Race 3: Claiming $20,000 at six furlongs for three year-olds
Hearty Congrats is going to be a strong favorite in this race and perhaps he is simply the best horse. However, there are some significant questions that he has to answer today. The Beyer assigned to his last race looks pretty suspect, considering that he and the winner had never before hinted at being able to run numbers so high in their previous starts. Cee ‘n O, who won that race by nearly ten lengths, was assigned a Beyer of 101, which is 28 points higher than his previous Beyer top. I’m going to need Hearty Congrats to duplicate that number before I’m willing to believe that he’s anything more than a horse who runs numbers in the mid- to low-60s. Furthermore, his trainer Jane Cibelli, despite having enjoyed plenty of success on other circuits, is 0-for-29 over the past five years at NYRA racetracks, so it’s reasonable to question whether this horse—previously campaigned by high percentage outfits Michael Pino and Kirk Ziadie—will be able to bring his Gulfstream form to New York.
I’ve landed on LET’S DISCUSS (#3) as my alternative to the favorite. This horse has been steadily improving all winter while keeping decent company as his connections attempted to find the right class level for him. He obviously had no chance against horses like Oliver Zip and The Rhythmisright, but I thought he put in a decent effort last time in a race that was dominated by two horses up front. Let’s Discuss was the only horse who raced in the second flight of runners down the backstretch to make any sort of move as he actually was able to put quite a bit of distance between himself and the rest of the field, including two of today’s rivals. In a race lacking much pace, he has the tactical speed to put himself in good position early and he may need only the slightest of steps forward to take down both Hearty Congrats and Double Gold. Assuming this field stays together, I would take a shot with him if he’s anywhere near his morning line odds of 6-1.
$10 Win 3 (WINNER; Payout: $77.00)
Race 4: Claiming $25,000N2L at 1 1/16 miles on the turf
I know that the turf course has been favoring speed, but if this race stays together and is actually ridden the way it appears to play out on paper, there should be a fast, contested pace. With that in mind, I’m willing to give serious consideration to the closers and the one I want most is SMOKEY BROWN (#10). This horse won his second turf start with an eye-catching late run going seven furlongs at Belmont before being stepped up in class against winners. Not only was that race significantly tougher than this one, but it also featured an extremely slow pace set by the eventual winner Craving Carats that made it impossible for horses to close. Smokey Brown trailed the field throughout, but he actually didn’t put in that bad of an effort considering the race shape. A dirt experiment didn’t work out and he has since been freshened for the return of the turf season. Luis Saez climbs aboard today and, if this horse can transfer that late kick he showed sprinting to this two-turn affair, he could be tough to hold off late. He’s certain to be a longer price than fellow closer James Jingle (if that one draws in) and I believe their chances of winning are about equal.
I’m also going to take a small shot with the seemingly improbable long shot SPIRIT OF PEACE (#5). Yes, there is other speed to contend with early and his best race might not quite be good enough to make him a winner, but I do think this horse is better on the turf than his recent races suggest. I won’t detail every bit of trouble he had last year since the list is too extensive for this one paragraph, but suffice it to say that when things have gone right for him, he’s shown himself to be capable of running Beyer figures in the 60s. We all know that sometimes the pace that we see on paper never develops, and if Spirit of Peace is somehow able to find his way to the lead early he could be tough to run down at a huge price. He’s far from the most likely winner, but he’s a horse who will offer some value: I think he should be around 12-1 and he will almost certainly be a larger price than that.
$15 Win 10
$10 Win 5
Race 5: Claiming $12,500 at seven furlongs
I realize that I’m probably viewing this race in a different light than most, but I think the likely favorites are good ones to take some shots against. Many will surely gravitate towards Star of New York, who was recently resurrected at Laurel. He did run reasonably well in those efforts, but I don’t like that he was dropped in price after winning his first race off the claim for these connections. Perhaps it’s a good sign that they’re now moving him to New York and, in all honesty, this field is not much tougher than the ones he faced out of town. However, he was aided by being allowed to run right on top of some slow paces in each of those two recent efforts and I can’t shake the feeling that there are still some holes in this horse. He can win, but I don’t want to bet him at a short price.
I Want You to Know seems like the most logical alternative, but I find it somewhat troubling that they’ve been steadily dropping this horse in class over the course of the winter until he now finds himself in this bottom level claimer. It’s not as if the wheels have fallen off, but he has failed to deliver on the promise he showed when first transplanted to New York. He can win, and his tactical speed will aid him in a race lacking pace, but he’s another that I don’t feel any impetus to bet at a relatively short price when there are others who I think will offer better value.
Simply put, MEEKER AVENUE (#2) is in much better form than his printed past performances would have you believe. His first start for the Gary Gullo barn was a major improvement on his prior form as he had to sustain a wide trip from off the pace on a day when it was preferable to be down on the rail. The pace held together up front and he actually put in a nice little late run to make up some ground on the leading quartet of runners. Last time he received a huge rider upgrade to Jose Ortiz and it paid off as he took advantage of this horse’s natural speed and wired two of the runners that had finished ahead of him previously on March 27th. The problem with that race is the Beyer speed figure that it was assigned. It makes absolutely no sense since all four competitors saw their figures drop off by between 10 and 20 points from their prior efforts. Perhaps a slower pace contributed to the lower number, but I’m willing to believe that they actually ran much better than the Beyer figure would have you believe and, moreover, that Meeker Avenue actually improved on the race he ran two back. As previously stated, there is no confirmed frontrunner in this race, and I think it’s likely that Jose Ortiz, remembering the tactics employed last time, will send Meeker Avenue to the front and try to wire the field again. I believe he’s just as good as I Want You to Know at this moment and a slight pace advantage could make the difference.
I will also place a smaller wager on my second choice, STRAIGHT FAX (#1), who was hindered by a very slow pace last time, but admittedly may find himself in the same boat today. I’m hoping that Wilmer Garcia tries to use more of this horse’s early speed since he certainly doesn’t have to be last early. He put in a very strong late run two back, suggesting that he might be on his way to refinding some of the good form he displayed just over a year ago. He’s far from a likely winner, but I don’t think he’s a horse you should completely dismiss at a price.
$15 Win 2
$10 Win 1
Race 6: Maiden Special Weight at 1 1/16 miles on the turf for NY-breds
I don’t have much to say about this one. BORN IN BROOKLYN (#8) is a half-brother to one of my favorite New York-bred turf horses, Dreaming of Cara, so this surface switch should agree with him. The nature of the turf course and the pace may work against him, but he gets a very positive rider switch to Luis Saez and will be a huge price. The horse to beat is clearly POINT ROLL (#7), who ran very well in his debut against open company at Gulfstream. I’ll take a small shot with Born in Brooklyn to win, but will use him in equal strength under the favorite in the exacta.
$5 Win 8
$5 Exacta 7-8
Race 7: Optional Claiming $30,000/N2X at 6 1/2 furlongs for NY-breds
I find it difficult to endorse either of the first two choices on the morning line, The Rhythmisright and N. F.’s Destiny, given the presence of each other in the same race. Two things are likely to happen: N. F.’s Destiny will make the lead because he’s faster and The Rhythmisright will be forced to rate off of him from his inside post position. I’m fairly certain that even the good N. F.’s Destiny could not get six and a half furlongs and it’s hard to know what we’re going to get out of this horse anyway given the recent layoffs and this drop in for a $30,000 tag. The Rhythmisright may indeed be able to rate and win since the only other time they tried rating this horse was on February 17th when was probably beaten by an inside bias rather than those tactics. However, he still has yet to show that he can effectively do it so I can’t bring myself to play him at a relatively short price.
I’m going to take a shot against both of them with FIONA’S HERO (#6). This is a horse who found success sprinting early in his career, but was able to transfer that good form to two turns over the inner track. Last time he was squeezed back slightly at the start and made a middle move before flattening out late. His lack of late punch in that race and his other two-turn efforts leads me to believe that he’s a prime candidate to benefit from a turnback in distance. With N. F.’s Destiny in the race, he’s almost guaranteed to get some pace to close into. I don’t think I’m going to get his morning line price of 8-1, but I believe he’s the most likely winner of this race, which makes him a good bet even as a solid third choice in the wagering.
$15 Win 6
Race 8: The Distaff Handicap (G2) at six furlongs for fillies and mares
It’s probably fair to say that La Verdad and Kauai Katie are the two best horses in this race when they’re at their best, but they both have some questions to answer today. La Verdad is quick out of the gate and has often been able to put a couple of lengths between herself and her competitors in the first sixteenth of a mile. That probably won’t be the case today as she figures to face a stiff early challenge form the speedy Munnings Sister and perhaps even a typically headstrong Bridgehampton. Drawing the rail isn’t necessarily a bad thing for La Verdad since she’d have to be sent to the front regardless of post position, but she still has a tough task ahead of her while facing perhaps the toughest field of her career. I’m a fan of hers, but I think it’s worth taking a shot against her as the likely favorite.
Kauai Katie has been freshened up for this race since registering a disappointing last place finish as the odds-on favorite in the Prioress at Saratoga. She’s run some of her best races fresh off layoffs in the past, which is encouraging, but I think it’s fair to start wondering if this precocious filly simply peaked over a year ago. I won’t be surprised if she wins, but she’s not the kind of horse I want to take at a short price.
Naturally, I gave some serious consideration to My Pal Chrisy, who appears to be the most logical closer on paper. However, I’m reluctant to make her my top pick since she previously encountered some fast paces to close into in Florida and has had trouble sealing the deal. It’s not like she gets any class relief here as she ships to New York and I feel like she’s going to be an underlay since she is just so obvious.
Fortunately, there is another pretty good closer in this race that many are probably going to overlook. LION D N A (#3) won Aqueduct’s two filly-and-mare sprint stakes races this winter, the Interborough and Correction, yet she’s coming into this race as somewhat of an outsider. That’s largely due to a disappointing fifth place finish last time as the odds-on choice against starter allowance company. However, anyone who’s been closely following the New York circuit knows that February 17th was a day when it was impossible to be successful after sustaining very wide trips and that was almost certainly Lion D N A’s undoing since she was three- to four-wide all the way around the far turn and into the stretch. She actually isn’t any slower than My Pal Chrisy, yet is certain to be a much larger price. She also has a fairly versatile running style that has allowed her to be effective from almost anywhere in the pack. Finally, Rudy Rodriguez sports some surprisingly strong numbers in graded sprint stakes on the dirt. He’s 6-for-28 over the past five years with 16 of those runners finishing in the money (good for a $2.11 ROI). That tells me that Rudy usually doesn’t bother to take a shot in elite races such as this unless he really feels that he has a legitimate chance to win. There are probably better horses in this race, but I think Lion D N A is the right horse to bet today.
$15 Win 3
$5 Exacta 1,5,7 with 3
Race 9: Maiden Special Weight at 1 1/16 miles on the turf for NY-breds
I’ve been waiting for MARK TWAIN (#1) to get a chance to go two turns and have to take a shot with him here. This horse’s female family is loaded with stamina influences and turf is unlikely to be an issue given that his dam, a half-sister to the dam of Optimizer, has already produced a horse who is 2-for-2 on grass. Mark Twain ran much better than it appears two back when he was chasing wide against a gold rail and then last time took a step forward in the mud when getting to travel an extra furlong and a half. He’s returned with an uncharacteristically swift workout at Belmont, which tells me that he may still have more to offer. I’d hope that this rider tries to get him a bit more involved early considering the lack of other speed on paper.