RACE 5: HOME RUN MAKER (#10)
Square Shooter has to be considered the horse to beat off a couple of quality runner-up finishes in his last two starts, one of which was earned at this level. He was no match for the talented war horse Always Sunshine last time, as that one got to walk along on the front end, but he stayed on well for second. This gelding has the versatility to stalk or close from well of the pace, which he may have to do here with so much speed signed on. Others possess more overall class, but he’s the in-form horse in a race where so many rivals appear to be heading in the wrong direction. Among those whose form appears to be falling apart are Happy Farm and Copper Town. The former is perhaps more likely to rebound as he makes his first start off a trainer switch to Rob Atras, but this horse is still difficult to trust as an ex-Jason Servis trainee. Copper Town once would have dominated a field like this, but he’s been on a downward trajectory ever since that excellent runner-up performance to C Z Rocket last year. I prefer others. A logical alternative is T Loves a Fight. It’s been a long time since this likable 7-year-old gelding has tasted victory, having lost 17 straight races dating back to Oct. 2019. However, most of those starts have come against tougher company, and he’s finally getting some realistic class relief. He probably didn’t have his best chance last time when he was one of three horses to break open the starting gate prior to the start. His form has been pretty spotty over the past few months. However this barn has really been heating up lately, going 8 for 18 (44%, $3.68 ROI) in dirt races over the past 30 days. He also should finally get some pace to close into. I’m using him, but my top pick is Home Run Maker at what should be a generous price. Like some others, this horse needs quite the form reversal to have a say in the outcome here, as he faded badly when last seen in February. Yet that performance was too bad to be true, so something had to have gone wrong that day. He had some excuses for his prior starts, and now he makes his first start off the claim for Natalia Lynch, a former assistant to Jeremiah Englehart. That’s significant since Jeremiah Englehart had this horse for much of his career. The new connections are showing a great deal of confidence by moving up in class off the claim, and this horse is reportedly training well for his return.
RACE 7: STAGE LEFT (#1)
There are some things to like about possible favorite Fort Worth, who is cutting back in distance as he returns from the layoff. Even though he broke his maiden going a mile, this horse is probably better off sprinting, so I won’t hold that loss going a mile last time against him. He was game to win two back after racing in tight quarters. He figures to be dangerous from a stalking position under Irad Ortiz. Scilly Cay is another New York-bred to consider in this open N1X allowance after he graduated out of his last state-bred condition last time. He ran well to win against a salty field, but he also got a great trip, stalking a very slow pace in a race that essentially turned into a quarter-mile sprint to the wire. I’m using him, but I prefer another. Stage Left makes his return from a layoff for Wesley Ward, who has decent statistics with this move among his older horses. He consistently ran well last year, winning a couple of starts on this circuit. While he lost both of his attempts at this N1X level, he got a very wide trip at Saratoga on Aug. 1 and then again found himself taking the overland route at Keeneland in the fall while no match for the talented Silver State. I think he’s capable of breaking through at this level with the right trip, and this time he figures to be forwardly placed from the rail under John Velazquez. He appears to be working forwardly for his return, and he’s run well off layoffs in the past.
RACE 8: KLICKITAT (#5)
I suppose Good Old Boy could go favored as he returns to New York-bred company after facing open rivals during the winter at Gulfstream. However, this is not the kind of horse that I would recommend betting at any kind of short price. He’s already a candidate to be overbet with Irad Ortiz aboard, and I felt that he was facing some weaker fields when he competed in New York last year. I didn’t see him do much running against starter allowance foes last time, and I’m just not convinced he’s good enough to win at this N2X level. I strongly prefer his main rival Klickitat, who returns from a layoff and gets back to his preferred surface. They took a shot on dirt last time to see what he might do over the winter, and the experiment failed. However, his prior tur form was pretty strong. He improved a great deal through the fall, defeating Good Old Boy on Sep. 5 before running a career-best race to just miss in a photo with the talented Graded On a Curve in October. He lost at the open N1X level thereafter when skipping a condition, but he even ran better than it looks in that spot. He was much too close to a fast pace and actually did best of the horses involved in that pace despite his rider overcommitting to the rail path. As long as he returns in decent fitness, I think he’s going to be tough for this field to handle. I could also use a runner like Step Dancer, but I think it remains to be seen how good this 3-year-old actually is. He clearly relished the boggy going when he won the Awad last year and his surrounding performances aren’t nearly as good. At a big price, I’m actually somewhat intrigued by El Hermano getting back on turf. His recent form since returning from a layoff is abysmal, but he was eased last time and might appreciate getting back on the surface over which he once broke his maiden. There isn’t much speed signed on here and he figures to be leading them early under dangerous front-running rider Jose Lezcano.