RACE 5: GUSSY MAC (#10)
#8 Future Victory is clearly the horse to beat as he drops in for a tag for the first time since breaking his maiden as a 3-year-old. He had gotten some poor trips up here last summer, and was off for a long time following the 2021 Spa meet. Yet he returned in much better form this spring, and has recently just missed in a couple of N1X allowance races at Monmouth. While his form is strong, he has shown a bad habit of getting far too rank in the early stages of his races. Pletcher now removes the blinkers in hopes of curing that bad habit. He’s a deserving favorite, but he could get overbet with Irad aboard and I don’t fully trust him to work out a trip. I’m not particularly fond of anyone who had been competing at this level at Belmont, so I want to look in another direction for an alternative. #10 Gussy Mac figures to get somewhat overlooked here as he ships in for Niall Saville. This horse had been in strong form towards the end of last season, finishing third behind Never Surprised in the Gio Ponti. Since then he really hasn’t been in too many ideal spots. Dirt is the wrong surface, and he wanted no part of 1 1/2 miles over a field course at Great Meadow. He actually didn’t run that badly against a tougher field of N1X rivals two back, and earned a speed figure that makes him highly competitive here. I didn’t think he got the best ride at Delaware last time, and am hoping that effort inflates his price as Javier Castellano takes over.
RACE 8: SASSY MELISSA (#6)
I’m not trying to beat morning line favorite #6 Sassy Melissa, who just looks like a perfect fit for this spot. She had run well up here last summer against weaker when significantly improving on her prior form at Belmont. Since then she’s really taken another step forward since moving into Jeremiah Englehart’s barn. She signaled improvement racing on synthetic at Gulfstream, and then carried that over to New York on turf. She was a commanding winner over today’s rival Palace Gossip two back. And then last time she probably should have won, but was bumped and steadied out of position at the start. All things considered, she made a strong run from last to just miss. A repeat of that performance will make her awfully tough to beat, and she’s supposed to get a fair pace up front. That pace could be set by #1 Makin My Move, who is a threat to wire this field. I think she’s much better on turf, as she ran a big race in the Matron last year and seemed to improve getting back on this surface last time. She did benefit from a favorable pace scenario that day, but she’s supposed to appreciate this cutback to 5 1/2 furlongs where she can make full use of her ample speed. #3 Kokopelli is a little intriguing as she returns from a lengthy layoff. However, I thought she got great trips in both prior victories and was somewhat exposed last time. She needs to improve a bit.
RACE 9: DOLCE ZEL (#5)
Chad Brown holds a strong hand in this Lake George, sending out the two likely favorites. #6 Eminent Victor merits respect as she makes her second start off the layoff. She was ready to fire in her return last time, gamely fending off another Brown stablemate to win the Wild Applause. However, she did get a very good setup that day, with another Brown runner doing the dirty work on the front end, softening up Breeze Easy, who may have been best. Eminent Victor showed promise as a 2-year-old and still has plenty of upside in just her fourth career start. My top pick is the other Brown filly #5 Dolce Zel. I thought she got a very good trip when she made her U.S. debut in the Florida Oaks, but she’s shown subtle improvement since then. I can’t fault her for losing to Spendarella, who might be the best U.S.-based 3-year-old turf filly, in the Appalachian. And then last time she just didn’t get the right trip in the Edgewood. She was saving ground early, but the rail was not the place to be on the Churchill turf course on Derby weekend. The race was falling apart towards the inside, and she lost momentum waiting for room before getting through too late. And even then she stuck to the rail trying to rally while all the running was done outside. Stablemate McKulick exited that race to win the Belmont Oaks, and I think Dolce Zel can also take a step forward. The bigger price that I would try to get in there somewhere is #3 Al Qahira. She’s only coming off a maiden win and is a little light on speed figures. Yet she has the tactical speed to work out a good trip and was a convincing winner at Churchill last time. I think she has a step forward in here, so she’s one I want to use at a square price.