RACE 5: OVERHEATED (#7)
Kitten by the Sea is obviously the horse to beat as she makes her first start off the claim for Todd Pletcher. If she merely repeats her last effort when she wired a field down at Gulfstream, she’s going to be difficult for this field to beat. That said, it is worth noting that Todd Pletcher wasn’t the one who put in the claim slip for this horse last time – that was suspended trainer Jorge Navarro. Pletcher has clearly had this gal for a while after that and it’s a good sign that he’s moving her up in class to protect her against starter allowance foes. She’s a deserving favorite, but she could get down to a very short price and there are some others to consider. Some may look at lightly-raced fillies like Leeway or Princess Fawzia, both of whom have their merits. The former faced some tough fields early in her 2-year-old season before easily handling a soft maiden claiming group back in October. She would have to get faster to beat this field, but she does have plenty of upside as she makes her 3-year-old debut. That potential for improvement from ages 2 to 3 is exemplified by Princess Fawzia, who looked like a completely different horse having had that extra year to mature. I’d use both of them, but I’m most interested in Overheated as an alternative to the favorite. She’s been racing on dirt recently, but she showed a real affinity for turf last year despite never winning on that surface. She’s a good fit at this level and arguably ran her best race when they finally stretched her out in distance on November 21 at Aqueduct. She didn’t get a great trip that day as she stalked 3-wide most of the way and got pushed out even further at the quarter pole and through the stretch drive. She’s now returning from a layoff for Ray Handal, but that bullet workout on July 3 would appear to suggest that she’s ready to fire fresh.
RACE 6: VOICE OF SPRING (#9)
Jewel of Arabia was stakes-placed in her career debut as a two-year-old and would have won second time out had she not bolted to the outside fence in the stretch. She was far more professional in her sophomore return last time, but still came up just short in a tight finish. That 99 TimeformUS Speed Figure makes her the horse to beat, but now she faces a couple of second-time starters who finished directly behind her last time, and both have some room to improve. This filly may also take a step forward second off the layoff, but she’s starting to fit the profile of a money-burner. I’m using her prominently, but would be reticent to take another short price.
One of those second-time starters from the same race is Vivazano. She took significant early tote action in her debut before drifting up to 10-1 late in the wagering. She showed excellent early speed, getting engaged in a three-way duel on the far turn, before fading in the last furlong. That was an encouraging debut, but this daughter of Verrazano doesn’t have much size to her and her dam was a turf horse, so a surface switch may be in her future. There’s clearly sprint ability here, but now she has to stretch out an extra half-furlong, so I prefer the other second-time starter from that June 12 race. Voice of Spring was completely dead on the tote board in her debut, which is a little surprising considering that she cost $450,000 as a two-year-old in training. She’s bred to be a nice sprinter, as her dam is a half-sister to multiple NY-bred stakes winner Willet. Yet clearly this filly badly needed her debut, racing greenly at the back of the pack, only hitting top gear when it was too late. That said, I don’t want to undersell the effort, as this filly was really motoring through the final furlong despite having to squeeze inside of rivals in upper stretch. Linda Rice is 35 for 91 (38%, $2.96 ROI) with maiden second time starters in dirt sprints over 5 years. It appears that Voice of Spring has significant ability and I think she’s going to break through this time.
RACE 8: OUR LAST BUCK (#10)
This is a highly competitive race in which you have horses converging from a variety of different class levels. The horse to beat is probably the class dropper I Love Jaxson. This gelding really turned a corner off the claim for Linda Rice last year, reeling off 5 wins in 6 starts dating back to the Saratoga meet. He appeared to have found a good spot to return from the layoff last time at Belmont, but it just looked like he wasn’t quite the same horse that we had gotten accustomed to seeing over the winter. While he was never going to beat Its All Relevant, he was incredibly dull throughout that race, and now Linda Rice is dropping back in for the $40,000 tag. He has to be used, but I prefer to rely on others. Not That Brady is a perfectly viable win candidate as he returns from the layoff. He got thrown into some pretty tough spots as a 3-year-old. The last time that he was competing in an optional claiming race on dirt, he ran a career-best 125 TimeformUS Speed Figure while just barely losing to the once-promising Looking at Bikinis. While he probably won’t get back to that kind of number off the layoff, plenty of his surrounding efforts were solid and he figures to give a good account of himself. The one concern is that he’s drawn the rail in a race that features plenty of other speed, including the very fast Foolish Ghost, so the pace could work against him. Of the closers, I would give a long look to Blugrascat’s Smile. He doesn’t win that often anymore, but he typically runs well at this level and should not be overlooked at a square price. I’d use all of these in some capacity, but my top pick is the “now” horse, Out Last Buck. This 6-year-old has just been a completely different horse since Michelle Nevin stretched him out on dirt two starts back. He’s been able to make better use of his tactical speed and has shown a good finishing kick closing off his own fractions. This is by far the toughest field that he’s faced, but he’s coming out of a race that proven to be strong. Yankee Division, Kid d’Oro, and Danny California have all run back out of that June 11 affair to improve their speed figures next time out. Our Last Buck is drawn well outside of the other speed so I’m not as worried about his running style as I am the rail horse.