After a couple of weekends without a qualifier, the Road to the Kentucky Derby series gets back in full swing Saturday with a trio of points’ races: Holy Bull (G2) at Gulfstream Park, Robert B. Lewis (G3) at Santa Anita and Withers (G3) at Aqueduct.
Here are my handicapping thoughts on the races:
Enticed, Tiz Mischief and Free Drop Billy bring top credentials into the 1 1/16-mile Holy Bull but I was disappointed to see all three fail to earn a BRIS Speed rating better than 93 last season. The trio figures to take plenty of betting action and I’ll go a different direction in search of value.
#4 Audible brings improving form into his stakes debut for the ever-dangerous Todd Pletcher, who recorded his second Kentucky Derby victory via Always Dreaming last year. A maiden winner over New York-bred rivals in mid-November, Audible came back three weeks later to crush entry-level allowance rivals in an off-the-turf event at Aqueduct and registered a 94 BRIS Speed rating while appearing to have plenty left in the tank at the wire. Pletcher shows confidence by opting for the Holy Bull over the Withers in Aqueduct’s friendly confines and Audible is eligible to receive a plum trip from just off the pace from post 4.
Audible is my top pick and I will include Free Drop Billy in any multi-race wagers (Pick 3s, Pick 4s etc).
Three last-out maiden winners and two actual maidens are among the nine runners seeking a breakout performance in the 1 1/16-mile Robert Lewis. And there doesn’t appear to be much speed signed on.
After finishing third to the well-regarded Ax Man two back, #4 Lombo displayed high speed rolling to 3 ½-length front-running maiden score over the track on January 20. He possesses the top BRIS Early Pace numbers and is advantageously drawn to the inside of Shivermetimbers, who looks like the only contestant with the speed to keep up. From the first crop of Graydar, Lombo appears to be making fine progress for Michael Pender and the gray colt won’t face an imposing group in his initial stakes attempt.
I’ll tab Lombo wire to wire.
Firenze Fire is currently tied for second with 20 points and will vault to the top of the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard with a Withers victory. A three-time graded winner at one-turn, Firenze Fire did not perform well when stretching out to a two-turn distance in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Del Mar but gets another chance to prove himself at a route in the 1 1/8-mile Withers. He is also stepping up to face stiffer competition after an all-out triumph in the January 13 Jerome at Aqueduct. Have to respect Firenze Fire’s talents at shorter distances, but I will let the son of Grade 1-winning sprint Poseidon’s Warrior beat me here at short odds.
#3 Bal Harbour brings increasing BRIS Speed and Late Pace ratings to his first two-turn attempt and has shipped north for Pletcher after recording a clear second in the Mucho Macho Man. The First Samurai colt could not keep up last time against Mask, who turned in arguably the most impressive performance by any 3-year-old this season, but Bal Harbour gained valuable seasoning after recording back-to-back stakes victories over lesser rivals and will be making his third start off the layoff Saturday.
In a six-horse field, Bal Harbour has the credentials to make his presence felt from just off the pace and is listed as the 6-1 fourth choice on the morning line. I am predicting a minor upset with the improving colt.