RACE 2: KANSAS KIS (#4)
This is a relatively interesting race for just a 5-horse field, as you can make a decent case for all of the runners involved. The horse to beat is probably Jennemily, who finished a solid second at this level last time going this same one-mile distance. She was no match for the vastly improved Ujjayi in the last furlong of that race, but she nevertheless finished 7 lengths clear of the rest of the field while earning a 108 TimeformUS Speed Figure. She set the pace that day, but she’s also comfortable stalking. She’ll be tough for this field to handle if able to repeat that last effort, but she’s not exactly the most consistent horse. Stand for the Flag makes her second start off a layoff after she was overmatched upon return in the Go For Wand last time. This is a more appropriate spot, but it remains to be seen if she can produce her best form since getting transferred to Rob Atras’s barn from Jason Servis. I want to go in a different direction. My top pick is Kansas Kis. Some might say that last time was the right time to have her when she won and paid $33. However, I think that race made it clear that she’s just returned as an improved, mature horse since the summer layoff. She was such a big price last time due to the presence of heavy favorite Center Aisle. Yet she made a decisive move on the turn, shrugged off the favorite’s challenge, and still held off a late run at the wire. That was going 6 1/2 furlongs, and I do believe shorter is better. Yet this is just a one-turn mile, and she proved she could run a top race going this distance in the Busher last year when she made a premature move into a fast pace and just got nailed on the wire.
RACE 4: OBLIGATORY (#2)
Expensive yearling purchase Commandandcontol was a little chilly on the board first time out, getting sent off a 9-2 odds in a field that didn’t feature any formidable runners with experience. She stayed on gamely for second that day but was no match for the visually impressive winner Harper’s in Charge. The problem is that the only two horses to run back out of that race both regressed from a speed figure standpoint. Perhaps stretching out will make the difference, as she does have some route pedigree. Yet Chad Brown’s stats with second-time starting maidens stretching out on dirt (20 for 70, 29%, $1.30 ROI over 5 years) suggest he’s often overbet in these situations. I’m using her but I prefer the other second-time starter Obligatory. This filly took some money in her Belmont debut, getting bet down to 3-1 odds. She broke awkwardly and was outrun early before hitting her best stride in the stretch, finishing with interest as the field crossed the wire before galloping out well. That race was flattered when runner-up Hit the Woah returned to win her next start with an 99 TimeformUS Speed Figure. This daughter of Curlin shouldn’t have any trouble stretching out to a mile. Bill Mott is 7 for 31 (23%, $2.31 ROI) with maiden second time starters going from sprints to routes on dirt over the past 5 years. She appears to be working well and picks up Jose Lezcano.
RACE 6: ROAD TO MEATH (#5)
There’s no disputing that Heirloom Kitten is a deserving favorite as he gets some significant class relief. However, I do think it’s fair to question how short of a price you want to accept on a horse whose form may be tailing off a bit. The Linda Rice barn, which typically does quite well through the winter months, has been relatively cold lately, going 2 for 32 (6%, $1.07 ROI) over the past 30 days at Aqueduct. That said, Heirloom Kitten’s recent speed figures do make him a standout. While he’s been soundly defeated in his last two starts, he was meeting much tougher company at the N1X allowance level in those races. Furthermore, the TimeformUS Pace Projector is predicting that he will be on contesting the lead in a situation favoring the front-runner. The only horse that I view as a real danger to him is the other speed in the race, Road to Meath. Heirloom Kitten would have to regress slightly and Road to Meath would have to rebound for there to be an upset. However, I think that’s a distinct possibility. Road to Meath shouldn’t be judged off his last performance, as he was bumped and squeezed back at the start, forcing him out of position early. From there, he got too rank and never had any hope of lasting the demanding 9 furlongs after such a start. His prior form on dirt is solid and he should appreciate the cutback to a one-turn mile. Given the likely pace scenario and the fact that he’s going to be a square price, I’ll give him the slight nod over the prohibitive favorite.