Pat On the Back (#7) nearly won this race last year but had the misfortune of encountering eventual Whitney winner Diversify, and he went on to establish himself as one of the best New York-breds in the country last year. He returned last time in the Affirmed Success, and the six furlongs of that race might have been short of optimal for him. Yet he got a favorable pace setup and gamely ran down that field. A mile is arguably his best distance, and his versatile running style makes him dangerous.
I prefer him to main rival Giant Expectations (#5), who figures to attract some support as he moves back into the New York-bred ranks. While he’s been competitive in graded stakes events, he was not meeting the toughest of fields in either the Essex or Oaklawn Handicap, so I’m not sure he’s actually getting much, if any, class relief here.
Honor Up (#1) also merits strong consideration as he drops out of the Grade 1 Carter. Prior to that ambitious placing, he had won 4 of 5 starts for Michelle Nevin. He twice got the better of Syndergaard over the winter, but I think the John Terranova trainee may be able to turn the tables in this spot.
SYNDERGAARD (#2) figures to be a much bigger price than those aforementioned rivals, and he’s maintained deceptively strong form throughout 2019 despite failing to win. He got a great trip in the Haynesfield but at least proved that he can still get today’s one-mile distance. He was too aggressively ridden in the Tom Fool and then couldn’t keep up early in the Affirmed Success. I actually prefer him going longer at this point in his career, and he projects to work out a great stalking trip. The Pace Projector is predicting a situation favoring runners on or near the lead and he should slot into a good spot alongside or just in behind Haul Anchor and Mr. Buff. Syndergaard has continued to train very strongly, and I think he’s sitting on a big effort.
Exacta Key Box: 2 with 1,4,5,7
Trifecta: 2,7 with 2,7 with 1,3,4,5