For Handicappers, Variety in Weekend's Stakes Races

Dave Litfin handicaps some of the top stakes for Saturday, Jan. 13.

Handicappers will be kept busy Jan. 13 as they keep tabs on noteworthy stakes action around the country.

There are three stakes offering 17 qualifying points (10-4-2-1) to either the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) or the Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1): The $200,000 Lecomte (G3) and $150,000 Silverbulletday, which top a six-stakes program at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots; and the $150,000 Jerome at Aqueduct Racetrack, which originally was scheduled for New Year's Day but postponed because of wintry weather that has ravaged the Northeast.

At Santa Anita Park, Mended—arguably the top claim of 2017—will put her 10-race winning streak on the line against Majestic Heat and Mopotism in the $200,000 La Canada (G2).

And down at Gulfsteam Park, a turf stakes twin-bill of the $150,000 Marshua's River (G3T) and $200,000 Fort Lauderdale (G2T) are the first and third legs of a late pick four.

Here they are in chronological order (all times Eastern):

Jerome (Aqu, race 8, 3:50): As this column was written Friday morning, Aqueduct had yet to run a single race in 2018 after getting hit with a snowstorm, followed by a week of frigid temperatures and a rapid warm-up that caused the newly installed main track to thaw unevenly Thursday.

Firenze Fire (7), winner of the Sanford (G3) and Champagne (G1) stakes, will be odds-on to rebound from an off-the-board finish in the Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1), as none of his seven rivals have any experience in graded stakes other than Smooth B, who finished last of five in the Futurity Stakes (G3) at Belmont Park.

Because routine training has been interrupted to such a significant degree in the Northeast, the two Florida shippers—Coltandmississippi (1) and Seven Trumpets (2)—may have an advantage.

That being said, New York was expecting rain, wind, and fog Friday, so it remains to be seen what track conditions for the Jerome will be like.

A – 7
B – 1, 2

Marshua's River (GP, race 9, 4:00): Dream Dancing (8) is favored at 8-5 after a solid sophomore campaign that began with two wins over the local course last winter, and climaxed with an off-the-pace triumph in the Del Mar Oaks (G1T) in the summer. She has raced just once since Del Mar, though, when off the board in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Stakes presented by Lane's End (G1T) three months ago, and this will be her first test against older.

We'll use her only defensively and focus more on the trio of Abbreviate (4), Gianna's Dream (5) and Ultra Brat (7). The latter came up short when returned from a layoff of nearly 11 months in the six-furlong Autumn Days on Aqueduct's new outer turf course; her race preceding the layoff was a win from post 13 at Gulfstream in the Tropical Park Oaks at odds of 36-1.

A – 5, 7
B – 4
C – 8

Fort Lauderdale (GP, race 11, 5:00): Heart to Heart (3) won this race in 2016, and suffered his only career loss from five races at 1 1/16 miles when fourth in last year's renewal. The $1.5 million earner has been freshened since leading in the stretch of the Breeders' Cup Mile (G1T) and winding up beaten by just three lengths. He has his work cut out up front, due to the presence of Shining Copper (5) and Shakhimat (8), who come off respective front-running victories in the River City Handicap (G3T) and Tropical Turf (G3T).

In addition to getting four pounds from that speedy trio, All Included (6) figures to get a favorable pace setup. Although he flattened out late against Shakhimat in the Tropical Turf, that was his first outing since late May and he should move up off that effort.

A – 6
B – 3, 5
C – 8

Silverbulletday (FG, race 7, 5:05): Blonde Bomber (1), Wonder Gadot (2) and Heavenlyt Love (7) ran third, sixth, and 11th in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1).

Wondor Gadot, who was cross-entered in the Lecomte but expected to run here, subsequently posted a decisive victory in the Demoiselle (G2), which unfolded through exceptionally slow fractions.

The only other filly I'm using in multi-race wagers is America's Tale (6), who comes off blowout wins against maidens and first-level allowance types, and may control the pace.

A – 2, 7
B – 1
C – 6

Lecomte (FG, race 9, 6:03): Assuming Wondor Gadot runs earlier on the card, Principe Guilherme (12) will move in one stall, but the 11-hole is still a tough go with such a short run to the first turn.

Principe Guilherme, the 5-2 favorite, has won both of his starts by lopsided margins, and is one of two Tapit  colts entered by Steve Asmussen, along with last-out maiden winner Zing Zang (8), who is listed at 15-1. Both won at a mile and 70 yards over the track Dec. 16, with Zing Zang going in 1:44.06 seconds and Principe Guilherme needing only 1:42.94. Even so, when a young well-bred horse from a top outfit improves suddenly, as Zing Zang did, it is often capable of further development sooner rather than later.

Instilled Regard (10) improved sharply last time out as well, finishing third in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) and getting moved up to second after being bounced around between rivals through the stretch.

Kowboy Karma (5) was a decent fourth behind Jerome favorite Firenze Fire in the Champagne, a key race from which the runner-up, Good Magic, won the BC Juvenile and third finisher Enticed won the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2).

A – 10, 12
B – 5, 8

La Canada (SA, race 8, 7:00): Majestic Heat (2) had fashioned a nice career on turf, winning five races and more than $350,000, but she has been a revelation since trainer Dick Mandella switched her to dirt, taking the seven-furlong Betty Grable just eight days after running sixth in the Goldikova (G2T), and then stretching out to win the Bayakoa (G2) with a four-wide sweep under a confident Mike Smith.

After winning at Del Mar and Los Alamitos, Majestic Heat now gets to run on the track she trains on, which should be to her advantage. She will have to catch Mended (3), who was claimed for $12,500 out of a fourth-place finish during the first week of 2017, and proceeded to win her next 10 starts, capped by a dominating performance in the Claiming Crown Glass Slipper.

Mended has run over dirt, turf, and synthetic surfaces during the streak, and may shake loose on the lead.

Mopotism (4) made 10 starts last year, six against grade 1 company. She comes off a gritty third in the La Brea (G1) behind Unique Bella and Paradise Woods, and stretches back out to a mile, where she has notched both career wins.

A – 2
B – 3, 4