RACE 1: PLEASE THE PHAROAH (#5)
North Carolina and Conquer the World figure to vie for favoritism here after finishing second and third, respectively, in a similar race at this level last month at Belmont. The main difference is that they’re now stretching out an extra furlong, and perhaps that will work in the favor of Conquer the World. This son of Curlin is bred to run all day and did seem to be staying on well at the end of that Oct. 24 affair. However, he got a great pocket trip that day and still couldn’t capitalize. North Carolina figures to control the pace once again after leading until the final strides last time. I suppose the distance is more of a question for him, but he’s always trained like a good horse and just seems to finally be putting it all together. Chad Brown has a pair of entrants, but I’m not thrilled with either one. Balthus was a major disappointment on debut, though I suppose he can do better with experience. And I’ve just never thought much of Conglomerate, who has rarely been competitive despite earning some decent speed figures. I want to go in a different direction with a bigger price. Please the Pharoah finished behind both favorites last time out, but he had a right to need that race coming off the layoff. He was towards the back early in a race dominated near the front end, and he had to wait for room in upper stretch. This long-striding son of American Pharoah seems like one that will relish every bit of added ground he can get, and I think we have yet to see the best he has to offer.
RACE 3: TROUBLESHOOTER (#8)
Nicky the Vest is the headline attraction in this New York-bred optional claimer. We only saw him twice last winter, but he was impressive on both occasions. He beat a good field of maidens to win his debut with authority, and then walloped a field of overmatched stakes rivals in the Gander. He was competing on a day that featured a rail bias last time, but he wasn’t right on the rail until the stretch, stalking in the two-path for most of his trip. He’s a legitimate talent, but it’s obviously a concern that he was forced to miss so much time. Jonathan Thomas is just 1 for 12 (8%, $0.74 ROI) off layoffs of 6 months or more on dirt over the past 5 years. That said, this colt has been working well and looks ready to deliver a solid effort. The problem is that he needs to improve to beat this field, as a few have already run faster speed figures. His main rival appears to be Thorny Tale, who has been a revelation under the conditioning of Jamie Ness at Parx this year. This gelding had shown ability early in his career, but went badly off form for a few local trainers. Yet he was claimed for $12,500 by Ness in January and has looked like a stakes-caliber runner ever since. If he brings his Parx form to Aqueduct, he’ll be formidable. Ness has just one victory in the past 5 years at NYRA, but his horses have run better here in the last year than the stats indicate. I’d certainly be scared of this one. Since I don’t trust either favorite, I want to find some alternative, and the best one that I can come up with is Troubleshooter. This massive gelding by Into Mischief has always hinted at having ability but it’s taken him a long time to put it together in the afternoon. He showed some signs of life at Saratoga two back, but he really woke up last time at Belmont. He traveled strongly throughout and burst clear of the pack late to win by a convincing 3 lengths. He was 21-1 that day, but it’s not as if he’s going to be that short a price coming back against tougher company here. He’s clearly heading in the right direction, and should get an honest pace ahead of him.
RACE 7: VALMONT (#8)
The TimeformUS Pace Projector isn’t predicting a situation favoring any particular running style in this New York-bred optional claimer, but I don’t see that much speed signed on. Freewheeler is depicted as the early leader on the Pace Projector, but I have some doubts about him getting to the front off the layoff, especially given the way he lost his early speed in his last couple of appearances. I think Valmont is going to the front here, and I believe he’s a major threat to lead this field from gate to wire. Some will be deterred by the presence of Jalon Samuel, but he rode this horse very well to a minor award at this level two back. Valmont encountered some traffic last time at Monmouth, so I don’t want to be too hard on him for that loss. Furthermore, impressive winner High Light Room might be faster than any rival he meets in today’s race. I don’t think he’s the best horse in this race, but I can envision him working out a favorable setup and there are some others in here at much short prices that I just don’t trust. Shiraz is always some kind of factor in these races, but he’s never been the most reliable win candidate and his recent form is fairly spotty. I suppose some might consider Dancing Buck the horse to beat off his runner-up finish at this level last time. However, I thought he got a great trip that day, allowed to dole out fairly slow fractions up front before yielding to Call Me Harry in the stretch. Perhaps turning back to 6 furlongs will work out for him, but I don’t think he has any significant edge over this field. My bomb to use underneath is Steelersfanforlife. This horse did not get the right trip off the layoff last time and can do better, though 6 furlongs may be a little sharp for him.