There aren’t too many reliable options in this NY-bred optional claimer, as every horse in this field is either coming off a layoff or making some kind of surface switch.
#4 Valmont makes a certain amount of sense as one of the layoff runners with turf form. He won over this course and distance to close out his 2021 campaign, beating state-bred $25k claimers with a solid speed figure. However, he got an absolutely perfect trip that day. He had always been a cut below the best at this N2X level prior to that, so I’m hesitant to take him at a short price.
Christophe Clement has a pair of entrants in this spot. #3 Panster is sure to attract more support as he returns from a layoff after winning at the N1X level last December. He’s earned some decent speed figures on the turf and has proven that he handles this distance. However, he got a great setup when he won last time and figures to get bet down with the hot-riding Javier Castellano retaining the assignment.
I’m actually far more interested in Clement’s other runner #9 SWASHBUCKLE. This 4-year-old’s form is a little spotty, but do note that he’s run his best race when fresh – in his career debut and when he came back off a similar layoff last spring. He was a notoriously difficult horse to handle and ride early in his career, so I’m intrigued that he now returns as a new gelding. He ran pretty well at this level when last seen in November against a tougher field than Panster faced. He just needs some pace to develop, which could happen with #10 Bustin Shout in the mix. I like that Bruce Levine trainee switching back to turf, but he’s not the easiest horse to trust given his inconsistent winter form. I considered both, but assumed Swashbuckle would be the much better price given the presence of Jose Ortiz on Bustin Shout.
WIN: #9 Swashbuckle, at 7-2 or greater