Horse Racing Picks for Saturday, March 21: Louisiana Derby Card at Fair Grounds, Stakes Races at Oaklawn & Santa Anita

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Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images.

Mar 21, 2020, 03:30 PM EDT
  • Saturday is a packed day for horse racing with stakes races taking place at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas, the Fair Grounds in New Orleans and Santa Anita in California.
  • The Louisiana Derby is the biggest prize of them all, and it will get underway at 5:49 p.m. ET.
  • Sean Zerillo details his picks for all the major horse races on Saturday. Be sure to check out his full analysis below.

For all of the unfamiliar chaos that horse racing creates with its language, and innumerable betting options, races, and tracks, it only takes one-afternoon consuming racing coverage for a new bettor to see the beauty in the synchronization of post times in different jurisdictions.

With proper planning, betting on horses for a few hours is as emotionally exhilarating as watching a football game — which averages 11 minutes of play in any contest.

In the same amount of time today, I can give you 15 minutes of heart-stopping action that will fill your stomach with butterflies like the first time you placed a sports bet.

And you might learn something along the way.


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Horse Racing will undoubtedly teach you about bankroll management and long-term return on investment.

It has also enhanced my thought process and decision making in other areas of wagering — specifically with regards to building futures portfolios, hedging, live betting and getting through losing streaks (though betting on baseball teaches me about that far too often).

But at some point, you will probably lose money on a bet that you technically won. Every new horseplayer needs to avoid situations where they have so many options included on exotic tickets, including horizontal (multi-race such as Daily Double, Pick 3, Pick 4, Pick 5), or vertical (exacta, trifecta, superfecta) tickets that they leave themselves with a negative expected outcome.

So if you’re new to this, keep your bets small, keep your mind open, and embrace the spike of adrenaline that trickles down your back as the horses go to post when you’re one win away from cashing a five-figure Pick 5 win.

It’s a high that, once you experience, you’ll spend a lifetime searching for again.

Saturday’s Betting Menu

If you’re looking to bet on eight stakes races in the span of a few hours today, with some loaded fields full of professional racehorses, set aside some time between 3:38-6:39 p.m. ET this afternoon as we zoom around the country to three different tracks.

We’ll start with Race 8 at Fair Grounds in New Orleans with the 50-cent, all-stakes Pick-5, and the $115,874 carryover, which will be split in addition to the mandatory payout.

There should be a decent amount of square money in that pool. While there are a few wide-open races within the Pick 5 sequence, there’s also a couple of races that I feel comfortable with using only one or two options — helping to keep ticket prices low for what amounts to, for the uninitiated, picking the winner of five consecutive races.

After easing in with a three-race appetizer in Louisiana, we’ll move on to the main course — four stakes races in three states over 40 minutes at 5:09 p.m. ET (Oaklawn Park in Arkansas), 5:15 p.m. ET (Fair Grounds), 5:33 p.m. ET (Santa Anita in California), and 5:49 p.m. ET (Louisiana Derby) — before finishing with a 6:35 p.m. ET post out at Santa Anita for dessert.

Though I’ll be on a chalk play or two within that Pick 5 at Fair Grounds, the six-figure carryover is reason enough to have a ticket, and I can trim that sequence to a Pick 4, Pick 3, or break it up into Daily Doubles in horizontal, or multi-race wagering.

There are also some single-race wagers in there that I like.

Additionally, the Stakes race in Oaklawn is suitable for vertical or single-race exotics, including exactas, trifectas, and superfectas – as I only like four horses in an eight-horse field.

And I like the two stakes races on the turf at Santa Anita for both multi-race (horizontal) and single-race (vertical) exotics/ – seeing just three likely winners between the two races.

We’ll touch on how I’m playing each of these tracks individually, but here is a list of all of the races I’m watching tomorrow, in sequence, and some wager types I’m eying in those races:

For more in-depth analysis, rather than taking these in sequential order, let’s start with that single race at Oaklawn, move to the Pick 3 sequence, and some other exotics I’m eyeing in California, and finish with the all-stakes sequence at Fair Grounds.

Oaklawn Park

Race 9 (Gazebo Stakes)

5:09 p.m. ET

This is a six-furlong sprint for three-year-olds on the dirt in Arkansas, which means you need to include Steve Asmussen’s undefeated No. 5 Little Menace (5-2) who should be able to sit off the pace and take over after the No. 4 Long Weekend (3-1) sets the early fractions.

That’s my exacta, and I think the No. 3 Lykan (8-1) can outrun his odds.

The No. 5 is worth betting across to win at 2-1 or better, and I will key on him in some exotics – three-year-old horses are fickle like college athletes, but Asmussen always has his dirt sprinters tuned up for stakes company.

Pick: 5 over 4,6,3

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Santa Anita Park

Race 5 (San Simeon Stakes)

5:33 p.m. ET

The No. 2 Bound for Nowhere (6/5) shipped up to Santa Anita for this turf sprint after Keeneland’s spring meet was canceled. His trainer is trying to get a piece of whatever he can before other tracks shut down.

I’m going to single the lightly-raced six-year-old to start a Pick 3 – I think he’s easily the classiest horse in this race and the most probable winner in any turf race on Saturday, but he might go off at 4/5 by post time.

The favorite is worth a win wager at even money or better.

Pick: 2

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Race 6

6:05 p.m. ET

For the second leg of our Pick 3, we have to navigate an allowance race for older horses — the equivalent of the NBA G League — but a mile on dirt looks perfect for Bob Baffert’s local No. 1 Sky Jumper (3-1).

He’s my top choice, but I’m going to play two Pick 3’s since I feel more confident about Races 5 and 7.

I’ll single Sky Jumper on one ticket and use the ALL button on the other card, considering there are only six options in Race 6, and I’m only taking two horses from the next race.

That leaves us with two Pick 3 tickets on our “A” options.

Pick: 1

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Race 7 (San Luis Rey Stakes)

6:35 p.m. ET

This looks like a match race between the No. 4 Oscar Dominguez (9-5) and the No. 6 Ward N’Jerry (2-1), who I’m using to finish off my Pick 3 tickets, and will include in an exacta box and trifecta keys.

Flavian Prat will take the mount for Ward N’Jerry, who finished third to his rival at the same distance at Del Mar in December.

Oscar Dominguez gets a jockey switch to Umberto Rispoli, the leading grass jockey at the Santa Anita meet who also moves off of Ward N’Jerry. The Irish-bred horse wants every bit of the mile and a half distance in this race and is my top selection.

Pick: 4 over 6, 2

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Fair Grounds Race Course

Race 8 (Tom Benson Memorial Stakes)

3:38 p.m. ET

I generally don’t like to play more than a single horse to either begin or end a Pick 5 – the tickets just get too pricy.

If I had to pick one horse, I’m taking the Chad Brown horse on turf – the No. 2 Altea (7-2), but I’m struggling to leave off the No. 8 She’sonthewarpath (6-1).

I can also make an argument for the No. 1 Dream Passage (9/2) or No. 9 Winning Envelope (9/2), so if you want to reverse the Pick 5 ticket if you feel more confident on other races.

Pick: 2 over 8, 9, 1

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Race 9 (New Orleans Classic)

4:10 p.m. ET

This 1 1/8 mile route for older dirt horses is an exciting affair, and I see three viable win contenders with the No. 3 Fearless (9-2) for Todd Pletcher, or either the No. 6 Silver Dust (2-1) or No. 8 By My Standards (6-1) for Bret Calhoun.

At 5-1 or better, I’ll be betting By My Standards across the board (Win / Place / Show).

He beat three Grade-I winners and another multiple graded stakes winner in the 2019 Louisiana Derby, came into the Kentucky Derby as a buzz horse but struggled in the slop, and then went back into training for an extended period before returning on February 9th.

In that race he coasted home by nine lengths and was never asked to run, earning a career-best 119 TimeformUS Speed Figure. If he repeats that effort, he can win, and if he takes a step forward in his second start off the layoff, this could be a statement win en route to a Breeders Cup Classic campaign.

By My Standards also had a bullet four-furlong workout on March 14th, finishing first amongst 88 runners in 47.40. He looks locked and loaded for this race.

All of this is to say that I also really like Fearless and will be using him in exotics with Silver Dust, the late-running No. 1 Lone Sailor (6-1) and No. 9 Gun It (6-1).

But Fearless and By My Standards are my “A” options, and Silver Dust is a “B” horse.

Pick: 8 over 3, 6, 9

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Race 10 (Muniz Memorial Classic)

4:42 p.m. ET

A wide-open Turf stakes race for older horses, and I never leave off any Chad Brown runner in these spots, so the No. 4 Rockemperor (10-1) and No. 6 Instilled Regard (5-1) are my top two choices.

The former is closer and the upside horse coming off a layoff, the latter is more tactical and has consistently improved and should win if he runs back to his third-place finish in the Pegasus World Cup from January.

But this is a tough field.

I have to include the No. 12 Synchrony (3-1) despite a potentially unsatisfactory outside post draw. He’s the horse for the course and needs to be on all multi-race tickets.

And I’m scared of both No. 1 Dot Matrix (8-1), for Brad Cox and No. 2 Aquaphobia (12-1), who has improved off the claim for Mike Maker.

No. 7 Henley’s Joy (20-1) runs his first race for Steve Asmussen and could be involved in the pace early. And the No. 8 Channel Maker (6-1) always runs a good race and might also appreciate the shorter distance.

This is a great betting race, and in multi-race wagers, I might use five options.

Pick: 6 over 4, 12, 1

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 Race 11 (Fair Grounds Oaks)

5:15 p.m. ET

The No. 6 Finite (3/5) will probably be 1/9 by post time, but she’s still one to single in all multi-race wagers in this six-horse field. Her worst speed figures still best her competition here, as a multiple grades stakes winner facing lesser company.

She has won four consecutive starts and never finished worse than second, and looks like a potential superstar in the three-year-old female division.

Her half-sister, the No. 4 Bonny South (4-1), could complete the exacta, but they will have to catch the front running No. 5 Stop Shoppin Tammy (8-1).

Pick: 6 over 4, 5

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Race 12 (Louisiana Derby)

5:49 p.m. ET

You should read my full Louisiana Derby preview.  And you should also read the breakdown by my colleague Mike Conti.

In short, to finish out multi-race wagers, including a Daily Double, Pick 4, and Pick 5 for our purposes, I’m using the No. 3 Wells Bayou (8-1), No. 8 Royal Act (10-1) as “A” horses and the favorite No. 10 Enforceable (7-2) as a “B” horse – which is to say that I’ll probably have slightly more multi-race wagers tied to the horses with longer odds, but will hedge my bets with some tickets that also contains the chalk.

I’m expecting the No. 1 Major Fed (8-1) to be a severe contender to hit the board and would be slightly surprised if neither No. 4 Chestertown (15-1) or No. 13 Silver State (6-1) hits the board for Steve Asmussen. Still, I’m otherwise fading the slower division of the Risen Star Stakes over the same surface.

Pick: 3 over 8, 10 4

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