RACE 3: MADAM MEENA (#4)
Letmetakethiscall has to be considered the horse to beat in this starter stakes affair after competing in some tougher optional claiming races during the winter. She had won three in a row coming into her last race, but can excuse her for not producing her top effort that day against some tough male competition. She’s now back with her own gender, and will be pretty tough for this field to handle if able to reproduce her early winter form. She is undefeated at today’s distance and is drawn perfectly outside the other speed, allowing her to work out her preferred stalking trip. I’m hardly against her, but I do think she faces a serious rival. Madam Mena returns to the NYRA circuit for a second try at Letmetakethiscall after losing to that rival on Jan. 18. Since then she’s been in career form out of town, collecting blowout victories at Parx and Laurel. She was particularly impressive last time, as she soundly defeated Victim of Love, who was returning from a layoff following a third-place finish in the Grade 1 Ballerina last summer. Like the favorite, she’s as comfortable racing on the lead as she is stalking, so it could be a rider’s race. I have a feeling the margin between the two favorites will be narrower this time, and this filly will get the jump on her main rival.
RACE 7: MALIBU PRO (#2)
Supreme Aura, one of two Rudy Rodriguez runners in this field, earned one of the highest last-out TimeformUS Speed Figures in this field last time when just missing by a narrow margin in a $32k claimer. That was a relatively strong race for the level and he did well to battle on to the wire after making an early move to the lead at the quarter pole. He appears to be rounding back into form after a hiatus last year and has a good stalking style for a race that doesn’t feature an abundance of early speed; However, I prefer Rudy’s other entrant. Malibu Pro experienced a nice little renaissance in 2020, and looks to continue that momentum into the new year. This one class 8-year-old’s first couple of starts of 2021 were somewhat lackluster, but he was facing some tough competition in those spots. He did well to close on Jan. 15, a day when the track was speed-favoring, and then just met two tougher rivals last time. He’s getting a bit of class relief here and competing at his favorite distance. And most significantly, he makes his first start for Rudy Rodriguez, who is 37 for 106 (35%, $2.46 ROI) first off the claim in dirt routes over the past 5 years. I prefer him to Dark Storm, who seems like the strongest candidate among the non-Rodriguez trained runners. He put in a solid effort to win going this distance two back, but disappointed last time against tougher when riding a gold rail. He’s a player here if able to rebound.
RACE 9: VILLAINOUS (#2)
Musical Heart is clearly the horse to beat as he drops in class to contest this starter stakes event. He was beaten by the classy New York-bred Mr. Buff in his last two starts and doesn’t face any rivals on that level in this spot. However, he still needs to show up with a strong performance and prove that he can produce a top effort going this demanding 1 3/8 miles distance. It is perhaps countintuitive to trust a son of Maclean’s Music to get a marathon distance, but Musical Heart has been very successful around two turns in the past, even dominating a 10-furlong allowance race at Gulfstream last year. He figures to show speed from the rail and try to take them all the way. There are some other runners in this field who come into this off speed figures that make them competitive with the favorite, but I have my doubts about their chances. Doubly Blessed is sure to attract support as he seeks his fourth win in a row. He ran a fast race going a mile last time, but that victory was aided by a rail bias of which he took advantage. I have doubts about this replicating that form over this trip. Air Attack also exits a fast victory, but he, too, rode a rail bias to that 114 TimeformUS Speed Figure on March 12. He has prior form that suggests added distance will be to his liking, but I’m skeptical that he can repeat his last race on a fair track off the claim for a new barn. I want to get a little more creative. I’m interested in Villainous on the stretch-out. He’s never run well enough to suggest that he’s the equal of a horse like Musical Heart, but I do believe the added distance will work to this advantage. He’s always given the impression that he wants to run all day and he’s never had the opportunity o race beyond 1 1/8 miles. His recent form leaves something to be desire, bu now he’s making his first start off the claim for David Duggan, who is 5 for 19 (26%, $3.77 ROI) first off the claim on dirt over the past 5 years. Furthermore, the TimeformUS Pace Projector is predicting that this race will feature a fast pace to set up his late run.