Picks and Ponderings: 2018 John Battaglia Memorial Stakes Preview

Picks and Ponderings has kept a close eye trained on the three-year-old points races, but there are none this week.  Far be it from us to go on hiatus, though: especially since we’re hitting the road this weekend!  We’re off to Florence, Kentucky, making our maiden voyage to Turfway Park, so follow along with @picksponderings for photos, notes, and updates!

We are keeping up with the three-year-old theme, of course.  The feature of the race week is the John Battaglia Memorial Stakes, the local prep for next month’s Grade 3 Jack Ruby Steaks (née Spiral Stakes).

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, read my preview of Friday’s John Battaglia Memorial, and let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Picks and Ponderings: 2018 Southwest Stakes Preview

We’ve already visited the Big Easy and the City by the Bay this weekend — but with Presidents’ Day on Monday, the Derby trail winds to Oaklawn Park for the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes, the second of four preps during this winter’s Hot Springs meet.  Though the Kentucky Derby points haul isn’t huge — it’s the final 10-4-2-1 — the $500,000 purse is massive for a Grade 3.

The Southwest Stakes will be run for the fifty-third time this year.  The race was run in 1959, 1962, and then every year from 1968 to the present day.  Originally a sprint, the race was extended to a mile in 1984, and then to its current 1 1/16 mile distance in 2013.  The first year in which it was a key Derby prep was 1992: though 17/1 D. Wayne Lukas bomb Big Sur wired the field that day, second-place Pine Bluff won the Preakness, and third-place Lil E. Tee took home the roses on the first Saturday in May.

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, read my preview of the Southwest Stakes, and let me know your thoughts in the comments!

America’s Best Racing: Big Race Showdown, El Camino Real Derby and Risen Star Stakes

It’s time for the fourth week of Big Race Showdown at America’s Best Racing: where I clash heads with six awesome handicappers (Emily GulliksonCandice HareDan TordjmanBrian ZipseEric Bialek, and Mark DiLorenzo) to see who can stay the hottest through Derby prep season.

So far…I’m holding my own, mostly.  I must be getting a bit cute for cute’s sake on top: three weeks in my top picks are 0/4, but my exacta and trifecta winnings are solid.

This week, we take on a pair of Derby preps: the Risen Star Stakes (G2) at Fair Grounds, as well as the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields.  Head over to ABR, and see who we like!

Picks and Ponderings: 2018 El Camino Real Derby Preview

With synthetic tracks going out of fashion in the United States over the last few years, options for amassing Kentucky Derby points over anything but dirt have become few and far between.  One of those rare remaining opportunities comes this Saturday over the Tapeta at Golden Gate Fields, in the El Camino Real Derby.

The El Camino Real Derby, named after the so-called “Royal Road” that connects the Spanish missions from the San Francisco Bay south to San Diego, began its life in 1982.  It was run at the late Bay Meadows Racetrack in San Mateo from 1982 through 2000, and again from 2005-2008.  Golden Gate Fields hosted the race from 2001-2004, and again from 2009 through the present day.  The race was run at 1 1/16 miles for most of its history, but stretched out to its current 1 1/8 mile distance in 2009.  The race gained a Grade 3 designation in 1986, but was downgraded to listed status this year.  Its purse was also cut in half, $100,000 this year versus $200,000 last year.  Even so, it still offers its customary 10-4-2-1 Kentucky Derby points to its top four finishers.

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, read my preview of the El Camino Real Derby, and let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Picks and Ponderings: 2018 Risen Star Stakes and Rachel Alexandra Stakes Preview

This Saturday, things get serious at Fair Grounds.  Since the inauguration of the points system in 2013, 50 points has been far more than enough to get a horse into either the Kentucky Derby or the Kentucky Oaks.  And, Saturday’s card in New Orleans features the first pair of 50-20-10-5 point preps: the $400,000 Risen Star Stakes (G2) for open company, and the $200,000 Rachel Alexandra Stakes (G2) for fillies.

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, read my preview of Saturday’s pair of three-year-old points races at Fair Grounds, and let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Illinois Harness Horsemen’s Association: Casey Leonard Remains Connected to Training

If you’re a new follower of the Chicago harness racing circuit, one of the first things you learn is that driver Casey Leonard wins a lot of races.  A perennial driving champion in Illinois, he enters the second-to-last week of the Hawthorne meet with 28 wins, the most of any driver.  Even as he reigns as the top driver in the state, he still remains connected to his original interest in the world of harness racing: training horses.

Read on, and learn about top driver Casey Leonard’s connection to training horses, in my latest article for the Illinois Harness Horsemen’s Association!

America’s Best Racing: Big Race Showdown, Sam F. Davis S.

It’s time for the third week of Big Race Showdown at America’s Best Racing!: where I clash heads with six awesome handicappers (Emily GulliksonCandice HareDan TordjmanBrian ZipseEric Bialek, and Mark DiLorenzo) to see who can stay the hottest through Derby prep season.

This week, we visit one of my favourite tracks in the country: Tampa Bay Downs.  Head over to ABR, and see who we like for the Sam F. Davis!

Picks and Ponderings: 2018 Martha Washington Stakes Preview

Saturday’s card at Oaklawn features the second stakes of the season for three-year-old fillies: the $125,000 Martha Washington Stakes.  Opening day featured the six-furlong Dixie Belle, but the Martha Washington’s one-mile distance begins to bring out those fillies who may be able to stretch out for later preps, or even the nine-furlong Oaks itself. In addition to the purse money, the top four finishers of the Martha Washington receive Road to the Kentucky Oaks points (10-4-2-1).  It is the first of three Oaks points races in Hot Springs.  The series continues with the Honeybee (G3) on March 10, and concludes with the Fantasy (G3) on April 13.

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, read my preview of this Saturday’s Martha Washington Stakes, and let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Picks and Ponderings: 2018 Sam F. Davis Stakes and Suncoast Stakes Preview

For the first time in a couple years, Picks and Ponderings won’t be at the Sam F. Davis Stakes — our foray south will instead happen a little later this winter, for the Tampa Bay Derby.  However, being in Chicago won’t stop us from previewing Saturday’s pair of sophomore dirt stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, the Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3) for open company and the Suncoast Stakes, the newest-minted Oaks points prep.

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, read my preview of Saturday’s pair of three-year-old preps at Tampa Bay Downs, and let me know your thoughts in the comments!

(My preview of the Sam F. Davis Stakes is published at ThoroFan Handicapper’s Corner, as well!  It’s not the only race at ThoroFan this week; Michael Amo also tackles the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf.)

Illinois Harness Horsemen’s Association: Sweetshadyshark Thrills New Owners

In Saturday night’s second race at Hawthorne, few people expected five-year-old mare Sweetshadyshark to make an impact: she went off the longest shot in the eight-horse field, at 28/1.  Sitting last through the early stages of the race, she picked off horses while wide through the far turn, and found another gear in the stretch run.

As Sweetshadyshark kicked away in the final furlong, powering to a two-and-a-quarter-length victory, she brought a group of new standardbred owners the thrill of their lives.

Read on, and experience the thrill, in my latest piece for the Illinois Harness Horsemen’s Association!