RACE 2: MR FANTASY (#6)
Texas Basin is probably the horse to beat as he returns to the NYRA circuit following a trio of decent efforts at Laurel. He closed fairly well against stakes company in the James F. Lewis, and most recently was compromised by a slow pace when trying to make up ground going a mile in a race dominated by front-runners. George Weaver is probably making the right call to turn him back in distance, and the slight drop in class should also help. He’s a deserving favorite, but he’s also had plenty of chances in a race where others appear to possess upside. Writer’s Regret would be a serious foe for the favorite if able to recapture the form he displayed when he broke his maiden two back. He earned a solid 97 TimeformUS Speed Figure that day in a front-running score. However, he was unable to make the lead last time at this level and benefited from riding a gold rail behind the eventual winner en route to his second-place finish. I prefer another speed type on top. Mr Fantasy showed speed and faded in his debut, but had a right to tire that day after contesting a fast pace in a race won by a deep closer. He clearly improved second time out, as he again displayed excellent gate speed but coupled that with enhanced staying power, kicking away from his rivals in the stretch. He’s drawn the outside post position here, but he seems quicker than his other pace rivals in this spot and I think that he can clear to the front under an aggressive Trevor McCarthy. Furthermore, Kelly Breen is an excellent 11 for 29 (38%, $3.88 ROI) with last-out maiden winners in dirt sprints over the past 5 years.
RACE 7: COLD HARD CASH (#5)
Rudy Rodriguez has entered a pair of runners in this intriguing N2X optional claiming event for New York-breds. Daddy Knows and Wudda U Think Now figure to vie for favoritism, and they could also vie for supremacy in the early stages on the racetrack. Both of these contenders possess early speed, and Rudy Rodriguez was quoted as saying that he wants Trevor McCarthy to be more aggressive with the sometimes tractable Wudda U Think Now in this spot. That could be an issue for Daddy Knows, who seems like a horse who wants to be forwardly placed and free-running. In terms of raw talent, I prefer Daddy Knows, who has significantly improved under Rodriguez’s care this winter, producing an impressive claiming win last time before holding his own against open allowance foes. However, Daddy Knows did display a concerning tendency to drift out in that last start, which gives me cause for pause this time. It seems like this race could feature a pretty quick pace, as in addition to the aforementioned pair, Not That Brady and Danebury also possess early speed. I’m hoping that will set things up for Cold Hard Cash to run them all down. This Linda Rice trainee will be stepping up to this level for the first time, but he’s run well against some solid rivals at the N1X level in recent starts. He just barely lost the talented Six Percent at Belmont last fall, earning a competitive speed figure. He tailed off a bit after that, but I thought he had a somewhat uncomfortable trip on Dec. 10, and he didn’t seem to handle the slop on Jan. 3 when wired by today’s rival Microscope. Cold Hard Cash appears to have now come back around as his last performance earned a strong 111 TimeformUS Speed Figure.
RACE 8: PERFECT MUNNINGS (#3)
The unfortunate scratch of Eagle Orb makes this a slightly easier spot, as the focus now shifts to some recent maiden winners. Excellent Timing is probably the horse to beat as he returns from a brief freshening and makes his first start off a trainer switch to Chad Brown following a private purchase. This son of Not This Time was strongly bet in his debut and ran well to lead the field into the last furlong before tiring. He put in a stronger effort as the heavy favorite in his second start, earning a flashy 106 TimeformUS Speed Figure. A repeat of that number will make him very tough for this group to handle, but he will have to deal with some other speed to his outside, particularly from Reggae Music Man and The King Cheek. Chad Brown is a very strong 7 for 16 (44%, $3.39 ROI) first off a trainer switch in dirt sprints over the past 5 years. He’s the horse to beat, and I prefer him to the other recent maiden winner likely to take money. A Longlongtimeago ran very well in his debut, getting up to defeat a longshot while rallying from just off the pace. However, the race came up a little slower, and he went out for a trainer who has great statistics with first time starters yet doesn’t do quite as well when those horses run back second time out. I’m veering in a different direction, as my top pick is Perfect Munnings. This horse ran well to win the Rego Park Stakes two back in his dirt debut, rallying gamely from a stalking position. This is arguably a tougher spot than that, but I think he could be somewhat underrated here based on his last effort. While he was beaten a dozen lengths by Nicky the Vest, this colt was two- to three-wide the entire way on Feb. 14 when the rail was a significant advantage. All things considered, he stayed on well for third and was the only horse running on at the end. I don’t mind the turnback and think we’ll see a better effort out of him.