RACE 1: EASY TO BLESS (#4)
#2 Its Cold in Dehere been in excellent form ever since turning back to sprint distances in her last couple of starts. She really came to hand in Kentucky last year, but was briefly derailed in her first start off the claim for Linda Rice going a demanding 1 1/8 miles in the Ladies. However, she’s been back to her old self in her last two runs, checking in second in some tougher optional claiming events. The two horses who beat her in those races – Glass Ceiling and Hey Mamaluke – have each returned to win stakes in their subsequent starts. The only major knock against Its Cold in Dehere is that she’s somewhat pace dependent given her closing style, and there isn’t that much speed in here. Her two main rivals are the other two dropping out of the optional claiming ranks. #5 Shesalittle Edgy made one start for Mertkan Kantarmaci off the claim, and appeared to reverse her declining form, showing improved early speed. Her recent numbers are a cut below those of favorite Its Cold in Dehere. That said, she’s now going out for Gustavo Rodriguez, who is 6 for 14 (43%, $4.98 ROI) first off the claim. I slightly prefer #4 Easy to Bless, who could be the best price of this trio. She had been entered in the Correction Stakes a couple of weeks ago before it was cancelled due to weather. She instead comes back in this spot looking to get back on track after a disappointing performance when last seen. She was far more effective in her victory two back when she won by 7 lengths over a sloppy track. She was aided by an outside trip on a day when the rail was dead, so I don’t necessarily expect her to repeat it. Yet her prior efforts are all solid as she typically puts in competitive performances. She has the tactical speed to get the right trip and may go off at a square price with the underrated Jackie Davis riding.
RACE 8: GIOCARE (#7)
#5 Blewitt could go off as the slight favorite as he seeks his fourth victory in his last 5 starts. While he’s done very well over this Aqueduct surface, he’s never raced farther than 9 furlongs, and now he’s being asked to stretch all the way out to 1 3/8 miles. He got great setups when he won twice against cheap claimers to close out his 2021 campaign. He improved on those efforts last time in his second start off the claim for John Toscano, showing a new dimension as he came from just off the pace. He’s dangerous in his current form, but there is plenty of other speed to deal with this time so I’m somewhat skeptical given his expected price. #1A Original Intent is a little more appealing since he has at least proven that he can handle the distance. He’s actually experienced going much farther than this. The major concern for him is current form. However, I don’t want to be too hard on him for finishing off the board in his two races so far this year. He was going too short two back, and last time he was meeting a much classier field of stakes-quality horses. He’s well spotted and should get plenty of pace to close into. Some may give a look to last year’s winner of this race, #4 Air Attack, but I find him difficult to endorse in his current form. I’m more interested in #3 Battalion from the same $40k claimer that one exits. Battalion has handled this distance on turf in the past and may appreciate the stretch-out on dirt. Yet I’m going in a different direction. My top pick is #7 Giocare. He hasn’t run quite as fast as some others in here, but I think he could really appreciate this stretch-out in distance. He finishes off his races like one that should relish added ground. He’s also run well in all three of his starts over this surface, his only recent poor effort coming when he was shipped to Parx last time. He’s by Curlin out of a half-sister to Afleet Alex, so there’s stamina all over his pedigree. He should get plenty of pace ahead of him with so much speed signed on. He also may not be that short a price despite going out for Rudy Rodriguez, given the presence of low-profile rider Luis Rodriguez Castro.
RACE 9: PRINCE JAMES (#1)
This Caixa Eletronica is among the most competitive races of the day. #2 Zoomer and #3 Answer In should vie for favoritism as both come in off strong performances at the optional claiming level. Zoomer arguably has the better recent form as he seeks his third victory in a row. He got a great setup when he won last time, as a runoff leader laid down some fast fractions up front. He’s been successful at a variety of distances throughout his career, so the slight turnback to 7 furlongs shouldn’t be a major issue. I prefer him to Answer In, who finished a solid second against N3X company last time. He appeared to be in position to win that race, but just hung in the late stages. He received a flashy speed figure for the performance, but some horses out of that race haven’t duplicated that figure in subsequent starts. #5 Repo Rocksmight appeal to some as an alternative as he drops out of graded stakes company. However, he wasn’t facing particularly stiff competition in those races, and his tendency to break slowly has been an issue in each of his last couple of starts. My top pick is #1 Prince James. This horse faced some cheaper company earlier in the winter, but he was moved up in class first off the claim for Rob Atras and handled the step up in company quite well. He was the first to make a move into some pretty quick fractions and took over in the stretch before getting run down by the classy New York-bred Amundson. He figures to work out a better trip here sitting in behind the three speeds drawn to his outside. He also should appreciate the stretch-out to 7 furlongs, since he’s been more successful over slightly longer distances in the past. The other horse that I would use prominently is #4 More Graytful. His victory two back is a little dressed up due to a speed bias, but I thought he ran well three back behind Zoomer and Answer In. And last time he was unwisely rated on a day when speed and the rail seemed to have an advantage. He’s a rebound candidate from the front end.