With just five horses left to face the starter after the scratch of War Story, this is hardly the best wagering race on the card. That said, there are still some decent runners in here. Three horses have earned $2.9 million or greater in their careers, so it’s not as if this race isn’t worthy of its Grade 1 status.
The likely favorite is Effinex (#6), the runner-up to American Pharoah in last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Classic. It seems like a tall order for him to hit the board in that race again in 2016 given the strength of this division, but he’s certainly been in good form since that breakout performance. He picked up a Grade 1 victory in November’s Clark Handicap and has gone on to win a pair of Grade 2 races so far this year. He defeated today’s rival Mubtaahij over this same course and distance in the Suburban and ran deceptively well to be fourth last time after a wide trip in the Whitney. Mike Smith rides him well and the outside post position should give him plenty of options in the early stages. I would not be surprised to see him on the lead given the lack of pace in this race. (That’s where the Pace Projector places him.)
Mubtaahij (#2) is still in search of that first Grade 1 win despite coming into this race as the leading money-earner with $3.7 million in the bank. For a horse that has not won a race in 2016, he’s been in pretty good form. He was second to California Chrome in the Dubai World Cup back in March, and got up for second in the Woodward last time out. He certainly can stay the distance, but he’s gotten pretty good trips when he’s been successful, and needs some luck to beat his two main rivals today.
The horse that interests me most today is HOPPERTUNITY (#3).
I know that this horse has a reputation for picking up minor awards in these races, but I think that’s primarily due to the fact that he’s been facing the likes of California Chrome and Beholder for the past year. He wasn’t quite able to get past Effinex in the Clark Handicap last year, but I think the stretch-out to a mile and a quarter suits this horse. I don’t think he got the credit he deserved for his strong third-place finish in the Dubai World Cup, in which he had to overcome a much wider trip than Mubtaahij. Since returning to the states, he was hindered by a slow pace in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita, and then was no match for an otherworldly California Chrome in the Pacific Classic. It feels as if he could go off as the third choice in this race, and I believe he’s the most likely winner.
Some will make a case for Protonico (#1), but I need to see it to believe it after he went off form towards the end of last year. His return win at a mile was fine, but he needs to run significantly faster than that to beat the three aforementioned runners.
Exacta Key Box: 3 with 2,6
Trifecta: 3 with 2,6 with 1,2,6