RACE 2: MACH ONE (#1)
I suppose Buckingham Prince (#6) would be considered the horse to beat in this spot if it were a guarantee that he were going to return in the same form that we saw from him last summer. Yet he has questions to answer after he’s been away from the races for nearly 6 months. It doesn’t appear that this was a planned layoff, as he was entered and listed as a vet scratch in both October and December. It’s a little disconcerting that it’s taken him so long to get back in the entries after each of those planned comebacks, and I’m reluctant to take a short price on him as he goes out for new connections. His main rival would appear to be Mauritius (#4), who is probably getting needed class relief as he drops in for a tag for the first time. He had little chance against a much tougher allowance field when he made his first start for the Rob Atras barn last time. He was also conservatively ridden that day, as Kendrick Carmouche made little attempt to get to the front. He figures to get a more aggressive ride this time and is a threat to wire the field. I just didn’t love his maiden victory two back and am still not totally convinced of his overall quality. I’m trying to beat these two short prices with Mach One (#1). Some may be reluctant to trust this runner going out for low-profile connections, but there’s no denying that he showed real improvement switching into the Eddie Persaud barn last time. He didn’t get the best ride that day, as Heman Harkie got him stuck in a pocket behind the eventual winner and kept trying to come up the rail despite there being little room for him to squeeze through. I thought it was a credit to this horse that he stayed on so gamely for second. This gelding spent a lot of time on turf, but he’s always been more of a dirt horse. He also just wasn’t thriving with former trainer Bonnie Lucas and seems to have taken a step forward for new connections.
RACE 5: BINGOOD TO KNOWYA (#2)
I would view Dr. Kraft (#5) as the horse to beat even though he hasn’t gone off at particularly short prices in any of his prior starts. He finished a decent third behind a pair of runners with some talent on debut, and then just caught an unusually tough maiden field in his second start. They took the blinkers off last time and I thought he stayed on well through the fog to pick up another minor award. He’s paired up TimeformUS Speed Figures in the low 90s, and those numbers make him a deserving favorite here. Some may look to first time starters as alternatives, but I’m not thrilled with any of the options. Gem Mint Ten (#3) and Electric Stuff (#6) each go out for barns that can win on debut, Ray Handal and George Weaver, but goth horses have more turf pedigrees. The obvious firster is Launch Control (#9) for Todd Pletcher, who worked an impressive 10-flat at the OBS April sale last year. Yet I’m not sure what to make of his recent workouts in company with maiden claimer Laurel Valley, and it feels like he could take money. My top pick is another runner with experience. Bingood to Knowya (#2) has run a bit better than it might appear in both of his dirt starts. He was a bit green through the early stages of his debut when he was just facing a couple of very tough rivals. Even though he has a turf pedigree, he didn’t seem to handle the turf two back. He confirmed his preference for dirt last time when he rallied well for third despite getting an extremely wide trip closing into a slow pace. I would like to see him get a more aggressive ride from this inside draw if he breaks cleanly this time. The price figures to be fair given the presence of a low-profile rider and plenty of firsters who will take money.
RACE 8: TIMBUKTU (#4)
Likely favorite Overstep (#6) is a real enigma in this field. He showed real talent easily beating maidens on debut before putting forth a game effort in the Sleepy Hollow as a 2-year-old. He was arguably best in that stakes attempt after having to alter course while rallying in the stretch. Yet now he’s been off for 15 months and returns with plenty of questions to answer. Todd Pletcher is known for doing well off layoffs, but he’s just 2 for 22 (9%, $0.35 ROI) off 300+ day breaks in dirt routes over 5 years. This horse briefly returned to training last summer at Saratoga before launching his most recent comeback. The works in Florida look decent enough, but I still wouldn’t want to take any kind of short price on this horse. The second and third choices on my morning line, Simply (#2) and Mason Mania (#3), are logical enough, but neither does much for me as the obvious alternatives. I think the value in this race is looking beyond the predictable options for some better prices. My top pick is Timbuktu (#4). This colt handled dirt reasonably well when he tried it in that off the turf affair in October. He was facing a weaker field that day, and actually ran better than it might appear, chasing 3-wide against an inside bias. He made his first start off the claim for Michelle Nevin last time, and again put in a performance that isn’t as poor as the result might indicate. He battled on gamely for third in that Dec. 18 starter allowance, and multiple horses, including those who finished behind him, have returned to register improved speed figures in their subsequent starts. I like him cutting back to a mile and think he’s underrated as a dirt horse. I also want to give another chance to Son of an Ex (#9) at an even bigger price. His recent form leaves something to be desired, but there are reasons to take an optimistic view. He was simply overmatched when he made his return on Dec. 18 against open company. That was also a race that was dominated up front where closers had little chance to get involved. Then last time he didn’t get the best ride going 9 furlongs over a sloppy track. He now turns back to an appropriate distance in a race that is supposed to feature some pace. I would even include Uno (#11), who stretches back out in distance after returning in a sprint last time. He didn’t run that badly in that return to the NYRA circuit, and had previously run faster speed figures going longer at Finger Lakes.