RACE 2: DARK STORM (#5)
Its All Relevant, the stronger half of a Rudy Rodriguez entry, appears to be the horse to beat, but you have to have some serious questions about his current form as he drops in class. While he has raced quite cheaply before, Rudy hasn’t run this horse for such a discounted tag since he’s had him in his barn. And now he’s basically just begging someone to take Its All Relevant off his hands after a pair of poor efforts. While he was facing tougher in each of those starts, he was basically eased last time at Monmouth after he was unable to even make the lead as the 2-5 favorite. I’m skeptical that he can recapture his best form. The problem with this race is finding viable alternatives. I have trouble latching onto other class droppers like I Love Jaxson and Supreme Aura. The former has been steadily declining over the past year for Linda Rice, and the latter is a total wild card as he returns from a lengthy layoff. I’m instead going in a different direction with Dark Storm. He’s also dropping in class, but at least this move makes a little more sense for him. He started out his career in maiden claiming company and took advantage of a few opportunities against allowance foes in 2019. However, he was overmatched when he returned last October at Belmont. And even last time he found himself in a tough spot competing for $32k in the slop. He may appreciate getting back on a fast track, and I think he’ll be tough if rebounding to one of his better efforts.
RACE 5: KAZ’S BEACH (#5)
Jimmy Jerkens sends out two runners who are likely to vie for favoritism. The versatile Advanced Strategy appears to be about equally talented on dirt and turf. He tried routing on the main track for the first time when last seen on Jan. 3 and may have just found the 9-furlong distance to be too taxing. Now he cuts back to a more reasonable one-turn mile trip, and should be getting back on a fast track. The biggest issue for him could be pace, as he struggled to close in a race that was dominated on the front end last time, and there’s little speed signed on once again. Yet that could also be an issue for his uncoupled stablemate Rift Valley. This expensive colt took money in his debut, but was just too green that day as he dawdled at the back of the pack in the mud. He was much more professional last time, as he made a strong late rally from far back through the stretch to get up. The added distance is supposed to help him, but he needs to improve from a speed figure standpoint and will be a short price. I prefer Kaz’s Beach. While he also began his career as a turf horse, his last two efforts suggest that he’s better on dirt. I was a little skeptical of that 10-length win at Penn National, but he validated that performance last time. He was facing a stronger field at this level and stayed on well for third. Both Jerry the Nipper and Wudda U Think Now have returned to win with strong speed figures out of that race. I also wouldn’t put too much stock in the barn change since this horse has been training at Penn National all along. The other horse that I would throw into the mix at a price is Farragut. I’ve been a fan of this horse and he’s generally been a disappointment. Yet he is supposed to be the controlling speed this time.
RACE 8: MALIBU STAR (#6)
The two major players here are Chestertown and Malibu Star. Both of these 4-year-olds were expensive auction purchases who just now appear to be reaching their full potential. Chestertown could go slightly favored given his prior experience at this 1 1/8 miles distance. He won the Albany over this trip at Saratoga over the summer, beating the classy City Man. While he disappointed after that in the Empire Classic, he got back on track last time, defeating a solid New York-bred allowance field by over 3 lengths. If he continues progressing he’ll be tough for this field to handle, but I think he faces a serious rival in Malibu Star. This colt began his career in Bob Baffert’s barn, but has come to hand since the trainer switch to Kelly Breen this year. He was a little unlucky to lose to stablemate Full Impact at Monmouth on Oct. 14 and rebounded with an impressive maiden victory at Aqueduct next time. He traveled like a winner every step of the way in that Dec. 10 affair, and easily put away his stablemate when set down in the last eighth of a mile. He has to negotiate added ground here, but he’s bred to stretch out as a son of Giant’s Causeway from the family of the great racemare Personal Ensign, his third dam. Furthermore, Kelly Breen is a remarkable 18 for 55 (33%, $3.03 ROI) with last-out maiden winners on dirt over the past 5 years. He appears to be working well since that race, and I expect him to sit a great trip stalking the speedy Obsessed. The other horse that I would use underneath is Villainous. This colt was compromised by a speed-favoring racetrack last time and should appreciate stretching back out two turns. I’m just not quite convinced that he’s good enough to beat both favorites if they show up.