RACE 1: BIG LITTLE RISK (#2)
It’s hard to get too enthusiastic about the chances of either short price, Brew Pub or Damilano. The former will probably go favored despite his 0-for-19 career record. Brew Pub has run faster than his competition today in his recent starts and has done so against tougher maiden special weight fields. However, he’s shown competitive character flaws that are common among horses who have settled for minor awards as often as he. That propensity to defer to rivals was on display on Sep. 24 when he seemingly had the race won, looming up outside at the quarter pole, before refusing to go past the winner. Damilano hasn’t run quite as fast as Brew Pub, nor has he had as many chances. He didn’t get the most comfortable trip in his return from the layoff last time. He was off a bit slowly and had to alter course briefly in upper stretch. Ultimately he was second best to the winner, but he has a right to move forward. If either one loses it’s likely to come at the hand of a speedy rival who can shake away from this field. I believe that might be Big Little Risk. At first glance he looks inferior to the two favorites, but there are some reasons to forgive his recent dirt losses. He set a very fast pace in his first start off the claim going a mile two back, and actually did well to hang on for fourth. Prior to that he was hampered by a poor start at Saratoga. He ran his career-best dirt race over this course last year, and Heman Harkie figures to be aggressive from the start.
RACE 4: WHAT’S MY CATEGORY (#7)
Alfie Solomons is a wild card as he returns from the layoff for Wesley Ward. I wouldn’t be too concerned about the placement in this $25k claimer since he’s not eligible to be claimed, his connections exercising their right to waive the claiming tag due to the layoff. This is arguably his preferred surface as he’s run two of his best speed figures sprinting on conventional dirt. However, I am concerned about the layoff. Wesley Ward is just 4 for 38 (11%, $0.68 ROI) off layoffs of 180 days or more in dirt sprints over the past 5 years. His primary pace rival appears to be Hoopla, and I do prefer him of the likely speeds. He actually ran deceptively well first off the claim for Robert Falcone last time, surviving a very fast pace that ultimately fell apart. He’s won both of his prior starts for a tag, each of them dirt sprints, and he may just be dropping back down to an appropriate level. That said, I am concerned about the potential for another pace collapse. That leads me to my top pick, What’s My Category. This Finger Lakes-based runner definitely has his flaws, but he figures to be a square price here. It took him 18 tries to break his maiden, but he finally did so earlier this fall, and it seems that he’s actually improved since then. That performance two back, in which he wore down heavy favorite Purple Hearted to earn a 94 TimeformUS Speed Figure, gives him a legitimate chance here. I’m not concerned about his return to Aqueduct last time, since he was placed too ambitiously against much tougher claiming foes. This is a more appropriate level, and I also don’t mind the turnback, since he’s been successful sprinting in the past. He seems to have finally settled on his preferred tactical approach, and that closing style fits this race well.
RACE 6: ROCCO STRONG (#5)
I’ll be interested to see how the public bets this race, as all of the potential favorites have their flaws. El Mayor should attract support for the sheer fact that he’s coming off an impressive victory among a field in which all of his rivals were soundly defeated in their most recent outings. However, that victory came for trainer Juan Vazquez on a day where he won with all 4 of his starters at Aqueduct, most of them in dominant fashion with improved performances. I’m skeptical that El Mayor will run back to that effort for Horacio DePaz, and he may have to improve to beat a few rivals here if they show up with their good efforts. Corkman would be formidable were he to produce his best speed figures. He ran one of those two back to break his maiden at Belmont, though he was beating a vastly inferior field. Linda Rice took a shot against starter allowance company off the claim, but he was no match for the competition in an unusually fast race for the level. Now he’s getting back to the right level and seems like a logical player. My top pick is Rocco Strong. This horse ran a race going this distance back on Oct. 17 that would probably put him in the winner’s circle if he were to repeat it here. The problem is that his surrounding performances don’t quite measure up. That said, he has had some excuses in his last couple of starts. He actually had tactical speed in that Nov. 11 affair, but his rider allowed him to lose position in the opening furlongs, and he couldn’t rally into a slow pace. Then last time he steadied in traffic coming out of the chute and then never looked comfortable striding awkwardly over that sloppy track. I like him stretching back out in distance and it’s encouraging that the blinkers also come off. I’m hoping Dylan Davis can give him an aggressive ride, as he seems to do best when he’s forwardly placed.