RACE 2: HONORABLE SERVICE (#2)
Cause of Action would be tough to beat in this spot with a repeat of that last victory, even as he moves up in class. He rallied boldly down the center of the track to get up in time, but did so against weaker conditioned claiming foes. However, it’s not as if that performance came out of nowhere, as he had previously run competitively against some decent rivals at tougher levels. That said, this move into open claimers can still be a significant hurdle for horses that have been competing in conditioned races. He’s one of many contenders, but there are others to consider. There should be an honest pace in this race with the likes of Fox Red and Ryan’s Cat perhaps hooking up early. I don’t fully trust either one of them, but I would be slightly more inclined to give Fox Red a chance off the Rudy Rodriguez claim. Yet I’m hoping there’s enough pace up front to set up the late of Honorable Service. His connections found a bargain when they dipped in to claim him for just $8k out of that Jan. 7 victory. Yet they probably got a little too ambitious after that, immediately moving him up in class against significantly better rivals. He actually fared pretty well in that Jan. 16 affair, closing willingly into a slow pace. However, he was understandably no match for that $40k claiming crew last time going a distance that is too far for him. Nevertheless, there are subtle signs that he’s improved for Ferraro, and now he’s dropping back down to a realistic class level.
RACE 3: DESTINATIONWNRSCIR (#7)
Vallarand seems like the horse to beat as she makes her second attempt going this one-mile distance. She’s never been particularly close at the finish, but has nevertheless been progressing with each career start. She made a good late run from well back to get up for second on Dec. 19, and she proved she could handle the mile last time when again second by a similar margin. She tried to go with the winner Coffee Bar when that one made her move on the far turn but was turned away in the stretch. And she was flattered when that winner returned to finish a strong second in the Busanda in her subsequent start. I’m using her prominently, but there are others to consider in this competitive affair. Some may try stretching out second time starters like Esotica or Irresistible Girl. However, the former is facing a much tougher field and the later has more of a sprint pedigree on the dam’s side. I prefer those with experience going this distance. Epona’s Dream and Destinationwnrscir met in the oher division of that Jan. 10 maiden race on the same day that Vallarand competed. While Epona’s Dream got up for third after a slow start, I’m most intrigued by Destinationwnrscir out of that race. This daughter of Lemon Drop Kid ran like a horse that figured to appreciate added ground when she made her debut on Dec. 19, closing steadily from far back to just miss to her stablemate Vallarand for the place. She seemed like a great candidate to step forward second time out, but her own antics go the better of her. She was unfocused coming into the stretch and veered in badly under a right-handed whip, ultimately allowing Epona’s Dream to pass her late. I’m hoping that she’s more professional this time with that experience under her belt, as I don’t think we’ve yet seen the best she has to offer.
RACE 5: BLUGRASCAT’S SMILE (#3)
Ekhtibaar is the horse to beat as he drops back down in class after disappointing as the favorite going 1 1/8 miles last time. If he can get back to the form that he displayed when third in the mud two back he would be tough for this field to handle. However, you have to be a little concerned that his form is simply tailing off after he was so dull in the early gong last time. It’s possible that he’s just not quick enough to make the lead in these races anymore, and that could be a problem now that he’s turning back to a mile. I’m using him, but I prefer others at better prices. It might be tempting to go for a horse like Mo Zone, since he’s a new face shipping in from Kentucky. However, this isn’t as big of a drop as it seems. He wasn’t beating a particularly strong field two back at Churchill Downs and his overall form in 2020 has been fairly lackluster. I’m going in a different direction with Blugrascat’s Smile. This venerable 8-year-old beat a weaker field when he won on Dec. 18, but he at least showed that he still has some run in those old legs. He ran poorly last time in his only start for the John Toscano barn, but he’s never been one to relish a wet track, so I’m willing to forgive that performance. Now he’s been claimed by Rudy Rodriguez, who is 36 for 108 (33%, $2.25 ROI) first off the claim in dirt routes over the past 5 years. If he can get back to anything close to his better efforts just from last year he’s going to be a tough rival for the favorites.