RACE 3: COOL LAOBAN (#3)
Midnight Worker is probably the horse to beat as he gets back on turf in this allowance optional claimer. His lone prior grass start came against stakes foes in the Grade 3 Futurity, and he acquitted himself well, running on mildly for fourth. That form was flattered when Slipstream returned to run decently in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, though some others have not come back to run as well out of that race. He makes plenty of sense, but there are others to consider at better prices. Pure Panic has a right to do better after a perplexingly poor performance in the Atlantic Beach last time. He did stumble at the start, but that was a speed-dominated race in which a couple of notable players didn’t show up. I won’t be surprised if he rebounds here. Yet I want to go in a different direction with the New York-bred Cool Laoban. This horse clearly needed a start in his debut when he chased the pace and faded. He was more professional next time out when he kindly rated off the pace and ran down a solid field going this distance. I don’t care about the dirt experiment last time, and now he’s getting back on the right surface. He could also get somewhat ignored due to the recent trainer switch to Chris Englehart, whose horses tend to not get bet that strongly on the turf.
RACE 6: BIG BEAN CHRISTINE (#6)
Candy Light is probably the horse to beat off a near miss in her debut at Laurel. It’s unclear how strong that field was, but she did close nicely to get up for second, as it’s not like that race was completely falling apart at the end. However, she’s almost certainly meeting a better field here, and she’s going to be favored off that appealing running line with Jose Ortiz climbing aboard. Martini’s Amica actually might have run a better turf race in her last start despite finishing fourth. That Aqueduct maiden event looked like a pretty strong affair and this filly put in a nice late run in a speed-dominated race. She won’t be anything near that 76-1 she was last time, but she just makes a ton of sense off that last performance. That said, I want to go for a bigger price with a first time turfer. Big Bean Christine is a New York-bred facing open company here, but it’s not as if this is the toughest maiden event you’ll see at this level. She also comes out of what might be a pretty strong state-bred affair when she debuted here on Nov. 12. She showed some decent early speed that day but was also chasing towards the inside on a day when you didn’t want to be on the rail. She’s bred to excel on turf as a daughter of 15% turf sprint sire Point of Entry out of dam who has produced turf graded stakes winner Hangover Kid. She’ll be a square price due to the connections, but I think she might have the ability to contend here if she shows the expected improvement with the surface switch.
RACE 7: STEAM ENGINE (#1)
Gold Panda is the horse to beat as he takes another crack at this N2X allowance condition for New York-breds. However, it is somewhat troubling that he lost as the 1-2 favorite last time in a 5-horse field that looked like his race to lose. I know his connections have said that he wasn’t comfortable racing on the lead, but that seems like a poor excuse considering that he got away with slow early fractions. Apparently the plan is to take him off the pace here, and they will probably have to do so with other speed in the field. He was very good over the summer at Saratoga, but I have some doubts about whether he can get back to that form at a short price. I still prefer him to Big Bobby, who was second best to this horse two back and wasn’t that impressive despite winning against inferior company last time. While there are a few speeds signed on, I’m skeptical that this pace will be that fast. Gold Panda is expected to rate, and I can’t imagine that the connections of Winners Laugh will be that aggressive off the layoff. That could leave Steam Engine in a controlling position. This gelding is naturally quickest of the group anyway, and he showed that he still has some run in his legs two back at Monmouth. He regressed at this level last time at Belmont, but that may have been a stronger race than the speed figures indicate. I like the claim by Linda Rice, and now he’s getting back to Aqueduct where he’s run some of his best races. He could get somewhat ignored in the face of a few lightly raced rivals but he’s as good as anyone in this field on his best day.