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.
All eyes are on Fair Grounds this weekend as the track hosts a 14-race Saturday card with several stakes races including prep races on the road to the Longines Kentucky Oaks and the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve. With Chop Chop looking very tough to beat in Saturday’s Silverbulletday Stakes Presented by Fasig-Tipton in the former, the focus goes to the latter with the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes drawing a solid field in what should be a good betting race. Add the contentious Grade 3 Louisiana Stakes Presented by Relyne GI by Hagyard for older horses into the mix, and you have the makings of some good handicapping to be done in the late daily double. Here are picks for the two graded stakes on the Fair Grounds Saturday card. Best of luck and enjoy the races.
Fair Grounds, Race 13, $150,000 Louisiana Stakes Presented by Relyne GI by Hagyard, post time 7 p.m. ET
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The Grade 3 Louisiana Stakes goes at 1 1/16 miles on the main track for older horses and has drawn an interesting field of nine, because a case could be made for just about every horse in the group. That being said, there do seem to be two standouts in the race starting with the top pick, #2 Run Classic, who comes off a solid fourth-place finish in a $200,000 stakes at Oaklawn Park last time out where he tired in the stretch at 1 1/8 miles. He has two key factors in his favor in this race: 1) the distance of 1 1/16 miles in more suitable than 1 1/8 miles last time; and 2) he’ll be on or close to the pace in this race that seems to have a total lack of it. #5 Happy American exits a win over some of these same rivals last time out in the $100,000 Tenacious Stakes at this track and distance, but the pace as it turned out benefited a closer that day. The opposite should happen Saturday, and that favors horses with tactical speed. Plus, Run Classic finished ahead of Happy American after dueling for the lead two races ago in a tough $100,000 Churchill Downs allowance race on Nov. 13. The other horse certain to attract a lot of attention in this race is #8 Zozos, who finished second in last year’s Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby. Zozos was out of action for seven months following his 10th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, but he returned in sharp fashion with an easy Fair Grounds win at this distance last time out and is prepped and ready for this step up in class.
The Play: Bet #2 Run Classic to win and couple an exacta box along with #8 Zozos. Start the late daily double using #2 Run Classic and #8 Zozos in race 13 with #7 Instant Coffee and #8 Two Phil’s in Race 14.
This weekend’s stop on the road to the Kentucky Derby lands at Fair Grounds for the running of the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes, which offers 10 Derby points to the winner. The big name in the Lecomte is #7 Instant Coffee, who won his career debut at Saratoga and later won the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs over a field that included Iroquois Stakes winner Curly Jack. Both wins for Instant Coffee came from off the pace, and there should be plenty of pace to chase in today’s race. One of the pace setters will be #1 Echo Again, who had a lot of buzz at Saratoga after his big maiden win for trainer Steve Asmussen. He’s lost both of his stretchout attempts since then, however, and may fade at this 1 1/16-mile distance at very low odds. A better value option in this race seems like #8 Two Phil’s, who is now a two-time stakes winner after taking the Grade 3 Street Sense Stakes at Churchill Downs on a sloppy track last time out. He rated off the early pace and beat Hayes Strike by 5 ¼ lengths in that race before Instant Coffee finished only 1 ¼ lengths ahead of that rival in the Kentucky Jockey Club.