Stakes Preview: In the Chick Lang Stakes at Pimlico, Justin Squared is the horse to beat

DontLetTheGamePassYouByfortfus

>>Go to the PPs for The Chick Lang Stakes, Post Time 3:27 EDT Saturday

The $100,000 Chick Lang has a field of eight three-year-olds going six furlongs on a dirt track that is very likely to be muddy. The field is led by Bob Baffert’s Justin Squared, who is 9-5 on the morning line.

According to the TimeformUS Pace Projector, the early leader will be Justin Squared, and by a big margin. Big Louie D is shown in second place, with Formal Summation in third. The pace is projected to be neither fast nor slow.

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The fastest TimeformUS Late Pace rating in the field, a 77, belongs to Never Gone South.

Here is the field in post position order, with morning line odds in parentheses:

#1 Justin Squared (9-5):

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Baffert colt made his debut at Del Mar as a two-year-old. He ran away and hid from MSW company, which is often very strong at that racetrack in the summer, earning a  powerful speed figure of 110. Then he went to the sidelines for seven months. He returned in April to take a bottom-level allowance at Los Alamitos, again winning wire to wire, again unchallenged at any call, again with a powerful speed figure—this one a 116. That race received a Race Rating of 112, indicating that he is not stepping up in class today. In addition, Mrazek, whom he beat by almost two lengths in that allowance, returned to miss by a neck in a Grade 3 last week. Baffert’s work at Pimlico has been much publicized. He currently gets a perfect 100 rating on a small, showy sample. The patented Baffert fast workouts are on display. Pace Projector shows Justin Squared making the early lead comfortably. He has not yet raced on an off track, but he qualifies as the horse to beat (at a short price).

#2 Cozze Cat (30-1): Still eligible for a bottom-level allowance and seems overmatched in here.

Quijote (3-1): Has gone forward on our speed figures in every start. Jumped all the way to a 115 at Charles Town in his most recent start. Both he and his lone serious opponent in that race ran around the racetrack together, taking advantage of soft fractions. Quijote is facing tougher horses today, and fast figures earned at Charles Town do not always translate to larger racetracks, since Charles Town is a racetrack that can be especially conducive to specialists. But he is very fast on our figures, and he has twice proven that he can win from off the pace.

Discreet Angel (12-1): Kentucky-bred is 5 for 8 in Puerto Rico (for which we lack speed figures). He looks nice on video, but his sloppy-track races do not seem to be his best work, and anyway, we tend to doubt that he can run with the best of these as he cuts back in distance. Plus he apparently enjoys running on the lead, and he seems exceedingly unlikely to get to the lead in here.

Never Gone South (8-1): Worked his way up to a speed figure of 101 at Laurel as a two-year-old. Then he paired it. Then he exploded to a 116 after setting a slow pace (note pace figures and race fractions color-coded in blue) and dominating a minor stake—again at Laurel. Then he stretched out in distance and resumed running in the 100 range. Trainer Cathal Lynch gets a nice 93 rating at Pimlico on a small sample. Our second-biggest knock on Never Gone South is that he is facing considerably tougher today. Our biggest knock on him is that he likes to race close to the early lead, if not on it, and if he tries those tactics today, Justin Squared figures to make him pay for it.

Counterforce (5-2):

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Asmussen colt has improved his speed figure in all three starts: 98 101 105. Most recently, he took advantage of a fast pace and made a strong late run to win a minor stake. The Race Rating for that race was a 111, only one point below the preliminary Race Rating for today’s race. All three of Counterforce’s starts came at Oaklawn. Asmussen in general has been less successful in his rare starts at Pimlico. Counterforce’s off-the-pace style could be flattered in here. However, to date he is about 10 points slower on our figures than the fastest horses in this field. And his ML odds are short. We see him as a contender but a likely underlay.

Big Louie D (10-1):

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2 for 3 lifetime, all at Parx, today he makes his first start in six months. This is a weak category for Jason Servis, who gets a mere 30 rating off this sort of layoff. Big Louie D was running improving speed figures before the gap, his best being a 106 that he earned in wire-to-wire fashion. This leaves him well shy of Justin Squared and Quijote. Certainly eligible to come back to the races a better, more mature horse, he may or may not be ready to display this improvement first off the layoff for Servis, and he is another whose style may be cramped by the Baffert speed-burner on the rail. And our Race Ratings indicate that he is up in class by a whopping 17 points. Nice horse. Tough assignment. Need big odds.

Formal Summation (20-1): Just paired his lifetime-top of 102. That is way too slow vs. the best of these, and if he sticks with the front-running style that he has employed of late, he will have to deal with Justin Squared early. Won a slow race in the slop as a two-year-old.  We don’t like him today.

The Play:

We do not see this as a great betting race. Justin Squared is the most likely winner, but he figures to get pounded by the crowd.

 Quijote and Counterforce are obvious contenders at similarly less-than-thrilling odds.

If a genuine upset is coming, we see Big Louie D (10-1 ML) as the most likely to pull it off.

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