RACE 3: BIG THICKET (#2)
Shamrock Kid comes off a decisive victory at this level when last seen in mid-March, and that arguably makes him the horse to beat. He had gone off form late last year, but it seemed like he had gotten back on track just before the racing hiatus. At his best he’s among the most talented runners in this field, but he’s been most effective going longer distances than this. Even when he was successful sprinting early in his career, he never won going as short as six furlongs. Now he makes his first start off the claim for Gary Gullo, who is 26 for 103 (25%, $2.40 ROI) with this move in dirt sprints over 5 years. He should be dangerous if he gets some pace ahead of him. One of his main rivals is Bronx Bomber, and things really started to click for this gelding over the winter. He ran a claiming field off their feet on Jan. 24 and then repeated the feat against a tougher group of N1X state-bred foes in February. Yet it’s his last effort, a loss, that may have ben his best. He should have been overmatched against $40k/N2X runners, but he was nearly up to the challenge, fending off all but a pair of superior rivals. He’d be tough to beat if able to show up here with that kind of form, but over 3 months have passed since then, so it’s fair to wonder if he’ll still be as sharp. Nevertheless, he can’t be dismissed as the stronger half of this Drawing Away entry. I’ll use both of these runners, but my top pick is the deep closer Big Thicket. He is one of many runners here exercising a new option to have the claiming tag waived for his first start back. This 5-year-old has spent the majority of his career contesting dirt routes, but he really took to sprinting in his two chances to turn back in distance over the winter. He exploded with an 8-length victory back in December, and a repeat of that effort would surely put him in the winner’s circle here. He also made a strong move from last to just miss last time going this distance last time, in a race where today’s rival San Juan Diego also ran well. Now Big Thicket goes out for Rudy Rodriguez, who is 51 for 167 (31%, $2.19 ROI) first off the claim in dirt sprints over 5 years. Furthermore, there appears to be some pace in this race with Bustin Shout, Bronx Bomber, and Foolish Ghost all likely to show speed.
RACE 8: MYSTIC GUIDE (#6)
This is a very intriguing allowance race, which features a number of horses who could eventually wind up in stakes for 3-year-olds later this summer. Chad Brown has a pair entered in this spot, including the highly-touted Basquiat. This son of American Pharoah won his debut in impressive fashion in late April at Gulfstream, handling the 7 furlongs without issue, and drawing off late like one who shouldn’t mind a little added ground. Some may be deterred by the fact that runner-up Ashiham returned to disappoint as the favorite at Churchill Downs last week, but he actually improved his speed figures that day (both Beyer and TimeformUS) despite losing. Another runner who merits consideration is Tap It To Win. This ridgling has shown a real deal of ability in his two victories, but his pair of route efforts sandwiched between those performances have been dismal. So is he simply a sprinter, or did something go awry when he tried stakes company last year? He’s certainly bred to get added ground as a son of Tapit out of a stamina-oriented female family. Furthermore, it’s not as if there’s a ton of early speed in this race, so he could work out a good trip. I’m using him prominently. Yet my top pick is the recent maiden winner Mystic Guide. This Godolphin runner is bred to be a star as a son of the top racemare Music Note, and he’s shown real promise in his two starts to date. He just found the six furlongs of his debut to be a bit too short for him, but he took a nice step forward in his second start. Jockey Brian Hernandez rode him like he was the best horse that day, keeping him wide around the second turn, and he finished off that field impressively. If he continues this forward progression, he’ll be a handful in this spot. The one other horse that I would throw into the mix is Will Sing for Wine. He won a tough maiden event at Aqueduct last time and showed ability over this track in his debut as a 2-year-old.
RACE 9: STANDARD DEVIATION (#1)
The horse to beat is obviously Sadler’s Joy. He’s been a solid presence in races like this for years now, often competing against some of the top runners in this division in Grade 1 events. This Tiller Stakes represents a drop in class for him, as he’s been beaten by the top runner in this division, Zulu Alpha, in his last two starts down at Gulfstream. There is a question as to whether Sadler’s Joy has lost a step this year given his lackluster performances so far in 2020, but I believe he’s had legitimate excuses. He lost all chance in the Pegasus World Cup Turf two back, blowing the start before getting spun out wide on the far turn. And then last time I thought Javier Castellano didn’t time his move properly, as he had to alter course in traffic at the quarter pole. This is probably Sadler’s Joy’s best distance and I believe he’s the most likely winner. Yet there are some others to consider. The other Grade 1 winner in this field is Channel Maker, but his recent form leaves something to be desired. He also got steadied in traffic in the Mac Diarmida, but his surrounding efforts have been disappointing. He’s a difficult horse to ride, and it’s just hard to know when he’s going to show up. I believe the biggest threat to the favorite is the 4-year-old Standard Deviation. This former Chad Brown runner made his first start for the Graham Motion barn in the Amir Trophy in Doha earlier this year, and he put forth a very encouraging effort in his first attempt going a marathon distance. French King was winning that race for the second year in a row, and he sprinted for home after getting a soft trip up front. Standard Deviation idled a bit in upper stretch, but he put in a serious late bid once he hit top gear in the final furlong. He had shown some promise as a younger horse and just appears to be putting everything together now. At a bigger price, the other horse that I would throw into the mix is the European import Corelli. He may actually want to go longer distances than this, but he showed some solid form in handicaps last year and appears to fit well with this group based on his Timeform Ratings overseas.