RACE 5: O SHEA CAN U SEE (#4)
Runabout is clearly the horse to beat based on his 2021 form, and he showed in his return on New Year’s Day that he still has some ability left. Competing at this level, he actually ran better than that third-place finish would indicate. He got sandwiched between horses and squeezed back at the start, putting him last in the early going over a speed-favoring track. He then moved up mid-race, but got guided down to the rail for the stretch drive and seemed to get discouraged. I like the turnback to a mile and he’ll be tough to beat with any kind of step forward. I’m against Flowers for Lisa and Playwright. The former rode a speed bias two back, and the latter took advantage of a very weak field last time. Twisted Tom makes a bit more sense since he at least belongs at this level. He was badly overmatched at Parx last time and was compromised by a slow pace two back. I want to go for a bigger price as my top pick. O Shea Can U See hasn’t been competitive in his recent starts, but he’s been facing tougher company at the $16k and $20k levels. He actually ran pretty well in his return from a layoff in November, and then he was compromised by a slow pace two back before catching a speed-favoring track last time. There’s not a ton of early speed signed on, but this race could still come apart if the track is playing how it was on Friday.
RACE 7: SOUTHERN DISTRICT (#7)
Three Jokers will be pretty tough for this field to handle if he repeats his last race when gamely he chased home the talented Core Conviction going this distance. He got a pretty wide trip that day and seemed to appreciate the turnback in distance as he found something a little extra late. He also may have appreciated getting back on Lasix, as his form seemed to dip in his prior starts against stakes company. Three Jokers had run some pretty big races earlier in the year and it seemed like he got back to that form last time. He has the tactical speed to be sitting just off the early leaders and figures to get the jump on main rivals. No Burn is somewhat interesting on the cutback in distance. He obviously wanted no part of a two-turn 1 1/8 miles last time, and he was also involved in a fast pace that day. He ran a big speed figure two back, albeit against weaker company. Yet the Wiliam Morey barn is dangerous and must be respected. I think there’s some speed to go with him on the front end, so I want a closer. Southern District comes out of the same race and may work out the right trip. His connections stubbornly kept running this guy on the wrong surface for more than half of his starts. He has a dirt pedigree, and he’s run his best races on the dirt. If you just isolate those main track performances, he’s posted TimeformUS Speed Figures of 104, 105, and 109, all of which make him a major player in this spot. He was no match for winner Waxman last time, but that horse is a pretty good one. Now he cuts back to a one-turn mile, which could be good for him since he figures to get an honest pace ahead of him. Chad also takes the blinkers off, as he didn’t seem to improve at all when they were added and he got a little too rank with them last time.
RACE 8: UNBRIDLED BOMBER (#6)
Early Voting and Constitutionlawyer, both recent maiden winners over this track, could vie for favoritism in this wide open edition of the Withers. The former won his debut going a one-turn mile for Chad Brown in December. It was a solid effort, but the runner-up was getting to him late and that horse has a little hang to him. Early Voting needs to improve, but he certainly has upside as the most lightly raced member of this field. However, Chad Brown is just 3 for 15 (20%, $1.21 ROI) with second time starters in graded stakes dirt routes over the past 5 years. Constitutionlawyer handled this distance when he broke his maiden last time, but he did so riding a rail and speed bias on Jan. 2. Furthermore, the horse who was second to him that day returned to disappoint as the 1-5 favorite when regressing on Thursday’s card. I want to go in a different direction. Among the recent maiden winners, of which there are a few, I’m most interested in Grantham. This horse was workmanlike in victory over the Tapeta surface at Turfway last time. Yet I liked his debut at Churchill, in which he stayed on to be second in a deceptively strong race. He strikes me as one that will have no issues with added distance. I’m also not against Courvoisier, the Jerome winner. He handled this distance two back, and survived a fast pace to win last time while racing off the inside. He makes plenty of sense and is unlikely to be favored here. Yet my top pick is a different horse exiting the Jerome. Unbridled Bomber did get pace to close into in that spot, but he was outside, well off the rail, for the first half of the race before angling inside on the turn. He was moving up quickly approaching the quarter pole, but lost momentum when forced to alter course around a tiring Hagler in upper stretch. I think that cost him a placing. He’s slowly but surely been figuring things out, and he strikes me as one that should relish the 1 1/8 miles distance.