Big Gemmy (#1) could go off as the slight favorite as he makes his first start against New York-bred company since losing by a nose in the Sleepy Hollow Stakes as a 2-year-old. It’s been a mixed bag of disappointing results over a variety of distances and surfaces in open company since then. While he should appreciate the return to the New York-bred ranks, this N1X New York-bred allowance field is above average in terms of quality. New trainer Linda Rice has good numbers off trainer switches in dirt sprints, and this colt should appreciate the slight turnback to 7 furlongs. However, he still needs to show up with a top effort in order to win.
One of the more intriguing rivals for the favorite is the returning Real Dan (#10). This gelding made his winning debut over a year ago and has not been seen since. While he would have to run faster to beat this field, Todd Pletcher has an excellent record in this situation. Over the past 5 years, he is 7 for 15 (47 percent, $2.37 ROI) with debut winners making their second starts off layoffs of 180 days or more on dirt.
I’m using both of these contenders prominently, but my top pick is PLAYWRIGHT (#2). This 6-year-old gelding has been in the best form of his career for Danny Gargan ever since last fall and I think he fits very well against this field as he makes his first start against New York-bred foes since early 2018. His runner-up finish on Nov. 11 was much stronger than it appears, since he clipped heels and stumbled while in midst of his rally on the far turn. He caught sloppy tracks in both starts since then, winning once and finishing a disappointing fourth last time. Something may have happened in that most recent start, since he was sluggish early and could never muster a rally. Danny Gargan has given him a brief layoff since then and I think it’s a good sign that he’s bringing him back in a protected spot.
Exacta Key Box: 2 with 1,5,10
Trifecta: 2 with 1,10 with 1,4,5,10