RACE 4: STEAM ENGINE (#4)
Bears Mafia figures to attract some support as he attempts to win his 8th race in his last 9 career starts, and his only loss during that time was when he got pulled up on the turn at Aqueduct in November. He’s clearly in the best form of his career for trainer Jeffrey Englehart, and he showed that he had maintained that condition from last year when he rebounded with a victory off the layoff last time. My concern is that he got a very good trip in that race, allowed to set a moderate pace. Now he finds himself in a spot where he has to deal with a very fast horse posted to his outside, and I’m concerned that Pablo Morales won’t be quite as aggressive. Three horses exit a Mar. 20 race at this level, which was won by Dark Money. He arguably got the best trip of that trio, as he was rated off a very fast pace and got a clear run through the lane. He’s in great form and can obviously win with a repeat of that performance, but I prefer others from that race. Bronx Bomber is the one who encountered obvious trouble, as he acted up at the start and was off very slowly. However, breaking slowly might have been to his benefit given the swift fractions. He ultimately got a great ride from Trevor McCarthy, but still ran well for third. If he can run as well with a clean break he’s a contender, but I’m worried he’ll revert to his old speedy running style here and get outrun to the lead. I prefer Steam Engine from that race. He’s the aforementioned pace rival to Bears Mafia who may just prove quicker than that foe. Steam Engine is very fast in the early stages of his races and should be clearly in front if he breaks cleanly under Irad Ortiz. He set a wicked pace last time and did well to hold on until the last sixteenth. His TimeformUS Speed Figure, adjusted for pace, was a 113 – which is clearly highest in this field. This time I think he’ll be rated along on the front a bit better, and I expect him to take these all the way. He also handles a wet track and there is rain in the forecast.
RACE 5: LEGIT (#6)
The 8-year-old Malibu Pro has been in great form for much of the past year, and he exits one of his best recent efforts in that More To Tell starter stakes last time. He was racing first off the claim for Rudy Rodriguez that day and showed improved early speed before just getting run down by the venerable Control Group. A repeat of that performance would make him awfully tough, and he’s arguably getting some class relief as he’s back in for a tag. Some might view it as a negative that he drops below the price for which he was claimed two back, but he’s probably just being spotted to win. Rudy’s other runner was no match for his uncoupled stablemate in the More To Tell last time, but he had fared much better in his prior start at this level on Feb. 21. That performance was achieved over a wet track, and it does appear that he has a slight preference for that going, which he could get on Friday. He lacks the consistency of Malibu Pro, but the fact that there’s no scary drop in class is a good sign. He also figures to be a much more palatable price than the favorite given the presence of Irad Ortiz on Malibu Pro. I’m using both but I prefer another rival. Legit recently had to drop down to the $20k claiming level to collect his first victory since May 2018. To his credit, he did run well within the context of that race, as he closed willingly from last-to-first in a race that featured an extremely slow pace. He was defeated by today’s rival Malibu Pro when they faced off in a similar spot back in December, so this horse will have to move forward to turn the tables. However, now he goes out for Linda Rice, who is 22 for 58 (38%, $2.31 ROI) first off the claim in dirt routes at Aqueduct over 5 years. Furthermore she’s 7 for 26 (27%, $2.26 ROI) with first off the claim with last-out winners in dirt routes. Legit is supposed to get a bit more pace to close into than last time with horses like Ajnadeen and American Lincoln signed on, and he’ll be a square price.
RACE 6: RUDE AWAKING (#2)
New Year’s Wish is the enigma in this race. She’s clearly superior to this field based on prior form, but it’s hard to know how to assess her off the long layoff. She was entered and scratched in a series of tougher spots (notably in small fields with another Rice entrant) before ultimately landing here. Notably, her form declined last season, and she also had real issues getting out of the gate in those appearances, often dwelling badly at the start. Linda Rice is 15 for 84 (18%, $1.53 ROI) off layoffs of 180 days or more over 5 years. It’s perhaps a good sign that Jose Ortiz takes the mount, but I still can’t trust her at a relatively short price. I prefer some alternatives. One of those is Lady by Choice. She’s been badly overmatched in her last two starts, as she never had much hope of getting close to the classy Letmetakethiscall. The last time she raced for a $20k tag she wound up in the winner’s circle paying $82. She won’t be such a massive price this time, but she is getting back to the right class level. She also may catch a wet track, which she typically relishes. I’m using her prominently, but my top pick is Rude Awaking. This 4-year-old’s recent form has been remarkably consistent for a filly who changed hands from the powerful Linda Rice stable to low-profile trainer Richard Metivier for just $10k. She was defeated by today’s rival Lady By Choice at this level on Dec. 31, but seemed to improve in her return from a brief layoff in March. She held well to be second behind the superior Malibu Mischief two back, and then put in another game try against some very tough rivals in that Videogenic starter stakes. She’s now getting needed class relief, and has the tactical speed to be prominent throughout in a paceless affair. The TimeformUS Pace Projector shows her contesting the lead in a situation favoring front-runners, and she figures to be a square price.