Welcome to Noel Michaels’ Weekend Winners, the place to go for weekend best bets and spot plays from veteran handicapper and tournament-play pioneer Noel Michaels. Check back every week for a couple of highlighted selections designed to help you cash a few bets and make some money.
Noel's selections have been featured just about everywhere horse racing picks can be found, including in print in the Daily Racing Form, The HorsePlayer Magazine and American Turf Monthly, online at DRF.com, Twinspires.com and USRacing.com, from the paddock on-track at Arlington International Racecourse, and on the air on HRTV, TVG, NYC OTB Extra, NYRA's Talking Horses, and on broadcast TV on WAVE-3 Louisville, ABC KOLO-8 in Reno, Nevada, and channel 72 Long Island Cablevision.
Kentucky Downs loves giving away money, and they’ll be doing plenty of that this Saturday in a 12-race card that contains five graded stakes races, including three with a $1 million purse. Here are some stakes plays at Kentucky Downs for Saturday’s races. Hopefully, you will be able to bring home some money of your own. Best of luck.
Saturday, Sept. 10
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A common theme in Kentucky Downs handicapping is that some horses seem to like the irregular course and some horses don’t. So when assessing the chances of the various horses, it often pays off to pick the horses that are already proven winners at Kentucky Downs whenever possible. For that reason, among others, it seems logical to go with #2 Pixelate, who is seeking a repeat victory in this race after an easy win at last year’s meet in a career-best effort. Pixilate is winless in four races since, but just returned from a layoff with a solid third-place prep race last time out at Laurel Park that sets him up for a good effort today when reunited with Joel Rosario, who was aboard last year’s win. If you are looking for an exacta partner, #8 Atone has good recent form including a second in the Grade 3 Forbidden Apple Stakes at Saratoga Race Course for perennial Kentucky Downs leading trainer Mike Maker.
The Play: Bet #2 Pixelate to win and box him in the exactas along with #8 Atone.
The $1 million Kentucky Turf Cup drew an overflow field of accomplished long-distance turf runners, and just like in the aforementioned Mint Million, the Turf Cup should come down to a battle between the race’s horse for the course and the horse with the best recent form. It’s no surprise who the horse for the course is, it’s #4 Arklow who has won this race twice in 2018 and 2020, has never run out of the exacta here in four starts, and has racked up nearly $1.4 million in earnings right here at Kentucky Downs. He lost by a neck when second in this race last year and has only raced twice since then, but the now 8-year-old seems to have been pointed for a return here to his favorite place and ran a very respectable second last time out at Saratoga in the Grade 2 Bowling Green Stakes, which was just a tad too short for him at 1 3/8 miles. With this return to 1 ½ miles and to Kentucky Downs. Arklow instantly becomes the one to beat. The horse that seems to be potentially standing in the way of another Arklow victory is #8 Gufo, who wheels right back just two weeks after his Grade 1 score in the Resorts World Casino Sword Dancer Stakes at Saratoga, where he used his trademark late rally to score an impressive win. Regular rider Rosario is here for turf ace trainer Christophe Clement, and Gufo wouldn’t have made the trip if he hadn’t exited the Sword Dancer in A+ condition. Gufo has never run before at Kentucky Downs, but there is nothing about his talent level or running style that indicate he won’t handle it as the favorite.
The Play: The odds on #8 Gufo may be too short to bet him to win, but #4 Arklow is no doubt worth a win bet if he goes off anywhere near his morning line odds of 7-2. In addition to the win bet on Arklow, also box him in the exactas with Gufo. In a full 12-horse field, the payoff will still be well worthwhile.
One of the day’s standout favorites will take to the track in this Grade 3 race going 6 ½ furlongs, and that horse is #10 Campanelle trained by Wesley Ward and ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr. Campanelle is making her first start since finishing in a dead heat for third in a $1.2 million Group 1 race against the boys at the Royal Ascot meet in England. The last time we saw her stateside she won an April stakes race at Keeneland, giving her five wins in a career that has spanned the U.S., England, and France since 2020. Campanelle should certainly handle fillies and mares at this level, but even star horses are often vulnerable in their first starts back from overseas, and that chink in the armor has been the case with Campanelle two times in the past. If Campanelle goes down to defeat at Kentucky Downs Saturday, the upset will very likely set up big prices in the exotics, so the object here is to find a pair of horses to put her with in the exactas and trifectas. One horse with an upset chance is #9 Star Devine, who finished second by a length after getting delayed in traffic trying to squeeze through a peephole on the rail in the Grade 3 Intercontinental Stakes at Belmont two races ago in a six-furlong race that went in 1:07.59. Another horse in with a chance is #6 Tobys Heart, yet another horse that has already shown an affinity for Kentucky Downs, having done so last year when winning big in the $487,950 Nelson’s Green Brier Whiskey Music City Stakes here at this distance.
The Play: Make win bets on #6 Toby’s Heart at 15-1 on the morning line and #9 Star Devine at 10-1. Use both of those in three-horse exacta and trifecta boxes along with favored #10 Campanelle.