02/04/2012 12:02PM

Weekend Stakes Opinions

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Let's take a look at some of the weekend's major stakes races:

AQUEDUCT - RACE 3 - TOBOGGAN STAKES:

Let's scratch #J J'S LUCKY TRAIN. 

Please note that #4 RULE BY NIGHT will race with one bar shoe.

I was enamored with CANDYMAN E following his come-from-behind victory in the $150,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash at Laurel on October 22.  He was steadied on the backstretch and raced in behind horses in upper stretch, but split rivals decisively near the inside during the run up to the wire to get there in time.  That was his fourth straight victory (he has won six of his last seven races) and two of the horses that he beat in the De Francis (Sunrise Smarty, finished sixth) and Ravalo (finished eighth) returned to win stakes with Beyers of 95 and 90, respectively. 
The main concern is that Candyman E hasn't raced since the De Francis and his trainer, Tony Dutrow, has indicated that he may not be at 100% peak fitness for the Toboggan. 
Still, I'm a pessimist mostly as it pertains to humans, but am mostly forgiving and optimistic with equines.  Candyman E showed me something at Laurel and he should get a good pace setup in the Toboggan. 
I was thinking of using Rule by Night in the exotics (you'll notice my selections in the video link I put at the end of this blog post), but I'm hesitant to back him with the bar shoe on. 
SELECTIONS (revised):  CANDYMAN E (part of entry), CAIXA ELETRONICA (part of entry), DISKI DANCE

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TAMPA BAY DOWNS - RACE 11 - SAM F. DAVIS STAKES:

Of the three major Kentucky Derby preps over this weekend (Withers, Robert B. Lewis as the two others), the Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs may be the best betting race. 

My goal is to beat a couple of horses that figure to take their share of the action.  STATE OF PLAY is a quality runner from top-notch connections, but he has never raced on dirt and has only started once since Saratoga due to coming down with elevated temperatures.  He draws a good inside post for this two-turn test, but there are simply too many questions for me to take a short price.  ECABRONI, trained by Todd Pletcher, could be the main speed of the Sam F. Davis.  He stretches out following a pair of sprint runs at Gulfstream Park and the only horse to race back since his maiden win graduated for a $75,000 tag in an off-the-turf race with a 58 Beyer.  Although the dam won twice at this distance, Ecabroni's sire, Smoke Glacken, is mostly viewed as a sprint influence.  He can certainly win this race, but it's his first start around two turns and he could be somewhat vulnerable. 

Instead, I landed on NECK 'N NECK, a maiden winner at this distance two starts back at Churchill Downs for trainer Ian Wilkes.  Two horses came back to win from that race, albeit against weaker company with Beyers of 71 and 60, and Neck 'n Neck acquitted himself quite nicely in his 3-year-old debut at Gulfstream on January 7.  Facing the talented Discreet Dancer in a one-turn mile that may be a bit sharp for this son of Flower Allew, Neck' n Neck tracked the pace along the rail, but was shuffled out by a tiring pacesetter entering the turn.  Jose Lezcano had a chance to alter course outside in midstretch, but he decided to stay in and Neck 'n Neck rallied well to be second best.  His speed figures are going the right way and he could get a little pace to run at here. 
REVERON, conditioned by 10-time Venezuelan champion trainer Agustin Bezara, has won three straight, inculuding the $100,000 Gulfstream Park Derby at this distance on New Year's Day.  He's the one I would use with Neck 'n Neck in multiple-race wagers:
SELECTIONS:  NECK 'N NECK, REVERON, ECABRONI

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STRUB STAKES - RACE 8 - SANTA ANITA:

TAPIZAR should be the heavy favorite based on his blow-out victory in the Grade 2 San Fernando here on January 14, but he has a tendency to pull hard in the early portion of his races and I am skeptical as to whether he can carry his speed this whole nine furlongs. 

Instead, I'll give one more chance to PRAYER FOR RELIEF, the 2011 winner of the Grade 3 Iowa Derby, Grade 2 West Virginia Derby and Grade 2 Super Derby (the latter two races at this distance).  Prayer for Relief was entered in the Breeders' Cup Classic, but came down with a temperature and was forced to miss the race.  Instead, trainer Bob Baffert ran him against older rivals in the Grade 1 Clark Handicap to disastrous results.  In the San Fernando, Prayer for Relief chased Tapizar over that speed favoring track and just didn't have the needed punch in the lane.  He goes second off the layoff here under Rafael Bejarano and may allow some other speedsters to go after Tapizar this time around.  I'm a bit concerned that Baffert mentioned that he isn't sure if Prayer for Relief likes this Santa Anita surface (despite a bullet 58 3/5 drill on January 29), but I'll give him a try to beat the favorite.
SELECTIONS:  PRAYER FOR RELIEF, TAPIZAR, INDIAN WINTER

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SAN ANTONIO STAKES - RACE 7 - SANTA ANITA (Sunday):

If GAME ON DUDE gets beat in the San Antonio on Super Bowl Sunday, some sports fans will think it's the biggest upset on the day since the Jets upset the Colts in Super Bowl III.  While that's probably not going to happen (Game On Dude is a very good horse racing at his best distance on his favorite surface), it he is going to stub his toe, I want at least a ticket on UH OH BANGO to pull of the upset.  Uh Oh Bango defeated San Antonio opponents TRES BORRACHOS and SKIPSHOT in professional manner in winning the Grade 3 San Pasqual Stakes here on January 7.  There are obvious class and distance conerns for this Arizona-bred, but Game On Dude may not be allowed to roll on the early lead with horses like Tres Borrachos, VICTORY PETE and, perhaps, EL GATO MALO (cross-entered to face Mr. Commons on Saturday) in the race.  Game On Dude is the most likely winner of the San Antonio and an 'A' on your Ticketmaker multi-race wagers.  But I'll make Uh Oh Bango a 'C' and give him a win play.
SELECTIONS:  UH OH BANGO, GAME ON DUDE, TRES BORRACHOS

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Some quick and dirty picks:

*ARCADIA STAKES:  MR. COMMONS, M ONE RIFLE, WILLYCONKER

*ROBERT B. LEWIS STAKES:  LIAISON, ISN'T HE CLEVER, GROOVIN' SOLO

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Check out the stakes videos that Mike Beer and I produced at the following link.  They can be found under the "Handicapping Preview" headers underneath those beautiful horses. 

http://www.drf.com/events/weekend-stakes-previews-picks-analysis-more

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More importantly, who do you like this weekend?  I want to know.

Best of luck to all.