RACE 2: ZOIKES (#7)
This intriguing maiden special weight event for fillies features a slew of 3-year-olds with upside. Yet the horse to beat is arguably the 4-year-old Phipps homebred Harlem Heights. This half-sister to Point of Entry took to the turf last fall after disappointing at short prices in a few dirt races during the summer. She finished well in her initial start on this surface going this same 9-furlong distance. Yet she also got a favorable pace setup that day. That was not the case last time when she chased a quicker pace going 1 3/8 miles, which may be pushing her beyond her limit from a stamina perspective. She makes sense, but others seem more likely to move forward. Miss Bonnie T could be a threat to wire this field as she returns after just missing in a maiden event here last December. She made a bold move on the far turn to open up on the field before getting cut down late. I’m certainly using her, and she could go off at a decent price given the presence of two Chad Brown fillies. Gabby Squared makes some sense for that barn, but I feel she may get overbet based on some slight trouble at Gulfstream last time in a race where she otherwise had a good trip. I prefer Zoikes, who returns from a layoff after making one start last year at Keeneland. She was off very slowly that day and lagged at the back of the pack early before making a mild late run into third. She must do better to beat this field, but I think she’s likely to take a step forward. Chad Brown is an excellent 11 for 34 (32%, $2.98 ROI) with maidens returning from 150 to 300 day layoffs in turf routes over 5 years. She was a slightly built horse last year, and it seems like she’s grown up over the winter based on her recent works. She’s bred to appreciate added ground as a daughter of Dubawi out of a Group 1-placed dam who produced a European Group 3 winner at 10 furlongs.
RACE 3: CENTAVO (#2)
Romp figures to go favored here as he makes his first start against winners following a blowout 9-length victory against maiden claimers at Gulfstream. While he won geared down at the end, he was hard-ridden all the way around the far turn to get engaged and Jose Ortiz was even driving him aggressively into the lane before he put away that field. He’s definitely a grinder that requires some pedaling, so he figures to drop back and make one run once again. At a short price, I’m most concerned about the cutback in distance. He strikes me as one that would want to go farther than a mile, yet now he’s cutting back to 7 furlongs. I’m using him, but there are certainly other options to consider. The problem with most of the alternatives is that they possess early speed, and the Pace Projector is predicting a fast pace. American Gentleman could attract some support, but he rode a gold rail last time and is one of many who wants to be near the front here. Blu Grotto ran well to break his maiden last time before fading at this level last time. I prefer a different horse out of that race. Centavo closed to be second behind Civil War, who was getting significant class relief in that spot. While Centavo was never a threat to that winner, I thought he finished well up the inside, and looked comfortable racing through traffic in a field that was well-bunched on the turn. His versatile running style appeals to me in this race, and it seems that he’s really stepped forward in his last couple of starts. As long as he can get a similar trip this time, he’s a threat to win at a square price.
RACE 7: MALIBU STAR (#3)
The New York-bred Yankee Division is in career form right now, and has to be considered the horse to beat based on his last two efforts. It must be noted that he benefited from track biases on each of those occasions, as both Feb. 13 and Mar. 14 featured gold rails. Riding those biases probably inflated his speed figures a bit, but he still ran quite well in both of those races. The turnback to a mile is supposed to help him, and he’s drawn well outside of the other speeds. He’s the one to catch, and perhaps the best horse anyway. Main rival Arham looked like he might be a future star in that debut at Gulfstream last December. He stalked the pace before unleashing a strong stretch kick, winning off by 7 lengths as the 3-5 favorite. He was again heavily supported at the windows in his second start, but actually took a step backwards. He hopped at the start and was off behind the field, making a mild bid to get into contention at the quarter pole before getting passed from behind by the runner-up late. He’s probably capable of better than that, but now he’s stepping up to face a tough field, and may need to run the best race of his career. I prefer Malibu Star. This well-bred colt made a splash with his visually impressive maiden win on Dec. 10. However, he failed to come close to that performance on Jan. 23 when never getting involved going 1 1/8 miles. It’s hard to know what happened that day, as he was uncharacteristically sluggish right from the start. Yet he looked like his former self when he returned at the same level on Feb. 21, running a strong second at this one-mile distance. He probably ran better than the result indicates, as he was floated wide on the turn on a day when the rail was an advantage. His inconsistency makes him a little hard to trust, but he’s surely a major player in his spot at his best.