Racing continues at Gulfstream Park on Friday with an intriguing nine-race card. As usual, our in-house handicapper has made picks for the whole card and has additionally provided analysis of his best value plays throughout the day.
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Even though it drew just six runners, this is a fascinating optional claimer for 3-year-olds at a mile on dirt ostensibly led by Real Talk (#1) and Lauda Speed (#3). While both of these horses have the credentials to win a race like this, I’m not too enamored with either at a short price. The former interests me a bit more since he may not have cared for the slop and running without Lasix last out in the Hutcheson, however he could be compromised by the presence of the speedy Boca Boy (#4) and is questionable at this distance.
Boca Boy is a tough read in this race, but it’s probably a good idea to take him very seriously as he drops out of a pair of graded stakes at Tampa Bay Downs. It’s hard to know exactly what his preferred trip is considering he was ushered through the Florida Sire Series in 2020 and then put on the Derby Trail to begin 2021, but he does have an abundance of early speed and took his debut at 5 ½ furlongs. He faded badly in his last start in the G2 Tampa Bay Derby, however I think the turnback to seven furlongs is going to be right up his alley.
I have a good deal of respect for Boca Boy, who’s probably going to be a better price than either Real Talk or Lauda Speed, but my top pick in this race is the “other” Saffie Joseph, Jr. horse, Super Strong (#6). This guy won a Grade 1 race in Puerto Rico to begin his career and I actually thought he had an outside shot in his stateside debut in the Tampa Bay Derby, though he did very little running in that spot. I think that non-effort can likely be attributed to running without Lasix, not to mention it was just his second career start, and his connections clearly think highly of this one given how aggressively he’s been placed. I’m expecting a much-improved performance out of him and he should get plenty of pace to run at.
There’s a lot of similar looking options in the day’s feature, with La Babia (#3), Lashara (#4), and Hotsy Totsy (#7) all figuring to vie for favoritism and little separating them, which is why I think this race is ripe for an upset. Kelsey’s Cross (#5) needs to step her game up after a pair of relatively dull outings at Gulfstream Park, but I think she could be due for improvement as her trainer Pat Biancone is finally starting to show signs of life after a really slow Championship Meet. This 5-year-old mare does have some back class, including a handful of races that would make her a major contender, and has even won a Florida-bred stake. Ultimately she’s going to be a decent price and if she bounces back at all this is a field she can absolutely handle.
Of the shorter-priced options, I do think Lashara is the one you want. She’s coming out of a better race than the other two, which came off a sizable layoff. She should take a step forward off that effort and was running races on the NYRA circuit last year that would make her tough to beat.
With a last-out running line that screams trouble, I have a feeling Lullula (#7) is going to go off at a much shorter price than her 7-2 morning-line odds, though I’m not sure how tough a trip she actually had in her last race. She was indeed boxed in for much of the stretch drive as the note suggests, but she also didn’t seem to have much kick when she was finally extricated from traffic in the final sixteenth. Furthermore, I don’t think that was a particularly strong race, at least not relative to the Beyer Speed Figures that were doled out, and this filly is going to get hammered based on that trip. Kate’s Kingdom (#9) also exits that race and is going to be a relatively short price, but she, along with a longshot third-place finisher, are the main reason I believe that race is fluffed up as a whole, plus she had a better trip than Lullula.
I think the play in this race is Shang’s Sister (#11), who comes out of a much tougher starter allowance race won by Coworth Park. Shang’s Sister has improved with each start in her career, and her last two efforts are particularly good considering she faced males two back and a pair of quality fillies on March 10. She also has enough early speed to overcome her wide draw, and may appreciate the slight cutback in distance to 7 ½ furlongs. What seals the deal for me is that I really believe she’s the best filly in this race and she will likely drift up from her 6-1 morning line.
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