America’s Best Racing: Big Race Showdown, Florida Derby and UAE Derby

This is week nine 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 tackle one prep overseas and one prep stateside: the UAE Derby starts the day, and the Florida Derby caps it off.  I have strong opinions on top in both races — but see what the whole panel of handicappers has to say, right over here at ABR!

Picks and Ponderings: 2018 Dubai World Cup Day

This winter’s Dubai Carnival draws to a close this Saturday with Dubai World Cup day.  Saturday’s card features a full day of world-class racing on dirt and on grass, and horses from all over the globe have flocked to Dubai in recent weeks to settle into the desert and make sure they can bring their best on the big day.

Here at Picks and Ponderings, we delve into two of Saturday’s races at Meydan in detail.  The day’s feature, the Dubai World Cup (G1), attracted an international field of ten older horses to contend for a $10,000,000 purse.  We also, in keeping with our content all winter and spring, discuss the three-year-old points race on the card, the UAE Derby (G2).

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, read my preview of the Dubai World Cup and the UAE Derby, and let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Picks and Ponderings: Dubai World Cup Preview

Tomorrow’s card at Meydan is a big one: nine graded stakes, including the $10 million Dubai World Cup.

Over at Picks and Ponderings, Paul Mazur and I preview the day’s feature race horse by horse — tabbing the best of the best, the live longshots, and the underlays to play against. I also have my analysis of the UAE Derby and the Dubai Turf, as well as my picks for all nine races, in a separate piece.

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, watch our video preview of the Dubai World Cup, and let us know your thoughts in the comments!

Picks and Ponderings: Dubai World Cup Day

Dubai World Cup Day is almost upon us!

Over at Picks and Ponderings, I have an in-depth preview of two of the races.  The Dubai Turf features several familiar faces from last summer at Arlington, and often features horses who turn out to be among the top of the world middle-distance turf set.  The UAE Derby, though only a Group 2, does ring in the season of 100-point Kentucky Derby prep races.

In addition, I will be posting a grid of my selections for the rest of the World Cup Day card at Meydan.  And, coming on Friday, Paul Mazur and I will be previewing the day’s feature, the Dubai World Cup.

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, and start getting ready for a great day of racing at Meydan!

Picks and Ponderings: Group I stakes at Meydan

Earlier this week, I took a look at Saturday’s UAE Derby.

Now that the rest of the card has been drawn, I have taken a dive into the five Group I races on Saturday’s World Cup Day card at Meydan.

The day’s racing is headlined by the Dubai World Cup: Keen Ice gets his chance for redemption after a disappointing local prep, California Chrome gets his chance to do one better than last year, and Frosted gets his chance to move further out of the shadow of American Pharoah.

Though the World Cup has the biggest American contingent, it is only one of five Group I races on the card.  Lady Shipman tries world-class foes in the Al Quoz Sprint, and X Y Jet attempts the same in the Golden Shaheen.

And, a pair of Arlington Grade I winners appears in the turf routes.  Euro Charline makes another try at the Dubai Turf, and Highland Reel will follow up his Hong Kong Vase win with a start in the Sheema Classic.

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, read my preview of Saturday’s Group I races in Dubai, and leave a comment with your thoughts!

Picks and Ponderings: UAE Derby Preview

This Saturday is one of my favourite days of the entire racing year: Dubai World Cup day.

The posts for the Grade I events will not be drawn until later in the week, but I have an introduction to a few horses to watch this week: big American shippers in the World Cup, as well as quite a few runners throughout the day who have connections to Arlington Park.  Furthermore, the UAE Derby (GII – UAE) has already been drawn.  It is the one race outside of North American for which Kentucky Derby points are at stake, and it drew an intriguing field of seven.  I love my top selection there, and she may well be a bit of a price, to boot.

Part two, later this week, will cover all of the Grade I Thoroughbred races 0n Dubai World Cup day.

Head on over to Picks and Ponderings, read my preview of the UAE Derby, and get ready for a great day of racing in Dubai!

Picks and Ponderings: 2016 UAE Oaks Preview

This Thursday’s card at Meydan features the only Oaks points race away from North America: the UAE Oaks.

The race features a rising star in Polar River.  The Doug Watson trainee has been the queen of the three-year-olds in Dubai, and there has been talk that she will come stateside later this year.  Though only two others plan to line up to face her, there is a particularly intriguing candidate in Vale Dori, an Argentine Group I winner who makes her first Carnival start for the Mike de Kock barn.

Head on over to Picks and Ponderings, read my preview of the UAE Oaks, and let me know what you think in the comments!

Picks and Ponderings: Dubai World Cup Preview

In addition to the races going on locally and even stateside, Saturday is the culmination of the Carnival in Dubai.  A full card of seven-figure stakes races is set to go on Saturday, including the richest race in the world: the Dubai World Cup.

The main-track races at Meydan have been run on Tapeta since the course opened in 2010, but that track has been replaced with a new dirt track.  With the change in surface, Dubai’s big day has sparked more excitement among stateside racing fans — and connections of horses here, who have been a bit more apt to send their horses across the ocean to test their mettle on the new surface.

At Picks and Ponderings, I dive into three of the stakes on the Dubai World Cup card: the Dubai World Cup, the Sheema Classic, and the United Arab Emirates Derby.  The Dubai World Cup features two of the top American handicap horses, California Chrome and Lea, facing a cast of characters that includes defending champion African Story.  In the Sheema Classic, Main Sequence attempts to run his record with trainer Graham Motion to a perfect six-for-six, and show that he can take his form abroad.  In the UAE Derby, Mubtaahij, Maftool, and Sir Fever finally get to have their battle royal — and lone American representative My Johnny Be Good will see if going half a world away will help him rebound from a disappointing outing in the Tampa Bay Derby (GII).

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, dive into these races with me, and let me know what you think in the comment section!

Dubai and Fair Grounds and Gulfstream: what happened?

Last weekend was a huge one of Derby preps, stakes races, and handicapping contests.  I played Public Handicapper, as I do every week, and also played the contest that Danonymous Racing hosted.  I’m also playing in @horseracing4beg’s Derby Prep Betting Challenge, which covers all the 100 point Derby preps.  Across these contests, it meant I handicapped a total of nine stakes races: four at Gulfstream, three at Fair Grounds, and two at Meydan.  Some went well, some less so…though, when all is said and done, no day on which Palace Malice wins can be a bad one.


Appleton Stakes (GIII, 1 mile on the turf)

In this race, Mr. Online was my first choice, and Kharafa was my second.  Since he raced, Mr. Online was my contest horse.  Especially for a win/place contest, it was hard to do better than him — his statistics compared favourably with the field, and he came into this race with nine straight win or place finishes, including two seconds in graded stakes.

A speed horse, Mr. Online did not disappoint, and he bolted near the lead early.  Midnight Cello faded fast, and Mr. Online led the way until the shadow of the wire.  Hey Leroy, a closing type horse on a big class jump into this race, very much fired in this race.  He was squeezed back to last early, but unfazed.  He gradually made up a little ground down the backstretch, but not a ton.  Still about four lengths off coming into the stretch, he came through wide and hit his best stride.  That stride had him barreling past horses — and got his neck in front of Mr. Online’s to snatch the win.  Salto, who had hit the board (but not won) in three straight stakes appearances coming into the Appleton looked primed on paper to do that again.  Sure enough, he stalked along the rail, but didn’t have enough late to catch either Hey Leroy or Mr. Online.  He checked in third.

My second choice, Kharafa, did not get the early speed he probably wanted.  He made a run at the pack, and was less than two lengths off the pace in the far turn, but then lost his drive.  He faded badly down the stretch, and checked in 8th beaten 12 1/2 lengths.

Skip Away Stakes (GIII, 1 3/16 miles on the dirt)

In this race, I had War Dancer as my first choice, and Nikki’s Sandcastle as my second.  Since he raced, War Dancer was my contest horse.

I had never, ever seen quite a glaring example of betting  down a supposed price horse as I saw in the Skip Away.  There were a few horses I liked decently enough here: War Dancer, Nikki’s Sandcastle, Nevada Kid, maybe Norumbega.  The 15-1 morning line on War Dancer sounded like an overlay, so I thought I could get a decent horse for a decent price, even if he was bet down.  (To compare, I tossed out Norumbega as a contest horse in significant part because I thought the McGaughey/Velazquez connections would be bet down hard, and I didn’t like him more than other horses.)  It turned out that many people must have had the same idea as I did; War Dancer actually went off as the 3.1-1 betting favourite!  Oops.

One horse in this field proved clearly best, and that horse was Micromanage.  He got a good stalking place early, a couple lengths off, and then kicked down the stretch to run away with it.  He checked in 4 1/4 lengths in front of Norumbega: a horse I expected to go off favoured or close to it, but who ended up going off as the fourth choice, at just shy of 5-1!  Norumbega was off the pace early and made a wide closing move into the stretch, but didn’t have enough to match the last boost of Micromanage.  Sr. Quisqueyano, battling Nevada Kid for the lead early, faded less badly than his early rival and held on for third.

My first choice, War Dancer, started slowly and never recovered.  He got in about seven lengths off, but lost ground late — finishing seventh, only ahead of three significantly tired horses.  My second choice, Nikki’s Sandcastle, fared a little bit better than that, though not extremely well.  He stayed near the back of the chasing pack early, though not relegated to the stragglers despite having checked on the clubhouse turn.  He turned wide and made a slight move, but never really threatened the leaders.  Nikki’s Sandcastle held on for fourth, though, mainly because he faded less profoundly than most of the rest of the pack.

Pan American Stakes (GII, 1 ½ miles on the turf)

Here my first choice was Amira’s Prince, my second was Suntracer, and my third was Admiral Kitten.  Amira’s Prince scratched out of the Pan American to run the Muniz at Fair Grounds instead, so Suntracer was my contest horse.

What can I say about my two contest horses remaining in the race, other than that they did just about the same thing, only Suntracer at a better price?  They’re both closers.  They both were back early.  Neither of them fired a bit.  At least Suntracer failed to fire at 11.5-1, whereas Admiral Kitten failed to fire at 2.2-1.

It was Newsdad who ended up carrying the day.  I thought he may hit the board, but didn’t think he’d be the same horse who scored in the Pan American in 2012.  His last race was his first after an almost yearlong lay, and he was rusty and fading late.  I underestimated Newsdad: extremely far back early, he proved that closing win in the 2012 Fayette (GII) was no fluke.  He made up ground, swung outside during that second trip through the far turn, and got his neck in front of Vertiformer for the win.  Vertiformer, who stalked near the rail a few lengths back most of the race, made a good closing run but finished with just less than Newsdad.  Slumber, who spent much of the race only a handful of lengths ahead of Newsdad, also closed well; he crossed the wire 3/4 length behind Newsdad in third.  The 4th place finisher, Joes Blazing Aaron, is worth mentioning here only because of how badly I underestimated him.  He was alone on the lead through most of the race, but I thought he was outclasses, and served no useful purpose in this race other than as a rabbit for Admiral Kitten and Charming Kitten.  Turns out, he doggedly held his own, and only grudgingly surrendered his lead in the final sixteenth.  He was tougher than I expected, and finished in front of both horses for whom I suspected him to be rabbiting.

Florida Derby (GI, three-year-olds, 1 1/8 miles on the dirt)

In this race, I had General a Rod as my first selection, Wildcat Red as my second, and Constitution as my third.  Since he raced, General a Rod was my contest horse.  For once, even though I had them in the wrong order, my contest horses all had a pretty decent run at things, and all hit the board.

As expected, Wildcat Red got the lead near the rail, and set the fractions.  General a Rod tracked just off in second, a length or so bad early, but closing up a bit to get right next to him near the far turn.  Constitution stalked along the rail in third.  As the far turn straightened out into the stretch, Wildcat Red got just far enough off the rail  that a charging horse could fit through.  Javier Castellano saw that, and figured that was all he needed to get Constitution through.  He was right.  Constitution slipped through, dueled with Wildcat Red down the stretch, and got forward ever-so-slightly to win by a neck.  I caught myself loving Wildcat Red so much going into this race, but once again I let the fact that he’s by D’Wildcat give me pause.  He is by the Miner’s Mark mare Racene, and that dam-side stamina carried him nine furlongs better than I wanted to let myself expect.  Wildcat Red is one game horse.  General a Rod checked in third, 1 1/2 lengths behind Constitution.  The stretch run wasn’t a train wreck, but it wasn’t as good as I was hoping to see.  I hoped he’d at least be able to fight head-bob for head-bob with Constititution and Wildcat Red, but it was clear pretty early in the stretch that the best the General was going to muster was third.

Constitution and Wildcat Red are in the Derby, barring any kind of injury between now and then.  General a Rod is hopefully good with the 40 points he has now, but it’s not a slam dunk yet.  Hopefully there will be just enough repeat winners and placers in the remaining preps to leave room in the gate, and hopefully this performance was either a one-shot regression or a question of learning to rate a little better.  I only hope it’s not a dislike for nine furlongs, since that little race in Kentucky is ten.

Fair Grounds

Crescent City Derby Stakes (three-year-olds, Louisiana-bred, 1 1/16 miles on the dirt)

In this race, I had Youve Got a Friend as my first choice, and Gold Appointment as my second.  Since he ran, Youve Got a Friend was my contest horse.

One of my choices ran away with this race; to the detriment of my contest performance, it was not my first-choice horse.  Gold Appointment, in his first race back from a maiden win, was just the live longshot I hoped to see.  His maiden win was his first attempt on the dirt, and he continued to show his love of dirt here.  He ran a bit differently than expected, though.  He had won his maiden race from a stalking place.  This time he broke alertly, shot to the lead, and left the field eating his dust.  Hot Zapper, the favourite, made enough of a closing run to finish eight lengths in front of the rest of the field, but that was still four lengths behind Gold Appointment.  Longshot Blue Forty Two, who along with Grand Isle was within a length or two of Gold Appointment early, held on for a well-beaten third, a dozen lengths back.

Youve Got a Friend, my primary choice for the race, did not get anywhere near the early speed.  That boded poorly for him, since he does his best from a stalking place.  He was right in the back of the pack early, and would have needed a big closing run to do anything in this race.  That’s clearly not his style.  He passed enough tiring horses to finish 6th beaten 19 1/4 lengths, but never seriously contended for the win, much less a spot on the board.

New Orleans Handicap (GII, 1 1/8 miles on the dirt)

In this race, I had Palace Malice as my first choice, Mister Marti Gras as my second choice, and Normandy Invasion as my third.  Mister Marti Gras scratched.  However, that didn’t change my contest horse; Palace Malice ran, so I had him.

As should be abundantly clear by now, Blinkers Off will never complain about throwing their lot in with Palace Malice.

I have already discussed this race here, so there’s no use repeating myself too much.  Palace Malice showed yet again that he’s up to run a big race on fairly short rest, and showed that he’s a true route horse.  Normandy Invasion may have been half a dozen lengths clear of the rest of the field, but Palace Malice hit his stride down the stretch and finished a widening 4 3/4 lengths ahead of Normandy Invasion.  He found another way to prove that he is a force to be reckoned with in the older dirt horse division this year.

Louisiana Derby (GII, three-year-olds, 1 1/8 miles on the dirt)

In this race, I had In Trouble as my first choice, Intense Holiday as my second, and Vicar’s In Trouble as my third.  Since he raced, In Trouble was my contest horse.  The good news about this race was that horses in my group of selections filled out the exacta.  The bad news was that In Trouble was the horse left out in the cold.

Vicar’s In Trouble broke sharply, and contended with Louies Flower early for the lead.  Louies Flower faded, but the Vicar stayed on.  He never got too loose on the lead down the backstretch, but he was clearly the one who got to dictate the pace.  Rise Up, far back early, made it up within a length of him coming into the far turn, and In Trouble and Intense Holiday were in the mix there as well.  However, come the stretch, Vicar’s In Trouble pulled a few lengths in front, and no one seriously challenged late.  He crossed the wire 3 1/2 lengths in front of Intense Holiday, who drove well enough not to lose ground down the stretch — but couldn’t gain any, either.  Commanding Curve, last early, made up enough ground to pass the tiring field and come in third.  The early pace wasn’t fast enough to set up for a closer like him, but he at least showed that he could stand a chance in a route where pace does fall apart.

In Trouble, my top choice, had no answer to Vicar’s In Trouble.  He found a stalking place early, whih should have boded well, but ran a flat race with no clearly apparent excuse.  He faded off through the far turn, and crossed the wire fourth: 8 3/4 lengths behind Vicar’s In Trouble.  However, he had gone out into Albano on the backstretch, hard enough to disqualify him from fourth.  Albano, who had finished a length and a half behind In Trouble, was elevated to fourth, and given the ten Derby points.  In Trouble was placed fifth, for none.


Dubai World Cup (GI UAE, 2000 metres (about 1 ¼ miles) on the Tapeta)

In this race, Prince Bishop was my first choice, and Red Cadeaux was my second.  Since he raced, Prince Bishop was my contest horse.  This was my first time even attempting to handicap Dubai, I was very unfamiliar with the horses, and I didn’t feel like I had as much to go on as usual.  I liked Prince Bishop because he had experience with the Meydan course, and had run well in his preps.  I picked Red Cadeaux because he had run well in last year’s Dubai World Cup, and had shown from his performance in the Melbourne Cup that he could race well from a brutal post position.

It turns out my instinct to like horses who had raced at Meydan before wasn’t a terrible angle to take.  African Story, the victor, had raced almost exclusively at Meydan over the last few years; he had won the Godolphin Mile in 2012, and was fifth in the World Cup last year.  He got a nice stalking place, and overtook the frontrunning Mukhadram late.  I was also right that there may be some horses who overcame terrible post positions: both the second and the third place horses came from double-digit gates.  However, it was the horses on either side of Red Cadeaux, and not Red Cadeaux himself.  Mukhadram, breaking from the 13 gate, came here first off a layoff since October (and in his first career start on any surface other than turf!) to finish just 2 3/4 lengths behind African Story.  Cat O’Mountain, the third place horse, overcame the 15 gate; after three preps at Meydan (including a win at 1 3/8 miles in January) he closed big enough to finish third, seven lengths behind African Story.

Prince Bishop, who had been racing so well at Meydan, regressed.  He fell to last early despite the inner gate.  He closed well enough to finish 9th, but was no serious threat to the horses on the board.  Red Cadeaux, second-t0-last through most of the race, fared somewhat better.  He managed to make a move, and crossed the wire in 6th — just a length behind the third-place Cat O’Mountain.

What did I learn most from this race?  Pay a bit more attention to Meydan, because it’s going to come up in handicapping contests — and the betting payouts are juicy if you know what you’re doing!

UAE Derby (GII UAE, three-year-olds, 1900 metres (about 1 3/16 miles) on the Tapeta)

In this race, I was torn between Giovanni Boldini and Asmar.  I thought they both had decent chances to do well — Giovanni Boldini I thought was more likely to do better, though Asmar at a better price.  So, where the goal was to amass betting dollars I wanted Asmar, but where the goal was to amass Derby points I wanted Giovanni Boldini.  I ended up messing up royally here: thinking that @horseracing4beg’s contest was a points contest, I sent Giovanni Boldini as my primary pick, and Asmar my alternate.  Of course, that was in error — it’s a price contest, and I should have sent Asmar as my primary.

I paid for this dearly, of course.  Had I sent the right horse in, I’d be sitting on his nice little place payout instead of being squarely on the duck.

Toast of New York, the winner, had a great race.  I underestimate the surface factor with him; his only really bad race was on turf, and his last two times out were wins by double-digit lengths over the synthetic.  However, they were against maiden and allowance company, and at distances shorter than this.  He proved his mettle here.  He stalked the frontrunning Safety Check, got his neck in front about two furlongs from the finish, and powered to a 2 1/2 length victory over Asmar.  Asmar, my second choice in the race, was mid-pack early, but able to get into a stalking place.  He didn’t have as much late as Toast of New York did, but had enough staying power to finish second.  Emirates Flyer, at least, did about what I expected him to do.  He had no stakes victories but a ton of close seconds — and on that, I saw him as a good bet to hit the board but an awful bet to win.  He nosed out Giovanni Boldini for third.

Giovanni Boldini didn’t have the race hoped for, plain and simple.  He was very far back early, and didn’t really catch until the last five or six hundred meters.  He closed up ground decently enough once he got going, but still only managed to get within 3 3/4 lengths of the lead by the time the wire fell.  Whether it was the layoff or the synthetic surface, it wasn’t quite enough.

Dubai and Fair Grounds and Gulfstream, oh my!

This weekend is a huge weekend of racing: three 100-point Kentucky Derby preps, some serious route action at Gulfstream, the world’s richest horse race, and the return of Blinkers Off’s favourite horse: the one and only Palace Malice!

This is also the weekend that Blinkers Off is visiting New York City, and taking a visit to Aqueduct.  Look for some Big A fun coming up soon — for right now, though, it’s time for a breakneck tour through this weekend’s big races!


Appleton Stakes (GIII, 1 mile on the turf)

Selections:  Mr. Online (4), Kharafa (2)

Mr. Online is one consistent turf miler.  His last out he finished second behind Reload in the Canadian Turf, and he has finished either first or second in his last nine races.  There’s nothing in the pace scenario that indicates his early speed style will be thwarted; look for him to pull off yet another strong finish.  Kharafa may possibly be early speed, though he may also rate just off of it.  He is coming off of a lay since his last start in November, but has shown the ability in the past to come off of a layoff strong.  This is his first stab against graded stakes company, but he is fast enough to contend here.  His works are sharp, which should indicate he is ready to race the way he’s shown he is capable of — which is as good as anyone here.

Skip Away Stakes (GIII, 1 3/16 miles on the dirt)

Selections:  War Dancer (2), Nikki’s Sandcastle (7)

War Dancer has done most of his racing on turf, but has shown a versatility in style that will serve him well here — he has won from speed, stalking, or deep closing positions.  There’s enough early speed here that he should stalk or close here.  He has mostly run turf races, but has won at 1 1/4 miles on turf — showing he has the stamina to do this race.  His only longer route on dirt was in the Travers last year, where he was 6th beaten 6 by Will Take Charge, but he faces easier here.  Nikki’s Sandcastle, like most of the quality horses in this field, is another one who has raced more recently in the turf than the dirt.  However, his style of coming from mid-pack or deeper to close suits this race, which is full of early speed.  He’s on a class drop here from the recent fields he has gone against, and has been gaining on the competition at 1 1/8 miles, so the extra half-furlong should serve him well here.

Pan American Stakes (GII, 1 ½ miles on the turf)

Selections:  Amira’s Prince (7), Suntracer (4), Admiral Kitten (5)

Amira’s Prince hasn’t missed the board at this distance: he won an allowance optional claimer at Gulfstream last year by three lengths at 1 1/2 miles, and also came in second beaten just a nose at the distance while carrying 135 pounds — eighteen more than he carries here.  His last out, the Gulfstream Park Handicap in which he finished third behind Lochte, was his first race off a ten-month lay; he stands to improve here.  Illinois-bred Suntracer and Admiral Kitten are both deep closers, who will be helped by the presence of obvious rabbit Joes Blazing Aaron in the field.  Suntracer is coming off a fourth-place finish in the Mac Diarmida, where he rallied late.  The 1 3/8 miles of that race was short for him; look for him to do better here with the extra furlong.  Admiral Kitten is coming off a fast closing neck win in the Connally Turf Cup at Sam Houston.  He has never raced 1 1/2 miles before, but finished second by just a head in last year’s American Derby at Arlington, at 1 3/16 miles on the turf.  He’s a consistent closer who fires every single time on the turf, and looks to be more than ready to handle twelve furlongs.

Florida Derby (GI, three-year-olds, 1 1/8 miles on the dirt)

Selections:  General a Rod (6), Wildcat Red (1), Constitution (4)

General a Rod and Wildcat Red have been duking it out down in Florida all fall, and they stand to fight again this time.  With the extra half furlong compared to the Fountain of Youth, Wildcat Red’s pedigree-related distance considerations may come into play, but I said that about the Fountain of Youth as well and he surprised me.  General a Rod and Wildcat Red are both very fast horses who have proven themselves to be ultra-game in long speed duels, and this should serve them well here in a race where they’ll have to fend off each other, the close-stalking Constitution and Cairo Prince, and possibly Spot and East Hall coming in from a bit further back.  I give a slight nod to General a Rod over Wildcat Red on pedigree, but they’re both great choices who love the speedy Gulfstream track.  If one of the other horses might spoil their party, I look to Constitution.  He won the AOC OF DOOM over Tonalist and Mexikoma back in February, showing he can knock off quality horses, and the combination of Pletcher and Castellano is often one you can take straight to the bank.

Fair Grounds

Crescent City Derby Stakes (three-year-olds, Louisiana-bred, 1 1/16 miles on the dirt)

Selections:  Youve Got a Friend (9), Gold Appointment (7)

Youve Got a Friend is likely to get up on or near the early speed in this race.  This is his first attempt at 9 furlongs, but he has been gaining on the ield at a mile and a mile 70 yards, so he should be ready to go here.  His speeds are decent for this field.  His trainer is hot this meet, and he retains the same jockey who has been on him his entire consistent (7-1-3-3) career.  Gold Appointment is likely to get stalking, not too far off the lead.  He is trying a route for the first time after three maiden races in sprints, but has been working very well at the Fair Grounds and does have some stamina in his pedigree, being by a son of Unbridled and out of a Slew O’Gold mare.  His first two efforts were lackluster, but last out he scored a big maiden win in his first race on the dirt.  He retains his jockey from his maiden win last time out, and looks like a live longer shot here.

New Orleans Handicap (GII, 1 1/8 miles on the dirt)

Selections: Palace Malice (8), Mister Marti Gras (2), Normandy Invasion (5)

Palace Malice returns to a longer race after his victory in the Gulfstream Park Handicap three weeks ago.  He breaks from the same post he did in that last race: the seven gate, as the 8 horse with one scratch inside him.  The only worry with him is whether that fight in his last race took too much out of him to race three weeks later.  However, he consistently has enough speed to take this field, and had a big run in the Blue Grass last year on just two weeks’ rest.  Mike Smith, who piloted him to a win at this distance in last year’s Jim Dandy, has the mount.  Mister Marti Gras is in here second off his winter lay, coming off a ninth-place finish in the Mineshaft.  There is a decent amount of early speed here; if it falls apart, and he has freshened up a bit to race second off the lay, he could be the one who comes in to pick up the pieces.  He has certainly run fast enough to do that before, and may again if he finds what he found in the Hawthorne Gold Cup two outs ago.  Normandy Invasion hasn’t won a stakes race yet, but is coming off a very sharp allowance victory (albeit against much easier company) last time out.  He has seen some success at this distance, finishing second by a nose in the 2012 Remsen and second by 3/4 length in last year’s Wood.  His last race was sharp, his works have been good, and he can rate from off the pace as long as he catches up fairly close early.  He’ll be a threat.

Louisiana Derby (GII, three-year-olds, 1 1/8 miles on the dirt)

Selections:  In Trouble (9), Intense Holiday (1), Vicar’s In Trouble (6)

Look to In Trouble to be on or near the early speed.  There’s no shortage of early speed in this race, but In Trouble proved in the Gotham last time out that he can fight gamely to stay on the front.  The Gotham was his first race off of a five-month lay, and the race he fired last out was not anomalous compared to his last one before that lay.  Look for him to improve here — and be the speed horse most likely to take it all.  Intense Holiday drew the rail in his first race back after his nose win in the Risen Star.  The rail isn’t the best place for him, given his come-from-behind style, but assuming he gets some racing room, he should have the speed necessary to overtake the early speed if it falls apart, or one horse doesn’t get the lone, defining speed.  Vicar’s In Trouble is another one of the speed horses in this race, who will need to get on the speed early if he has any hope of winning this race.  If the Risen Star last time out was a regression, he should be able to get up there, and then some.  He has shown an affinity for the Fair Grounds, having won both his career races over the dirt there, in addition to that third in the Risen Star.


Dubai World Cup (GI UAE, 2000 metres (about 1 ¼ miles) on the Tapeta)

Selections:  Prince Bishop (1), Red Cadeaux (14)

Prince Bishop has raced mostly at Meydan over the last few years.  In 2012 and 2013, he ran in a few preps before his big race (Round 2 and Round 3 of the Al Makhtoum Challenge), but never came in better than third.  This year?  He won both.  Those two prep races were at 1 3/16 miles and 1 1/4 miles — perfect lengths to assure he is in form for this race.  Red Cadeux, last year’s second place finisher in the Dubai World Cup, draws the 14th post out of 16.  However, he has shown some adeptness at overcoming outside posts.  Last year, in the Melbourne Cup, he finished second beaten 3/4 length from the outermost post: post position 23.  He may be most suited to even longer races than this one, but his performance last year combined with his ability to overcome a post position in the next county over make him a viable contender here.

UAE Derby (GII UAE, three-year-olds, 1900 metres (about 1 3/16 miles) on the Tapeta)

Selections:  Asmar (9), Giovanni Boldini (5)

There are two horses in this race who look like they have a really good chance of taking it: Asmar and Giovanni Boldini.  Asmar did not ship to Meydan — he’s local, and hasn’t had to deal with the stress of shipping.  He is proven at this distance; his last out, he won at this distance by six lengths over Emirates Flyer.  Giovanni Boldini is not proven yet at this distance, but has proven he can race well off of a long ship; he shipped from Ireland to the United States for the Breeders Cup Juvenile Turf last year, and finished second beaten only half a length by Outstrip.  His trainer, Aiden O’Brien, has taken down the last two UAE Derbies; Giovanni Boldini is his first-stringer here, and O’Brien will doubtless have him ready to handle the distance.