Gun Runner winning the Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) at Fair Grounds – Photo By Amanda Hodges Weir/Hodges Photography
Tomorrow afternoon, Fair Grounds will host a terrific fifteen-race card featuring eight stakes races, including four grade II races that comprise a Pick 4. The races in question are the New Orleans Handicap (gr. II), the Muniz Memorial Handicap (gr. II), the Fair Grounds Oaks (gr. II), and the Louisiana Derby (gr. II). The sequence is filled with wide-open races that offer the potential for great handicapping value, and the Pick 4 payoff could be a nice one. Here are some of my thoughts on the races…
In the New Orleans Handicap, I think Eagle is the most likely winner. He’s finished first or second in each of his last five starts and has been very consistent in terms of Beyer speed figures–his last five figures of 96, 93, 97, 97, and 99, consistently higher and consistently superior to those of his rivals. Last time out in the Mineshaft Handicap (gr. III) against just three other horses, Eagle was attempting to close ground into a slow pace and failed by just a head. With a larger field and better pace setup tomorrow, I think Eagle will be very tough to beat, and could be a possible single in the Pick 4.
The other two horses that I would consider including are International Star and Majestic Harbor, who have taken turns beating and being beaten by Eagle and by each other in their last two starts. In the January 16th Louisiana Stakes, International Star settled behind Eagle early on before kicking clear in the homestretch to beat him by 1 1/2 lengths while Majestic Harbor finished fifth, and in the February 20th Mineshaft Handicap, Majestic Harbor turned the tables to win by a head in gate-to-wire fashion over Eagle, while International Star finished fourth. If you believe that the rail was the place to be that day at Fair Grounds (you can make a case that the rail was much better than the outside paths), then it’s easy to envision the wide-running Eagle turning the tables on the ground-saving Majestic Harbor in the New Orleans.
However, it’s also easy to envision International Star rebounding to his best form and giving Eagle a stiff challenge. Prior to the Mineshaft, International Star was unbeaten in four starts at Fair Grounds, and with a much larger field in the New Orleans, he could get a better pace setup and return to his winning form.
A potential live longshot is Mobile Bay, who has cracked the trifecta in ten of his eleven starts on dirt. Last time out, he rallied from last to win the Maxxam Gold Cup by a neck, and last year, he showed a lot of quality winning four stakes races, including the Super Derby (gr. II). He’s facing much tougher competition today, but even if you don’t include him in your Pick 4, he’s definitely worth a look for the trifecta or superfecta.