Shotski (#1) is the horse to beat as he returns from a layoff and makes his 4-year-old debut. This horse showed real talent as a youngster, first when winning the Grade 2 Remsen over this track as a 2-year-old. He may have benefited from a somewhat speed-favoring surface that day, but his performance has held up better than those attempting to close behind him. He validated that form when finishing second in the Withers, and then was hardly disgraced when fourth in the Fountain of Youth after a very wide trip. A planned start in the UAE Derby was aborted after he had shipped to Dubai, and he was given plenty of time off after that. While I think he’s the most talented horse in this field, he doesn’t face an easy task in his return from the layoff. He’s drawn the inside post position in a race that features some significant pace rivals to his outside. Furthermore, Jeremiah O’Dwyer is just 1-for-16 (6%, $0.75 ROI) off layoffs of 180 days or more over the past 5 years. I’m using him prominently, but I’m taking a small shot against him this time.
Among the obvious alternatives are High Velocity (#6) and Montauk Traffic (#5). I prefer the latter due to the projected pace scenario. Montauk Traffic should get the kind of setup that he needs. I’m just not really sure that he’s fast enough to beat this field. While he was against the track on Dec. 19, I still would have liked to see him finish a bit better that day, especially as he’s stretching out here.
I’m going in a different direction with MALIBU PRO (#10). This horse looks a little cheaper than the other contenders in this race, but his recent speed figures indicate that he’s fast enough to win. I was highly skeptical of him getting the 9 furlongs last time, but he did so gamely, sustaining a far turn move before gamely battling on inside of the classy Someday Jones late. He should appreciate getting back to a one-turn mile, and it’s not like that recent form came out of nowhere. He has the back class to beat this field. There’s rain in the forecast late on Friday, and he hates the slop, but they should get this race in before the precipitation arrives.
Exacta Key Box: 10 with 1,5,6
Trifecta: 10 with 1,5 with 1,4,5,6,8