BRAY (#8) 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 on 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 on Nov. 30. The rails were once again set at 0 feet that day and this time Bray never got near the inside path. 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 over 6 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 (#1) and Smile Bryan (#2). 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 sprint has some stamina questions to answer.
Exacta: 8 with 1,2,4
Trifecta: 1,8 with 1,8 with 2,4,6