RACE 2: SPLIT VERDICT (#8)
Only one half of this Mertkan Kantarmaci entry will participate in this race since Silvestre Gonzalez is named on both runners. Neither one is particularly appealing, as Inclunation has had his chances at this level and Dr. Devera’s Way appears to be in declining form. That said, if either of them merely repeats their last effort he’s likely to be around at the finish due to a lack of serious competition. I suppose a horse like Bronxville is a threat to wire the field, but he seems like a dicey proposition going this one-mile distance. He’s run some competitive speed figures going route distances in the past, but he’s been much more of a one-dimensional speedball recently. Kendrick Carmouche has his work cut out for him trying to ration out his stamina over this trip. I’d rather take a shot with Split Verdict second off the layoff. Some may dismiss this horse as a ‘has been’ following his disappointing effort first off the layoff for this barn last time. He’s clearly not capable of producing the speed figures that he posted early in his career, but I think it’s premature to give up on him at this claiming level. While he wasn’t competitive last time, 6 furlongs is just too short for him, and he never had a chance to close over a surface that was favoring horses on the lead throughout the day. He didn’t make much of an impression late, but he was finding his best stride across the wire. This time he should be able to sit closer to the pace from this outside post position and the added distance will allow him to make better use of his stamina. He’s not fully trustworthy, but he seems like the best choice out of many flawed options.
RACE 4: SHARP STARR (#4)
If not for that baffling effort on New Year’s Day, Bankers Daughter would be the undeniable favorite in this spot. That 83 TimeformUS Speed Figure she earned two back would likely be good enough to beat this field, and she even ran well in her career debut when overcoming a wide trip to be a solid fourth. So what happened last time? The only major difference from her other races was that she was forced to race inside of rivals for the first time, but she’s drawn inside again today. She was also glued to the rail in the stretch while most of the best running was done in outside paths, though I didn’t get the sense there was a severe bias. If you think those excuses are legitimate, she’s the one you want here, but I’m a little skeptical. There are a couple of intriguing second time starters to consider. Linda Rice’s Stonezapper will attract support due to her superb record with this move, and I have no problem with that horse. Yet my top pick is Sharp Starr. This filly ran like one who just needed more ground in her debut and she gets slightly more distance here. She broke with the field but was slow into stride and dropped back while wide on the turn. She only found her best stride in the stretch and was quickly making up ground, doing so while still racing on her wrong lead. Sharp Starr only earned a 60 TimeformUS Speed Figure, but runner-up Nicky Scissors did return to win improving her figure by 12 points and the winner improved by 20 points next time out. All three of her siblings to race have been best routing, topped by half-a-million dollar earner Papa Shot. Furthermore, Horacio DePaz is an excellent 8 for 22 (36%, $4.41 ROI) with maiden second time starters on dirt over the past five years.
RACE 6: ARISTOCRATIC (#7)
Potential favorite Hawaiian Noises was no match for Grade 1 winner Complexity two back but rebounded to easily defeat an overmatched field as the odds-on choice last time. While he earned a respectable speed figure for that effort, he got a perfect trip in doing so. I won’t put anything past this barn, but this runner is facing a much sterner test here and seems a little dicey at what figures to be a short price. I’m similarly skeptical of his former stablemate Life In Shambles, who was claimed away from Servis by Mertkan Kantarmaci last time. He’d be tough if able to repeat that recent performance, but a lot of things went his way that day and he’s meeting a tougher field this time. I prefer others, and one of the more trustworthy contenders appears to be Win With Pride. This gelding is probably no longer capable of delivering the kind of performances we saw from him last winter, but his two recent efforts since returning from a layoff are actually better than they seem. I’m using him prominently, but my top pick is the likely speed Aristocratic. The Pace Projector is predicting a situation favoring the front-runner, and that is going to make this horse awfully dangerous. He found himself dueling for the lead through quick fractions last time and was swallowed up late by a couple of deep closers. Nevertheless he was extremely game that day and will be tough here with a similar effort. This is the kind of horse who can relax on the lead when allowed to do so, and he usually runs his best speed figures under those circumstances, as he did when winning by over 6 lengths on Nov. 3. If Eric Cancel is aggressive and secures the front, I believe he’ll be difficult to reel in.