RACE 5: ROCK SUGAR (#6)
#2 Cousteau has gone favored in each of his 7 starts, yet he owns just a single victory to date. The horse has some talent, but he’s been an underachiever throughout his career. That trait was on display last time when he was unable to capitalize on a perfect setup, setting a slow pace before getting run down in the stretch. It’s not clear that he really wants to go a mile, so I’m reluctant to take a short price on him even as he drops in class second off the claim for Linda Rice. Some may look to #1 Emperor’s Cause as an alternative, but I’m a little skeptical. While he’s making his first start off the claim for the dangerous Rob Atras barn, his form prior to dropping in for the tag was pretty spotty. He ran reasonably well last time but did so against a weaker field than this, and now he’s catching some legitimate rivals who are dropping out of tougher spots. I’d be more interested in the others exiting starter allowance events. Blu Grotto and Rock Sugar return out of the same Feb. 26 race, in which both were soundly defeated. I find it more difficult to trust #5 Blu Grotto, who lacks early speed and has been totally unreliable as of late. His best effort is surely good enough to win here, but he has completely failed to show up in two of his last three starts. I’m more intrigued by #6 Rock Sugar. He did have things working in his favor when he broke his maiden two back, as he may have been on the best part of the track. His first start off the claim for William Morey was undoubtedly a disappointment, but he appeared to get discouraged right from the start when racing out of position. He got shuffled all the way back to last at the quarter pole before staying on mildly. I think he’s better than that, and he projects to be in a more favorable position stalking a moderate pace this time.
RACE 6: BIG AL’S GAL (#2)
I’ll be interested to see how the public approaches this wide open $12,500 claiming affair. #3 Magnetique could vie for favoritism despite coming off a couple of poor efforts. She makes her first start off the claim for William Morey after she was unable to hold her form for the previous barn. Morey doesn’t have fantastic stats with new acquisitions, but this mare will be dangerous if he can get her back to some semblance of her prior form. My major concern with her is the distance, since she’s generally been better over route trips during her career. #4 Sirenic is another wild card contender. She hasn’t been seen since blowing a massive lead at this level last summer at Saratoga. She lost as the 3-5 favorite that day, and had a claim voided by the vet before going to the sidelines. The good news is that she’s taking advantage of the claiming waiver off the layoff and has plenty of back races that would make her formidable here. I think she’s a win candidate, but I wouldn’t want to take her at too short a price. This race figures to feature some pace as both #5 Guns Blazing and #6 Quality Stones possess plenty of early speed. They hooked up at this level on Feb. 21, which set things up for closing winner Shasta Star. I’m hoping a similar scenario could play out here because I’m most interested in #2 Big Al’s Galfrom off the pace. It’s not a great sign that she’s dropping in for a claiming price than is half what her connections paid for her three back. However, she just hasn’t really panned out against tougher company and is probably finding a realistic spot here. She didn’t run as badly as it seems two back when trying to rally inside, and she was racing on a dead rail on Dec. 19. She does have a tendency to break slowly, but that might not be such a bad thing with some speed in this field. And I don’t mind the rider switch to Jackie Davis, who can boot home a longshot.
RACE 8: WE READY (#6)
This Pat Reynolds entry figures to take plenty of money with live riders named on both halves. #1 Motion to Strike is the one with prior form, and many will probably take note of the fact that he ran two of his best speed figures over wet tracks on a day that is supposed to feature plenty of rain. However, I’m a little skeptical of his performance two back when he was racing on the best part of the track. The winner also rode the rail that day and he returned to significantly regress in his next start. Motion to Strike will appreciate dropping back down to the $20k level, but I still think he’s vulnerable at a short price. And I’m not sure what to expect from the first time starter #1A Nicholas James. This son of Liaison is a half-brother to some decent runners, including 14-time winner Cold Hearted Pearl. Given the bullet workouts showing, I’d imagine that he’ll also garner some support. I want to look in a different direction. The alternative that some may gravitate towards is #10 Lord Gatling, but I have serious reservations about this Turfway shipper. This is strictly a turf pedigree, as all of this dam’s foals have excelled on grass. Furthermore, watching his Turfway replays, it’s apparent that this gelding is tiny in stature. His foes just appear to tower over him in his races, and I’m skeptical that he possesses the physical strength to finish off a dirt race. My top pick is #6 We Ready. I know this 4-year-old has had more chances than many others in this field. However, I think he’s finally getting back into a realistic spot. I never understood why his connections were intent on stretching him out to a mile this winter. He’s always been better sprinting, and now he’s back at an appropriate distance. Furthermore, he’s had a few excuses, as he chased a fast pace three back, and was extremely wide going 7 furlongs two back. The Wayne Potts barn has been winning at a terrifying rate lately, so improvement could be forthcoming.