RACE 1: O’GOTTEN GIRL (#3)
Dealing Justice figures to go favored here in her second career start. She finished in a dead heat for third in her debut, but crossed the wire some 10 lengths behind the winner. That said, she may have been beaten by a pair of future stakes winners, as Miss Brazil earned a massive speed figure in victory, and promising runner-up Caramel Swirl shouldn’t be a maiden much longer. This filly had a pretty good trip, but nevertheless showed some ability for a barn that rarely wins first time out. Ray Handal is a strong 6 for 26 (23%, $2.64 ROI) with maiden second time starters in dirt sprints over the past 5 years. She’s the horse to beat, but my top pick is the other short price O’Gotten Girl. While she’s earned her best speed figures on the turf, it’s possible that she’s just improved overall for the Todd Pletcher barn since last trying dirt in August. Plus, she encountered a sloppy track in that lone prior dirt start, so she may appreciate getting on dry going here. Her pedigree indicates that she should handle dirt without issue. Competitive Edge is a dirt influence, and her dam won her career debut sprinting on dirt. Todd Pletcher is 5-for-8 (63%, $4.50 ROI) with maidens switching from turf to dirt at Aqueduct over the past 5 years. He had no reason to keep this filly in New York rather than ship her down to Florida, s I think it’s a positive sign that he isn’t giving up on dirt just yet. I understand the viewpoint that she may simply be better on turf, but I’d be inclined to take a positive view of this one.
RACE 7: EPONA’S DREAM (#6)
Pay Grade ships up from Florida for the Clement barn, which was unstoppable in these maiden races through the fall last year. While she wasn’t meeting the toughest competition at Tampa, she was very green in that race. She had no early speed, idled in some traffic on the turn, and only hit her best stride late. She’s now running in the right spot, but it’s not like she’s getting any class relief and she will need to run faster to beat this field. Christophe Clement is 3 for 27 (11%, $0.90 ROI) with maiden second time starters in dirt routes over the past 5 years. She’s a contender, but I wouldn’t be thrilled with the prospect of taking her at a short price. Destinationwnrscir ran like a filly who needed a start first time out. She took absolutely no money going off at 41-1, and walked out of the starting gate like she had no idea what she was supposed to be doing. She lagged well back early before picking up pieces in a race that fell apart. That said, she was really running at the end of that race and she has a pedigree that suggests she’s supposed to improve with added ground. The dam was a stakes winner going a mile on dirt and this filly is a half-sister to Empire Distaff winner Verdant Pastures. I’m using her, but I want to get a little more creative for my top pick. Epona’s Dream also didn’t take a cent in the debut, as it seemed a little curious that she was running on turf. While Orb has had a little success as a turf sire, the dam’s family is all dirt. The dam herself won half of her 20 starts, and was a multiple stakes winner at distances ranging from 7 furlongs to 9 furlongs on dirt. Almost all of her foals have preferred the dirt, topped by Coolusive. She lagged well back in the early going of that turf race, but was running on well at the end in a spot where there wasn’t much closing going on. It seems possible that she could improve on dirt and she figures to be a square price in here.
RACE 8: UNO (#3)
The two favorites in this race are likely Uno and Blue Gator. I prefer the former, who steps up into stakes company following his debut win. This $255k auction purchase was very impressive, drawing off to win by nearly 4 lengths after a slow start. While he got the six furlongs that day, these Laoban progeny have relished any extra ground they can get. Furthermore, Todd Pletcher has a remarkable record with horses like this. Over the past 5 years the barn is 9 for 15 (60%, $2.76 ROI) with last-out debut winners making their second starts against New York-breds in dirt sprints. He seems like the most appealing of Pletcher’s trio, and he doesn’t have to improve much to beat the other favorite Blue Gator, one of three Mike Maker runners in here. Blue Gator’s form is solid, but he got a little lucky to win that stakes at Finger Lakes two back when his main rival got left at the gate. He didn’t have much of an excuse to lose to Eagle Orb last time, and I just wonder if he’s a horse that hasn’t really moved forward since that precocious start to his career. He also will have to deal with some other speed to his outside. While I prefer these two, I wouldn’t discount the two other Pletcher horses. Perfect Munnings actually has more of a dirt pedigree, and Storm Shooter got a perplexing ride last time when inexplicably taken out of the race on the far turn.