This weekend features a full slate of graded stakes races from coast to coast, headlined by the 75th running of the Grade 1, $500,000 Gold Cup at Santa Anita.
With the closure of Hollywood Park last December, this marks the first time since 1949 the Gold Cup will be run at the Great Race Place. It was held there in '49 because of a fire at Hollywood Park.
Saturday's renewal will be led by 7-year-old gelding Game On Dude, who is seeking his third consecutive Gold Cup. The race, which is a “Win and You're In” event for the Breeders' Cup Classic, will air on NBCSN from 7-8 p.m EDT.
The Gold Cup undercard also features the G1 Triple Bend Handicap, where Sahara Sky is favored over the lightly-raced Declassify and veteran Cyclometer, as well as the G2 Royal Heroine and G3 Senorita.
At Belmont Park, 3-year-old filly star Untapable makes her first start since a dominant win in the Kentucky Oaks. She's heavily favored to defeat five sophomore rivals in the G1 Mother Goose. Also Saturday at Belmont, older fillies and mares will go 1 1/4 miles on the turf in the G2 New York Stakes.
Saturday is Iowa Derby day at Prairie Meadows, where the card also includes the G3 Iowa Oaks and G3 Cornhusker Handicap. Churchill Downs features the G2 Firecracker and the G3 Bashford Manor while Arlington Park hosts the G3 Chicago Handicap at seven furlongs.
The graded stakes continue on Sunday with the G2 San Juan Capistrano at Santa Anita and the G3 Victory Ride at Belmont. Tuesday, Woodbine hosts the Can-G3 Dominion Day Handicap for 3-year-olds and up going 1 1/4 miles.
Last week, Xpressbet's Dustin Fabian prevailed in the bankroll competition by virtue of a $5 exacta that returned $235 with Hot Stones topping Merry Meadow in the Bed O' Roses Handicap at Belmont.
You're sure to see a return when you use the promo code PAULICKR and sign up for an Xpressbet wagering account. You'll receive up to $125 back the day after you wager your first $100.
Let's get to this weekend's selections!
Xpressbet Handicapper: Dustin Fabian, Xpressbet.com
Royal Heroine Stakes, Grade 2, Santa Anita Park, 1 Mile Turf
When I handicap a race, the first thing I look to see is how the pace is shaping up. Are there a lot of speed horses in the field? Is there only one speed horse in the field? In the Royal Heroine, #9 KATHLEEN ROSE is a filly that looks dangerous to me. She's the only entrant that looks like she really wants the lead and she has been nothing short of lethal in races where she has made the front. She's won her last 4 races going a mile on the Santa Anita lawn and Edwin Maldonado knows her well. If he can get her to the front, there may be no looking back.
The Play: $30 Win #9 Kathleen Rose
Triple Bend Stakes, Grade 1, Santa Anita Park, 7 Furlongs
Saturday could be a huge day for trainer Bob Baffert, who starts superstar Game On Dude in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita. I'm expecting his good fortune to begin a little earlier on the card, though. #1 DECLASSIFY looks to be the right bet in the Grade 1 Triple Bend, and he could offer a bit of value as he starts against the veteran sprinter, #4 SAHARA SKY, who is always supported at the windows. DECLASSIFY has speed from the rail and if Martin Garcia can ensure he's comfortable early, I don't foresee anybody running him down late. He's light on experience and class, but appears heavy on talent. I'll use SAHARA SKY and #6 CYCLOMETER in the second spot.
The Play: $20 Exacta #1 Declassify / #4 Sahara Sky, #6 Cyclometer ($40)
Gold Cup at Santa Anita, Grade 1, Santa Anita Park, 1 1/4 Miles
Based on just about every possible measurable, #1 GAME ON DUDE towers over this field. On his best day, he's simply a class apart from just about any other racehorse in North America. He cemented that status yet again in March by winning the Santa Anita Handicap, and showed tenacity last out at Charles Town in a race that probably isn't completely his forte, hugging those tight bullring turns. The only scenario where he looks vulnerable is if #2 FURY KAPCORI, the only other speed in the race breaks and takes it to the 'DUDE from the start. I think Mike Smith is too savvy of a rider to let GAME ON DUDE end up in a speed duel, and to try to make some money off him at an expected short price, I'll play him over the other logical ones in the Trifecta.
The Play: $5 Trifecta Key #1 Game On Dude / #2 Fury Kapcori, #3 Clubhouse Ride, #4 Imperative ($30)
Paulick Report Handicapper: Scott Jagow, Editor-in-Chief
Cornhusker Handicap, Grade 3, Prairie Meadows, 1 1/8 Miles
Pretty intriguing field for this one, led by 2012 Travers dead-heat winner GOLDEN TICKET. I've always thought CARVE would come into his own at some point, and he's done that this year, if you throw out his dud in the Pimlico Special. Otherwise, he's two-for-three with a 3rd-place finish behind Will Take Charge and Revolutionary in the Oaklawn Handicap. There appears to be enough pace to set up one run from him. Jockey Jesus Castanon and trainer Brad Cox have a 35% strike rate together this year. BELLARMINE is another interesting runner in good form.
The Play: $20 to win, #7 Carve, $5 exacta box Carve/#8 Golden Ticket, $5 exacta box Carve/#3 Bellarmine ($40 total)
Iowa Oaks, Grade 3, Prairie Meadows, 1 1/16 Miles
In a good betting race that features Breeders' Cup winner RIA ANTONIA and two-time graded stakes winner, SUGAR SHOCK, I'm going to side with THANK YOU MARYLOU. She wasn't up to the task against top competition in the Kentucky Oaks, but this is a better spot for a lightly-raced filly who's shown promise in previous races. I think she'll take a stalk-and-pounce approach and be a handful in the lane. SUGAR SHOCK should take them a long way on the front end.
The Play: $30 to win, #7 Thank You Marylou, $5 exacta box Thank You Marylou/Sugar Shock ($40)
Mother Goose Stakes, Grade 1, Belmont Park, 1 1/16 Miles
Not a great betting affair, with UNTAPABLE towering over this field, but if you have one idea about the race otherwise and crush it, you can still get a nice score. My idea is that PRINCESS VIOLET gets a fairly comfortable lead, having shown her ability to withstand solid fractions going shorter. She won going away in her last two against New York-breds under Jose Ortiz, who is having a fine meet and who does well with trainer Michael Hushion. I don't think she can hold off the first lady in here, but I think she's got a great chance to finish second.
The Play: $20 exacta, #2 Untapable/#3 Princess Violet
Where and when to watch this weekend's graded stakes:
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