RACE 1: PREDICTED (#5)
The Klaravich-owned, Chad Brown entry figures to go off at a very short price in this opener, as both runners can win. I prefer Systemic Change (#1), who showed good improvement in his first start back from a long layoff. He had to alter course when rallying in upper stretch and finished nicely to get up for third while no match for the top two. He’s dangerous if able to take another step forward. Reserve Currency (#1A) also makes sense off his last speed figure, but he was pretty one-paced in that affair and never looked like a serious threat to the winner. I’m not looking to support either of these runners at odds-on. Vodka Mardini (#3) is the most logical alternative, but he’s starting to run out of chances. He failed to step forward two back when finishing behind Systemic Change, and then couldn’t even hold off the win-shy American Law last time. Mistical Curlin (#2) would offer some appeal off his last race, but it’s hard to trust him to repeat it, and he’s also going to be a much shorter price than the 49-1 odds he was last time. I’m looking for a better price with Predicted (#5). He obviously didn’t run well when he returned in that common Dec. 15 race. However, the trip didn’t work out at all. He got squeezed back soon after the start, putting him out of position early. He proceeded to get rank moving down the backstretch while under tight restraint, fighting Eric Cancel. He was spent by the time he was asked for run and got eased through the lane. I expect a better performance second off the layoff, and I’m hoping Jose Gomez can be a little more aggressive with him from this outside draw.
RACE 6: AMEDEUS MUSIC (#5)
I can’t possibly trust Buckingham Prince (#2), assuming that he actually makes it to the starting gate. This horse has been entered three times since getting claimed back in August, months apart, and was a vet scratch on each occasion. The most recent of those occasions was just a week ago when he was entered for a tag, so perhaps it’s encouraging that he’s now scheduled to return in a starter allowance. Yet it’s still hard to rely on him to regain top form and I want to look elsewhere. Big Venezuela (#4) seems like the horse to beat off his effort here two weeks ago. He settled for second behind Russian to Win at this level, but arguably ran the best race after pressing a fast early pace that came apart. That 100 TimeformUS Speed Figure validates the 104 that he earned three back when fading to third in a similar spot. It’s been a while since this gelding has won a race, but he appears to have landed in a good spot. However, I do think he has some legitimate rivals drawn to the outside. Norgay (#6) steps up against winners for the first time after taking 11 starts to break out of the maiden ranks. Yet he won in decisive fashion last time and could be a fair price as he makes his first start off the claim for a low-profile barn. My top pick is Amedeus Music (#5). There appears to be some pace in this race, and he’s the one true closer in the field. He was pretty impressive against cheaper foes in the fog two back, making a strong move into a slow pace before drawing off. Then last time he was no match for winner Good Skate, but was flattered when that rival returned to run well in a much tougher spot. This field doesn’t appear to be any tougher than that one even though he’s moving up in class. The 7-furlong distance suits him and he’s in good form right now.
RACE 7: WAR STOPPER (#3)
I’ll be interested to see who goes favored in this high-level optional claimer. No Burn (#4) took surprising money to get bet down to 5-2 when he won an N2X allowance here just two weeks ago. He earned a career-best 119 TimeformUS Speed Figure for that performance and will prove difficult to catch here if able to repeat that effort. He had struggled to get out of the starting gate cleanly in his two prior starts, but that was no concern last time as he was able to make the lead and set a fast pace en route to victory. This time he figures to control on the front end once again, though a horse like Empty Tomb (#5) could apply some pressure. That might also be true of Kinetic Sky (#6), who has been more of a stalking type, but does figure to be forwardly placed as he stretches back out in distance to 9 furlongs. I’ve generally liked him going a bit shorter than this, but he did arguably run the best race when he tried two turns here back in October, only losing by a nose after a wide trip on a day when the inside may have been an advantage. Unbridled Bomber (#2) will be looking to get back on track after a poor showing in the Queens County. According to my colleague Dave Grening’s reporting, James Ryerson attributes that loss to a bothersome tongue tie. This colt had seemed to turn a corner in his two prior victories and should be very competitive with this group if he’s able to get back on track. My top pick is War Stopper (#3). He’s stepping way up in class off a $25k claiming win last time, but that was an unusually strong race for the level. Runner-up Musical Heart had plenty of back class against stakes company, and War Stopper absolutely demolished that rival and all the rest by 9 lengths. The horses who have run back out of that race have generally improved in their next starts, including fifth-place Hammerin Aamer and seventh-place Grumps Little Tots, who both came back to win. War Stopper earned a competitive 113 TimeformUS Speed Figure for the performance and evidence points to that number perhaps being conservative. He now goes out first off the claim for Rob Falcone, who has trained this horse in the past. Falcone is 8 for 29 (28%, $2.80 ROI) first off the claim with last-out winners over the past 5 years.