RACE 5: LETZGOMETZ (#1)
Our Stormin Norman is probably the horse to beat as he drops down to the lowest level that he’s ever encountered. He ran very well when last seen on Dec. 22, making an early move to the lead on the turn before just getting tired as the race fell apart in the late stages. A repeat of that performance is going to make him very tough, and it’s not as if he doesn’t have prior speed figures to back it up. The other major contenders are just far less trustworthy. What do you do with a horse like Split Verdict? I was once a big fan of this guy when he was in Rick Violette’s barn, and he was progressing like one that might have a future. However, he was privately sold since then and hasn’t been seen for 18 months. I want to look outside the box if taking a shot against the favorite, so I’m going to try to resurrect Letzgometz. This horse is as untrustworthy as anyone else in here, but at least he’s going to be a square price this time. He didn’t run particularly well in his first start off the trainer switch for Ray Handal last time, but I think he was just asked to go the wrong distance. He was traveling well for the first 5 furlongs of that race – the quality of his stride is always a concern – and it’s not as if he completely fell apart once passed in the stretch, as he has done in the past. The barn has excellent turnback statistics, going 8 for 30 (27%, $2.45 ROI) with horses going from routes to sprints on dirt over 5 years. This gelding does still have that one competitive race from Dec. 2018 if he can ever recapture that form.
RACE 6: READY TO ESCAPE (#1)
Blindwillie McTell may go favored if the public trusts him to come back in top form off the layoff. I know that he finished off the board in his final two appearances of 2019, but both of those came in route races and it’s pretty clear at this point that he’s more of a sprinting type. He was really good for a 3-year-old last winter and spring and would be difficult for these to handle if he has taken any sort of step forward during the time away. I would tend to respect him despite the potential for a short price. A couple of rivals exit a race won by a different Linda Rice trainee, Wicked Trick, on Dec. 14. Shamrocked finished ahead of Ready to Escape that day, but I think their trips had much to do with that. Sharmocked was able to get to his preferred position on the front end as Ready to Escape was rated from the start by Benjy Hernandez despite breaking well. Ready to Escape does best when he’s able to flaunt his early speed, so he was never really in a position to put forth a top effort last time. He should be fitter now making his second start off the layoff and new rider Declan Carroll would be wise to use his speed from this rail draw. If this horse gets back to his pair of races prior to the break, especially when he earned that 121 TimeformUS Speed Figure at Saratoga, the rest of these may be running for second. Shamrocked has a chance as well, but I think some others have a higher ceiling.
RACE 8: ARTHUR’S HOPE (#6)
I don’t have major knocks against the favorites in this race. My Boy Tate made a successful return from a 13-month layoff last time to get the job done over a couple of today’s rivals. A repeat of that effort may put him in the winner’s circle again, but he’s going to be a shorter price this time and you can argue that some of those who he’ll be facing have improved in the interim. That certainly seems to be true of T Loves a Fight, who ran what was arguably the best race of his tumultuous career last time when finishing third in the Gravesend. He probably would have finished closer at the end had Dylan Davis been able to get him off the rail a bit sooner in the stretch. This 6-year-old handles the 7-furlong distance without issue and seems adaptable to almost any pace scenario. I view him as a serious rival to My Boy Tate, and he’s going to be a better price. I’d also consider The Caretaker, who is attempting to come right back with another huge effort just 13 days after winning an allowance race here at the same distance. He was very impressive that day, but he’s not going to get much pace to close into here and it remains to be seen if he can duplicate that form against tougher company. The Pace Projector is predicting a situation favoring horses on or near the lead, and that figures to make my top pick Arthur’s Hope difficult to pass. He’s just the only confirmed front-runner in this field and he’s also a horse who has historically done best when able to attain a forward position. He did that two back against My Boy Tate, but found himself contesting a fast pace that fell apart. Then last time he was simply outrun in the early going. Prior to returning from the layoff, he had earned some of the fastest TimeformUS Speed Figure in this field, and I think he might be able to get back to that form with a favorable trip.