RACE 2: TIZ EPIC (#1)
Cruising Strong is likely to be the choice of many due to her upward-trending speed figures and general consistency. She’s stepping out of New York-bred company for the first time, but those state-bred maiden claimers can often draw tougher fields than their open counterparts, so I don’t view that as a major negative. She will be around at the finish here with a similar effort to her maiden score, but it’s not as if she has much, if any, margin for error. I’d use her, but she seems like a strong candidate to be an underlay. I slightly prefer main rival Bodes Sunset. If this filly merely repeats the 82 TimeformUS Speed Figure that she earned in her debut, she’s going to be a handful. Both the runner-up and third-place finisher validated the form but returning to earn similar figures in their subsequent starts. However, that performance was achieved around two turns at Charles Town and she hasn’t been seen in 76 days since then. This barn isn’t known for success with youngsters, but she drew a great post and seems to be spotted realistically. She’ll definitely be on my tickets, but my top pick is the turnback Tiz Epic. Her first start off the claim for Linda Rice was a disaster, but she had some things working against her that day. She was asked to face males while stretching out to a route distance over a surface she had never encountered before. She faded abruptly as if she was going to be eased on the turn before coming on again mildly in the lane. Rice’s barn has been firing on all cylinders lately and she is 7 for 15 (47%, $5.26 ROI) when adding blinkers going from a route to sprint on the dirt over 5 years. This filly seemed more comfortable with sprint distances in her first two starts and should appreciate the turnback.
RACE 5: MIRABELL MEI (#7)
Both Persisto and Indawin were no match for impressive winner Harvey’s Lil Goil last time. Obviously, Persisto ran the better race as she briefly tried to go with the winner before settling for second, some 4 lengths ahead of Indawin. These two finished in a photo two back, but I wouldn’t give either one undue credit for surviving an apparent fast pace that day as all of the listed fractions for that Nov. 15 race, some hand-timed, are unfortunately incorrect and the speed figures account for that (an accurate clocking is closer to 23.5, 47.1, 1:13.4, and 1:41.2). I slightly prefer Persisto of this pair, but neither one really excites me at short prices. Some may gravitate towards fillies stretching out, like Halo City and Rude Awaking, and there are some things to like about each of them. However, my top pick is the surface switcher Mirabell Mei. This chestnut filly barely attracted any tote support when she made her debut at Saratoga, but she ran on well enough to split the field that day. She hasn’t been seen for a while since then, but it’s no great surprise to see her switching to dirt upon return. Palace Malice has shown versatility as a sire and her damside pedigree is primarily dirt-oriented, as her dam is a 3/4-sister to multiple graded-stakes winning router and $2 million-earner Golden Missile. John Terranova is 9 for 51 (18%, $2.56 ROI) with maidens switching from turf to dirt over 5 years. I expect to see an improved performance in her second start.
RACE 6: FORGOTTEN HERO (#2)
Puffery and Bertranda may vie for favoritism after each has finished second at this level in their most recent start. Bertranda’s runner-up finish last time came to Cash Offer, who returned to win the La Verdad Stakes in an upset here last weekend, and she also finished 3 lengths ahead of Puffery in the process. Puffery ran back out of that race just 9 days later to improve in the mud, checking in 3/4-length behind the classy Hay Field. Both are contenders based on that form. I do prefer Bertranda, but she was a ridiculous overlay at 28-1 last time and is going to be a fraction of that price here. I also wouldn’t completely dismiss Archumybaby, who returns in just 9 days. She’s moving up in class off the claim and does need to get a bit faster, but she loves to win races and rarely surrenders in a duel to the wire. Yet I want to look outside the box for my top selection, so I’m taking a shot with the speedy Forgotten Hero. This filly had been campaigned primarily on turf over the course of last year, but she gave her connections some home for a successful winter stint on dirt in her most recent start. While she finished behind that aforementioned duo of Bertranda and Puffery on Dec. 6, she actually ran a bit better than it seems. Forgotten Hero didn’t get away from the gate as swiftly as usual after a slight stumble and her rider appeared as he if was going to rate her from there. Yet Forgotten Hero wanted no part of that and dragged Hernandez up to the lead, ultimately running away from Bertranda around the turn before those early exertions took their toll in the lane. It was by far the best dirt race that she’s run since she won a stakes here as a 2-year-old, and she’s since come back with two encouraging workouts. I also like that the connections are making a switch to Reylu Gutierrez, who will try to ration this filly’s speed out front.