The Count Fleet Stakes at Aqueduct and the Tropical Park Derby at Calder highlight Saturday’s stakes racing action and kicks off the 3-year-old thoroughbred racing season.
Horses that used these races in the past as prep races en route to a win in the Kentucky Derby include Smarty Jones (2004 Count Fleet) and Barbaro (2006 Tropical Park Derby).
Overall, the field in both of these contests appears to be pretty evenly matched and it’s hard to get excited about any one horse in particular.
Pants On Fire heads a field of seven horses as the lukewarm 5-2 morning line favorite in the $65,000 Count Fleet Stakes. His best dirt speed is fastest among this group of starters and his 102 Brisnet Speed Figure is the highest at one mile and 70 yards.
Pants On Fire likes to go to the lead and if he gets a clean break he could be a factor in the race.
Two long shots I like are Tap Star (10-1) and Arthur’s Tale (4-1).
Tap Star has never ran in a route race and he’s stepping up into stakes action for the first time. However, with his breeding, I believe that he will like the extra distance.
On October 31, Tap Star narrowly lost a 6 ½ - furlong maiden race at Philadelphia Park but came back on December 10 at the same track and distance to win and finally break his maiden, after four previous starts, by an easy 5 ¼ - lengths.
In his maiden win, Tap Star trimmed almost two full seconds off of his previous time and appears to be improving with each performance. A bullet work out on December 26 indicates that he could be ready to run another good race.
Of all the horses in this race, I like the pedigree of Arthur’s Tale the most and if he lives up to his breeding, I believe that he has the most room for improvement.
Despite being carried wide in the first turn of his last race, Arthur’s Tale finally broke his maiden, by 2 – lengths on his fourth try, going a mile at Aqueduct on December 2.
Tropical Park Derby
The $100,000 Tropical Park Derby (G3) appears that it might be the better betting race as there are no solid favorites entered in the field.
Swift Warrior heads a full field of 12 as the lukewarm 7-2 favorite and if he runs true to his recent form, he could be a factor.
In addition, three other horses I like are Beachcombing (6-1), Racing Aptitude (4-1) and Ribo Bobo (12-1).
Lightly raced Beachcombing comes into the race off of a 2 ¾ - length maiden win October 17 at Belmont. Beachcombing steps up into stakes competition for the first time but I like his pedigree and think that, although he is lightly raced, he has a lot of upside. At 6-1 or higher, I'm willing to give him a shot.
Racing Aptitude is the morning line second choice and comes into the Derby with back-to-back wins over the Calder turf course. His pedigree is well suited for the turf and if he runs near his recent form he will be tough in the Derby.
Ribo Bobo also has a nice pedigree and he’s only missed hitting the board twice in six starts. Ribo Bobo comes into the Derby with a first-place and two second-place finishes in stakes competition. Five of his six starts have been at Calder but this is his first attempt on the turf.
I believe that he will run well on the turf and a bullet work out December 18 indicates that he could be ready to run a good race.