RACE 1: ALPHA BABE (#1)
Tekila is probably the horse to beat as she tries this one-mile distance again after fading in a similar spot last time. Perhaps the wet track was the excuse for her poor effort last time, as she also didn’t handle wet going in her debut. That performance back on Jan. 23 would make her tough for these to handle, and that race was flattered when Hyrbid Eclipse and Maracuja returned to win, both improving their speed figures. Though, note that Mark Hennig is just 1 for 34 (3%, $0.29 ROI) with blinker additions on maidens over the past 5 years. She’s a deserving favorite, but I fear she may be an underlay given a lack of obvious alternatives. Main rival Bravo Regina is nothing if not consistent, having hit the board in 8 of 9 stars on the dirt. She’s checked in third in both attempts at this level at Aqueduct this winter, beating Tekila last time. She’s more reliable to get the distance than that foe, but she’s not exactly a filly who figures to move forward in her 11th career start. I want to look in a different direction. My top pick is second time starter Alpha Babe. This filly’s debut at Gulfstream last year was lackluster, especially considering that she was bet down to 7-2. However, she was running on mildly at the end in a race that has proven to be stronger than it appeared at the time. Furthermore, she’s bred to route so she had a right to need that start sprinting. She’s by 16% dirt route sire Malibu Moon out of a Tiznow dam is a half-sister to Grade 1 CCA Oaks winner Funny Moon. Now she returns in a fairly weak race with the blinkers and Lasix added. She’s a wild card in his field, but a very intriguing one given the lack of appealing options.
RACE 3: OK HONEY (#6)
Madera is obviously the horse to beat as she makes her second start off the claim for Rudy Rodriguez following a winning performance at the N2L level. A repeat of that effort would make her pretty tough for these foes to handle. However, it is important to note that she benefited from a rail bias in achieving that victory. Her prior efforts are solid if unspectacular, and she will have to deal with the early speed of Tuff Bird inside. On the positive side, Rudy Rodriguez is 7 for 24 (29%, $2.29 ROI) second off the claim with last-out winners in dirt sprints at Aqueduct. She’s a contender, but one that may be vulnerable at a very short price. The other filly who figures to take money in this spot is Stunning Munnings, and she makes some sense, having already proven that she belongs at this level. However, she doesn’t win that often and her speed figures are trending in the wrong direction. My top pick is Ok Honey. This 5-year-old mare rarely wins, but she’s also spent much of her career racing in spots hat are too tough for her. Her recent form looks like a mixed bag at first glance, but she’s run better than it appears on a number of occasions. She performed better than it seems on Dec. 19 when wide against a rail bias. She was then was on a dead rail on Dec. 31, and hindered by a slow pace two back. She made her first start off the claim for Greg DiPrima last time and showed subtle improvement, staying on well after racing 4-wide against a rail bias. Now she’s getting needed class relief is turning back to a distance she’s handled before. I’ll use her over the logical runners, as well as fellow class dropper Pendolino.
RACE 5: VICTORY BUILT (#7)
The two potential favorites in this spot $40k claimer are both dropping in class off poor performances and returning from layoffs. Beaver Creek is the one coming back from the shorter break, have just raced in early January. He didn’t put in a particularly competitive effort that day, just lagging at the back of the pack throughout. Yet this lightly-raced son of Speightstown had run much better in his two prior starts, including a third-place finish over this surface in December. However, he was a vet scratch since then, and the lack of early speed that he’s displayed in his two races for Linda Rice raises some questions about the trip he requires to be successful in this spot. The TimeformUS Pace Projector is predicting a situation favoring runners on or near the lead. I do prefer him to the other potential short price, Giant Shoes. This gelding never really panned out last year after a promising debut victory. Now he’s dropping in class off the layoff while making his first start with blinkers and as a new gelding. There are just too many variables for me to take a short price on him. I was tempted to go back to Farragut, who drops in class out of a series of failed attempts at the N1X allowance level, but his sprint races don’t inspire much confidence, and his form appears to be heading in the wrong direction. My top pick is Victory Built. He is moving up in class for this, but his form is heading in the right direction. He arguably ran the best race last time after getting held up for a long way while tentatively ridden on the turn before rallying late on the outside over a track that was favoring rail runners. Since then he’s been claimed by Antonio Arriaga, who is 10 for 43 (23%, $3.00 ROI) first off the claim on dirt at NYRA over the past 5 years. This is a positive rider switch to Trevor McCarthy and the addition of blinkers could signal that he’s likely to display more early speed this time.