RACE 2: TO A T (#4)
Bella Principessa looks like the one to beat at first glance. She easily defeated a lower-level claiming field two back before backing up that number with a solid third against allowance company last time. She held her form first off the claim for Bob Klesaris after exiting the Rudy Rodriguez barn. That said, she was riding a very strong rail on Jan. 23, which may have enhanced her performance. She obviously handles the distance, but she still has some questions to answer at this level racing over a fair track. There are a couple of intriguing new faces on this circuit. Both Bourbon Rebellion and Calescent have shown the talent to compete against this field when racing out of town. I prefer Bourbon Rebellion, who makes her first start off a trainer switch to Carlos Martin. Interestingly, this is her first start on Lasix. She’s run well on dirt before and has a recency edge over Calescent. That rival makes her first start for Rob Atras, who doesn’t have great numbers coming off layoffs. They’re both worth including, but I went in a different direction. My top pick is To A T. She appeared to regress sharply in her first start on this circuit last time, but she had some things working against her. She got off to a poor start and then found herself trying to close from last while racing wide over a track that was extremely rail-biased. She’s obviously better than that effort, and showed that just one month earlier at Gulfstream Park. While she was competing for Saffie Joseph back then, she did run a series of competitive speed figures against comparable company. I worry a little about the pace in a race that doesn’t feature much early speed, but she is still a rebound candidate.
RACE 6: BIG CASTLE (#6)
Mister Candy Ride figures to go favored in this spot as he drops down in claiming price in his second start since being acquired by Linda Rice. His first start for this barn was fairly underwhelming, as he never got involved as the seemingly stronger half of the 9-5 favored entry. He looked like a decent claim for $50k following a strong runner-up effort at Churchill Downs last November, but that race doesn’t look as strong in retrospect. The fact that he’s now dropping for half of the claiming price is not a good sign, though Rice does have strong statistics with this move. The more troubling thing to me is that Rice’s horses have not been running well at this meet, generally underperforming relative to expectations. I want to go in a different direction, and there are two viable alternatives. One of those is Make It In Ny, who moves back down into the claiming ranks after trying NY-bred allowance company last time. He may have just found 9 furlongs too far for him, and this seems like a more appropriate spot. I’m not against him, but I’m more intrigued by big Castle at a better price. This horse made his first start off a trainer switch to Horacio DePaz last time, and never really had a chance given his trip. The track on Jan. 16 strongly favored horses getting inside trips and Big Castle was wide every step of the way. He paid the price for that ground loss, finishing far back, but I think he has a right to rebound in his return to a fair track. He had shown promise previously when breaking his maiden going this distance at Belmont last September.
RACE 7: EPONA’S DREAM (#6)
Both Mashnee Girl and Cazilda Fortytales move up in class off visually impressive victories in which they earned superior speed figures. However, I’m highly skeptical that either one of them will be able to reproduce that form. Both were riding strong track biases that enhanced their performances. That’s especially true of Mashnee Girl, who defeated the heavily favored Shalimar Gardens while racing on the best part of the track before the other riders had figured out that the rail was such an edge. That 110 TimeformUS Speed Figure towers over this field, but I expect her to regress significantly if the track is fair. Cazilda Fortytales didn’t run quite as fast in her last victory, but also rode a gold rail and is a question mark going this mile distance. I want horses who are proven at this level and distance. One of those is Ifihadachance. While she lost both prior attempts for this N2X condition last fall, she figures to appreciate stretching back out to a mile here. She seemed to improve with added ground for Rob Falcone when claimed by these connections last summer, and is a win candidate in her return from the layoff. I’m also interested in runners exiting the Jan. 20 race at this level. That was another day that featured a rail bias, and neither Frost Me nor Epona’s Dream spent much time inside. Frost Me probably got the better trip since she was stalking a slow apce that held together. Yet I was most impressed by the performance of Epona’s Dream. She was wide every step of the way, racing against the track, yet still made a strong late push to just miss. That wasn’t the strongest field for the level, but I don’t think this one is as tough as it might seem at first glance. Aside from a perplexing poor effort two back, Epona’s Dream has been on an upward trajectory while racing on dirt, and I think she’s found a suitable spot to break through with another win.