RACE 2: EKHTIBAAR (#3)
Likely favorite Creative Style is moving up in claiming price by a factor of two after winning for a $12,500 tag last time, but this isn’t really a move up in class from a competition standpoint. He’s exiting a very strong race for that price tag and he’s facing a couple of the same rivals that he defeated last time. That was his first start off the claim for Danny Gargan, and now he’s moving into the barn of Wayne Potts barn, who is 8 for 40 (20%, $1.98 ROI) with last-out winners off the claim on dirt over the past 5 years. While he’s made four consecutive starts on wet tracks, he handles fast going without issue. The bigger hurdle may be the 1 1/8-mile distance, as he seems slightly better around one turn. That said, he’s still the horse to beat. I prefer main rival Ekhtibaar. This 8-year-old dropped all the way down to the $12,500 level last time and lost, but that was the same strong race won by Creative Style. He was unable to make the early lead that day and had to wait for room on the far turn before staying on for third. Now he moves into the barn of Rob Atras, who is a strong 7 for 23 (30%, $2.07 ROI) first off the claim in dirt routes over the past 5 years. He has handled this 9-furlong distance in the past, and this time he figures to work out a more comfortable trip. While he’s obviously seen better days, the barn change coupled with his back class make him appealing in this spot. I prefer him to other logical options like Lucky Ramsey, who has done his best work at Laurel, and Super Dude, whose last race was lackluster.
RACE 3: MOONSHINE MAKER (#4)
The two likely favorites in this maiden claimer both have questions to answer. Brunate had been popular with bettors prior to the layoff last fall, but he’s had his chances to break through at this $25k level and hasn’t been able to do more than collect minor awards. His last race is troublesome, as he had no excuse not to finish after ranging up on the turn as the 3-2 favorite. I didn’t like the way he was moving across the line and he’s subsequently missed 3 months of action. His best effort certainly gives him a shot to win, but I prefer others. Royal Kaz also figures to attract plenty of support given his strong speed figures sprinting. However, both of those numbers were earned at Penn National, and I just don’t trust form from that track will translate to the NYRA circuit. Furthermore, he was facing some weak fields of maiden claimers in those two sprint starts, so I’m not sure that he’s actually getting class relief even as he makes his first start against New York-breds. I instead prefer horses exiting the race at this level on Jan. 1. It’s hard to pick 0-for-21 maidens, but Apex Predator ran quite well to be second in there. He doesn’t even like a wet track that much, and he has some prior form that would make him tough. He’s just not a reliable horse given his overall record. I’m instead going to give another shot to Moonshine Maker as my top selection. This horse did not run well last time but he also may not have appreciated the fact that he was encountering another wet track. If he can ever get back to his performance from Oct. 1 at Belmont he’ll be tough for this field to handle, and I’m going to take it as a good sign that he’s coming back at he same level in 3 weeks. Furthermore, Kelly Breen is a remarkable 10 for 24 (42%, $3.97 ROI) with horses adding blinkers on dirt over the past 5 years.
RACE 5: BREITHORN (#8)
This is a very tricky race, especially if you want to take a shot against the likely favorite The Big S, as I do. That Ray Handal trainee did have a legitimate excuse last time, as he steadied at the start and wasn’t able to attain a position close to the pace where he wants to be. However, I’m a little skeptical about his overall form coming into this race. He did earn a strong speed figure at Churchill Downs two back, but that race was dominated by horses who contested the pace in the slop. His prior effort at Churchill Downs was poor, and he just generally hasn’t really gotten back to his best form from his 3-year-old season. Furthermore, he’s going to encounter another difficult pace scenario, with early pressure likely to come from Victory Built and Bulwark. I’m interested in a couple of horses exiting the race at this level from Jan. 1. No one was any match for impressive winner Montauk Daddy that day, but we did see runner-up Double Shot come back to win with an improved speed figure last weekend. Four of Swords put in a deceptively strong performance that day as he stayed on through the lane to just miss third after racing extremely wide on the far turn. This gelding may have needed that first start back off the layoff for Kelly Breen and he could take another step forward here. Though my top pick at a potentially bigger price is Breithorn. I know this horse looks a little slow coming in, but I want a closer in this race. January 1 was a day that appeared to be slightly speed-favoring, so he did well to close for third in that last race after encountering some traffic in upper stretch. While he didn’t run particularly well for Linda Rice, he does have prior speed figures for Bill Mott that would give him a shot here. He also figures to get a very favorable pace setup.