Noel’s Weekend Winners: Building a Mardi Gras Bankroll at Fair Grounds

Horses race down the stretch in the 2018 Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds. (Eclipse Sportswire)

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, and, 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.

Noel Michaels’ Weekend Winners is brought to you by, the official online qualifying site of the Breeders' Cup Betting Challenge (BCBC) and National Horseplayers Championship (NHC). offers low-cost feeders every day and BCBC and NHC qualifiers every weekend, and it’s the only site where you can qualify for the $1.25 million BCBC. It’s free to sign up – click here to get information about registering and how to enter contests.

Six Beginner Betting Tools

  1. Start simple with an easy guide for how to bet on horse racing.
  2. Not sure what that word means? Horse racing terminology is a language of its own. Allow us translate for you.
  3. What the heck is a speed figure? This beginner’s guide to speed figures has everything you need to know.
  4. Betting on horse racing can be intimidating. Team ABR put together some Dos and Don’ts for the new fan getting started betting on racing.
  5. We all make mistakes when it comes to betting on horse racing, here are eight lessons learned from experience.

Figure out how much each bet will cost in advance with our Gambling Calculator, presented by NYRA Bets.

The focus shifts to Fair Grounds this weekend, where several stakes races are set to headline an excellent 13-race card including the weekend’s Kentucky Derby prep race, the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford. Also on the card is the Risen Star’s female counterpart, the Grade 2 Rachel Alexandra Stakes Presented by Fasig-Tipton, which features Hoosier Philly – a filly that is considered by many to also be a contender for the Kentucky Derby. Add in more star power on the undercard in the Grade 3 Mineshaft Stakes Presented by Relyne GI by Hagyard, and you have a recipe for a big afternoon in the Big Easy. Best of luck.

Fair Grounds, Race 10, $250,000 Mineshaft Stakes Presented by Relyne GI by Hagyard, post time 5:37 p.m. ET

weekend Television schedule

Friday, Feb. 17: 3-6 p.m. on FS2; post time varies on FanDuel TV

Saturday, Feb. 18: 12:30-6:30 p.m. on FS2; post time varies on FanDuel TV

Sunday, Feb. 19: 2-4:50 p.m. on FS2; post time varies on FanDuel TV

Monday, Feb. 20: 3-6 p.m. on FS2; post time varies on FanDuel TV

The featured Risen Star Stakes showcases 3-year-olds, while the Mineshaft Stakes in race 10 spotlights older horses, also held at 1 1/16 miles on the main track. Much of the attention in this race will go to #3 Tawny Port based on his wins last year in the Stonestreet Lexington Stakes and Ohio Derby, but he’ll be making his 4-year-old debut off a layoff and will likely need the race and be overbet. Instead, why not bet #6 Happy American as he goes for the Fair Grounds three-peat? Happy American won both of the local stakes leading up to this race, including the Grade 3 Louisiana Stakes Presented by Relyne GI by Hagyard last time, and beat many of today’s same rivals in the process. He can do it again – if he can beat #7 Pioneer of Medina. Todd Pletcher sends Pioneer of Medina to New Orleans, and the colt has been in exceptional form in two recent races, including an allowance win at Churchill Downs and a runner-up finish with a fast speed figure in the Grade 3 Harlan’s Holiday Stakes last time out at Gulfstream Park. If he runs the same kind of an effort here, he should beat today’s rivals.

The Play: Bet #7 Pioneer of Medina (9-2) to win and box him in the exacta along with #6 Happy American (7-2).

Fair Grounds, Race 13, $400,000 Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford, post time 7:14 p.m. ET

The Road to the 2023 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve winds through New Orleans this week with the running of the Risen Star Stakes, which drew a field of 14 horses to pose an extremely difficult challenge for handicappers. The most accomplished horse in the field to date is #13 Victory Formation, who has begun his career 3-for-3 capped off by a win in the Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Park last time out in his two-turn debut. Victory Formation has been on or close to the lead at all points of all of his races so far, and while he has never been this far, he shows the speed figures and improving pattern so far in his career to indicate he is good enough to go all the way in the Risen Star, or at least come close. He’ll be sent from the outside by jockey Flavien Prat, and we’ll see how far he makes it. If the favorite falls short, the horse most likely to deny him will be #10 Two Phil’s, who already owns two stakes wins, including the Grade 3 Street Sense Stakes at Churchill Downs at this 1 1/16-mile distance. Last out, he posted a runner-up finish behind Instant Coffee on this track in the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes. Two Phil’s rates in mid-pack and rallies from off the pace, so if the leaders falter, he is the one who should be picking up the pieces in the stretch. There will be several price shots that you can use in order to try to spice-up your exotics with in this race, starting with #12 Crupi. This colt is still a maiden, but he might have the right kind of closing running style for success in this spot. He ran a fast speed figure last time at Aqueduct and should come running in the stretch, perhaps getting a slice for trainer Todd Pletcher, who sees fit to ship him all the way to Fair Grounds. #5 Harlocap is also interesting. He shifts trainers from Bob Baffert to Steve Asmussen with an eye on earning some Derby points, and he exits a promising maiden win at Santa Anita Park in his last race.

The Play:  Bet #10 Two Phil’s (8-1) to win and use him in exacta boxes along with #12 Crupi (15-1) and #13 Victory Formation (3-1). Add in #5 Harlocap (8-1) to complete a four-horse trifecta box.

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