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 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.
WIN: #9 Happy Bob, at 3-1 or greater