Tip o' the hat to John Desantis of Xpressbet for picking Palace Malice to win last week's Belmont Stakes and putting $20 to win on the son of Curlin for the Xpressbet Weekend Bankroll competition with the Paulick Report.
John not only predicted the win for Dogwood Stable's runner but laid out the kind of trip he expected Palace Malice to get in the mile and a half Belmont. That's usually half the battle in trying to handicap a race: figuring the pace scenario and projecting the kind of trip each horse will get.
Paulick Report's Ray Paulick saw his chances crushed when longshot pick Golden Soul failed to duplicate his Kentucky Derby stretch run and wound up ninth in the Belmont.
Attention turns to Churchill Downs this weekend as two-time champion ROYAL DELTA makes her return from Dubai in the Grade 2 Fleur de Lis Handicap, a race she dominated last year and figures to again in 2013 as the odds-on favorite.
The Fleur de Lis shares the Saturday evening program with the G3 Matt Winn Stakes and G1 Stephen Foster Handicap, which has attracted 2011 winner Pool Play and 2012 winner Ron the Greek, along with 2012 Breeders' Cup Classic winner Fort Larned and recent Alysheba winner Take Charge Indy.
Whoever takes this year's Stephen Foster automatically qualifies for the 2013 Classic, with Breeders' Cup paying the $150,000 entry fees and $10,000 travel allowance in this win and you're in Challenge race.
Here are this week's selections. Let us know who you like in the weekend's major races!
Xpressbet Handicapper: Mike Penna, Horse Racing Radio Network (http://horseracingradio.net/)
Bed O' Roses Handicap, Grade 3, Belmont Park, Seven Furlongs
A short but quality group of filly and mare sprinters square off in this seven-furlong test and I try to find value in the exactas. In races like this where the competition is evenly-matched, exacta payoffs are often substantial and you can help you to quickly and substantially build your bankroll. FANTASY OF FLIGHT has kept top company this year and has the versatility to win from on, or just off, the pace. She should sit the perfect trip under Cornelio Velasquez. The rival breaking just to her outside, DANCE TO BRISTOL, has been the model of consistency. She enters Saturday's race on a four-race winning streak and has finished first or second in 14 of 15 lifetime starts. This is a stiff class test for her, but nothing on her resume says she can't run with these. WILLET breaks from the outside post, which will be an advantage. Her rider, Rajiv Maragh, can watch the pace develop to their inside and will have WILLET in perfect striking distance from mid-pack.
The Play: $6 Exacta Box #2 Fantasy of Flight, #3 Dance to Bristol, #6 Willet ($36)
Hill Prince Stakes, Grade 3, Belmont Park, 1 Mile Turf
This year's Hill Prince showcases a large, evenly-matched field of three-year-old turfers. With no standout, the European-invader RED ROCKER looks to have a solid chance at springing the upset and his value couldn't be better – he's 10-1 on the morning line. Aaron Wellman, president of ownership group Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, admits this is an ambitious spot for a horse entering a Grade 3 stakes off just one prior race, but feels the horse is talented and has a ton of upside. RED ROCKER is a maiden, but his debut came in maiden stakes company in Great Britain and top jockey Kieren Fallon thought enough to take the call that day. He adds blinkers to help his focus and gets Lasix for the first time. He has the look of a live long shot.
The Play: $20 Win/Place #8 Red Rocker ($40)
Matt Winn Stakes, Grade 3, Churchill Downs, 1 1/16 Miles
CODE WEST has finished worse than third only once in nine career starts and appears to be the one to beat here for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. Originally a Belmont Stakes candidate, the connections ultimately passed on that race to target this instead, but the fact that they were even considering the Belmont indicates that the barn is high on him. His pace and speed numbers stack up very well with this group, and he ran very well in company with Belmont-winner Palace Malice this spring at Fair Grounds. Rosie Napravnik, aboard him last time in an allowance race at Pimlico on Preakness Day, should be able to place him in great position and he is my play.
The Play: $24 Win #5 Code West
Paulick Report Handicapper, Ray Paulick
Obeah, Grade 3, Delaware Park, Nine Furlongs
An interesting field of six fillies and mares that are tough to gauge because they have been running at tracks against different opposition. Only morning line favorite BRYAN'S JEWEL and CIGUARAYA have previously faced each other, and they've taken turns winning. I'm going with the fresh face from the Michael Matz barn, AND WHY NOT, whose last race – a mile and one-half turfer at Keeneland – is a complete toss-out. Daughter of Street Cry is back at a distance and surface she should like, and though just 1-for-12 lifetime, has run some races good enough to beat this field.
The Play: $20 Win #6 And Why Not
Vanity Handicap, Grade 1, Betfair Hollywood Park, Nine Furlongs
It's heartbreaking that a race with such a rich history, one whose roster of winners includes many horses with races named after them, will have its final running at Hollywood Park this Saturday. This year's field doesn't feature the likes of some recent past winners (Zenyatta, Azeri, Paseana, Bayakoa) but it's a very competitive six-pack. I'm drawing a line through LADY OF FIFTY's defeat in the Marje Everett and banking on her to return to the form that saw her win the Bayakoa impressively over this layout during the fall meeting.
The Play: $10 exactas #6 Lady of Fifty/ #1 More Chocolate and #5 Open Water ($20)
Stephen Foster Handicap, Grade 1, Churchill Downs, Nine Furlongs
FORT LARNED likes running free on the front end but the presence of TAKE CHARGE INDY and SUCCESSFUL DAN means no one is going to be able to steal this race with pokey fractions. A front-end duel around the final turn and into the stretch is just what RON THE GREEK needs for his stretch run to be most effective. The Florida-bred 6-year-old looks to be training well for Bill Mott and is well spotted to repeat.
The Play: $30 win and place #3 Ron the Greek ($60)
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