RACE 3: PUNCHLINE (#6)
Alan’s Argument might not look like a prohibitive favorite at first glance, since his debut speed figure doesn’t exactly make him a standout in this race. However, there are a lot of things going for him. He was only making his first start last time, so he stands to improve off that effort, and he’s reeled off two bullet workouts since then, suggesting that a forward move may be in order. Most importantly, he’s a logical participant at the maiden special weight level whereas most others in this field are moving up from the maiden claiming ranks. I’m using him prominently, but there are others to consider. Freedom Prince he has earned some of the highest dirt TimeformUS Speed Figures in the field, but all of those were achieved against maiden claiming company in dirt routes. Now he turns back in distance and moves up in class. While he might be able to handle the level of competition, he has shown a tendency to break a step slowly in some races, and that could be detrimental going this shorter distance. My top pick is, like the favorite, another horse who has yet to try claiming ranks. Punchline is coming off a significant layoff but is doing so for a capable barn. He showed nothing in his debut a year ago while racing greenly, but he took a significant step forward second time out in a race that may be faster than the speed figures indicate. The first, second, and fourth place finishers from that affair returned to run 17, 14, and 27 TimeformUS Speed Figure points faster, respectively, in their subsequent starts. Punchline appears to be working well for the return and may be able to contend here with routine maturation.
RACE 5: HARVEY’S LIL GOIL (#4)
The two fillies likely to attract the most support are Persisto and Indawin, who finished a neck apart when second and third in a similar spot on November 15. Both have initially been assigned Beyers of 79 and TimeformUS Speed Figures of 95, though those are subject to change as there was a timing malfunction for that race that has recently come to light. All of the fractions, including the final time, should be about 1 second slower (approximately 1:41 for the mile). Regardless of how the speed figures are adjusted, that race did not appear to be a particularly strong one from a visual sense, so I’m not sure that either of these fillies actually have as great of an edge over this field as the original figures indicate. They’re facing some challengers who figure to offer better value. Sengekontacket showed some late interest in her debut and is bred to appreciate added ground, though she’s facing a significantly tougher field here. I wouldn’t be shocked if Etana got a piece of this, as she appears to be heading in the right direction. However, my top pick is a runner who is actually switching surfaces. Harvey’s Lil Goil made her debut on turf last month and ran a lot better than it appears. That race was run during a time when the rails were set at 0 feet and the turf courses were strongly favoring the inside path. Harvey’s Lil Goil, breaking from post 10, never got to the inside and had to make a wide run around the far turn. All things considered, she actually did well to get up for fourth. While Bill Mott doesn’t typically do well with surface switches like this, she has pedigree to handle dirt. She is a 3/4-sister to dirt debut winner Stifle Yourself and her dam is a half-sister to Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner I’ll Have Another, as well as graded stakes winning dirt router Golden Award.
RACE 6: FIRST FOREVER (#7)
I don’t think there’s any disputing that Collegeville Girl has shown herself to be the most talented filly in this race. However, she was quite disappointing as the 6-5 favorite last time, fading readily after contesting a moderate pace. Her prior effort at Belmont was fairly strong, and she’s run other speed figures that would make her formidable here. Consistency is obviously an issue for this filly, but she’s facing a field that is primarily composed of turf horses so she may not even need her best performance to win. One of her main rivals Fight On Lucy regained her form to break her maiden at a huge price two back. She then put forth a similar effort last time when stepped up to face winners, closing to be third in the same race in which neighbor Collegeville Girl bombed. Bustin Scones also makes some sense, as she would be tough to deny if able to get back to her performance from September 7 at Belmont. However, her two efforts since then haven’t been as encouraging and it’s unclear if she can turn things around here. I’m trying to beat these fillies with the runner who should be in front early. First Forever was claimed back in October by a low-percentage barn, but there’s no denying that she’s improved since that time. She put forth a career-best effort to win a claimer two back and then ran admirably to be fourth last time after not getting sent too aggressively in the early stages. One would have expected her to fade after not making the lead, but she instead closed decently over a speed-favoring track. She moves up in class here, but she isn’t catching a very strong field for the level and her early speed will make her dangerous.