The Road To The Triple Crown is at Gulfstream Park in south Florida on Saturday, when the Hutcheson Stakes runs at 3:50 PM ET (TVG or HRTV on your cable package). A purse of $150,000 is at stake for the six horses looking to build up their earnings and qualify for the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May.
Top trainer Todd Pletcher and his favorite jockey John Velazquez have the favorite in this one, with Thunder Moccasin posted at 7-5 on Equibase.com as of this morning. Thunder Moccasin’s has only run one race, a win back on Christmas Eve, so this is the least tested of the thoroughbreds who will run Saturday.
Last Saturday Julian Leparoux won the Sam Davis Stakes at Tampa Downs with Battle Hardened, delivering an $11 payout based on $2 bets and vindicating a recommendation made here at TheSportsNotebook to see Battle Hardened as the best shot at collecting a double-digit payday. Leparoux had his pick of three horses he rides regularly being entered into the Hutcheson. Hope opted for Ever So Lucky, a 2-1 shot who hasn’t run since November, but finished second in a stakes race at Churchill Downs when he did.
Leparoux’s jilted horses are Tarpy’s Goal, who won a race here at Gulfstream a few weeks ago, but it wasn’t stakes-level competition and it was Tarpy’s first win since the previous May. The jockey also passed on Quick Wit, who has improved in each of his career three starts, winning the last one on January 28. Both of the horses Leparoux declined are priced at 6-1.
I find Il Villano an intriguing possibility at 5-1. He’s been in the money all five starts, including three wins. He’s 2 of 3 in winning stakes races. His previous wins have come up north at New York and Philadelphia, but I can’t see any reason to think that won’t translate into success in Florida. The sixth horse is Wildcat Creek at 12-1, a curiously longshot price for a horse who has run second in a pair of stakes races at Tampa.
You know I normally like to jump on the Pletcher/Velazquez combo, but at 7-5, I don’t think Thunder Moccasin should be that prohibitive a favorite. I’d put my chits on Il Villano to pull out a win.