Stars of Yesterday: Looking Back at Best Arkansas Derby Winners
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.
The remnants of what used to be the Sunshine Millions series of races are happening at Gulfstream Park this Saturday as a part of the track’s 11-race weekend program. Florida-breds take center stage for the runnings of the $75,000 Sunshine Filly and Mare Turf Stakes and the $75,000 Sunshine Sprint Stakes. The fields for both races are evenly matched, and with one race on dirt and one on turf, the two races form very bettable co-features on the card. Let’s take a look at these back-to-back stakes and try to make some money.
weekend Television schedule
Gulfstream Park, Race 9, $75,000 Sunshine Filly and Mare Turf Stakes, post time 4:06 p.m. ET
The Sunshine Filly and Mare Turf has drawn a field of nine statebreds going one mile on the grass. A pair of the horses that figure to take money in this race, #2 Avow and #4 Sweet Dani Girl, haven’t even been on the turf yet in their careers, which makes them big X-factors in the race and adds to the difficulty for handicappers. I am going in another direction with a pair of the known quantities on the grass in this race in order to bet the exactas. I’ll start with my pick in the race, #9 Mona Stella, and also use #7 Sugar Fix. Mona Stella ran well on the Gulfstream lawn earlier in her career and seemed on an upward trajectory when she placed third last March in a similar state-bred stakes race at Tampa Bay Downs with a strong speed figure. She took a long layoff during the second half of 2022 and returned with a five-furlong obvious prep race last time out that was moved off the turf. Now she gets back to her preferred surface and should mean business Saturday in the second start off the layoff. Sugar Fix flopped last time out on a Tapeta surface, but her best game is on the grass and not the synthetic and she has a great chance to rebound in this spot. She won the Claiming Crown Tiara on this course about a year ago, and she is usually competitive in these low-level stakes races against Florida-breds or sometimes even against open company.
The Play: Bet #9 Mona Stella to win and play an exacta box also using #7 Sugar Fix.
Gulfstream Park, Race 10, $75,000 Sunshine Sprint Stakes, post time 4:37 p.m. ET
Colts and geldings sprint six furlongs on the main track in the Sunshine Sprint which drew a seven-horse field. I’m going to go against a couple of the horses in this race that figure to be live on the tote board but who also are likely to be underlays. #3 Unsociable is in great form with three straight wins, but all were on Tapeta and he has yet to ever win, or even race yet, on the dirt main track. #7 Cajun’s Magic is another high-profile bet-against in my opinion. He is, in fact, a proven state-bred sprinter, but those races happened a year and a half ago. After that he raced longer and in some unrealistic spots and has not been seen in seven months since suffering a bad defeat in his last start. This feels like a six-furlong fitness prep race for that horse in his return from the sidelines. Instead of Unsociable and Cajun’s Magic, I instead am going turn toward #1 Lightning Larry for my win bets. Lightning Larry has been facing tough open company for much of the last year. His outings have included a pair of graded stakes including a win in the Grade 3 Chick Lang Stakes at Pimlico. He’s a true six-furlong dirt specialist, he had a solid third-place return from the sidelines last time out here at Gulfstream, and looks like the speed from the rail versus this field. For the exactas I’ll take a horse coming back from a defeat last time out where he posted a big speed figure, and that is #4 Legends Can’t Die. He switched from turf races in New York to a dirt sprint here at Gulfstream and ran second in a fast seven-furlong race. He’ll be tough versus these if able to repeat that effort.
The Play: Bet #1 Lightning Larry to win and bet him in exacta boxes along with #4 Legends Can’t Die.