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Picks for Saturday’s $30,000 StableDuel Contest at Tampa Bay Downs

Picks for Saturday's $30,000 StableDuel Contest at Tampa Bay Downs

On Saturday, February 12th, StableDuel is hosting a $30,000 contest for the races at Tampa Bay Downs feating the Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes. The contest requires a $50 entry fee. How do you get in the action at StableDuel? Download the StableDuel app and then pick 10 horses with your $50,000 fantasy budget. If your stable comes out on top, you’re a winner!

How to Play StableDuel: StableDuel is a fantasy horse racing contest where you create a stable of 10 horses from those running on a particular card. Each horse costs a fixed price based upon their morning line odds. You are given an allocation of $50,000 StableDuel dollars to purchase 10 horses. Favorites are worth more as horses with 2-1 odds cost $9,000 whereas horses with 10-1 odds only cost $1,000. Therefore, you must balance selecting favorites with long shots to round out your entry. Once racing starts you are awarded points based upon the performance for first (60 pts.), second (40 pts.), third (30 pts.), fourth (20 pts.), and fifth (10 pts.). Negative points are awarded for horses that finish fifth or worse. The key is finding horses that provide good value, and while you may not afford to be able to pick the winner every race, being able to identify a horse that is morning line 10-1 who finishes third and gets you 30 points is a huge advantage.

Is StableDuel winner-take-all? No. In Thursday’s $30,000 contest, the winner will receive around one-third of the prize money, but typically all players finishing in the top third of entries will win at least $100 to double their entry cost.

Playing Tampa Bay Downs: On a day that features a Kentucky Derby prep race in the Sam F. Davis Stakes, things change a bit as the big names from Gulfstream Park in South Florida venture north and descend upon the track. Therefore, you’ll see Saffie Joseph Jr., Todd Pletcher, Chad Brown, Dale Romans, Mark Casse, and other significant trainers running some of their best horses. As a result, some of the trainer and jockey stats will be less reliable than a typical weekday, but let’s focus less on names and more on the track. Frontrunners and early speed are critical at Tampa. The track does not have a significant rail bias, but it is partial to early speed both on dirt and turf. You do not need to be on the lead but deep closers, even in turf races, typically struggle. So, when looking through past performances, make sure you identify horses that are forwardly placed in addition to having jockeys that have the reputation of being aggressive out of the starting gate, such as Manny Franco or Irad Ortiz Jr.

Horses to Build Your Entry Around: When building a successful StableDuel entry you should always identify three types of horses: safe favorites (3-1 or lower), consistent midshots (between 5-1 and 8-1), and live longshots (10-1 or greater). You don’t need to win every race in StableDuel, but you need to avoid losing points by selecting a horse that finishes fifth or worse. Below I’ll give you two of each to help get you started for a winning entry.

Safe Favorites

Race 7 – #3 Baby Yoda 6-5 (StableDuel cost $9,200)

Sometimes giving the people what they want and a good bet line up, and it’s certainly the case with fan-favorite Baby Yoda being the overwhelming favorite in the Pelican Stakes. He’s the class of the field having run against some of the best horses in the country in two of his last three efforts. He threw in a clunker at Mahoning Valley two races ago, and while he lost to Flightline by 11 lengths in the Grade I Malibu Stakes, he bested Stilleto Boy that day who just ran a huge third place behind Knicks Go and Life is Good two weeks ago at the Grade I Pegasus World Cup. All of this is to say that no other horse in the field has his resume. One of his biggest competitors is Bank on Shea who has been racing in fits and starts with long layoffs between non-graded stakes races, while his other competition, Pudding, has not won in his last six efforts despite only two of them being against stakes competition. Baby Yoda has the best speed in the field, and I also believe he has the best jockey in Jose Ortiz. If he’s able to channel even a fraction of his record-tying 114 Beyer’s speed figure effort from Saratoga over the summer, he will win with ease.

Race 8 – #2 Nest 3-5 (StableDuel cost $11,000)

It’s not often that I advocate for anyone to spend over 20% of their budget on one horse but there are exceptions, such as when Flightline raced last month and romped in dominating fashion. I’m not predicting a 12-length victory for Nest, but she’s as reliable of a winner on this card as you’ll find. It may mean that you have to pinch some pennies on a few other races, but the name of the game is picking winners and Nest is a winner. Last time out she ran in the Grade II Demoiselle and won against a very game Venti Valentine despite having to run five wide around both turns. She’s the lone graded stakes winner in the field and 25% of the runners have yet to even break their maiden. She’s going to love the distance and her trainer Todd Pletcher is winning 42% of the races he enters at Tampa in 2022.

Consistent Midshots

Race 9 – #2 Joyous Times 8-1 (StableDuel cost $3,000)

This is a wide-open allowance race sandwiched between the two big stakes races and it provides some excellent betting opportunities. The heavy morning-line favorite, Editor at Large, is perfectly fine and has run in some big races, but also has run twice in the last 14 months and only scratched an 80 Beyer’s speed figure once. Therefore, I’m looking to Joyous Times to provide some value and outrun her odds for a few reasons. First, she has an inside post position and in this turf race, they’ll be coming out of the shoot before entering the main track. It’s not uncommon for horses to get strung out wide when turning onto the main course so I like horses with inside position. Second, this horse will be forwardly placed in perfect stalking position, which should be the ideal setup. Prior to her layoff, she hit the board in six of nine career turf races. She came back last month and knocked off the rust and should be primed for a nice effort here. For only a $3,000 investment in the game, you don’t need a winner, but you may just end up getting one.

Race 5 – #12 Blustery 8-1 (StableDuel cost $3,000)

I told you that you may have to pinch pennies after selecting Nest earlier, so here is another 8-1 horse that I really like to give you positive points and perhaps grab you a victory. This is a strong maiden special weight race with Chad Brown and Shug McGaughey both debuting very good horses being ridden by the Ortiz brothers. However, I like to roll with horses that have a track record and Blustery showed good speed in his debut on synthetic and should take to the dirt quite nicely. Additionally, after getting shuffled back in his first effort, he’s getting blinkers added and has Manny Franco aboard, which will ensure he’s forwardly placed. Franco is among the most aggressive jockeys out of the gate and breaking from the far outside post position will only accentuate that. Early speed in dirt sprints is the name of the game so the equipment and jockey change will work in Blustery’s favor. Finally, his trainer, Jonathan Thomas is winning 24% of his maiden second starts, which shows that he’s good at placing his horses in the right spot and evaluating how to improve them after their debut efforts. While some of the horses with more expensive pedigrees will grab the short morning line odds, I like Blustery to blow by them on the outside and finish strong.

Live Longshots

Race 2 – #4 Starship Belmont 10-1 (StableDuel cost $1,000)

I always like to find value in horses that perk up when running on a new surface and that’s certainly the case with Starship Belmont. After two rather forgettable performances on dirt, he ran a strong third in his first time on grass at Tampa last time out. He improved his Beyer speed figure by 33 points and adopted a new front-running style in the process. While he faded slightly at 1 1/16 miles, the cutback to a mile should suit him well and his 64 Beyers speed figure is on-par with the favorites. On a track where early speed is rewarded, even on turf, he would appear to be the best bet to lead them around and will not get pressured too severely, so he should have plenty left kicking for home. In a field where there are a fair number of question marks, Starship Belmont represents great upside as he should only improve from his turf debut.

Race 3 – #5 Royal Court 10-1 (StableDuel cost $1,000)

In yet another maiden special weight race, Royal Court represents something you do not often see in these types of races, which is a horse that offers both consistency and upside. In his five career races, he’s hit the board three times and he’s shown significant improvement in his speed figures and finishes since transitioning from synthetic to dirt two races ago. He ran two lengths behind second favorite Afjan, who is going off at 3-1 in the morning line odds. He is another horse that will be forwardly placed but does not need the lead and distance should not be a significant factor. His speed figure from his last race is competitive with the favorites and this will be his third race across the dirt at Tampa.  Based upon the improvement we saw from him last time out, I would expect another modest progression. Maiden races are always a great spot to find good value and Royal Court represents an inexpensive horse that has a high floor with potential for improvement.

I hope these horses give you a good starting point for your stable entry and good luck!

Get all of Matthew’s horse racing coverage by following him on Twitter at @failedtomenace.

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