For a change of pace, the epicenter of winter racing is not South Florida March 10, but it is the biggest day of the season thus far in Southern California, New York, and Florida's Gulf Coast.
Out at Santa Anita Park it is Big 'Cap Day, even though the Santa Anita Handicap Presented By San Manuel Indian Bingo Ad Casino (G1) will be overshadowed by an early-season showdown among leading 3-year-olds Bolt d'Oroand McKinzie in the San Felipe Stakes (G2), and the presence of Eclipse Award-winning grass champion World Approvalin the Frank E. Kilroe Mile (G1T). The stakes festivities at The Great Race Place get underway with the Triple Bend Stakes (G1) for older sprinters.
In storm-battered New York, the Gotham Stakes (G3) for 3-year-olds at Aqueduct Racetrack anchors an all-stakes pick four that begins with a pair of $150,000 one-mile events, the Stymie and the Heavenly Prize Invitational, and also includes the Tom Fool Handicap (G3) for older sprinters.
Across Alligator Alley, a few hours northwest of Gulfstream, the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby (G2) caps an excellent card that also includes the Florida Oaks (G3T), and the Hillsborough Stakes (G2T), which has three grade 1 winners among its field of 10 older fillies and mares.
With so many stakes in so many places, it's convenient to map out scheduled post times and race order, but sometimes that is easier said than done. For example, a New York Racing Association press release informs us that a "Cross Country Pick 4" linking stakes from Santa Anita and Aqueduct starts with the Tom Fool at 5:09 Eastern, and continues through the Kilroe Mile, Gotham, and San Felipe, in that order.
But according to overnights from the two tracks and post times (Eastern) listed by various past performance providers, post for the Kilroe is 5:00, followed by the Tom Fool (5:12), San Felipe (5:30) and Gotham (5:42).
If that's not confusing enough, don't forget to set your clocks ahead for Daylight Saving Time early Sunday morning, when first post at Santa Anita will be pushed up to 11:30 Pacific.
In any event, FOX Sports Saturday At The Races will televise the Cross Country Pick 4 on FS2 from 4-6:30 pm Eastern, as well as four other stakes.
Here are some thoughts on the cross-country P4 in the order I have them, but please double-check what races are going when before mixing and matching the sequence with real money. Following that are quick things to consider about some of the other marquee events.
Kilroe Mile (SA, race 5, 5:00 ET): World Approval (5) reeled off three consecutive mile wins in the Fourstardave Handicap (G1T), Ricoh Woodbine Mile (G1T) and the Breeders' Cup Mile (G1T) to sew up the 2017 grass title, and he cuts back to that distance after doing enough to win the Tampa Bay Stakes (G3T) in his seasonal debut.
The only scenario I can see that poses problems for the odds-on favorite arises if What a View (6), the 2016 Kilroe Mile winner, and beaten in the final strides of the same race last year, got enough out of his recent comeback in the Daytona Stakes (G3T) down the hill to recapture top form.
A - 5
B - 6
Tom Fool (Aqu, race 9, 5:12 ET): Undoubtedly the most wide-open race in the sequence—so competitive that last year's winner, Spartiatis (10) is 15-1 on the morning line.
A - 3, 6
B - 4, 5, 9, 10
San Felipe (SA, race 6, 5:30 ET): Bolt d'Oro(1) makes his first start since a troubled third-place finish in the Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1), and takes on McKinzie (4), who has been idle for two months since showing better tractability with blinkers removed for a dominating win in the Sham (G3).
I'm also throwing in Kanthaka (8), who is back in four weeks and stretching out from an eye-catching win in the San Vicente Stakes (G2), a race that was on Bolt d'Oro's schedule until a minor setback.
A - 1, 4
B - 8
Gotham (Aqu, race 10, 5:42 ET): The inner-dirt track is no more, so the Gotham is back to being a one-turn mile out of the chute. This is good news for Firenze Fire(5), who has won the Champagne Stakes (G1) and the Jerome in two starts under those circumstances, and cuts back after lacking a solid finishing punch in the Withers at 1 1/8 miles around two turns.
Free Drop Billy's connections won last year's Gotham with J Boys Echoat 6-1, but you'll be lucky to get 6-5 on this colt after a solid seasonal debut in the Lambholm South Holy Bull Stakes (G2).
A - 5, 6
B - 3, 9
Some other ideas....
• The Tampa Bay Derby drew 11 but will lose Enticed and Free Drop Billy, so Quip (10) moves in a little closer to the rail. I don't think you'll get anything near the 20-1 morning-line quote, but I liked his two-turn allowance win at Keeneland last fall. As track announcer Kurt Becker described it, Quip "...had to carefully change lanes behind the leader, does so, threads the needle between the top two and goes right on by for the lead - pretty nifty move by Quip..."
• Proctor's Ledgewill be no better than fourth choice in the Hillsborough behind grade 1 winners Off Limits, Daddys Lil Darling, and La Coronel, but she packs a tremendous late turn of foot when firing on all cylinders. She has won fresh, comes off a bullet five-furlong grass work last week, and picks up Eclipse Award-winner Jose Ortiz.