RACE 7: KUMAR (#5)
Malibu Pro seems like a deserving favorite as he drops out of a tougher N2X optional claimer 15 days ago. He actually ran pretty well within the context of that race, as it was dominated towards the front end on a day when speed seemed to have an advantage due to windy conditions. Malibu Pro rated at the back of the pack early but launched a wide rally on the far turn before flattening out in the stretch. If he runs back to that effort or any of his recent performances he’s going to be tough for this field to handle. And this drop in class is hardly of any concern, since this is the level at which he’s proven he belongs. His main rival is probably Limonite, who didn’t have much of a chance last time when racing wide against a rail bias on Dec. 20. However, I’m not thrilled with this horse’s prior form. He had won three races in a row in the Midwest, but he wasn’t beating very good fields in any of those starts. I think this is subtly tougher and he still has to prove that he can maintain that consistent dirt form for Mike Maker. I prefer a different horse out of that Dec. 20 affair. Kumar was also wide against the bias while chasing the pace early. He understandably faded late going a distance that is always a bit of a struggle for him. He turned back to a mile last time in the same race that Malibu Pro exits, and he didn’t run much worse than that rival. He was rallying in tandem with Malibu Pro on the turn before running into some traffic when that one kept him locked behind horses at the quarter pole. And prior to those performances he was much the best on Oct. 31, getting up to win after blowing the start. His overall recent form is stronger than it appears, and he could offer value in the face of the two favorites.
RACE 8: BLINDWILLIE MCTELL (#5)
Golani Brigade is the horse to beat as he turns back to a more appropriate distance after trying a mile last time. I don’t want to be too hard on for him that poor effort as the favorite last time, but I did find it a little concerning that he was under a hard drive before the field reached the quarter pole, suggesting that he was just never himself that day. He’s since gotten a couple of months off and now returns at a distance over which he’s proven effective. He’s a deserving favorite, but he does need to bring his top effort to beat this field. I prefer him to the other horse who could attract support, South Africa. He had no major excuse to lose as the favorite last time after getting outrun through the early stages. It appears that he’s just finding this N1X level to be a bit tougher, and this field is arguably deeper than the one he faced last time. Linda Rice has a couple of alternatives to the favorite in this spot. Some may follow her main rider Jose Lezcano to Scilly Cay, who got back on track with a good effort last time, just missing at this level after sneaking up the rail in the stretch. A repeat of that performance will give him a chance once again. Yet I prefer Rice’s class dropper Blindwillie McTell. Some will claim that he’s been off form this year, but the reality is that he’s run some good races but has just struggled with consistency against tougher company. He hasn’t faced New York-breds since the 2019 Albany, and he’s met some good horses at the open N1X allowance level, including stakes winners Yaupon and Our Last Buck. He wanted no part of a mile last time, and now he’s getting the class relief he needs and turning back to a more appropriate distance. If he’s going to rebound, this is the right spot.
RACE 9: MANDATORY (#3)
Clemenza is the horse to beat in this one-mile maiden finale. That turf attempt two back remains a mystery, but the fact of the matter is that his two dirt races are pretty good. He was facing a strong field at Monmouth in his debut and validated that performance last time when finishing just ahead of next-out winner O’Trouble. His speed figures for those races hold up well to scrutiny. Now he’s stretching out, which he should handle as a son of Malibu Moon, although his dam was primarily a dirt sprinter. Kelly Breen is 11 for 39 (28%, $2.46 ROI) with maidens stretching out on dirt, and he’s 7 for 19 (37%, $2.13 ROI) with maidens adding blinkers. I’m using him, but there are others to consider. Continuation sports a concerning speed figure pattern for a horse who looked like a future stakes winner in his career debut. He’s still a maiden now over a year later, and he’s coming back to the venue where he achieved his early success. Don’t pay much attention to the chart comment last time as his start was fine. That said, he may not have cared for synthetic, and now he’s second off a lengthy layoff. You have to take a low-profile rider, but he should be a square price. I’m using him, but I prefer Mandatory as my top pick. This son of American Pharoah showed real promise in his debut as a two-year-old, staying on well for third after a wide trip. He looked like one that should relish added ground, but he faded on the stretch-out in his second start as a juvenile. Something may have happened that day as he was off for a long time after that. He was ambitiously spotted from a stamina standpoint going 9 furlongs off the layoff last time and he handled the distance pretty well. He was too eager in the early going and had to wait until upper stretch to find running room along the rail. He got through but was run down by next-out winner Halo City. This colt certainly has a right to improve second off the layoff and the one-turn mile is probably better for him.