” and worked well on Valentine’s Day, too. Gets the apprentice and the weight allowance today. I bet the 4-1 to win/place/show and then box the top 3 numbers in the exacta. I will key the 4 over/under the 5-7 in two smaller versions, as well.

4th: 5-9-2/1-3-7-8/4…This one is scheduled to go on the sod, but I’m figuring that it does not. If moved, I will give the slight edge to High Noon Rider (5), who hails from the barn of the meet’s top trainer. Has run a third over an “off track,” in his only try, and will get a jockey who has won with .33% of the 21 rides for this barn this meet. Barn hits with .27% of those making the second start off a layup, and this one will be dropping all the way from a G3 event three starts back to the $17,500 level today. Bargain basement shopping? This 7YO may be the ticket. Training very well for this one. Cookies Are Good (9) was entered for the “Main Track Only,” and may get his wish for trainer Joe Sharp. Was claimed last time out for $10,000 and that was the third race in a row that he was plucked up. Before the last race, he won for this barn two back. Nice to see the connections thought enough of him to purchase him back. Barn hits with .22% on those running first off the claim. I bet the 5-9 across the board and then box the top 3 numbers in the exacta. I will key the 5-9 over/under the 2-1-3-7-8-4 in two smaller versions.

5th: 7-6/4-5-3/1-2…I will go to the outside in this concise field to find my top two selections, led by Dreaming Diamonds (7). This 3YO Cross Traffic filly won her last time out and will move up in class today. But she won so easily in that performance as the odds-on favorite, and the barn does hit with .32% with claimer repeaters. The meet’s top rider gets the assignment, and this one could be a nice purchase for the claiming price of $15,000. Take note. Stealing Sunshine (6) was awful last time out, but that was going long over the grass. Now, she is back to sprinting and back on the main track. Gets a top rider back in the irons, and could be a handful in this spot if she can break well and get close to the lead. Barn hits with .31% of those making this type of a class drop, too. I bet the 7-6 across the board and then box those two solidly in one exacta. I will key the 7-6 over (only) the 4-5-3-1-2 in two smaller versions.

6th: 9-8-7/6-4/5-2-11/10-1…The third of the scheduled grass races, and I will be spread out a bit in this spot — especially in the horizontal plays of the Black Gold Pick 5, and other multi-race wagers. My Upset Special gets the nod here — Estrela Cadente (9). This one is 10-1 in the ML, but may plummet in the wagering if the handicappers get wind that this 5YO Mucho Uno mare is 1-2-0 in 3 starts over an “off track.” Ran really well at this level last time out to be second. Had trouble in that one, too. The apprentice gets the ride back, and if you look at the last time she was on the mud, she ran a really nice second as the favorite last October at Keeneland. My pick. Brenda’s Fever (8) and Glance (7) both rate a shot in here, too. The former is 5-2 ML odds, and was claimed last time out by the Asmussen barn. Trainer hits with .20% of those making the first start after the purchase. Never been on an off track, though. The latter was claimed two races back and will be making the second start for the new connections. Barn hits with .25% of those. Watch out. I bet the 9-7 across the board and then box the top 3 numbers in the exacta. I will key the top 3 over/under the 6-4 in two smaller versions.

7th: 6-7-1A/5-4/8-3-2/1…Ace’s High (6) gets a slight edge in this field, going 1 mile & 70 yards to the finish line. This one was claimed last time out by Asmussen, as well, and will get the meet’s top rider in the irons. Lost last time out at this level by a skinny neck. Trained well since that effort, and should be right on the pace from the get-go. This 8YO veteran may be tough to hold off this time. St. Augustine (7) is just outside our top pick and is coming off a win in the last out. That was a MSW event at Ellis Park, and was over 6 months ago. The trainer is having a super meet here, and wins with .20% of those on the comeback trail. Last work on Feb. 15 was a good one, too. Can’t dismiss, especially considering that this one really improved with equipped with blinkers four back. May need a race? Rubus (1A) has raced 11 times to date with a win, two seconds and two thirds. Has faced some real good ones in the past, too. Lost by only 4 lengths in the debut to a horse by the name of Promises Fulfilled. Remember him. I have to use. I bet the 6-1A across the board and then box the top 3 numbers in the exacta.

8th: 11-7/9-10-1/8-5-2-6…The final grass race carded on the day, and I will go to the outside to pick my top two selections — especially considering that they may be running over a sloppy main track. Drummond (11) has a solid pedigree for the off-going, since he is out of a Storm Cat mare. Ran well here at a price two starts back before faltering against MSW company last time out. Trainer hits with .19% of those dropping from MSW ranks to MCL level. Love the work here on Feb. 12. Noble Companion (7) ran super over the grass last time out, but ran poorly over the slop on debut. Hard to figure, but this 3YO son of Strong Mandate is trained by Brad Cox. I can’t leave out. Not off the last race. I bet the 11-7 across the board and then box those two solidly in one exacta. I will key the 11-7 over/under the 9-10-1 in two smaller versions.

9th: 9-1A/1-11-10-12/8-3-4-6-2…Today’s finale appears to be a wide open affair, but I will try to slice it down and focus on the top 2 in my sequence. Point Hope (9) won at this level last time out and does have a 2-3-0 record in 13 tries over an “off track.” Looks good at this level, again, and has experience over this type of racing surface. Barn is red hot this meet, winning at a .33% clip in 61 tries to date. Niigon’s Glory (1A) is on the AE List and will have to draw in. But if this 9YO does, I won’t leave out of my equation. Has 2 wins in 2 tries over an “off track” and was claimed by a top barn last time out. I use. I bet the 9-1A across the board and then box them squarely in the exacta. I will key the 9-1A over (only) the 11-10-12.

Good Luck & All the Best/Gene

The horse broke well today,” Gaffalione said. “I had the horse inside, Dunph, going to the lead and then (Gun It) showed a little bit of speed. When I saw they were intent on going I just tried to get him back and got him to relax. He came back to me nicely and settled well down the backside. Got a little keen going into the far turn and wanted to move a little early. But I didn’t want to take too much away from him so I tried to sit as long as I could. He was waiting on horses down the lane but I kept him at task and there was plenty of horse there.”

“Mark (Casse, the trainer) and his team have done a great job,” Gaffalione said. “They’ve had a ton of confidence in this horse the whole way. It’s just an honor to be able to ride the horse. He’s just so professional, trains great and he’s a pleasure to be around.”

Tyler Gaffalione, Rode of War of Will to victory in the G2 Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds
  • 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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