RACE 3: STREET TRUST (#6)
I suppose Royal Albert Hall is the horse to beat as he drops in class for Rob Atras, who has sent out more than his fair share of live runners in recent weeks. If this gelding merely repeats his last race when finishing second to the in-form Playthatfunnymusic, he’s going to be a handful for this group. That said, the fact remains that Royal Albert Hall has always been complacent to settle for a minor award rather than push on to earn victories throughout his career, as his 3 for 46 lifetime tally with 21 second and third-place finishes would indicate. Shalako also figures to attract some support as he moves up in class after beating $12,500 claimers last month. While he does have past speed figures that would make him quite formidable in this race, it’s been a struggle for him to get back into form over the past several months. Some might view it as a positive sign that Rudy Rodriguez displays confidence with this class move, but he is just 4 for 25 (16%, $0.77 ROI) with last-out winners moving up in claiming price by 50% or more on dirt over the past 5 years. I want to go in a different direction, so I’m taking a shot with Street Trust second off the claim for Ray Handal. This gelding didn’t lift a hoof last time at Parx, but I’m hoping that was due to the quirky surface there, which seemed to be particularly dead on Dec. 1. Street Trust was not the only horse to perform below expectations in that race, and at least one other notable contender returned out of that spot to immediately rebound with a much faster performance. Street Trust had consistently run competitive speed figures prior to last time, and he’s also a horse who has shown a real affinity for this 1 1/8 miles distance. As long as he gets a little pace to close into, he should be charging late.
RACE 4: MICROMILLION (#1)
I’m Fine’s Ellis Park debut was fairly eventful, as she broke about two lengths behind the field, was hustled up into midpack position early, got shuffled back on the far turn, and then came again in the lane despite having to alter course. There is obviously some ability here, but the question is whether she can transfer that form to a new barn and make the transition to dirt. Both of her siblings to race showed a preference for turf, but her second dam Caressing is a dirt stakes winner and she produced Travers winner West Coast. Surface questions aside, her obvious natural ability makes her the horse to beat, but I am somewhat concerned about how cold this barn has been over the past two months. My top pick is one of two Todd Pletcher runners in this field. Micromillion returns from an extended layoff and stretches out for the first time. It’s hard to know what to make of her two-year-old form, since she contested a couple of fairly weak early-season races that haven’t produced much in terms of quality. On the other hand, her pedigree says that she would have wanted no part of those sprint distances. She’s by dirt marathoner Micromanage, a stakes winner at distances ranging from one mile and 70 yards to 1 3/4 miles. Her dam’s only win came at 7 furlongs, but she handled routes and the dam is a half-sister to Grade 1 Wood Memorial winner Nobiz Like Shobiz. Notably, over the past 5 years Pletcher is 6 for 11 (55%, $3.91 ROI) with maidens coming off layoffs of 180 days or more trying a route for the first time on dirt.
RACE 5: QUIETUDE (#6)
I respect both of the favorites in this race. Collegeville Girl would be pretty tough for this field to handle if she runs back to her victory at Belmont on Oct. 25, but she was surprisingly dull when she returned at Aqueduct last time, so there are definitely some concerns about her reliability. Prairie Fire figures to attract slightly more support after beating starter allowance foes just last week. She won that race on relatively short rest, and now returns off a similarly short break to contest this race. Some may be concerned about that aggressive schedule, but Linda Rice has fantastic statistics in this situation. Over the past 5 years, Rice is 11 for 23 (48%, $3.15 ROI) with horses returning in 1 to 9 days in dirt sprints, and she’s 5 for 9 when those runners are coming off wins. It’s reasonable to expect that Prairie Fire will maintain her form, but she will have to prove that she can rally from farther back here, since this race contains more speed than she encountered last time. That was an issue two starts back when she found herself badly outrun in the early stages of that Dec. 28 race at this level. She only finished a length ahead of fellow closer Quietude that day, and I thought the Ribaudo trainee actually had the tougher trip. Quietude was guided all the way back to last in that 13-horse field, and was placed in a tight spot inside of Prairie Fire on the far turn. Coming to the quarter pole, both fillies weren’t in ideal spots to make up ground, but I thought Quietude had slightly more difficulty getting out from in behind tiring runners. All things considered, she did well to pass over half the field that day and I expect a better effort this time.