RACE 3: CHARGER (#2)
Win for Gold (#1) is obviously the horse to beat as he drops back down in class for the hot Linda Rice barn. He won at this claiming price two back beating N2L foes before stepping up into a starter allowance last time. He didn’t run badly to finish a close fifth, but lacked some late punch through the stretch. My major concern with this horse is that he’s broken slowly in each of his last two starts. It didn’t affect him as much against weaker company, but it may have hindered him last time breaking from the inside, and he’s drawn the rail again. Jake Rocks (#4) is the other horse who could take money here, and he does have a right to improve first off the claim for Rudy Rodriguez. However, I thought we saw the best he had to offer going a mile in the slop two back, when he benefited from a pace that held together. I didn’t love his last race, and he’s never had a great affinity for winning races. I prefer the other Rudy Rodriguez trainee Charger (#2). This horse appears to have regressed in two starts since getting claimed by this barn, but I don’t think either performance is as bad as it seems. A mile was too far for him two back, and then last time he didn’t get the best ride at Parx, driven down to the rail in the stretch when that may not have been the best part of the racetrack. I think he has the opportunity to get more forward position this time with the rider switch to 10-pound apprentice Madison Olver, who has been showing improved form this week.
RACE 7: FAMISHED (#7)
This 9-furlong starter allowance event is one of the more interesting races on the card. Two of the main players, Outlier (#1) and No Salt (#9), faced off in a similar spot at this level back on Nov. 12. No Salt got the better of his rival that day, but Outlier arguably should have been elevated to victory by the stewards after sustaining a bump from No Salt in mid-stretch. They’re both contenders, but they each have a different set of questions to answer. Outlier has competed twice more since then, most recently 8 days ago in the Cigar Mile, where he didn’t actually run that badly. No Salt, on the other hand, comes in fresher, but has to prove that he can still run effective for Mike Miceli, who hadn’t had him for very long prior to the last race and has been in an uncharacteristic slump for the past half year or so. This horse also didn’t draw a great post position. Neither did No Burn (#10), who is another wild card in this field. His post position could be especially detrimental since he’s a runner with early speed. He also comes off an uncharacteristically poor performance and may finally be going off form. I’m interested in some runners who should be bigger prices. Locally Owned (#3)makes sense as he stretches back out to two turns. He didn’t run well going a mile last time behind today’s rivals, but he’s much better over slightly longer trips. The Tom Morley barn seems to be emerging from its fall slump, and this horse has had success for the stable in the past. My top pick is Famished (#7). He’s another who comes in off a poor effort, but I don’t want to be too hard on him for failing to show up in that one-mile event at Laurel. That was a strange race in which multiple horses seemed to underperform, yet a few have already come back to improve in subsequent starts. His prior form was solid, as he held his own against some good rivals two back, and ran well going two turns at Monmouth in June. He also ran a competitive speed figure going this distance last March. I think Horacio De Paz has found a good spot for him to return to NYRA, and Kendrick Carmouche has been riding well.
RACE 8: SAFALOW’S MISSION (#2)
This is a difficult race to decipher, primarily due to the presence of a few intriguing Finger Lakes shippers who could take money. The most intriguing of those is Warriors Revenge (#6), who is seeking to take his 2022 record to 8 for 8 after having a magical run of success at Finger Lakes this season. However, he is stepping up significantly in class and should find some company on the front end as he looks to show speed. Perhaps the most dangerous of the Finger Lakes shippers is The Institute (#4), since he’s switching into the barn of Linda Rice, who has been having a ton of success at Aqueduct in recent weeks. He’s another who has met weaker out of town, but he’s been a dominant winner of his last couple of races. He’s a well-bred horse who may have just finally turned the corner. Yet I instead want to focus on some runners who have positive experience on this circuit. I think the horse to beat is recent maiden winner Today’s Flavor (#5), who comes off a commanding victory last month. He wasn’t beating the strongest field of maidens, but he sprinted home nicely after getting away with slow early splits. The main concern with him is the likely pace, since he figures to get pushed through faster early fractions this time. I think there’s a chance this races apart, which makes he want to consider two contenders. On the Hill (#3) merits a look as he attempts to rebound second off the layoff. I can easily forgive his last effort, as he was badly shut off at the start after breaking slowly. I’m still not sure if he can get back to his improved form from the summer, and the addition of blinkers suggests that they may not be looking to come from off the pace again. Therefore, my top pick is Safalow’s Mission (#2). He’s the less accomplished Linda Rice entrant in here, but I actually prefer him at a bigger price. I thought he finished strongly to break his maiden last May in a race that has proven to be a lot stronger than the speed figures indicate. Then he had little chance when he tried this condition in June, as that race was dominated up front and he raced out of position after getting shuffled back early. He figures to get pace to close into in this return from the layoff, and I don’t think this race is quite as tough as it might appear at first glance. Dismiss anything from the Linda Rice barn at your own risk right now.