RACE 2: FRAT (#4)
There are three major players in this race, and who of them have only faced maiden special weight foes on turf. The most logical option and likely favorite is Scuttlebuzz, who has only raced on turf twice in his career, but has put forth his two best efforts in those races. He had a tough trip when he made his turf debut going this distance on June 14, nearly overcoming a slow start and wide trip to get there. He didn’t run quite as well going a mile at Saratoga, but he was facing a solid field and just hung in the late stages after making a far turn move. I think shorter is betting for him, but he will need to get some pace aid. Tercero earned a competitive speed figure in his lone prior turf start, despite the fact that he was going a distance that may be a little far for him. I suppose turning back and dropping in class could do the trick, but I didn’t feel like he did that much running in his turf race and he was supposed to win against a suspect off-the-turf field last time. I went in a different direction with Frat. This horse has plenty of experience in spots like this, and some may think he’s run out of chances. I actually think he’s been in the best form of his career lately, as he set a fast pace when second two back, and then ran exceptionally well last time. That November 6 race was run on a day when the turf was heavily biased towards rail runners, and he stalked two- to three-wide before getting run down by horses to his inside. If he maintains his current form, I think he can lead this field from gate to wire.
RACE 3: POWER UP PAYNTER (#3)
Likely favorite South Africa will attempt to achieve the rare feat of graduating right through all of his NY-bred conditions with three consecutive victories. This improving 3-year-old colt is versatile and consistent, running effectively on the front end and from just off the pace, as he did when winning his N1X condition last time. He benefited from his outside post that day, as he was able to gradually advance into the race in the clear, and now he could be under the gun from his inside draw with other speed drawn outside. However, he has more upside than most in this field, and was flattered when the horse he outdueled last time, Jerry the Nipper, returned to win impressive on Thursday. Given the amount of speed signed on, I think Power Up Paynter could work out the right trip. This horse is a bit of an enigma, as he’ll pop big speed figures from time to time, but doesn’t always run back to them. That said, he appears to have achieved a new level of consistency recently, as he’s run quite well in each of his last two starts. He closed resolutely to finish second behind the in-form Bustin Shout in that Oct. 16 off-the-turf race, which is proving to be a strong race. The 108 TimeformUS Speed Figure he earned for that performance holds up and makes him tough here. He wasn’t quite as effective last time, but he was facing a couple of tough rivals and didn’t get nearly as much pace to close into. If he maintains his current form and the pace develops as expected, I think he’s major win threat. I would also use some others out of that aforementioned Oct. 16 allowance, as Scilly Cay may have needed that start and third-place finisher Call Me Harry may have more dirt ability than it appears.
RACE 7: VILLAINOUS (#12)
This race is a real skull buster. I had a torturous time coming up with a morning line, and settling on picks wasn’t much easier. I would imagine some of those with perceived upside are going to take money, such as the improving Dudley Square and visually impressive maiden winner Aasr. I’m not particularly interested in either of there, as I think there are others offering similar value who have stronger credentials. A supremely logical contender is Will Sing for Wine. This horse broke his maiden over this course and distance and he’s subtly improved in recent starts, running well behind Forza Di Oro and Adare in a stronger allowance race last time. He’s a deep closer, but the pace should be honest and Joel Rosario seems like a great fit. Others that I want use include Family Biz and Our Last Buck. The former makes plenty of sense after checking in a distant fourth behind the talented The Sound last time. He’s run well enough to be effective here in his last two starts. Our Last Buck may appear to be tailing off, but he probably doesn’t want to go 1 1/8 miles around two turns. He ran well to beat today’s rival Vintage Hollywood two back and has plenty of prior speed figures, including a few on fast going, that make him dangerous. Plus, he’ll be a price due to the negative rider switch. I’m using all three of those aforementioned contenders in some capacity, but I want to get a little more creative for my top pick. Villainous looks a little slower than some others in here, but he strikes me as a horse that is just coming into his own, having gotten some needed confidence boosts out of town. He came to hand initially at Finger Lakes, form that many will view with skepticism. Yet the speed figure he earned in the mud two back checks out. Then last time he won at Parx, another lesser circuit. However, he beat a solid field, including talented next-out winner Mr. Thrifty. Villainous had no right to be successful that day after blowing the start and losing contact on the far turn. Yet he kicked it into another gear late to just get up while closing into a slow pace. This colt had shown hints of talent from the start, and it appears that he’s finally putting it all together.