Mother Nature may exert an influence in the marquee races on both coasts Saturday, as there is a good chance for rain at Santa Anita Park, which cards three stakes including the San Gabriel (G2T) and the Sham (G3); and at Gulfstream Park, which runs four stakes for 3-year-olds highlighted by the Old Hat (G3) and the Dania Beach (G3T).
Rain or shine, it's hard to feel sorry for California and Florida, given the kind of weather most of the country is dealing with.
The four stakes at Gulfstream are spread out early and late on an 11-race program, and for multi-race wagering purposes we've ranked the contenders as follows:
Old Hat (race 3, 1 p.m. ET): Seven sophomore fillies go in this six-furlong dash, where Bode's Dream (#2) is the one to catch and beat after stretching her record to 3 for 3 in a sloppy renewal of the House Party Stakes over the same track four weeks ago. Wildcat Kate (#5) chased her throughout but couldn't get by, and a similar pace scenario figures to unfold again. The wild card is Atenea (#3), who gets Lasix and blinkers after two blowout wins in her native Ecuador, for which she earned the grand total of $1,400. If she's fast enough to put some pressure on the favorite, Summer Luck (#4) and Sailor's Valentine (#7) are potential beneficiaries.
Summer Luck, purchased by Gary Barber after a good-figure debut in the fall, has posted some sharp workouts at Palm Meadows.
A – 2, 4
B – 5, 7
C – 3
Dania Beach (race 4, 1:30 p.m. ET): Scheduled for 7 ½ furlongs on turf, the Dania Beach is headed by Kitten's Cat (#1), who didn't get into the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G1T), but overcame a stumble at the start to win the Juvenile Turf Sprint as a consolation prize of sorts; and Made You Look (#7), who was a disappointing sixth in the Juvenile Turf after a very professional victory in the With Anticipation (G2T).
The likeliest alternatives seem like Shiraz (#2) and Minister's Strike (#3). The former beat a trio of next-out winners in a six-furlong maiden win, then had an eventful trip when stretched out at Aqueduct, where he was steadied along early before running up into traffic along the inside and forced to alter course late.
I would be hesitant to get involved in the event of a switch to the main track.
A – 1, 7
B – 2, 3
Ginger Brew (race 9, 4:03 p.m. ET): Easily the most wide open stakes of the weekend, the 7 1/2-furlong Dania Beach attracted a dozen fillies for turf, along with one dirt-only entrant.
I'm leaning toward last-out maiden graduates Bellavais (#7) and Juenesse Doree (#12) as key horses. Bellavais, who was placed first via disqualification at Aqueduct, is a Phillips Racing homebred daughter of Tapit , out of La Cloche, whose dam was the multiple Grade 1 winner Memories of Silver, all trained by Jimmy Toner; she will very likely improve with maturity. Juenesse Doree is hampered by her outside draw, but showed much better positional speed winning on short rest second time out at Keeneland, and appears to have settled in nicely at Palm Meadows for Mark Casse.
Meanwhile, four fillies drawn in the first five stalls: Lady Alexandra (#1), India Mantauna (#2), Bahama Halo (#3) and Party Boat (#5) ran in last month's off-the-turf Wait A While Stakes. In fact, the Chad Brown-trained Lady Alexandra has had both of her scheduled grass races rained off to wet dirt tracks.
Again, I would approach this race with much trepidation should it be taken off the grass.
A – 1, 7, 12
B – 3, 5
C – 2
Four contenders emerge from front-running wins at Aqueduct: Even Thunder (#4), Skyler's Scramjet (#5), and the uncoupled Godolphin Racing runners Cavil (#6) for Kiaran McLaughlin and Hemsworth (#11) for Tom Albertrani. Although Cavil emerges from an off-the-turf maiden win, while Hemsworth garnered the Nashua (G2), I prefer the former. Cavil cut a much faster pace than Hemsworth, who was presented an easy lead when two of his three opponents stumbled badly at the start.
An intriguing local prospect is Sweetontheladies (#2), who is 3 for 3 on dirt after showing a new dimension rallying from far back to win the Juvenile Sprint at Gulfstream Park West.
A – 6
B – 2, 11
C – 4, 5, 8
Out in southern California, where it supposedly never rains, the Sham and San Gabriel are part of the late pick four sequence.
Sham (race 7, 3:30 p.m. PT): The Sham offers 17 qualifying points (10-4-2-1) for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1), and it's fairly straightforward that American Anthem (#1) and Gormley (#5) are the principal players in the one-mile race. Distance shouldn't be an issue for American Anthem, a recent six-furlong debut winner who has Belmont Stakes (G1) winners (Empire Maker and A.P. Indy) on both sides of his pedigree. However, he does concede experience to Gormley, the Frontrunner (G1) winner who has had a breather since a disappointing off-the-board finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1).
In with a chance, likely at a decent price, is Big Hit (#6), who had trouble against Gormley when they were first-time starters. He has improved in two subsequent appearances, the latest a decisive maiden graduation over Little Juanito, who ran American Anthem to a photo finish two weeks later.
A – 1, 5
B – 6
San Gabriel (race 9, 4:30 p.m. PT): Pace and trips will tell the story, as a large field of 12 entered this 1 1/8-mile race scheduled for turf. The most accomplished member of the group is Ring Weekend (#11), the grizzled gelding who was sidelined for a year by a nasty abscess after winning the 2015 Frank E. Kilroe Mile (G1T), and returned to win a pair of Grade 2 stakes in 2016 on what must be bionic feet. He is easy to root for, but post 11 is no bargain for a horse that hasn't been nine furlongs since he was a 3-year-old back in 2014.
Well suited to the cutback in distance is Flamboyant (#3), whose past thee starts took place at 10, 11, and 12 furlongs. He made two starts at 1 1/8 miles last year, winning this very race at odds of 46-1, and finishing a close third behind Midnight Storm and Ashleyluvssugar in the Eddie Read (G2T).
If on turf:
A – 3, 11
B – 7, 9
C – 12