RACE 1: LABARDE (#2)
Fromanothamutha was developing nicely before his connections swung for the fences in the Remsen. He didn’t handle the step up in trip and company that day, and faded through the stretch. Yet now he’s cutting back to a more appropriate distance while facing maidens again. Ray Handal has been quoted as saying that he’s looking to use this race as a stepping stone to the Gotham, so a victory is expected. He certainly has the credentials, as he exits a very strong maiden affair on Oct. 21, out of which the first, third, and fourth place finishers have all since won with 100+ TimeformUS Speed Figures. The favorite will be tough to beat, but I am interested in one alternative. Labarde’s overall form looks inferior, but I wouldn’t put too much stock in his last race. He got squeezed back to last at the start and then was heavily restrained while extremely rank at the back of the pack. He was passing some tired runners through the lane even after that eventful journey but was never in contention after the disastrous start. He’s better than that and possesses much more early speed, which he displayed early in his career. I don’t love his Saratoga form from the summer, but that was during a time when the Saffie Joseph barn was going through a pronounced cold spell. He must break better this time with the blinkers staying on, but I believe this horse is better than the speed figures indicate.
RACE 5: CUPIDS GIRL (#7)
Glitter Up took a big step forward with the switch to turf last time, which shouldn’t come as a major surprise given her pedigree. She’s a half-sister to multiple turf winners Sand Dancer ($311k) and Shock Leader ($220k), though some other siblings handled both surfaces. She met a pretty good rival in Radio Days in the dirt debut, and seemed more professional overall second time out, showing speed before getting caught at the wire. I just don’t see the value in taking this horse at a relatively short price off turf form. The one switching surfaces who I prefer is Champagne Poetry. She took some notable action on the tote board in her debut to get bet all the way down to 5-2. She was a step slow into stride and then raced in traffic heading into the far turn before getting spun very wide approaching the quarter pole. She finished well all things considered, and the switch to dirt shouldn’t bother her at all. Carpe Diem is a versatile sire, and it’s mostly dirt pedigree on the dam’s side, as the dam is a half-sister to G2 Peter Pan winner Madefromlucky. She makes plenty of sense, but my top pick is another second time starter. Cupids Girl put in an encouraging effort on debut here in late November. She broke very slowly but quickly got herself back into the race on the backstretch. She advanced willingly while following rivals on the far turn, and briefly had to wait for room in upper stretch before switching outside. This filly finished gamely once she got into the clear, displaying some ability despite losing by over 11 lengths. That was a strong field for the level, headed by impressive debut winner Send for Me. She probably isn’t facing a rival that talented this time, and she certainly has room for improvement.
RACE 7: ROYAL TRYST (#7)
Blu Grotto may go favored here off his runner-up finish to No Burn at this level last month. However, I’m somewhat concerned about the stretch-out to 9 furlongs for this horse. He’s really come to hand as a one-run closer and those types generally do best in one-turn races. He got a nice trip from Jose Ortiz last time but just ran out of ground chasing home the winner late. He’s obviously a player, but he may get overbet with that career-best speed figure staring handicappers in the face. I’m not concerned about the distance for Giocare, who stretches back out off the Rudy Rodriguez claim. This barn does well in these situations, and it’s also notable that this horse has been claimed back by Mike Repole for $10k more than he lost him for two back. Yet I’m most interested in the pair sent out by Linda Rice. Mister Candy Ride and Royal Trust exit the same claiming race at Churchill in which the latter got the upper hand in the late stages, the two having drawn well clear of the rest of the field. The race got a strong 109 TimeformUS Speed Figure, though it should be noted that both of these runners got good trips sitting well behind an early pace duel. Mister Candy Ride has the better overall form, but I’m more confident in Royal Tryst handling this demanding 1 1/8 miles distance. This colt has always been cut out to relish longer trips as a half-brother to accomplished stayers War Story and Land Over Sea. He also ran better than it appears in a couple of dirt starts prior to that last-out victory. Furthermore, Linda Rice is 22 for 62 (35%, $2.10 ROI) first off the claim in dirt routes at Aqueduct over the past 5 years.