Noel’s Weekend Winners: Exacta Plays for Saturday Stakes

Noel’s Weekend Winners: Exacta Plays for Saturday Stakes

Welcome to Noel Michaels’ Weekend Winners, the place to go for weekend best bets and spot plays from veteran handicapper and tournament-play pioneer Noel Michaels. Check back every week for a couple of highlighted selections designed to help you cash a few bets and make some money.

Noel’s selections have been featured just about everywhere horse racing picks can be found, including in print in the Daily Racing Form, The HorsePlayer Magazine and American Turf Monthly, online at, and, from the paddock on-track at Arlington International Racecourse, and on the air on HRTV, TVG, NYC OTB Extra, NYRA’s Talking Horses, and on broadcast TV on WAVE-3 Louisville, ABC KOLO-8 in Reno, Nevada, and channel 72 Long Island Cablevision.

Saturday, Sept. 24

While handicappers far and wide concentrate on this weekend’s headline Grade 1 stakes events at Parx Racing, the Pennsylvania Derby and Cotillion Stakes, I have turned my attention to a pair of money-making opportunities in lower-profile stakes events this weekend, the Grade 3 Athenia Stakes at Belmont at the Big A, and the Grade 2 Gallant Bob Stakes at Parx in the race preceding the big two races.

With any luck, these two races will build some bankroll and allow us to take big swings in the Grade 1 races later in the afternoon. Best of luck this Saturday.

Belmont at the Big A, Race 3, $175,000 Athenia Stakes, post 2:15 p.m. ET

The Athenia, a Grade 3 race for fillies and mares 3 years old and older at 1 1/8 miles on the turf goes as Race 3 on the Belmont at the Big A card on Saturday and has attracted a field of five. Despite the short field, the race offers a wagering opportunity thanks to a vulnerable 6-5 morning line favorite, #5 Kalifornia Queen, who is coming back from an 11-month layoff. Others in the field look better. #3 Love and Thunder, like the favorite trained by leading trainer Chad Brown, comes into the race in good form in all three of her recent starts, including a tough-luck third-place finish last time at Saratoga in the one-mile Fasig-Tipton De La Rose Stakes where her late rally got put on hold when she was buried in traffic through half the stretch run. She’s a value in this spot as the co-second choice on the morning line at 5-2 odds and can beat these with a clean trip under Jose Ortiz. As much value as she offers, the real value in the race lies with the 5-1 fourth choice on the morning line, #2 Evvie Jets. Evvie Jets exits a solid second-place finish in a tough race at Saratoga last time. Evvie Jets owns a win on the Aqueduct turf course and, like Love and Thunder, should benefit from the added distance of today’s race. The combine to offer a chance to get a legitimate payoff in the exacta boxes, even in this short field.

The Play: Bet #3 Love and Thunder to win and box her in the exactas with #2 Evvie Jets.

Parx Racing, Race 10, $300,000 Gallant Bob Stakes, post time 4:35 p.m. ET

The Gallant Bob is a Grade 3, six-furlong sprint stakes that goes as Race 10 on the Pennsylvania Derby undercard Saturday at Parx. The field is bulging at the seams with 14 horses and is the type of race handicappers can really sink their teeth into to come up with a good payoff. The #3 Provocateur comes into the race off a stakes win at Monmouth in the Jersey Shore Stakes last time out for trainer Todd Pletcher and has Irad Ortiz Jr. aboard for the mount. Earlier this year, he won Gulfstream’s Hutcheson Stakes with Irad aboard and was second by a neck in the $100,000 Gold Fever Stakes at Belmont before bravely battling the lead at seven furlongs in the Grade 1 Woody Stephens Stakes Presented by Mohegan Sun on the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets undercard in a race won off by Jack Christopher, who would be a 1-5 favorite against this field. At today’s distance of six furlongs, Provocateur will be tough to beat against this field, especially with the pace versatility of a horse that can go all the way on the lead or rate just off the pace and pounce in the stretch for top connections. Plus, 4-1 odds on the morning line is not too shabby, either. The best exacta partner also offers good value at 6-1 odds and that is #9 Runninsonofagun, who gets Luis Saez aboard for trainer John Toscano. Runninsonofagun won big in a seven-furlong race earlier this year at Parx and has been knocking on the door vs. high-quality competition ever since, including a third in the Grade 1 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial Stakes on the Runhappy Travers Stakes undercard at Saratoga, where he lost only to the likes of Jack Christopher and Gunite, beaten only four lengths when looking good with blinkers on. This is a solid field, but quite simply, Provocateur and Runninsonofagun both seem to outclass the competition.

The Play:  Bet #3 Provocateur to win and play an exacta box with him and #9 Runninsonofagun.

Last Week: Noel’s Weekend Winners plays went 2-for-2 with a pair of exactas at Belmont at the Big A, including Race 6 with the Padma/Royal Poppy exacta returning $32, and in Race 10 with the Nations Pride/The Grey Wizard exacta returning $33.40.