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Friday’s Grade 2 True North, for older dirt sprinters, is a rare graded stakes sprint lacking a clear-cut pace scenario. It also lacks a clear-cut favorite, with Todd Pletcher’s #8 Rock Fall, 4-for-5 lifetime but without a stakes credential of any kind in sight, a tepid 5/2 choice on the track’s morning line.
Our Pace Projector indicates that all of #1 Favorite Tale, #3 Captain Serious and #5 Dads Caps will be up close to the early lead. They are not expected to be going fast. #6 Eastwood will also be in close attendance, just behind the leading group, with the other four landing off behind that forwardly placed quartet.
Because there appears to be no advantage for either the frontrunners or the closers, the True North figures to be a tactical affair, and trips will be paramount.
To us, outside of, perhaps, #4 Tenango (who would appreciate a wet track), there is not a horse in the field who appears to be taking on more than he can handle. Pletcher’s pair of Eastwood and Rock Fall will enter the True North with the co-top last-out TFUS Speed Figure of 123. The rest of them have a top figure ranging from 116 to 127 to get to, and both #5 Dads Caps and #7 Clearly Now have run faster than the Pletcher duo in the past.
Here’s a quick look at the field, in post position order:
#1 is Favorite Tale. Speedy 4yo has the rail and a rider who, at times, can take advantage of a pace edge with the best of them. Because Favorite Tale is at his best on the lead, we think the rail draw is a good one for him, as it forces his hand a bit, and ensures that he has to come out of there running. That may well wind up being to his advantage, but he is still likely to have to improve in order to take down the biggest piece of the purse. Improvement of that sort is to be expected of a runner making just his second start as a 4yo, and he was working against a strongly speed-favoring track in his first start back at Monmouth last month (note Race Rating Box shaded red).
#2 is Stallwalkin’ Dude. 5yo has never been better in his life, having won 7 of his 12 starts since being claimed by David Jacobson last September, and he will take aim at his first graded stakes having won 5 straight over sprint distances. His top TFUS Speed Figure of 116 still leaves him a little light here, and he doesn’t hold the upside of some of the others, but he is versatile and tough, and he comes here directly off of a gritty effort when turning away the talented Clearly Now over this track and trip.
#3 is Captain Serious. NY-bred is another improving 4yo, and he enters the True North having earned the two best figures of his career since starting back from a short break. To us, Captain Serious was really finding himself toward the end of his 3yo season, improvement that may be masked a bit by a pair of starts in the slop in November and January. Captain Serious did not appear to be a horse who relished that kind of going, but he still managed to persevere, and he even won the Hollie Hughes while never looking comfortable during the running of that race. Transferred to Linda Rice following those off-track efforts, he was ridden out to a career-best 117 figure in April, and then he survived an all-out pace duel before ultimately succumbing in a race dominated by closers here last month. Captain Serious has tactical speed, is on the improve, and is likely to be a price, all of which adds up to us making him our play in the True North.
#4 is Tenango. Hard-hitter rarely fails to fire, and he has fine versatility, but he has never been of graded stakes quality. A wet track would require a re-evaluation, however.
#5 is Dads Caps. Dual Grade 1 winner is exiting a repeat victory in the Grade 1 Carter, which is contested over his home track of Aqueduct. Dads Caps is no stranger to settling (seven 2nds, as compared to five wins), but he is a talented runner, and one who can get any kind of trip in a race. All five of his career wins have come at Aqueduct, but both of his top TFUS Speed Figures have come over this track, and he was bang-up in the Grade 1 Vosburgh here last September. Can go or sit as required, and he is a major player in this race.
#6 is Eastwood. He had always appeared to be cut out to be this kind of horse, but he never was able to break through after being purchased by these connections following a pair of solid wins to begin his career. Came to this race last year in his second start off the layoff, as will be the case today, but couldn’t go with that group, which was similarly rated (121 Race Rating for the True North last year, vs. 120 for the field this year). He has since earned consecutive figures of 123-122-123, which suggests that he is an improved horse and will be a handful in this race. We are not so sure, but he is an attractive price on the ML, and that makes up for a lot.
#7 is Clearly Now. We have been unabashed in our praise for this runner in the past, and, while our enthusiasm is now fully tempered, we still believe that this is the horse with the best race available in the True North field. He is a handful of tough breaks away from having built up an elite sprinter’s resume, but one can make only so many excuses for a horse, no matter how talented. His last was a step in the right direction, even if he came away second-best without excuse, and we do think that Belmont is his favorite track, but we cannot continue to back this horse on top at short odds.
#8 is Rock Fall. ML favorite has made few mistakes while making few appearances to this point, and he has never taken a backward step on our figures (82-106-111-113-123). We do not doubt his ability, and he has drawn a perfect post on the outside for a red-hot trainer, but he has never tried a stakes race of any kind, and, impressive or not, he defeated just three others in that big-figure win last time, while his main rival, Delaunay, stumbled very badly at the start. This is far from the strongest Grade 2 race out there, and maybe this horse was heading for this kind of race all along, but we are betting against him on top at a short price.
In a race this wide open, the play all comes down to price. So, in order to find value, it will be necessary to wait and see the wagering. We like #3 Captain Serious as our key at anything like his ML price of 15/1. Our comprehensive wagering strategy for the True North will be available as part of the TimeformUS Belmont Stakes Weekend Package.
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