This is the first episode of our series of previews of the important trials in the run-up to the Kentucky Derby. Here we focus on two races being run tomorrow. For each one, we will use the same format as previously: the Top Choice is the horse assessed as the most likely winner, while the Value Pick is the one that makes most appeal for betting purposes. The latter is the de facto selection; in the last series, a nice profit was raised by the time of the first Saturday in May.
G3 WITHERS STAKES
TOP CHOICE Shotski
The G3 Withers is the 3-year-old debut of G2 Remsen winner Shotski, who carries a five-pound penalty for that front-running win. He deserves to be the top choice - even with his penalty - for this contest is no more competitive than his last win. Sure, he gained an advantage from positive tactics through fractions of 24.26 - 25.82 - 25.11 - 25.91 - 13.14 (pro-rated 26.28), but 38-year-old trainer Jeremiah O’Dwyer (unranked) says his colt can be dropped in and will not shy from dirt being kicked in his face.
Whether Shotski offers betting value is open to considerable doubt, but his form is the strongest in the race and he could follow up.
VALUE PICK Max Player
It’s a big ask for a horse to win a Graded stakes off a maiden win, but Linda Rice (#304 in the TRC trainer standings) has a lot of confidence in Max Player after the son of Honor Code (#250 on dirt) romped home at Parx in Philadelphia.
Whlie this is obviously a big step up in class, the splits of this race offer significant hope that Max Player can adapt. Having broken fifth in a six-horse field, he was caught wide when challenging off the home turn but opened up four lengths in a final quarter of 26.11, made up of 13.20 and 12.91 furlongs, which came off a 24.25 - 24.63 - 25.98 fractions. Compared with other races on the card won by horses of known ability that brings Max Player out not far behind Graded class, and he is surely open to significant improvement.
G3 HOLY BULL STAKES
Gulfstream Park, 8.5f
TOP CHOICE Tiz The Law
Owned by Sackatoga Stable - the same people who raced Funny Cide, Tiz The Law became a G1 winner himself when winning the Champagne Stakes at Belmont In October. He subsequently had a none-too-easy trip when only third in the G2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs, but he is by far the most credentialled runner in this feeder race to the G1 Florida Derby.
Tiz The Law was impressive in the Champagne, overcoming a stumble at the start and having to wait for a run as he turned in. It's true he had the advantage of sitting off a 22.57 first quarter, but he looked the dominant runner and gives the impression longer distances than that mile will suit him.
VALUE PICK Toledo
Ete Indien beat Toledo by two and a half lengths (pair more than ten lengths clear) in an allowance race at Gulfstream in December run in a very fast time for the grade, but it's the runner-up who appeals the most in their rematch.
A son of Into Mischief (#5 on dirt) owned by #4 Juddmonte Farms, Toldero had previously won his maiden at Aqueduct in November in great style and should progress again. Starting odds on, he suffered interference and was forced wide last time, whereas the winner had clear sailing in front. Trainer #3 Chad Brown holds Toledo in high regard and he can show his full potential in this spot