RACE 1: RIA’S ANGEL (#3)
#2 Colloquy is obviously the horse to beat off his runner-up finish at this level last time, in which he earned a field-best 92 TimeformUS Speed Figure. The slight stretch-out in distance appeared to work for this son of Flatter, who was more engaged early than he had been in his career debut. I thought he hung in the late stages last time after appearing to have dead aim at the winner, but his rider Dylan Davis did drop the whip in upper stretch. Colloquy may be too tough for this field to handle if he takes another step forward, but he’s going to be an awfully short price and there are some others in this field with upside. #1 Curlin’s Wisdom could go off as the second choice after rallying for third going a mile in the slop last time. I thought he ran better than the result might indicate that day, as the race was dominated towards the front end, and he overcame poor early position. He’s caught three wet tracks in a row and may finally get back on a fast surface here. He’s also switching into the Linda Rice barn, though I’m not sure that’s a negative given the recent cold streak for that stable. My top pick is #3 Ria’s Angel. He’s made two of his four starts against maiden claimers, but has run some fast races. He was arguably best in his career debut when he blew the start and made a wide run over a rail-biased surface. He didn’t fare as well in maiden special weight company after that, but he was facing some pretty strong rivals in those spots. Distance is obviously the major question mark, but progeny of Upstart win a strong 18% of their dirt route attempts. It also feels like this horse might have been claimed by Horacio De Paz with the stretch-out in mind. He certainly is a determined finisher, so I’m optimistic that he can handle the step up in trip.
RACE 5: SANCTUARY CITY (#3)
If #2 Soldier Rising is ready to fire off the bench, he is clearly the most likely winner. However, he’s still searching for his first victory in the U.S. and this is a pretty salty optional claiming field. This gelding did run well in all of his starts in this country last year. He got great trips in the Saratoga and Jockey Club Derbies but wasn’t as fortunate in the Hill Prince when he got no pace ahead of him and was forced to make a wide run. He closed out his campaign with a career-best effort against older horses in the G2 Red Smith, flying late to just miss. With routine improvement as a 4-year-old, this could be the stepping stone to graded stakes success. However, Christophe Clement is a mediocre 13 for 80 (16%, $1.40 ROI) off 120-240 day layoffs in turf routes at NYRA over the past 5 years. This horse also lacks any early speed and there’s not that much pace signed on in this 10-furlong affair. #3 Sanctuary City finished behind Soldier Rising when they met in the Red Smith last year, but the three-turn, 11-furlong trip of that race was probably too demanding for this James Ferraro trainee. He was also trying to rally inside that day when it seemed like the best running was being down out in the center of the course. This horse rarely takes much money despite the fact that he’s earned a strong set of speed figures over the past year. I like that he got a prep under his belt at Aqueduct so he figures to be fit for this stretch-out to 1 1/4 miles over his favorite track. He probably isn’t as naturally talented as Soldier Rising, but the expected disparity in price between the two makes Sanctuary City more appealing. I considered some others like #1A Box N Score, though his last victory may have been enhanced by yielding ground. #9 Slicked Back can also improve, but he wasn’t quite as good as Soldier Rising last year.
RACE 9: STREET FIGHT (#2)
I suppose #10 Devil’s Outlaw will attract plenty of support in this finale as he returns from a layoff and makes his first start for the Chad Brown barn. This will also mark his turf debut, as all of his prior starts came over all-weather going in Ireland. While he did run well in a few of those overseas starts, he appears to be a horse that has quite a bit of hang in him. He got winning trips in a few of those races and just seemed all too willing to let rivals pass him in the lane. He’s bred to be a good one, as a half-brother to Brown’s Grade 1 turf winner Competitionofideas. However, there are some younger rivals with upside in this field, so I don’t want to just default to these connections at a short price. I have similar feelings about #1 Urban Forest, who is among the most experienced members of this field. His turf races have been pretty good, but he’s never run a particularly fast speed figure. I do like the turnback in distance for him, but it’s not as if he was meeting particularly tough fields when he ran well at Aqueduct last fall. There are a couple of runner from lower profile barns that I find more intriguing. One of those is #9 Smoke and Heat, who makes his turf debut for Tony Dutrow. This horse has plenty of pedigree to handle the surface being by Street Boss out of a turf-winning dam who has also produced a turf winner by Tonalist. This horse ran on well in his dirt sprint debut, but was striding out like a horse that should have no problem transferring his form to turf. My top pick is another son of Street Boss. #2 Street Fight made two starts on grass last year, and I thought he ran pretty well each time. He was facing a decent field when he made his turf debut last summer at Saratoga, and he stayed on well after contesting the pace. He subsequently finished third by over 6 lengths in his only other turf start at Monmouth. However, that was an unusually strong field for that venue. Winner Unanimous Consent is now a stakes winner and still undefeated in 3 starts, while runner-up There Are No Words returned to break his maiden by over 10 lengths. This horse is on the smaller side, and will probably appreciate the slight turnback to 7 furlongs. He also goes out for a barn that hasn’t yet started any runners this year, so he figures to fly under the radar.