RACE 7: SOUTHERN DISTRICT (#3)
Chad Brown has a pair of runners in this race, of which Winter Pool is likely to attract more support. This 5-year-old gelding was in great form over the summer at Saratoga when facing starter allowance company before losing twice at relatively short odds in his last two starts at this level. However, he may not have appreciated the shorter one-mile distance in those races. He was against a slow pace two back at Keeneland, and then last time he just always seemed to be rushed along over the one-turn trip. Stretching back out to 9 furlongs should be key for him and he seems like a major player. However, I’m more interested in Chad Brown’s other runner at what could be a better price. Southern District tried dirt twice last year after beginning his career on the turf. He was a visually impressive winner of a maiden event at Churchill Downs before running deceptively well against winners on July 15. That Saratoga allowance event featured a very slow pace for the distance and Southern District was never in a comfortable position taking kickback while racing in mid-pack throughout. I have no idea why Chad Brown wanted to go back to turf after those solid efforts, but this son of Union Rags predictably wanted no part of the grass. Now he’s back to the right surface and is facing a field that he should be able to handle. The wild card in this lineup is No Burn, who was an impressive winner of a starter allowance event last time. However, I’m skeptical about the stretch-out, and he has to deal with the early speed of Top Gun Tommy. Waxman seems more dangerous as he stretches out off a maiden win, but Todd Pletcher has merely mediocre statistics with horses like this.
RACE 8: BARESE (#5)
G Munning looks like a deserving favorite off his gritty debut victory. He was aggressively ridden to make the lead that day and showed some real determination to battle back for the victory after Bold Journey challenged him in the stretch. That rival returned to win his next start with a 102 TimeformUS Speed Figure, flattering the form of that Nov. 19 race. If he moves forward off his career debut he’s going to be tough for this group to handle. That said, he could have to work harder to make the lead here given the presence of speedy rivals like Unique Unions and Agility to his outside. I’ll be interested to see if his connections are as aggressive once again or if they try to rate him this time. He’s obviously the one to beat, but I feel like he’s going to be a very short price in this spot. Both of those fellow pace rivals have a shot to win. However, I think Unique Unions is stepping up to face a tougher field this time, though he did set a fast pace before fading. Agility has shown potential in his two starts against maidens, and he’s drawn well outside of the other speed. I’d use all of them in some capacity, but I’m most interested in Barese returning from the layoff. This Mike Maker trainee was well-bet when he won his debut back in May and he delivered. He got a little outrun in the early stages, but I liked the way he leveled off through the stretch to get up at the wire. He’s missed a lot of time since then, but he’s worked fast for his return and Mike Maker actually has decent statistics coming off layoffs on the dirt. He should sit a great trip sitting just off those three speeds.
RACE 9: HOT STEPPER (#10)
Eminency will be very tough to beat if he builds on his first race. He was pretty chilly on the tote board that day but he delivered a solid performance, running on well through the stretch to get up for second. That seemed like a strong race for the level, and it was flattered when third place finisher Impressionist returned to win with a dominant performance. The fifth-place Bossmakinbossmoves also came back to win with an improved performance. Rudy Rodriguez is a decent 20 for 106 (19%, $1.61 ROI) with maiden second time starters in dirt sprints over 5 years. The only negative is the presence of a rider who hasn’t had much success at this meet, which is a concern given the short price. Some of the other lightly raced runners have a chance to improve, including Bert Bert Bert, but they would really need to step forward to beat the favorite. I’m most interested in Hot Stepper as the alternative. This gelding’s first couple of runs don’t look like anything noteworthy, but he was very green in both races. He actually did some real running at the very end of that Dec. 10 affair, finishing fastest of all once Jose Ortiz realized he actually had some horse underneath him. They took a shot in the $500k stakes last time and he outran his 96-1 odds to finish fourth. He did get a fast pace to close into, but he still was running on best of all late. The 7-furlong clearly works for him, and he has a right to step forward again now that he’s figuring this out. He’s a half-brother to 17-time winner Broadway Bay, who had the same running style. He can be a late threat at a price.