This is one of the most interesting races of the day, as there are 3-year-olds converging from a variety of directions. My main opinion is that I don’t want the horses that have been running in cheaper age-restricted claiming races on this circuit through the summer. The only exception to that viewpoint is perhaps Coltandmississippi (#9), who had previously proven himself against tougher company on the turf and was clearly superior to his rivals when he dropped in class last time. On the other hand, he’s getting claimed away from a hot barn and is stepping up in class, so I want to consider others.
Zap Daddy (#5) might be the horse to beat. Even though he’s failed to hit the board in 6 straight races since his debut victory, he had steadily improved for the Mike Maker barn through the summer. His last effort at Saratoga on Sep. 1 was obviously his best, as he didn’t finish far behind some decent N1X allowance horses. Since then he’s been gelded and transferred into Todd Pletcher’s barn and the new connections spot him realistically. I’m not in love with him overall, but I do recognize that he is probably the most likely winner.
Stock Trade (#10) is another worth including as he drops out of optional claiming races. He was disappointing as the favorite at Monmouth last time, but all of his recent efforts have come against older horses so he should find this to be a somewhat easier spot.
The aforementioned three seem like the most reliable options. I’m definitely using them, but I want to take a shot with ZEKE (#3) at what figures to be a much more enticing price.
This lightly-raced gelding returns from a lengthy layoff for trainer Mike Stidham. While this barn has had limited success on the NYRA circuit, it is noteworthy Stidham does exceptional work off layoffs. Over the past five years, he is 16 for 54 (30 percent, $3.34 ROI) off layoffs of 180 days or more on the turf. Zeke looks slower than his rivals, but all of those races came as either a 2-year-old or early-season 3-year-old. He has a right to have improved in the intervening months, and I think he actually showed some ability in those early races. He was very visually impressive when he won his second start at Fair Grounds in December. He made a wide, sweeping move off the turf and was game to hold sway late over a field of some quality. He never showed that same turf of foot in the Black Gold Stakes in March, but something might have happened there as he was off for a long time after that. He’s drilled steadily at Fair Hill since returning to the worktab, and I think this is the right class level for him at this point in time.
Exacta Key Box: 3 with 4,5,9,10