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At the Gate - Saturday

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We have a couple of Derby preps coming up this weekend, with Saturday’s Grade 3 $550,000 on tap first on Saturday, and the Grade 3 $600,000 Sunland Derby on Sunday. The winner of each race receives 50 points in Churchill Downs’ Road to the Kentucky Derby series.
 
The Spiral drew a field of 12, a tricky betting race as the likely top two in the betting are each making their three-year-old debuts.
 
Uncaptured is the 3-1 morning line favorite and will be making his first start since winning the Grade2 Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs on Nov. 24. The colt won six of seven starts as a juvenile for Canada based trainer Mark Casse. Four of his victories came at Woodbine over polytrack.
 
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Balance the Books is the 7-2 second choice on the morning line and makes his first start since rallying for third in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf on Nov. 3 at Santa Anita Park. The Chad Brown trainee won two of four starts, all of which came on grass.
 
There are several live longshots that figure to be in the mix including Grade 3 Sam F. Davis third place finisher My Name Is Michael and John Battaglia third place finisher For Greater Glory.
 
Also on Saturday’s card at Turfway Park is the $75,000 Rushaway, and it may end up producing a Derby starter. Team Valor and trainer Graham Motion, who won the last two runnings of the Spiral, will send out Crop Report, who makes his second start since arriving in the U.S. The colt was third against first level optional claimers on turf last out at Gulfstream Park off a four month layoff.
 
The colt figures to move forward off that effort and a big performance might send him to the Grade 1 Blue Grass on April 13 at Keeneland.
 
The winner of Sunday’s Sunland Derby will likely earn a starting spot in the Kentucky Derby. Trainer Bob Baffert will send out Grade 2 San Vicente winner Shakin It Up, who is the 5-2 morning line favorite.
 
We will take a closer look at the race tomorrow.  Aqueduct is closed on Palm Sunday, but I will have a Best Plays Report including racing from Sunland Park and Gulfstream Park.
 
My Best Plays Report for Saturday includes my strongest plays from Aqueduct and Turfway Park.
 
Click here to purchase my full card report for Aqueduct for Saturday.
 
Purchase my Monthly Package and receive an entire month of Aqueduct action and my weekend Best Plays Reports for just $99.95.
 
Here is today’s opening from Aqueduct to get the day off to a good start:
 
AQU Race 1 Clm $12,500N2L (12:50 ET)
2 Readytosketch   7-2
1 Winter Now   5-1
6 Proud Day Indeed   2-1
7 Ess Shape   6-1
 
Analysis: Readytosketch tracked the early pace while fighting the bit heading down the backstretch, was caught in traffic around the far turn with the jockey having to steady briefly, went down toward the inside only to have that path taken away forcing the bug to check again, and finished evenly for a fourth place finish against straight three year olds for a $14,000 tag. The winner of the race was Sierro, who came back to beat $25,000 starter optional claimers in his next outing on March 20. I was hoping for a jock switch but Jerkens likes sticking with low % jocks. A clean trip today puts this guy right in the mix. The gelding has plenty of pedigree to handle a mile.
 
Winter Now chased the early pace from the outside and weakened to finish fourth last out at this level. He gets a jock upgrade her to the hot Ortiz and he breaks from the rail and the jock likely is going to put him right in the mix early, and he is quick enough to do so. He owns back speed figs that are good enough to beat this group.
 
Wagering
WIN: #2 to win at 3-1 or better.
EX: 1,2 / 1,2,6,7
TRI: 1,2 / 1,2,6,7 / 1,2,4,6,7
 
Today's Featured Race of the Day from Aqueduct:
 
AQU Race 9 The Excelsior G3 (4:52 ET)
2 Last Gunfighter   5-2
6 Joan's Choice    6-1
7 Ruler On Ice   3-1
4 Mordi's Miracle   4-1
 
Analysis: Last Gunfighter makes his first start off a two month break and comes into the race riding a four race win streak. The Brown barn is a solid 28% winners with runners coming back off a 61-180 day layoff and the break had more to do with another stake not filling last month. The colt gets a class test here as he faces graded company for the first time but he looks like a good fit here and looks as if he will be able to handle the stretch out to nine furlongs.
 
Joan's Choice took the field gate to wire to win the Moro last out here at today's nine furlong distance. The gelding makes his third start off the bench for the Violette barn. The gelding is a three time winner on the inner traffic including  earning a 102 Beyer in a nose loss here last year versus $25,000 starter handicap foes. He owns solid early and mid pace numbers and looks as if he is heading in the right direction.
 
Wagering
WIN: #2 to win at 2-1 or better.
EX: 2,6 / 2,4,6,7
TRI: 2,6 / 2,4,6,7 / 2,4,5,6,7
 
Today's Featured Race of the Day from Turfway Park:
 
TP Race 8 The Rushaway (4:42 ET)
9 Crop Report   4-1
6 Star Contender   5-2
2 Divine Ambition   9-2
4 Honorable Guest   4-1
 
Analysis: Crop Report looks primed for a top effort here in his second start off a four month layoff and second start since arriving in the U.S. for team Valor, who has come in and won the last two runnings of the Spiral. Last out in his U.S. debut the colt hit the gate at the break and was off last, and then made a good late run to finish third against Alw-1 optional claimers on turf. The blinkers go on as he tries poly here. The colt is by Medaglia d'Oro out of the stakes winner Amarillo ($424,404). The Motion barn is 22% winners when adding the hood.
 
Star Contender did not fire in his U.S. debut after shipping in from Woodbine for the Gulfstream Park Derby where he was sent off as the chalk. The colt stalked the early pace from the inside and weakened to finish a well beaten sixth behind the winner Itsmyluckyday, who won the Holy Bull (G3) in his next outing on Jan. 26. The colt broke his maiden on poly and took the Cup & saucer on turf. The switch back to poly should suit and the Casse barn can win off the short break.
 
Wagering
WIN: #9 to win at 5-2 or better.
EX: 6,9 / 2,4,6,9
TRI: 6,9 / 2,4,6,9 / 2,3,4,6,9
 
Live Longshots:
These are price plays for exotic players looking to find a couple of extra contenders to use in their trifecta and superfecta wagers. Or for those with smaller bankrolls, you might want to get in a small win-place wager.
 
Aqueduct
R2: #5 Green Gratto   12-1
R3: #1 Killin Me Smalls   10-1
R5: #1 Dizzy Disco Diva / 1a Tizaheroine   12-1
R6: #8 Jemaru   10-1
 
Good luck today!
 

  
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  HORSE RACING EXPERT
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Mike covers the New York racing circuit (Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga) year round as well as Keeneland, Churchill Downs, the Triple Crown, and the Breeders’ Cup.
Last Year Mike had a solid Triple Crown, correctly picking the winning horse in 2 of 3 races. He selected I'll Have another to win The Preakness, and nailed Union Rags to win the Belmont Stakes as his top pick.

Mike has also had past succes in the Kentucky Derby,  winning with Animal Kingdom in 2011 and rode his top picks, Super Saver and Street Sense, to the finish line in 2010 and 2007 respectively.

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