Betfair Hollywood Park, Race 9, 8:12 pm ET
The Snow Chief, 3-Year-Olds Bred or Sired in CA, 1 Mile and 1/8, Cushion Track
As racing in Southern California moves from Santa Anita to Betfair Hollywood Park, the main-track surface moves from dirt to cushion track. Hollywood’s cushion track is perhaps best thought of as a quirky cross between traditional dirt and polytrack: neither weighted towards early speed like dirt nor the turf horses that normally fare better on polytrack.
Nina’s Dragon is 10-1 on the morning line and, at those odds, he is the selection in the Snow Chief. Following a slow debut on real dirt and a layoff, his speed figures over Golden Gate’s tapeta synthetic surface improved steadily, peaking with the 95 he ran in a Grade 3 in mid-February; that’s a solid number in the context of this race. Nina’s Dragon can be excused his last run, in over his head in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby. Down in class and proven at today’s distance, Nina’s Dragon has a closing style that could be suited to the projected solid pace (five horses in the race arrive from sprints).
The likely favorite, Tiz a Minister, boasts three strong speed figures on dirt and one (from six tries) on synthetics. He is worth protecting with in exotics, as is Stakes winner Omega Star.
Belmont Park, Race 9, 4:58 pm ET
The Westchester, Grade 3, Three-Year-Olds and Up, 1 Mile, Dirt
Racing has returned to Belmont Park for the spring, and the opening weekend feature is the Grade 3 Westchester. Big Screen enters this race off of a sparkling 135 speed figure that he earned while obliterating an allowance field by more than nine lengths at Aqueduct in March. With strong form earlier in the year, too, Big Screen has the look of a vastly improving four-year-old and is very much the horse to beat if he can run to the level of his two most recent performances.
For exotic wagering purposes, Belmont Park specialist Flat Out is a must-use. He is undefeated in three career starts at “Big Sandy” and has run speed figures of 127 or better each time. In his most recent start over the track, he won the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup over subsequent Cigar Mile and Breeders’ Cup Classic winners, Stay Thirsty and Fort Larned respectively. Flat Out’s two most recent speed figures of 115 and 113 are already competitive with everyone except Big Screen, but look for him to take a big step forward as he always does when he returns to New York.
Mordi’s Miracle is the other that must be included in exotic wagers. He battled for the lead on a hotly contested pace in the Excelsior last time out before finishing a valiant second. Mordi’s Miracle was the only one of the four forwardly placed horses to stay on. His vanquished pace rivals included Colizeo, who finished sixth beaten 26 lengths at 9/2 odds, and Heart Butte, who officially finished seventh beaten more than 50 lengths at 21/1 odds. Ruler On Ice, who stalked the early pace from fourth position, wound up finishing fifth beaten more than 12 lengths at 5/2 odds. The cutback in distance to a mile will suit Mordi’s Miracle and the pace dynamics will certainly be a whole lot more favorable today.