Saturday, April 4
Race 4: Allowance N1X at 1 1/8 miles
8 – Winter Games
While I acknowledge that Gold Shield (#3) may very well turn out to be the best of this bunch, you must decide how short of a price you want to take on a horse who just broke its maiden and now steps up to face some seasoned older runners. I think he may be the most likely winner, but I expect him to be an underlay. Pax in Terra (#4) and Zingarelli also figure to attract support. The former has faced weaker New York-bred fields, but he seems to finally be putting everything together since returning from the layoff as a gelding, and nine furlongs should suit him. Zingarelli had everything his own way up front, on the rail last time and still didn’t run fast enough to win this race. He really needs to improve – and he may – but I can’t swallow a short price on him.
My alternative is WINTER GAMES (#8). The fact that this horse dropped in for claiming tags a couple of times last summer raises some red flags, and we didn’t learn very much from his return effort against weaker $25,000 claimers when his connections made him ineligible to be claimed. However, he took a significant step forward last time and I believe a repeat of that race makes him a major factor here. He race three-wide around the clubhouse turn before chasing four-wide around the entire far turn. All told, he traveled 75 more feet than the winner of that race, which means he actually ran about 4 lengths faster than Street Lord. Winter Games possesses proven stamina and he’s one of the few runners in this race that has early speed. If Manny Franco is aggressive early and uses Winter Games’s tactical advantage, they just might be able to pull off the upset at a decent price.
$15 Win 8
$10 Exacta Box 3,8
$5 Exacta Box 4,8
Race 6: Allowance N1X at seven furlongs
5 – Juba
I really struggled with this race. On one hand, I wanted to pick Curious Cal (#3) since all indicators point to his last race being totally legitimate. N. F.’s Destiny returned to win right back with a 97 Beyer, and the runners who finished behind them all ran their typical figures. Still, I just don’t know where that race came from and I don’t know if we can reasonably expect for Curious Cal to repeat it here. If he does, he will win.
The pace must be discussed. Curious Cal is really more of a stalking type, and Chapman appears to have lost much of his early speed. As far as I can tell, JUBA (#5) will be on the lead. He is just faster than the others early and I think his connections have figured out that he does his best running on the front end. As a young horse, he was pretty good. His debut signaled that he might have a bright future and he stepped forward nicely second time out when runner-up to the very good Constitution. However, his efforts since the layoff have been less than inspiring. That said, Jimmy Jerkens’s horses often move forward when they return to New York from Florida. Since I don’t quite trust closers like Matterhorn (#2), Sassicaia (#4), and Round (#6), I will hope that Juba gets back to his form from a year ago and wires the field. I’m like to get 6/1 or higher.
$15 Win 5 (Payout: $50.25)
$4 Exacta Key Box 5 with 2,3,4,6 (Payout: $97.60)
Race 7: Optional Claiming $40,000/N2X at one mile for NY-breds
7 – Testosterstone
Ostrolenka (#4) is the horse to beat, but he’s somewhat of an all-or-nothing type. Obviously, he had a major excuse in the Remsen, but his last race was a bad effort. It’s certainly possible that he just hates any moisture in the track, but he also may be a horse who needs everything to go his way. I’ll definitely be using him, but I don’t quite trust him, especially at what should be a very short price.
Beyond Ostrolenka, things get pretty tricky. I have to go back to my friend TESTOSTERSTONE (#7). He couldn’t make an impact in a merry-go-round race last time, but previously had put in an exceptional effort to be second on January 25th while chasing wide every step of the way. He gets a very positive rider switch to a much-improved Angel Cruz for this race, which is noteworthy because Testosterstone does indeed have tactical speed; his recent riders have just not been asking him to use it. If Angel Cruz is aggressive enough to attain the sort of forward position he got two-back, I think he’s good enough to make some noise at a big price in this very tough race.
$15 Win 7
$5 Exacta 4-7
$2 Exacta 2,3,5,6,10 with 7
Race 8: The Gazelle (G2) at 1 1/8 miles for three year-old fillies
1 – Puca
Condo Commando (#5) is probably my favorite three year-old filly. I think she’s one of the leading contenders of the Kentucky Oaks and I’d love to see her do well in this race. That said, she has two major questions to answer: 1) Can she successfully negotiate nine furlongs on a fair racetrack? 2) How will she deal with the speed of Jacaranda and Noble and a Beauty to her outside, and can she rate and still win? I won’t be at all surprised if the answer to both of those question is “yes.”
However, Condo Commando is going to be a very short price in this race – probably short enough to make it worth taking a shot against her. The two obvious alternatives are Puca and Wonder Gal. I don’t like that Wonder Gal (#4) was forced to miss her prep for this last month, and feel that at this point Leah Gyarmati is just looking to get a race into her to assess whether or not a run at the Kentucky Oaks is feasible. PUCA (#5), on the other hand, got her prep at Gulfstream last month going a one-turn mile. That was a solid effort, but this half-sister to marathoner Finnegans Wake is a two-turn horse through and through, and I expect her to love the stretch-out to nine furlongs. Throw a contested pace into the mix and she looks all the more appealing.
$20 Win 1
$10 Exacta Box 1,5 (Payout: $55.00)
$5 Exacta 1 with 2,4
Race 10: The Wood Memorial (G1) at 1 1/8 miles for three year-olds
4 – Frosted
7 – Tencendur
I’ll start by discussing each of the three main contenders:
El Kabeir is an admirable horse. He has defied expectations throughout the winter and if he manages to make it through this final prep for the Derby unscathed, he’ll be coming into the first Saturday in May with an almost unprecedented four prep races under his belt. His veteran jockey C. C. Lopez has risen to the occasion in all three of his rides aboard this son of Scat Daddy, determined to prove that he’s more than just a speed rider. His Gotham victory was as surprising as it was convincing, but the waters get deeper here. He’s far from impossible, but I prefer others once again.
Daredevil looms as the likely favorite. He was dazzling in two races over wet tracks last fall before losing the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at the post position draw. His return effort was certainly encouraging, but he has the most questions to answer today, chief among which is that of distance.
Do I think Daredevil is an exceptional talent? Without a doubt. Do I think he really wants to go two turns? No. This horse’s dam was a pure sprinter and he just strikes me as that type. Talented horses do have a way of overcoming adversity, but I really think that nine furlongs around two turns will be too much of a stretch for this horse. I’ll be trying to beat him in multi-race wagers.
That leaves us with FROSTED (#4), who is my pick. I know that some people have raised distance questions about him as well since he backed up through the stretch of the Fountain of Youth after traveling well early, but the explanation for that is quite simple: In relative terms, the opening half-mile of the Fountain of Youth was extremely fast, and Frosted moved early to break open the race around the far turn. In my opinion, he had every right to get tired late in a race that is probably better than the final speed figure suggests. Kiaran McLaughlin sounds very confident that they’ve taken every measure to prevent what went wrong in the Fountain of Youth from happening again, even going as far as making a rider switch to Joel Rosario. I expect that the instructions this time will be to tuck back a few lengths off the pace and make one run.
Frosted proved last fall that he likes this surface and can handle nine furlongs. And to be perfectly clear – he didn’t just handle nine furlongs in the Remsen – he put in one of the best two-turn efforts we saw by any two year-old on the dirt last year. If Frosted runs his race and is ridden properly, I believe he will win.
There is plenty of speed in this race, with Toasting Master, Lieutenant Colonel, and Tiz Shea D all playing out as potential pace players along with Daredevil, who should be chasing outside. I can envision a few scenarios in which this race falls apart late, and I think that could open things up for Tencendur (#7) to come running along for a piece at a bit of a price. I don’t think he’s quite good enough to actually win the race, but he’s an improving horse that you should try to include in your trifectas.
$30 Win 4 (Payout: $96.00)
$5 Trifecta 4 with 7 with ALL (Payout: $575.00)
$5 Trifecta 4 with ALL with 7
Race 11: The Carter (G1) at seven furlongs
2 – Clearly Now
CLEARLY NOW (#2) had an excuse for his last race when he was wide against a gold rail at Saratoga, but I still don’t think he was ever winning that race. Something obviously went wrong with him, but he’s been given plenty of time since then and by all accounts is coming into this race in very good condition. He actually ran much better than it looks on paper when coming back from a layoff in last year’s Carter, so I think it’s entirely possible that Brian Lynch could have him ready to put in a winning effort. It also might work to his advantage that there is plenty of speed signed on for this race (if it holds together after scratches) because Clearly Now does have a tendency to break a step slowly in his races.
If Clearly Now puts in one of his better efforts, or anything close to that, the others will probably not be able to beat him.
I think The Big Beast (#3) is a pretty cool horse, but he must step forward and run faster to be a factor in this race. Palace (#6) is another likeable sort, but seven furlongs is probably not his best distance, and this could prove to be a tough assignment for his first start since last fall. Wild Dude (#7) is the fourth major player, and I don’t have any major knocks against him. His best race is not good enough to beat the good Clearly Now, but if that one doesn’t show up, Wild Dude is as likely to capitalize as the two other aforementioned runners.
$20 Win 2
$5 Exacta Key Box 2 with 3,6,7