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Prep Races Offer Births in the Kentucky Derby

Kentucky Derby

Kentucky Derby

Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

NBC Sports’ coverage of the Road to the Kentucky Derby kicks into high gear on Saturday, with three live races on CNBC from 6-7PM ET.

In the Jeff Ruby and Louisiana Derby, the top-2 finishers will lock up a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate six weeks from now. Plus, in the Fair Grounds Oaks, guaranteed spots in the Kentucky Oaks’ starting gate are up for grabs. I am very interested in betting on the two races from New Orleans, but I also want to take a little bit of a shot in the Jeff Ruby as well.

FAIR GROUNDS OAKS

FAIR GROUNDS, RACE 11, POST TIME 6:08PM ET

This is a good betting race despite attracting only five entrants. I could see #5 Hoosier Philly going off as the favorite, solely because of her results as a 2-year-old when she was undefeated in three starts and garnered attention as a potential Kentucky Derby candidate. But she laid an egg in her 3-year-old debut and did not have any major excuses. I just do not think she is the same horse she was last year, so I am looking elsewhere.

#4 The Alys Look and #3 Pretty Mischievous are solid fillies, both having won at Fair Grounds already this year. But I am more interested in a runner with a lot of upside. That will be a better price - #1 Southlawn. She was terrible as a 2-year-old last year, but trainer Norm Casse said she was struggling with a breathing issue that has since been surgically repaired. And in her first start since that surgery, she blew the doors off a solid allowance field in a visually impressive performance. She fits in this race - the speed figures from her allowance win are comparable to both The Alys Look and Pretty Mischievous, so she should be right there at the finish if she runs the same race she did last time. I am also thrilled she has Reylu Gutierrez in the irons – he has been fantastic at the Fair Grounds this winter.

THE PLAY:

WIN: #1 Southlawn, at 6-1 or higher

EXACTA: 1 over 3, 4

TRIFECTA: 1 / 3,4 / 3,4

JEFF RUBY STEAKS

TURFWAY PARK, RACE 12, POST TIME 6:25 PM ET

I do not play Turfway Park very often, so I am going to keep my wagering small in this race. The favorites do not really do anything for me – there is no guarantee that #1 Major Dude and #10 Two Phil’s will like the synthetic surface, so I think it sets up well for a longshot. And I chose #7 Bluebirds Over.

He was 2-for-2 last year, with both wins coming on synthetic surfaces – including one in a graded stakes race. He made his 3 y/o debut in the Colonel Liam Stakes on turf and finished 5th behind some very solid horses. I think he is getting back to his preferred surface and might be overlooked based off a last race that was better than it looks at first glance. Plus, the fact that jockey Edgard Zayas ships in from his South Florida base to ride him is a huge display of confidence in this horse’s chances.

THE PLAY:

WIN: #7 Bluebirds Over, at 15-1 or higher

LOUISIANA DERBY

FAIR GROUNDS, RACE 12, POST TIME 6:42PM ET

#2 Instant Coffee deserves to be favored in this race off the strength of his last two victories. But he has gotten a pretty good trip in each of those wins, and I do not love his come-from-behind running style. I do not think he is an overwhelming favorite and will probably be overbet, so I am looking elsewhere for value. I settled on another Brad Cox trainee, #11 Jace’s Road.

There is no denying that his last race, which came on a sloppy track, was an ugly one. But if you toss that race because of the conditions, and instead look at his race in the Gun Runner Stakes two starts back, there is a ton to like. That day, he set a decent pace but had more than enough left in the tank to kick clear in the stretch – Florent Geroux was even able to wrap up on him late. In a race that seems devoid of early speed, he should be able to do the exact same thing here. I am a little worried I might not get the price I want, though – it seems like he is the “wiseguy” horse in this race and could attract much more wagering attention than I originally anticipated.

I also want to play #12 Baseline Beater in the underneath slots. I do not love his deep closer running style, and he is light on speed figures, but last time out he broke his maiden impressively, even having to deal with some traffic in the stretch. I think he could take another step forward here at what will be a big price.

I also want to play a daily double that links my picks in the two Fair Grounds’ races.

THE PLAY:

WIN: #11 Jace’s Road, at 6-1 or higher

EXACTA: 11 over 2, 12

TRIFECTA: 11 / 2, 12 / 2, 12

DOUBLE (FG R11-R12): 1 / 11

Enjoy the races and enjoy the sweat.