With racing taken off the turf on Thursday, this becomes a completely different race. However, I’m sticking with the same top pick that I would have chosen in a turf event.
The focus of the wagering public will probably shift to the Main Track Only runners now that this race is being contested over dirt. Pipes (#16) and Playwright (#15) look like the two strongest contenders among those. The former may inherit the favorite’s role after finishing second to the highly regarded Turbulence at the same level last time. He didn’t have any excuse to lose that race, other than the fact that he simply ran into a better horse, as he was racing up close to a relatively slow pace and was in position to win. He clearly improved off the claim by Rudy Rodriguez and he’ll be tougher if he continues on that trajectory.
Playwright is a bit more difficult to read as he was never a serious threat when closing to be third sprinting upon returning from a layoff last time. The stretch-out in distance figures to help him, but his form from earlier in the year was alarmingly inconsistent. His best effort clearly makes him good enough to win, but there’s some question as to whether or not we’ll see it.
My aforementioned selection, even after the switch to dirt, is DANNY CALIFORNIA (#3). This gelding made his first start off the claim for the Orlando Noda barn last time and he actually ran a lot better than his finishing position would indicate. He raced as a closer that day and was thus badly compromised by a lack of pace in that race. Furthermore, that disadvantage was compounded by the fact that the kickback situation on the main track was very detrimental to closers during that racing week, helping the first two finishers. While Danny California was intended to race on turf, his dirt form is actually superior to his grass résumé. If he runs back to the effort that carried him to victory against claiming foes at Belmont in October, he’s going to be a handful for the two aforementioned Main Track Only runners.
Exacta Key Box: 3 with 14,15,16
Trifecta: 3 with 15,16 with 12,14,15,16