Two months ago, a good number of horse racing fans didn't have Fonner Park in Grand Island, Neb., on their radar. But now, the track is competing with Will Rogers Downs for the top slot of the racing world on Tuesday, when a mandatory Pick 5 jackpot will grab the attention of bettors left with few options because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Before diving into some tips for taking down the jackpot -- it entered the racing week at $355,846 -- take note of the track configuration. Fonner Park falls into the category of bullring racetracks similar to Charles Town in West Virginia or the old Fairplex track in California. Despite its size, most of the same handicapping principles still apply. However, keep in mind the difference between even a half-mile and 3/4-mile race, as the latter is not only longer, but also a two-turn race.
Also, prepare to watch many six-furlong races where the opening fraction is around 24 seconds and change. For this level of horses and track configuration, that's normal. In these kinds of races on an unfamiliar racetrack, watching the race flow through video replays rather than worrying too much about the raw fractions is more important.
RELATED: Tuesday's Fonner Park entries
Here are a few horses to include on your tickets if playing the sequence.
Fonner Park Race 4: Claiming $5k
Where's Rufus is slated to start as the chalk. But his last start on March 31 in allowance company against tougher opponents appears likable enough to justify a low price.
From the rail, Where's Rufus displayed good speed to take the lead before two rivals came alongside to apply pressure on the backside. Whereas Ohtani lost position on the far turn, Lovethatcause gradually moved ahead of Where's Rufus but faded in the stretch. They both were passed by the two closing favorites.
Where's Rufus crossed the wire fourth, but notice that he only finished ¾ of a length behind Lovethatcause in third.
One week prior to that effort, Lovethatcause had run a good second in a March 24 allowance as part of a strung out field. While he lost, he also finished 11 ¼ lengths ahead of Cliff's Place in fourth. Cliff's Place, who is 6-1 in this race, won his previous start at Tuesday's level on March 7 by 9 ½ lengths, and he could not touch Lovethatcause.
Yet, the difference between Where's Rufus and Lovethatcause was not significant when they last met. With the class drop, Where's Rufus is even more attractive, even at a low price.
Toss out Where's Rufus' Feb. 8 effort at Sam Houston. He came off a 660-day layoff and ran like a short horse in the stretch run on his way to a fourth-place finish.
On March 6 at Sam Houston, Where's Rufus took a step forward by pressing a fast pace and lasting longer, before fading to fifth late. Despite the fade, he gave a solid effort.
Then, as explained above, Where's Rufus faded against good horses in his March 24 allowance run. Returning to $5,000 claiming company, Where's Rufus looks a major threat to win again.
Fonner Park Race 6: Starter Allowance
The 7-year-old gelding Shooters Alley is in sharp form.
Three starts ago on Feb. 28, he exploded with an eight-length win at the $2,5000 claiming level on this course. He was claimed and brought into the Kelli Martinez barn.
Martinez ran him in two starter allowance races, and Shooters Alley won both of them, taking the March 7 race by three lengths and the March 24 start by 4 ½ lengths. In the former race, he set the pace and opened up by four lengths at one point, while he sat off the pacesetter in his more recent victory. He won both races with only mild urging late.
In the past, Shooters Alley failed to display speed on a consistent basis. Yet, in his last three races, this gelding is either setting the pace or sitting one length off the leader. What changed?
On the downside, Shooters Alley steps up to a higher level of competition in this starter allowance. Notice that TimeformUS gives a class rating of 90 in this spot, and his last three races were given class ratings of 84, 83 and 80. Also, the purse money is higher than before.
However, Shooters Alley earned a 96 TimeformUS Speed Figure in his Feb. 28 win. He regressed to an 82 and 86 afterward, but he also won those two races easily suggesting higher figures were possible.
According to TimeformUS' Pace Projector, Shooters Alley will also sit in a good spot, right behind the leaders through a slow pace.
Shooters Alley can strike first from a stalking or pressing position and win again. His morning line of 7/2 is fair.
Race 7: Allowance Optional Claimer
After finishing his 2019 season with a ninth-place finish in a Tampa Bay claiming race, May Flowers transferred to the Steve Hall barn and began racing at Fonner Park.
According to TimeformUS, Hall has won at a 15 percent clip over the past year on this course. He also gets a high trainer rating of 92 out of 100.
In her Feb. 29 debut for Hall, May Flowers actually faded to third after contesting and opening up on the far turn. She lost by 1 ¾ lengths to Put Sarah On. But the losing effort is forgivable as this is not a presser, but rather a natural closer. Perhaps the new trainer wanted to experiment with more speed, and the plan failed to work out.
In any case, May Flowers reverted back to her old style on March 23, and looked sharp darting through the rail and passing Wanderintheforest to win by 5 ¼ lengths. This time, Put On Sarah could only manage fourth, 9 ¼ lengths behind May Flowers.
Also, notice that Wanderintheforest previously crossed the wire second in the Bold Accent Stakes on Feb. 29, ahead of Extreme Caution and Honey Hearts. Honey Hearts is listed as the 5/2 morning line favorite in this race, while Extreme Caution is 7/2.
May Flowers offers value at 9/2. If she can repeat the winning March 23 effort where she dusted Wanderintheforest, she wins.