Pat On the Back (#4) is a deserving favorite as he returns from the layoff. He won a pair of statebred stakes last year and even gave a solid account of himself in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile at season’s end. This versatile son of Congrats is capable of handling sprint distances, as he displayed in last year’s Affirmed Success, but he’s meeting a tough field in this first start off the bench. I respect his talent and will certainly use him defensively, but this may be the right time to take a shot against him.
His main rival is Syndergaard (#8), who was unlucky to lose a couple of photo finishes to Honor Up this winter. Despite coming out on the wrong end of those decisions, he earned speed figures that put him on par with the favorite. I won’t hold his Tom Fool performance against him since he was ridden too aggressively in the early stages. He’s drawn a good post position for this race and should be a threat from close range.
I’m using him prominently, but my top pick is BAVARO (#1). This speedy son of Freud has always had serious ability, but his trainers have struggled to turn him into a top-class performer. He seemed to finally put it all together this winter, and Linda Rice justifiably moved him up into stakes company in the Hollie Hughes off a pair of claiming wins. Not only did he win that race, he did so in remarkable fashion. Need-the-lead types like Bavaro are typically doomed when they break slowly, yet somehow this gray horse overcame his poor start and beat four of today’s rivals. His 122 TimeformUS Speed Figure for that performance is among the best numbers in this field. He actually ran pretty well in the Tom Fool in his next start before falling apart in the Caixa Eletronica. I won’t hold that effort against him since seven furlongs is too far and he got the wrong ride that day. This time, Rajiv Maragh just has to send Bavaro from the rail, and I won’t be surprised if he takes them all the way at a square price.
Exacta Key Box: 1 with 2,4,6,8
Trifecta: 1,8 with 1,8 with 2,4,6