RACE 1: ALWAJD (#6)
In Traffic (#5) figures to go favored here by default as she drops back down in class. She stayed on well to be second on debut here about a year ago, but was then off for a long time after that. She seemingly returned in decent form in October, picking up third on the dropdown. Claimed by Jeffrey Englehart, she went favored at Finger Lakes last time, but lacked a late punch from off the pace. She has breeding to stretch out on both sides of her pedigree, but Englehart is just 4 for 25 (16%, $1.05 ROI) with maidens going from sprints to routes on dirt over 5 years. She’s the horse to beat, but I’m not thrilled with her at a short price. Tekila (#2) seems like one potential alternative, but she’s awfully hard to trust as she makes her 15th career start as a maiden. I’m far more intrigued by the lightly raced Alwajd (#6). This filly’s debut at Parx wasn’t a bad effort at all. She actually broke alertly but lost position on the turn before wheeling to the far outside. She then ran better than it appears when she returned from a brief layoff in her second start. After getting outrun early, she was staying on nicely through the stretch, quickly passing tired rivals at the wire. She feels like one that should appreciate added ground, especially as a daughter of 21% dirt route sire Daaher from a stamina-laden female family. This barn doesn’t have great numbers with stretch-outs, but I can overlook that given the lack of other appealing options in this field.
RACE 7: LIBERTY FLAME (#11)
You can make a case for many runners in this wide open New York-bred N1X allowance. Carbon (#9) figures to go favored as she makes her third start off the layoff for Linda Rice, but she’s hardly a standout in this field. She’s run pretty well in both efforts this fall, particularly two back when she overcame a poor start to get up for third. Yet she was supposed to get the job done as the favorite last time when she hung in the late stages. Perhaps the stretch-out to 7 furlongs will benefit her, but she also could have more traffic to navigate in this 12-horse field. Mia Bea Star (#1) owns some of the fastest speed figures in this field, but she’s hard to trust as a win candidate. She’s just 3 for 38 lifetime, and has settled for minor awards in her recent starts at this level despite maintaining solid form. She’s another who would appreciate some pace up front. Shadolamo (#6) finished just behind her last time when both were going a mile, and she could appreciate this slight turnback in distance. She has back form that puts her in the mix and it appears that she’s once again heading in the right direction for Eduardo Jones. She’ll also be a more enticing price. The same thing is true of my top pick. Liberty Flame (#11), like today’s favorite, is making her third start back off the layoff. She ran well in her return two back, showing good speed from the outside before getting tired in the late stages. That was a decent race, as winner Funny How came back to beat a tougher field in her next start. Then last time Liberty Flame lost all chance soon after the start, as she was shuffled back between horses when put in tight quarters on the backstretch. She seemingly reacted badly to kickback, but still put in a nice late run to get up for fourth. She shouldn’t have those same issues breaking from the outside here, and she broke her maiden going this 7-furlong distance.
RACE 8: HAPPY BOB (#9)
I expect the Chad Brown entry of Systemic Change (#1) and Opportunity Set (#1A) to take plenty of money in this finale. The latter is probably the stronger half of this pair, as he was game to just miss on debut here last month, battling for the lead throughout before just getting run down in the closing strides. He was once well regarded and could have upside in his second start. The same is true for Systemic Change, who didn’t earn much of a speed figure on debut. Yet that race occurred over a year ago and he could have improved during the time away. He’s bred to stretch out in distance, but you’re not getting much of a price on him as part of a coupled entry. Vodka Mardini (#10) also makes plenty of sense off his last performance. This well-bred gelding didn’t show much against some tough rivals as a younger horse, but he appeared to wake up when switched into Linda Rice’s barn last time, showing improved early speed before getting run down by a pair of seasoned foes. A repeat of that performance makes him a win candidate. My top pick is another horse that contested that Nov. 11 affair where Opportunity Set was second. Happy Bob (#9) went off as the favorite that day in his return from a brief layoff. Yet the trip just didn’t work out for him. Breaking from the rail, he was in a bad position right from the start, as he broke a step slowly and rushed up into tight quarters. He raced keenly while reacting badly to kickback on the backstretch and then had nowhere to go when asked for run on the turn. He ultimately had to alter course after encountering more traffic in the stretch, but the race had already gotten away from him at that point. The stretch-out to a mile is a new hurdle, but he’s drawn well outside this time, and he appears to have the physical makeup of a horse who should get this distance.