RACE 5: MICROSCOPE (#8)
Regal Quality will be tough for this field to handle if he repeats 112 TimeformUS Speed Figure that he earned last time. He worked out a good trip that day but beat a pretty nice horse in Daddy Knows, who returned to win his next start with a similar number. Regal Quality is just in great form right now for Rudy Rodriguez, and it doesn’t appear that 9F is a major issue for him given the way he ran two back. You just have to accept a shorter price this time on a horse with 14 career second-place finishes who is now trying to win two in a row. Rudy’s other runner Prioritize is also logical on the class drop, if a little less trustworthy. He looked like a claim that might work out at the time, since he had an excuse on Dec. 31. However, he failed to step forward last time, and is now immediately plummeting in class. There are some red flags, but he handles the distance and has plenty of races that will put him in the winner’s circle. An enigma in this field is Blewitt. He’s always dangerous when he makes the lead going 9 furlongs. However, it’s unclear if he’s fast enough to outrun Striking Speed to the lead. He also ran his two best recent races for the Rob Atras barn, and he significantly regressed first off the claim for John Toscano last time. I want to go in a different direction with Microscope. This gelding has been popular at the claim box recently, and he’s actually held his form pretty well from a speed figure standpoint. He’s been beaten by a couple of rivals that he meets again here, but I like the stretch-out to 1 1/8 miles, and the addition of blinkers could signal that he’ll make better use of his tactical speed. Pat Quick is 4 for 24 (17%, $2.39 ROI) first off the claim over the past 5 years. It’s not like he’s exiting particularly live barns, so I think there is potential for some improvement.
RACE 6: TIERGAN (#9)
Two of the main players are both exiting fast victories at this level. Yankee Division won two consecutive races when in for the $45k tag in December and January, whereas Daddy Knows won for the optional claiming tag at this level two weeks ago and now is protected. Between the two, I prefer Yankee Division, who makes his first start off the claim for Rob Atras. However, I would keep an eye on the weather Sunday morning, as this horse doesn’t appreciate any moisture in the ground and there is a bit of rain predicted. If the track is dry by late afternoon, he figures to be tough to run down. His recent speed figures are strong and he’s drawn well inside of his main pace rival Daddy Knows. That fellow 6-year-old should appreciate the slight stretch-out to one-mile after winning at 7 furlongs last time. He goes first off the claim for Jeffrey Englehart, whose barn has had a strong last month. However, this is a much tougher spot than the field he encountered at this level recently. I’m going slightly against both of these with Tiergan. His last couple of efforts have been poor, but I like him turning back to the one-turn mile. He’s also had excuses in his last couple of starts. He was wide against a speed and rail bias on Dec. 31, and then last time he didn’t appear to take to a sloppy track that some horses just failed to handle. The drop in class is a meaningful one, and I think his recent form is slightly better on fast going. Furthermore, he’s getting a rider upgrade to Manny Franco and could be a square price given other options with stronger recent results.
RACE 7: SHARP STARR (#1)
I’ll be interested to see how the public approaches the wagering in this compact field. Maiden Beauty could attract support off her pair of victories to close out her 2021 campaign. She ran well to win on Dec. 19 when holding off today’s rival Battle Bling, and then produced a career-best performance to win the Bay Ridge. However, she did have a speed bias aiding her in that last victory. Her prior form makes her a player here, but I don’t think she has any significant edge over this field. Between the likely favorites, I give the slight advantage to Bank Sting. She possesses a more versatile running style, and should be content to stalk Maiden Beauty early. She had to work surprisingly hard to win as the 1-5 favorite last time, but she was outside against a rail bias. Her prior form at distances up to a mile is excellent, but she is stepping up to meet a tougher field. My top pick is Sharp Starr. She can be a little hit or miss, but she’s certainly good enough to beat this field when she shows up with a top effort. She got a great pace setup when she won the Empire Distaff last year, and then was simply no match for a tougher field in the Go For Wand after that. She was soundly defeated by Maiden Beauty last time, but I thought Sharp Starr was somewhat against the track. She was wrangled back early and raced off the strong rail throughout. She’s been in solid form and could sit the right trip in behind the two aforementioned rivals.