RACE 5: ARMAMENT (#7)
The two horses likely to vie for favoritism are Walkoff and Lil Commissioner. The former is a deep closer who is always at the mercy of the pace. Walkoff got plenty of that last time when he rallied from far back to prevail in the mud. It did take a drop down to a bottom level claimer second off the claim for him to get back to the winner’s circle, but at least he got back on track following a poor performance to conclude his winter campaign. The waters get deeper here and there isn’t nearly as much speed signed on, but Cox’s runners have been firing and this guy has generally been one of the more consistent runners in this lineup. He’s a logical player in this spot, but he may need some help up front if he’s to achieve back-to-back victories. I’m less confident in Lil Commissioner. At first glance he seems like the horse to beat, as his recent form is solid and he’s consistently posted some of the best speed figures in this field. However, the elephant in the room is the trainer switch. Rob Atras does an excellent job, but horses exiting the Jorge Navarro barn have generally underperformed. This runner held his own in some tougher spots at Gulfstream, but it’s just difficult to trust that form given what we now know. I want to take a shot with Armament getting back to dirt. It’s interesting that Eric Cancel is sticking with this runner rather than Mills, whom he won aboard last time. Overall this gelding possesses the superior form and class lines, but he’s yet to reproduce his best efforts since the claim by Ed Barker. Yet you can make some excuses for his winter efforts. Then they tried the turf upon return this month, and while he does handle that surface, he lost all chance when he got steadied back to last after the start. This outside post position is perfect for him and he should fall into a great trip either on the lead or stalking California Night. As long as he gets an aggressive ride this time, I think he can take over from that rival be tough to reel in.
RACE 8: RISKY MISCHIEF (#4)
Jeremiah Englehart holds a strong hand in this Bouwerie, and he sends out the prohibitive favorite in Critical Value. If this filly merely returns in the same form as we saw from her as a juvenile last fall, she’s very likely to beat this group. She was very impressive taking the Maid of the Mist by over 5 lengths, and she even put forth a respectable effort against open company in the Grade 2 Demoiselle going a distance that may be too far for her. The one concern is that we sometimes see these precocious two-year-olds return a year later having given up their edge, either due to the fact that they haven’t gone on developing, or that their rivals have caught up. I respect her, but she’s not just the kind of horse that I like to bet at a short price. My top pick is Englehart’s other horse Risky Mischief. This filly generated some buzz prior to her debut at Saratoga last summer and she delivered that day, drawing off to win by over 7 lengths. She was one of the contenders in the Grade 1 Spinaway after that, but something clearly went wrong that day. She was getting out a bit on the turn and just never looked like the horse we saw on debut. Now she makes her return from a lengthy layoff and she appears to be training well for this return to the races. She has to get the 7 furlongs this time, but I don’t think she needs to step forward that much to beat these. I also believe she’s naturally faster than a horse like Courageous Girl to her outside, so she should get a good trip stalking Ilchester Cheetah. Big Q isn’t impossible, but it feels like she caught lightning in a bottle when she posted that impressive victory in the Key Cents, as her subsequent performances haven’t risen to that level.
RACE 9: CALIDAD (#10)
Sainte Mere Eglise showed real promise in her debut at Saratoga last summer. She was off a bit slowly and lagged well back for much of the race before unleashing a strong stretch bid to get up for second. The winner of that race English Breeze went on to do some nice things against open stakes foes, so this filly certainly has a right to improve off her juvenile form now that she’s a year older. The one knock against her is that she’s picking up Irad Ortiz and is going to get bet down to be a short price despite the layoff. I’m using her, but this is a pretty competitive race with many contenders to consider. Crescent Lady didn’t want any part of 6 furlongs last time, but she has solid performances from last season and possesses the tactical speed to get the jump on the favorite. I think she’s a valid option. I also wouldn’t be so fast to dismiss a horse like Two Cent Tootsie. I know she’s had more chances than the rest, but she earned a number of speed figures last year that put her in the mix. Furthermore, she has a recency edge on this field. I’m using all of these, but my top pick is Calidad. I know I liked her last time on the dirt and now I’m sticking with her on a different surface, but I still think there’s more to this filly than we’ve yet seen. She showed a lot of promise in her debut at Aqueduct, overcoming a slow start to make a wide, prolonged run to get up for second. She was unable to make an impact against a tough field upon return from the layoff last time, but she was pretty far back early and couldn’t make a late impact in a race that was dominated towards the front end. Now she’s trying turf and she doesn’t have real pedigree for this surface. She’s by solid turf influence Quality Road and is out of a dam who earned her only career victory on the turf. Furthermore, her dam is a half-sister to West Hills Giant, a multiple stakes winner on both turf and dirt.