11/09/2017 3:00PM

King: Company lines tout Fear the Cowboy in Small Stakes

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Fear the Cowboy (center) wins the W.Va. Governor’s Stakes at Mountaineer on Aug. 5.

Among the stakes races on dirt across the country on Saturday, one of the most appealing is the Richard Small from Laurel. It drew 12 runners, with contention deep among the major players.

Half the field looks capable of winning based on current form, with a few more capable if they run back to their best. And none looks better on paper than Page McKenney and Afleet Willy, a pair of sharp horses with 11 victories on the Laurel main track between them.

It is merely an anticipated lack of value that has me looking beyond this pair. They are the two favorites on the morning line at 7-2 and 9-2 and figure to drop below those prices after stakes wins in fast time last out. So, I’m going with a better-priced alternative who could slip past the public: 6-1 shot Fear the Cowboy.

Although he ran a nonthreatening fourth in his most recent start, in the Grade 3 Lukas Classic at Churchill Downs on Sept. 30, that race seems better now than it did at the time. Both runner-up Seeking the Soul and third-place Money Flows returned to win allowances in Kentucky, with the former romping by nine lengths at Keeneland on Oct. 21 with a 103 Beyer Speed Figure and the latter winning by 3 3/4 lengths at Churchill Downs on Wednesday with a 93 Beyer.

:: Get bonus PPs for Saturday's Ben’s Cat Day card at Laurel Park

The return of the victorious Honorable Duty wasn’t nearly as rosy – he was sixth over a sloppy track in the Fayette at Keeneland – but nevertheless, the overall post-race results of the three who ran in front of Fear the Cowboy remains encouraging.

Examine beyond the Lukas Classic, and other races in Fear the Cowboy’s form jump out. This horse won the Grade 3 Skip Away at Gulfstream going 1 1/8 miles, the same distance of the Richard Small, and he turned in a trio of exacta finishes in stakes over the summer, rebounding from an eighth in the Sunland Park Handicap in April.

My guess is he will drift up from his 6-1 morning line. Odds of 8-1 or higher would make him a worthwhile value play.

Two to like at Gulfstream West

As with Laurel, Gulfstream Park West is hosting perhaps its best card of the fall on Saturday. The eight stakes for Florida-breds on the card offer a mix of racing.

Two horses in stakes there seem worth betting – Nauti Buoy in the Juvenile Turf and Splash Rules in the Millions Sprint Preview.

Nauti Buoy, who came on the scene with a fast victory when unveiled in a turf sprint this summer at Laurel, looks to get back on track after going unplaced in three starts vs. winners, though at least two of those races didn’t suit him due to ambitious placement. Those races were the Grade 3 Sanford and Grade 3 With Anticipation, where he was matched against juveniles such as Firenze Fire, Free Drop Billy, Catholic Boy, and Untamed Domain.

Most horses, particularly inexperienced ones, would have struggled to keep up. And he did.

As for Nauti Buoy’s last race, a fifth in the Laurel Futurity, that race wasn’t as forgivable, even taking into account that the winner, Therapist, returned to take the Awad at Belmont to remain unbeaten in three starts. Nauti Buoy just didn’t seem to fire.

I like his chances to bounce back here in his first attempt in a restricted stakes race and while getting blinkers off, an equipment change I have always liked much more than blinkers on.

Splash Rules, meanwhile, is appealing from a different perspective – he is sharp, having won three in a row. Plus, he seems fortunate to catch leading rivals Yourdreamsormine and Quijote returning from extending stays on the sidelines. This should provide him with a fitness edge that may offset that they have largely run faster than him.

Although Splash Rules was unplaced in one start at Gulfstream Park West last year, that race doesn’t seem representative of what he might do on Saturday. His race last year came on a sloppy track, and he is a much more effective runner now than he was last year.

Finally, another bonus is his landing jockey Tyler Gaffalione, who is 4 for 4 when atop Splash Rules.