RACE 1: EXCELLERATOR (#9)
Possible favorite Doctor K makes his first start in New York for the Rudy Rodriguez barn after finishing second in a pair of races in Florida. He was no match for debut winner Drain the Clock first time out, and was flattered when 4 of the top 5 finishers won their next starts. However, Rudy has poor numbers with maidens off trainer switches, and this runner has other speed to contend with as he stretches out to six furlongs. One of his main rivals appears to be Sinashack, who ran well going this distance in late November. He has been slow to come around, not showing much in his first two starts, but he rallied willingly through the stretch behind impressive winner Charlie Five O last time, drawing clear of the rest despite swapping leads in the lane. Now he’s facing a field of similar quality, and figures to have a say in the outcome if he continues progressing. I’m using him prominently, but my top pick is Excellerator. This outside-drawn colt is the wild card in this field, having never raced on dirt. Based on his first few performances at Woodbine he should be a major contender at this class level. He’s earned solid speed figures racing on synthetic, and has kept strong company, losing to undefeated Display winner Helium in that Sep. 27 effort. Turf wasn’t the answer last time, but that effort isn’t as bad as it looks considering the competition and the fact that he was wide against a rail bias. His dam Red Velvet was a stakes-winning dirt sprinter, so perhaps he’s more of a synth/dirt runner. He deserves another chance for capable conditioner Miceli.
RACE 2: SECRET ZAR (#1)
Magnetique is clearly the horse to beat as she drops in class after a career-best performance on Halloween at Belmont. Competing at a tougher starter allowance level – albeit in an off-the-turf affair – she set a strong pace and led into deep stretch before getting overhauled by the closing Toned Up. That performance was flattered when the winner returned to finish fourth next time out in the Grade 3 Comely, improving her TimeformUS Speed Figure by 4 points. If Magnetique repeats that last effort she’s going to be too tough for this field to handle. And it’s not as if that performance came out of nowhere, as she had hinted improving was forthcoming with a surprisingly strong turf effort prior to that. I’m hardly against her, but there is one rival in this race who may offer better value while shipping in from another circuit. Secret Zar will stretch back out in distance after competing in three sprints this fall at Parx, her first starts following a yearlong layoff. Some may be skeptical of her getting the added distance, but she put in some solid route efforts as a 3-year-old prior to the layoff. Furthermore, her recent form is stronger than it appears. She obviously had no chance against Cinnabunny and Portal Creek in her return, as both of those fillies are subsequently graded stakes-placed. And then last time she made a solid late run in a race that may be stronger than it appears, as almost the entire field has run faster numbers both before and since then.
RACE 7: COHIBA GHOST (#3)
This is one of the more confusing races on the card, as you can make a case for any number of runners in this large field. The likely favorite is Shandian, who makes his first start off the claim for Rudy Rodriguez. However, I wonder how much Rudy can improve this horse, if at all, as he gets him from Wayne Potts, who already appeared to work a miracle getting him to win so impressively at Monmouth two back. One of his main rivals is Principal Dancer, who returned from a layoff in another race at this level last month. While he performed well in his first in nearly 3 months, he had his chance to win that race and just couldn’t forge past the leaders, including today’s rival Macho Boy. There appears to plenty of speed signed on, with proverbial rocket Ink Splotz at the top of that list, so that could work against runners that prefer to be forwardly placed, which includes all of the aforementioned options. Another horse who could get caught up in the pace is Coolboy, but I’m still somewhat interested in him as he makes his first start off the claim. This horse has always had the ability to win races like this, having run some superior speed figures in the past. However, his form had been all over the place for his prior barn as the effects of a busy schedule appeared to take their toll. Yet now he’s coming off an 8-week break since being claimed by Chris Englehart, and he could be ready to rebound. Yet I’ve ultimately laded on a closer for my top pick. Cohiba Ghost makes his first start at NYRA following a trainer switch to Wayne Potts. Typically I’d shy away from horses like this, but this gelding may be suited to these conditions. He clearly fits from a class standpoint, so the major question is dirt. While he’s only competed on synthetic and turf, his dam was strictly a dirt horse, so there’s reason to believe he’ll like this surface. Furthermore, he’s one of the few capable closers in a field loaded with speed.