RACE 2: STAGE LEFT (#6)
Who’s in Charge figures to go favored here as he seeks his third victory in four career starts. His last victory was a fairly easy one in solid time, so it makes sense that he’d garner support once again even as he moves up the class ladder. On the other hand, there are some questions hanging around this colt. He’s not one that has ever been able to put starts back-to-back, requiring significant layoffs between each start. Furthermore, it appears likely that he’s going to be an underlay in this spot. In addition to his attractive and compact career tally, he goes out for the dangerous Danny Gargan barn with leading rider Irad Ortiz in the irons. Ortiz was incredibly hot over the first week at Belmont so he’s going to bring more support in this runner’s direction than is really warranted. There are some worthy rivals in this race who figure to offer better value. One of those is Blacktop Legend. At first glance, he looks like a perfect fit for this race, having found N1X company a bit too tough last time. However, he’s built his reputation on a fast starter allowance score two back which looks a little suspect in retrospect. Both horses who finished directly behind him that day returned to regress in their subsequent starts, and Blacktop Legend himself reverted to his prior form when he returned in February. I prefer another runner coming off an Aqueduct layoff. Stage Left made one start in New York over the winter, just missing in a starter allowance in January. He probably should have won that day, as he got sandwiched between horses in midstretch and lost momentum before rallying again to lose by a nose. This horse has never done anything particularly flashy, but he almost always shows up with a good effort. Even his off-the-board finish at Churchill Downs two back is a lot better than it looks given his poor start and the demanding distance of that race. He has the tactical speed to work out a good trip here and he’s realistically spotted off the layoff.
RACE 7: OUR LAST BUCK (#5)
Chestertown figures to be a prohibitive favorite as he drops out of the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby and returns to New York-bred company for the first time since his maiden victory last year. His performance in that Derby prep was a little disappointing, as he had good position early and just came up empty when asked in the lane. That said, he did perform fairly well in his two prior starts against open company at Fair Grounds. He was compromised by a slow pace on Jan. 18 and then was unlucky to lose after a rough trip on Feb. 15. He’s the horse to beat in this spot and he still has plenty of upside. Yet he’s going to attract more money than his form really merits due to that perception, as well as the presence of Irad Ortiz climbing aboard. He’s the most likely winner, but others have run just as fast and will be more enticing prices. I think Our Last Buck could be a worthy rival Chestertown in this spot. He earned a 107 TimeformUS Speed Figure for that last victory, higher than any number Chestertown has ever run. And notably, that was his first start in a dirt route. While it’s rare to find a situation in which connections don’t discover which distance is best for their horse until the age of six, this might be such an instance. Our Last Buck’s career debut going a mile on turf back in 2018 probably fooled his handlers, since he faded that day – but only after getting involved in a very fast pace. From there he was a pegged as a sprinter, and perhaps wrongly so. It’s also important to note that he has significantly improved for trainer Michelle Nevin, as he ran far better than the results would indicate in both starts prior to that last victory. I know he was only winning a $30,000 claimer last time, but he finished off that race like he had wanted to do this all along. His worktab for this return suggests that he’s maintained solid form, and I think he’s going to give a solid account of himself even if Chestertown shows up.
RACE 9: SIR WINSTON (#4)
I’m not pointing out anything too clever in this feature. This just seems like a perfect spot for Sir Winston to get his 2020 campaign back on track. I became a big fan of this horse over the course of his 3-year-old campaign, especially after his breakout performance when second in the G2 Peter Pan last year. He followed that up with a victory in the Belmont Stakes, propelled by a fantastic ground-saving ride from Joel Rosario over a rail-biased surface. Yet I think we have to get past the idea that he’s built his entire reputation on one fluky performance, since his Peter Pan effort was arguably better than his Belmont. Furthermore, he further confirmed his quality when he returned to dirt this past winter at Aqueduct, impressively winning a one-mile optional claiming event. While that wasn’t as strong a field as this one, he overcome a moderate pace to win going a distance that is probably a bit short for him. Stretching out to 1 3/8 miles should be ideal and we already know he likes Belmont Park. There isn’t much pace in this race, but he’s developed a potent turn of foot that should be able to overcome that situation. He’s simply the horse to beat and I’m keying on him. I find the other contenders far more difficult to trust. Rocketry just appears to have gone off form after a stellar 2018 season. He’s a plodder who doesn’t have the finishing speed of Sir Winston, so he could be more severely compromised if they walk up front. Adventist seems like a bigger threat to me, since he’s gotten fairly consistent lately and handles this distance. He’s another deep closer, but he figures to be right there in his current form. I would also use Expert in some capacity. This son of Point Given performed very well in some tough spots last year while earning a series of formidable speed figures. He was thrown into a very tough spot off the layoff at Gulfstream last time and didn’t run as badly as it seems. The distance is a question mark, but he has the pedigree to handle it. I’ll use him if he’s a square price. I also wouldn’t discount Blugrascat’s Smile, who could be the biggest price in this field. He really seemed to take to the longer distance of the Bernardini last time, and he has the tactical speed to work out a great trip this time. It’s possible that he’s just finally discovered that dirt routes are his specialty.