RACE 2: BRAY (#8)
Bray is an interesting case for trip handicappers. Anyone who pays close attention to trips would have had legitimate reason to take a stand against this horse in his second start Nov. 30. Everything had worked out perfectly for him in his debut, as he saved ground around both turns over a turf course that seemed to favor inside paths, and he only altered course to the center of the track when absolutely necessary in deep stretch. He did produce a visually impressive turn of foot in the final eighth, but sometimes it’s necessary to downplay those visual impressions when a horse’s trip gives him such an apparent advantage. Yet any trip handicapper who had dismissed Bray exiting his debut for riding a rail bias had better reassess that opinion in light of his trip Nov. 30. The rails were once again set at 0 feet that day and this time Bray never got near the inside path. Jockey Joel Rosario was forced to settle three-wide on the first turn, and he continued in that path before getting pushed out even wider by a tiring foe at the quarter pole. All things considered, Bray did well to gather himself and rally past rivals into second, albeit more than six lengths behind the winner. Yet that winner, Bourbon in May, was a heavy favorite who not only had a significant speed figure edge, but also rode the advantageous rail for his entire trip. It’s very likely that Bray, who did show some ability first time out, actually took a significant step forward in defeat in his second start. Plenty of time has passed since then, but Christophe Clement has solid stats off layoffs and it’s not as if this is the toughest field for the level. I prefer him to his two main rivals, Mandate and Smile Bryan. Mandate was compromised by a slow pace at Gulfstream last time, but he’s now stepping up to face older horses and may ultimately require more ground than the one-mile distance he gets here. Smile Bryan showed turf ability two back, but this sprinter has some stamina questions to answer.
RACE 5: REMOANE (#6)
This is a highly competitive maiden affair featuring a number of fillies with decent turf form. The horse to beat is probably Strongerthanuknow, who showed good speed in a pair of turf sprints last year before fading. One of those turf appearances came against open company in the Colleen Stakes, and she held her own, despite getting steadied in midstretch. The two fillies who crossed the wire ahead of her that day have since gone on to win turf stakes, and Strongerthanuknow also went on to improve her speed figure next time out even in defeat. She’s the speed from the rail, but there are some other intriguing contenders drawn to her outside. Fractorzation stalked an honest pace when just missing at Aqueduct in her lone grass start last year. Saratoga Love showed promise in her debut. And even the turn-backing Crescent Lady is somewhat interesting given her sprint-oriented pedigree and poor trip at Saratoga last time. I’m using all of them in some capacity, but my top pick is the first-time turfer Remoane. This is a filly I had tabbed to follow soon after her debut, hoping that she would appear on turf second time out. It’s worth watching the head-on replay of her first start, as that angle reveals that she was pretty rank leaving the backstretch green for the run around the far turn while racing in tight quarters. She appeared to react badly to kickback in upper stretch but only really faded out of contention once Junior Alvarado eased her up in the final eighth. She clearly needed that start and now returns on the right surface. Her sire, Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Karakontie, connects with 16 percent of his turf starters, and his dam is out of stakes-placed turfer Exchange Funds, who earned all of her career victories on grass. Furthermore, the Tom Morley barn has been known to connect with some first-time turfers in maiden races at big prices (5 for 34, 15 percent, $5.00 ROI over the past five years).
RACE 6: XANTHIQUE (#5)
I have no major knocks against Passive Investing, who seems like the most likely winner of this race. She’s only crossed the wire first once, but she’s run well in all three career starts and her maiden-winning effort at Keeneland last time was better than it might appear. She broke tardily that day and had to advance into position while racing wide, gamely holding off a late surge from Temple City Terror, who has since done some nice things. If I were to nitpick, I’d point out that Chad Brown is just 4 for 18 (22 percent, $1.03 ROI) with last-out maiden winners coming off layoffs of 180 days or more in turf routes, but that’s hardly enough reason to dismiss her. I prefer her to Madita, who disappointed when last seen over this course last fall. She sat a good trip stalking the gate-to-wire winner that day and just backed up in the stretch. Her first start in this country was more encouraging, but even that day she was unable to muster the sort of rally that you would have expected given her trip. Some others offer greater appeal at better prices. One of those is English Soul, who has never actually won a turf race but has nevertheless posted a slew of speed figures that put her right in the mix against this field. She put in a strong effort in her first start for this barn last fall when finishing third in the Grade 3 Cardinal, and she’s just been on the wrong surface since then. I’m using her prominently, but my top pick is the 4-year-old filly Xanthique. She showed some promise last year, picking up a stakes-placing in the Riskaverse behind a pair of talented rivals. She just failed to hit the board in her final two starts of 2019, but she was compromised by a very slow pace in that September optional claimer and then faced a deceptively strong field when last seen at Keeneland. All three horses who finished ahead of her that day have since come back to improve their TimeformUS Speed Figures, and Zofelle and Zuzanna both went on to win stakes on the turf. Xanthique’s tactical speed should have her in the right spot here.