RACE 6: LAOBANONAPRAYER (#2)
Miss Brazil and Mo Desserts won back-to-back races on February 8 at Aqueduct, each doing so in impressive fashion. Miss Brazil garnered the headlines for conquering the Ruthless Stakes, but that winning performance was considerably slower than her prior victory against maidens. Furthermore, she and Mo Desserts may have benefited from a track was starting to favor horses that rode the rail, which each of them did. Miss Brazil is obviously quite fast, and she’s being handled by an excellent trainer in Tony Dutrow. However, I have some serious concerns about her stretching out in distance any further. She looks like a sprinter to me and she figures to get some early pace pressure from her main rival. Mo Desserts already proved that she can handle the distance last time, but her margin of victory may have been exaggerated by the track profile. She’s run reasonably fast in both career starts and has earned her shot in this type of race, but I am concerned that she may be a slight underlay here. I’m taking a shot against the favorites with Laobanonaprayer. This New York-bred broke her maiden in a stakes going this distance last October. While she wasn’t beating much that day, she nevertheless finished powerfully, suggesting that a mile is right up her alley. She improved to a 98 TimeformUS Speed Figure in her subsequent stakes win on Dec. 6, and that number puts her in the mix against this open company field. She lost as the 3-5 choice last time, but she encountered a muddy track and reportedly missed some training time heading into that race. She is supposed to be better prepared this time, and the added ground should work in her favor.
RACE 7: PETE’S PLAY CALL (#1)
Share the Ride has to be considered the horse to beat as he attempts to collect yet another Grade 3 stakes victory just two weeks after he conquered the General George. This hearty 6-year-old appears to thrive on activity, as he has maintained career form despite having made 12 starts in less than 8 months. He got a very good trip to win that General George going 7 furlongs, but he shouldn’t be hindered by the cutback in distance here. He did lose as the favorite over this track in the Toboggan, but his connections made a poor tactical decision in rating him that day. Those tactics figure to work out much better this time with more speed signed on. Yet I do prefer the horse who finished ahead of him in that Toboggan. Pete’s Play Call was forced to go to the lead in that spot given the lack of speed in that race. While he got to set some slow fractions, he’s probably a horse who is a little better with a target. He also figures to benefit more than his main rival from the cutback to 6 furlongs. This likable 8-year-old gelding has been in excellent form for Rudy Rodriguez and I think he’s going to work out the right stalking trip in a spot where the speedy Chateau and Happy Farm figure to hook up on the front end. If things really heat up, I suppose Wendell Fong could come running late. However, he still has to prove to me that he can maintain the form he displayed last time given his prior inconsistency. Furthermore, I wonder if this is just a stepping stone to the Carter given his light worktab since his last victory.
RACE 9: HIGHLY MOTIVATED (#3)
Chad Brown holds a very strong hand with two entrants in this Grade 3 Gotham, and I’m not trying to beat his likely favorite Highly Motivated. This horse has shown talent from day one, but really came to hand last fall with that impressive maiden win over the highly-regarded Known Agenda. He followed that performance with another win against stakes company at Keeneland, achieving a career-best 108 TimeformUS Speed Figure. That’s a solid number for a two-year-old, and horses have run back out of that race to validate that speed figure. He’s stretching out in distance off the layoff, but he’s bred to get at least this far. And Chad Brown has strong statistics with horses coming off layoffs of this type in graded stakes on dirt. Highly Motivated also figures to get a favorable setup with the TimeformUS Pace Projector predicting a fast pace. That pace is likely to be set by the Bob Baffert shipper Freedom Fighter. This horse earned an impressive 113 TimeformUS Speed Figure in the San Vicente, as he gamely battled on inside of his heavily favored stablemate Concert Tour. However, he’s stretching out an extra furlong here, and I’m skeptical of his ability to get the mile distance. His dam was a pure sprinter, and his greatest asset does appear to be his speed. I’m more interested in some of the local horses underneath. Capo Kane could have trouble working out the right trip as he’ll have to rate off Freedom Fighter early, but he does figure to appreciate the return to a one-turn mile. And Crowded Trade is an intriguing new face in this field as he moves up in class off an impressive debut victory. While that 99 TimeformUS Speed Figure is a little slower than the top figures of some others, he was hindered by an awkward start that day, and did well to run down the leader with a relentless stretch rally. This colt is bred to stretch out and can get a big piece of this at a square price.