RACE 1: NEPOTISM (#4)
Likely favorite Al’s Prince showed promise in that debut run in the slop, closing mildly along the rail after a slow start while racing greenly. He got another furlong to work with in his second start and responded well to the stretch-out. The grey colt was more professional in the early stages, but had to briefly wait for room in upper stretch before chasing the winner home. He gives the impression that 1 1/8 miles should be right up his alley, and he has worked well since that last run. He also adds blinkers, which could give him that extra bit of focus he needs to break his maiden. I’m using him, but I prefer another runner stretching out at what figures to be a better price. Nepotism had an eventful journey in his debut. He wasn’t so quick into stride out of the gate, so he had to be hustled in the opening furlong. Yet he then got took rank, and had to pause on the turn before getting spun out very wide into the lane. This horse stretched out to a mile in his second start and ran a much better race. He flashed improved gate speed, stalking a swift pace that totally fell apart, took over in upper stretch and responded gamely when challenged. The 92 TimeformUS Speed Figure that he earned for that performance puts him in the mix here. Now he stretches out and takes the blinkers off, which should help him to relax. I would lean towards these two rather than the horses who finished behind Al’s Prince last time. The Reds has just been a disappointment since showing promise in his debut, and Inspiration Point has to show more staying power than he did last time.
RACE 5: PLEASURE LUCK (#6)
This is a fascinating optional claiming event for the New York-bred 3-year-old fillies. I’m not trying to beat the potential favorite Pleasure Luck, but I do want to use some prices underneath. Pleasure Luck showed some mild promise last summer at Belmont when closing for third in a slow race, but she looked like a completely different horse upon returning last month at Aqueduct. She had improved early speed and easily took over in upper stretch before drawing off to an impressive score. She wouldn’t need to improve much on that 91 TimeformUS Speed Figure to beat this field and the 7 furlongs figures to be right up her alley. Mark Hennig doesn’t have great statistics with horses coming off maiden victories, but the barn has been having plenty of success this winter and they’ve found a good spot for this filly. She’s my top pick, as I strongly prefer her to the other favoites. Make Mischief is getting some class relief as she drops out of some tougher stakes events as a 2-year-old. The distance was a valid excuse last time in the Chandelier. While her prior form was a little inconsistent, her best races do make her a player here. Shanes Pretty Lady should also attract some support, but she seemed to improve with the added distance last time and I’m not convinced that less distance helps her. I’d rather use Out First from her last race, since she had the excuse of a poor start and her maiden victory was strong enough to put her on par with the favorites. At a much bigger price, I’d also want to throw in Caramocha. She ran poorly last time, but was hindered by racing wide against a rail bias on Dec. 20. Her debut victory prior to that was good enough to make her a player here, even as she won at 99-1, and she figures to get back to a more aggressive running style here.
RACE 8: PICO D’ORO (#5)
The stronger half of this favored entry is Hello Hot Rod, who ships up from Laurel for this Jimmy Winkfield off two consecutive victories. He broke his maiden second time out going this 7-furlong distance, and improved upon that performance last time when taking down an N1X allowance event at a mile. He defeated a pair of next-out winners in that race, suggesting that it may have been a stronger field than even the speed figures indicate. As long as he continues progressing at this race, the half-brother to stakes winner Hello Beautiful should be tough for this field to handle. That said, there are others in this field who have run similar numbers and also have upside. Those include recent maiden winners Weyburn and Return the Ring. The former got his diploma in the slop last time but had previously run a faster race over dry going. Return the Ring was able to the control the tempo going 6 furlongs in his debut and could face more pace pressure this time. I’ll use both defensively, but I think the best alternative to the favorite is Kentucky shipper Pico d’Oro. This son of Curlin showed promise as a 2-year-old when winning a minor stakes at Ellis Park. It took him a couple of starts to get back on track after that, but he ran deceptively well to be fourth in a salty allowance race at Churchill Downs two back, making a wide move on he far turn before flattening out. He then followed that up with a win over synthetic last time. His trainer William Morey does a good job out of town, and this colt picks up Kendrick Carmouche for his first local start.