RACE 4: HARDLY WORKING (#7)
I’m not exactly against favorite #9 Tamburro’s Sox, though I do try to pick against horses like this in general. He’s had his chances at this level and has settled for minor awards in each of his last few starts. Yet I do want to give him credit for showing subtle improvement in each of his starts this winter. I actually though he ran well last time despite fading to lose by nearly 5 lengths. The pace was fast and he battled gamely with a well meant first time starter into deep stretch. He’s drawn well to the outside this time and will win if others fail to step forward. However, there are some rivals with upside. Some will give a shot to #2 Street Culture, but I’m skeptical of this 4-year-old. He was gunned out of the gate last time in his return for Linda Rice, but ended up setting a pretty slow pace before backing up. He’s getting class relief, but I question his overall ability. I briefly considered #8 How You Feeling, but I’m not a fan of the race he exits. I ultimately decided that if I was going to take a second time starter, I’d rather it be #7 Hardly Working at a better price. This colt was off to a tangled start in his debut, getting affected by a runner to his inside who lost the rider. He then briefly raced in contention before fading. He’s been given some time since then and now returns with blinkers added. Rudy Rodriguez is 10 for 34 (29%, $2.58 ROI) with second time starters adding blinkers in maiden claiming races on the dirt over the past 5 years.
RACE 7: EPONA’S DREAM (#3)
I didn’t pick her on top, but I do think #5 Wasp is an intriguing runner in this NY-bred optional claimer. It feels like her last race was just a prep going 6 furlongs, which is too short for her. She was also 4-wide on a day when you were probably better off being placed inside. She’s capable of better than that result, but she’s still Wasp. What I mean by that is she’s disappointed at short prices many times in her career, and has never really lived up to the hype surrounding her. She’s playable at the right price, but I’m not eager to land on her. Three of the main contenders in this race exit a Feb. 18 event at this same level. #7 Khali Magic achieved the best result that day, checking in third after making the first move into a strong pace. She may have run the best race of all, and is just in great form right now. I’m not against her, but I do prefer #3 Epona’s Dream from that affair. She had to wait for running room at a critical juncture on the far turn, subtly losing momentum to the eventual winner when waiting in behind horses. She never really picked up until the final sixteenth but was finishing at the end. This filly rarely puts top efforts back-to-back, and has an up-and-down pattern to her form. While there isn’t a ton of speed signed on, the presence of sprinter Quality Stones and the aggressive Jackie Davis on Shadolamo could help this pace to come apart. That would benefit Epona’s Dream, and I do believe she’s capable of an effort that will beat this field. Some may also consider #1 Ifihadachance. She didn’t run that badly off the layoff last time, flattening out late after contesting the pace inside. I do wonder if she can get back to her best form from last year, as she was somewhat opportunistic when she achieved her best results. Yet she’s hardly out of this and could be a decent price.
RACE 8: TACO BEAN (#2)
A repeat of the 109 TimeformUS Speed Figure that #6 Saint Selby earned last June will obviously make him awfully tough for this field to handle. However, this gelding has many questions to answer as he returns from a lengthy layoff. That flashy speed figure seems pretty legitimate as horses behind Saint Selby came back to validate the number. However, he did get a great trip, riding a strong rail most of the way. He can regress and still beat this group, but one has to wonder if he’ll return as the same horse. Rob Atras is 2 for 21 (10%, $0.51 ROI) off layoffs of 180 days or more on dirt over the past 5 years. Plus, there’s other speed for him to deal with this time. A few horses exit a Feb. 13 race at this level, and I’m not particularly fond of any of them. #3 Storm Shooter was possibly too close to the rail when more aggressively ridden second off the layoff. However, he faded badly that day and has never been the easiest horse to trust. He also has a tendency to get overbet as a MyRacehorse runner. #4 Big Brown Shoes is a little more appealing. Though he got a better trip last time, I thought he showed that he’s rounding back into form. He actually ran deceptively well in his prior race on this circuit back on Dec. 18, and he’s capable of coming from just off the pace. I see a ton of speed signed on here and few closers from which to choose. This feels like a race that could produce a wacky result, so I’m going to get a little creative. My top pick is #2 Taco Bean. This horse never gets any respect on the tote board, but he’s actually been earning speed figures that are on par with all of the contenders, save Saint Selby. He’s clearly in career form right now for Pat Kelly, and I’m encouraged that he’s adapted his running style to come from just off the pace in his last couple of starts. He didn’t finish that far behind a couple of runners who would be strong contenders in this spot when he last ran on Feb. 26. And he figures to be a generous price again with Mike Luzzi riding, despite the fact that he’s ridden this gelding well.