01/24/2013 5:07PM

Weekend Warrior for Jan. 26, 2013: Picks for Holy Bull, Affectionately, Van Berg, and Houston Ladies Classic

Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer Photography
Frac Daddy has a shot to upset Shanghai Bobby, but don't expect a price anything like Frac Daddy's 8-1 morning line.

During last week’s holiday weekend, horseplayers got to whet their wagering appetites with two minor Kentucky Derby preps, the Lecomte and Smarty Jones, from Fair Grounds and Oaklawn, respectively.

Now comes more of a main course: Saturday’s $400,000 Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream – without question the best 3-year-old stakes race of the year, one that features the return of newly crowned champion Shanghai Bobby.

The Weekend Warrior is ready to try to beat the champ and hopefully cash some other stakes tickets along the way.

Holy Bull [Get PPs and Watch Live]

Taking a stand against Shanghai Bobby has nothing to do with him, specifically – just principle, really. Breeders’ Cup winners are routinely overbet when they return, and as we saw last week when Beholder was upset in the Santa Ynez at 1-5 odds, they can never be considered “sure things.”

Particularly with 3-year-olds, who go through a great deal of development over the winter and into the spring, much can change from early November. And with the uncertainly of a Breeders’ Cup winner returning from a layoff, the time to try to beat them is first crack back.

Frac Daddy is my choice. Second in the Kentucky Jockey Club last year in his final start of 2012, he is talented and inexperienced colt, and one of the most promising Derby prospects in the country with his apparent upside.

Don’t forget he ran the highest Beyer Speed Figure of the Churchill Downs meet last fall when he ran a 91 when breaking from post 12 in a 1 1/16-mile race with a short run to the first turn.

And though he subsequently regressed in terms of figures when second, beaten a neck by Uncaptured in the Kentucky Jockey Club, posting a 75 Beyer, he proved his class with a close finish that day against top company.

Further adding to his appeal are favorable remarks regarding his morning training leading up to the Holy Bull, both from his trainer, Ken McPeek, and my Daily Racing Form colleagues who have witnessed him.

McPeek also shows confidence in his horse by spotting him in the Holy Bull when he could just have easily opted to start him back as the heavy favorite in a first-level allowance earlier on the Saturday card at Gulfstream.

One caution – don’t expect him to be anywhere near his 8-1 morning line. He’s far more likely to be 4-1 or 5-1, the probable second wagering choice behind the unbeaten Shanghai Bobby.

Affectionately [Get PPs]

This 1 1/16-mile race on the inner track didn’t draw much of a field, attracting just five entries, and with a couple appearing far better suited to running in a second-level allowance than a stakes race, the upside of a stakes-placing notwithstanding.

R Gypsy Gold is a deserving favorite, but hardly to the extent that she warrants being 4-5 on the morning line. She is a mare that is at her best at Belmont Park but whose form outside of “Big Sandy” isn’t as inspiring.

With R Gypsy Gold likely to get hammered in part due to her connections, the alternative play is Twice the Lady, a filly coming off a second in an optional claimer whose form and speed figures match up competitively with those of the top choice.

Adding to her appeal is a great dirt record, admittedly accomplished outside stakes races – she has 5 victories, 6 seconds, and 2 thirds from 15 dirt starts.

At 3-1 on the morning line, she warrants betting at 2-1 odds or higher versus this thin group.

Van Berg Stakes

Among four stakes Saturday at Fair Grounds is the $75,000 Van Berg, a turf dash at about 5 1/2 furlongs for 3-year-olds. And though it is not the richest or most prestigious race on the card, it is one of the more appealing wagering contests.

With speedball Party Lad invading from Florida and likely to go favored, the price should be right on Agave Cat, a colt shifting back to the grass, a surface over which he won his debut last summer at Arlington.

Three starts since have all resulted in losses, though there was certainly little wrong with his last race, a runner-up finish in the slop behind the talented Malibu High – a race that earned him a career-best 79 Beyer.

Surprisingly on the lead in the latter race, he should revert to stalking tactics in the Van Berg – a style that can be highly beneficial in sprint races for 3-year-olds when they draw a number of one-dimensional front-runners.

Houston Ladies Classic [Get PPs]

Night owls have a reason to stay up Saturday evening – with Sam Houston Race Park running one of its best cards, topped by the $400,000 Houston Ladies Classic.

My advice: Give extra focus to the multi-race gimmicks at Sam Houston, which has a remarkably low 12 percent takeout on such wagers, from rolling daily doubles to pick threes and pick fours, even to the pick five.

As for the big race itself, it drew a short field of six, with Brushed by a Star the likely favorite over a group that includes the comebacking Summer Applause, Joyful Victory, and recent purchase Sisterly Love, who is perfect in three starts.

Brushed by a Star, coming off a second in the Falls City Handicap, appears legitimate, but her 5-2 odds fail to get the heart racing. So I’ll go with Joyful Victory, a mare that didn’t seem to run to her full potential in the Falls City when a distant third behind Afleeting Lady and Brushed by a Star.

She ran much better in her prior effort, the Chilukki, when second, beaten just a head by Brushed by a Star, in a race that could have been won by Joyful Victory if a head bob at the finish had gone her way.

On the basis of that race, she matches up with these, and at 4-1 on the line, her odds are appealing.