Big Engine (#2) is going to be sent off as a heavy favorite in this race, but I have some reservations. While he apparently ran a fast race in his debut at Belmont, I have some doubts about the legitimacy of that performance. It was a 4-horse off-the-turf field, which featured only two horses with dirt form. Notably, Big Engine was entered for turf, which is not surprising given his overwhelmingly turf-oriented pedigree. He ran well during the race, leading for most of the way before succumbing to the winner late, but I think the speed figures for everyone in this field came up a bit too high. Whether you’re looking at Beyers or TimeformUS Speed Figures, winner Smokin Platinum returned to run slower in his two subsequent starts, and I also find it hard to believe that last-place finisher Light the Posse ran quite as fast as the figures suggest, given his prior form. I’m dubious about this horse’s ability to repeat that effort, and I’m against him.
Among the short prices, I strongly prefer Ready to Escape (#6). I know that he’s had his chances, but he’s run well enough to win races at this level in all of his starts, and his most recent effort was much better than it appears. Sep. 27 was a day that strongly favored horses racing on the rail, and this gelding made a 4-wide move on the far turn. My only concern with him is the series of gaps between his races, and the fact that he was a vet scratch in late October at Belmont.
I’m using him prominently, but I want to take a shot with CONNOLLY’S BEADS (#5) as my top pick.
This colt figures to be a distant third choice in the wagering, but I think he has a right to upset this field. After selling for a large sum as a yearling, he made his debut late in his 2-year-old season, and clearly needed the race. He ran much better next time out in a race that may have been better than the speed figures suggest. He’s had a lot of time off since then, but Gary Gullo actually has very good numbers in this situation. Over the past 5 years, he is 4 for 9 ($3.36 ROI) off layoffs of 180 days or more with maidens in dirt sprints. I expect a solid effort as he returns and gets a chance to compete over a fast track for the first time.
Exacta Key Box: 5 with 2,6