Although many parts of the country are sub-zero, horse racing is starting the spring thaw. The path to the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks continues to pick up speed and weekend stakes racing builds in number and significance.
On Friday, GRAY ATTEMPT added his name to the Kentucky Derby contender list by winning the Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Park. Saturday featured the "World's Richest Race" with the Pegasus Cup Invitational Stakes races at Gulfstream Park with CITY OF LIGHT taking home the lion's share of $9 million.
Today, there are four stakes races with at least $100,000 in prize-money. While four races can be counted on one hand, it's a definite Sunday tick up from week after week of just one $100,000 Sunday race.
Aqueduct Race 8 - $100,000 RUTHLESS STAKES
Sam Houston Race 8 - $200,000 JOHN B. CONNALLY TURF CUP STAKES GRADE III
Sam Houston Race 9 - $300,000 HOUSTON LADIES CLASSIC STAKES GRADE III
Sunland Park Race 9 - $100,000 RILEY ALLISON DERBY
Texas is the Sunday hotspot with the two biggest priced races and both of Sunday's graded stakes race.
Nine horses, four-years-old and up, will run a long 1 1/2-miles on Sam Houston turf for the 000 JOHN B. CONNALLY TURF CUP STAKES trophy. Based on Sam Houston's 7-furlong turf track, the race will start on the backstretch and be a three-turn race. That can be a grueling grind.
In the one and only race at the distance/surface in the 2018 Sam Houston meet, the winner ran second at the 1/4 and 1/2 mile markers. The general rule of thumb is that multi-turn races do not favor front-runners. However, the exemption to rule can be lone speed.
The JOHN B. CONNALLY TURF CUP STAKES doesn't feature a true front runner. Longshots, ZAPPERINI (PP:1 ML 15-) and LAWLESS WEST (PP: 3 ML 30-1) are the horses most likely to lead the pack early on. Normally, neither sets a blistering pace; so, we expect a modest pace, which should set-up well for the 4/5 morning-line favorite BIGGER PICTURE (PP: 4).
Here's what our handicapper has to say in our pro-subscriber's commentary.
"BIGGER PICTURE has two races at Sam Houston with two wins and returns as the defending JOHN B. CONNALLY TURF CUP STAKES winner. He ran by far the highest, last race speed figure for this group. SOME IN TIEME was claimed in his last race, trainer Efron Loza, Jr has won eight of his last 17 races with first time claimers. MARKITOFF came in second in his last race as the public's choice, trainer Michael Maker wins at 24% the next time out. TEAM COLORS' speed figures fit with the top contenders in the field, but he tends to flatten out late."
The second-half of the race 8 and 9 daily double is the HOUSTON LADIES CLASSIC STAKES. Seven fillies and mares will run 1 1/16th-miles on Sam Houston's main track. In the 2018 meet, from January 9th through March 17th, there were nine races at the distance on dirt. Six of the nine winners came from off the pace to hit the tape first. The average winner ran in 3.3rd position in the opening 1/4-mile and seven of the nine winners ran from the four post and out.
The overwhelming 3/5 morning-line favorite MIDNIGHT BISOU fits the profile of a Sam Houston, 1 -1/16th dirt mile winner. She finished third by 1 1/2-lengths in her last race, the Breeders' Cup Distaff. In most of her races, she comes out of the chute just off the leaders, rating and looking to run late.
REMEDY (PP: 2 ML 3-1) is the pre-race second favorite and could be lone speed as the only horse with a history of 1s and/or 2s across her past-performance lines. Recent races suggest she'll need the lead into the stretch to pull of the mild upset.
We see the top two playing out as the oddsmakers see it.
"MIDNIGHT BISOU finished third in the Breeders' Cup Distaff and has run two straight races with the highest speed figures. The 3/5 morning-line favorite will be hard to beat. REMEDY looks like she's getting stronger race by race. She ran her best race in her last on November 23rd and recent workouts suggest she'll come off the bench sharp. VIVA FOREVER has finished in-the-money in nine of her last 10 races. PRADO'S SWEET RIDE should like the return to dirt as she's finished in-the-money in four of her five dirt races with a win, two seconds and a third."