RACE 5: RADIO RED (#2)
Likely favorite Lifetime of Chance (#5) has run well in all 4 of his starts without winning, so you do have to be a little concerned that he’s developing a habit of settling for minor awards. He was beaten by some good foes in his first couple of starts, and obviously met a better field when he tried stakes company two back. Yet he was supposed to get the job done as the 7-5 favorite last time, and just appeared to hang in the late stages. Perhaps the cutback to 6 furlongs will benefit him, but he’s a little hard to take at a short price. I have even greater reservations about Miracle Mike (#3). This colt put in a decent late rally on debut to get up for second behind the highly touted Andiamo a Firenze last summer. However, the inside path seemed to be favorable over that June sloppy track, and he did ride the rail throughout. He subsequently failed to fire in a Saratoga maiden event and hasn’t been seen since. Todd Pletcher is 8 for 25 (32%, $1.35 ROI) with maidens off 150-300 day layoffs in dirt sprints over 5 years. I’d rather go for a bigger price with a runner that I think has more upside. Radio Red (#2) also debuted last summer and didn’t show much behind subsequent stakes winner Arctic Arrogance. He was off for a few months after that, and returned last month, where he put in a slightly better effort. That January race featured a slow pace, and he did well to pass some tired rivals through the lane after racing greenly in the early stages. I get the sense we haven’t yet seen the best of this colt, and it’s a good sign that he’s now putting races back-to-back. He gets a rider upgrade to Dylan Davis and should be capable of better here.
RACE 6: CAN’T BEAT ME (#8)
I’m squarely against Vive Bien (#1), who could take money as he returns from a layoff and drops in class. This horse had shown some talent early in his career, but he really went the wrong way last season and is now returning for Gary Sciacca, dropping to the lowest conditioned claiming level. He’s clearly had some issues staying on the track, and it’s not surprising when you review his races. He’s a big, heavy horse who may just struggle with physical issues that impede him from showing his talent. He’s also drawn a difficult rail post position with other speed drawn just to his outside. Naked and Famous (#5) figures to gun to the front after successfully utilizing front-running tactics to break his maiden last time. Yet he’s also a little tough to support given the expected dynamics. Jet Speed (#2) is a little more logical as he makes his first start off the claim for Charlton Baker, but he’s another who hasn’t had much success without the early lead. Many may view Ginnsu Warrior (#6) to be the logical closer, and I do think he makes plenty of sense in this spot. He put in a decent late run to get up for third on Dec. 31, and has some back races that would make him dangerous here. He’s also reunited with Dylan Davis, who has ridden him well in the past. Yet I’m more interested in Can’t Beat Me (#8) at what should be a bigger price. This gelding faced off against Ginnsu Warrior on Dec. 4 and finished just ahead of him despite encountering significant traffic trouble in the lane. He arguably would have won that race with a clear run. He then came back in another division of a Dec. 31 race at this level and put in a decent rally for fourth while facing the superior Amedeus Music. We also saw runner-up Braciole exit that race to win here last weekend. Can’t Beat Me now makes his first start off the claim for former Mark Casse assistant Jamie Begg. He figures to fly under the radar due to those low-profile connections, but he fits the race flow and is in better form than it appears.
RACE 9: BOYS CODE (#5)
Probable favorite October Bliss (#3) was simply overmatched in the first two starts of his career, though it’s not as if he ran that badly on either occasion. He was off slowly in his second start and made some mild late progress while tentatively ridden in one of the toughest NY-bred maiden races of last year. He then dropped to this level last time, where he was more competitive. Yet he failed to finish off that race after making an eye-catching move into contention at the quarter pole. Perhaps the distance got to him, even though he’s bred to go this far. Linda Rice has strong statistics off the claim, but I’m not thrilled with the idea of taking a short price on this runner. I’d rather go for Who Me (#8), who figures to be longer odds merely due to the connections. He actually finished ahead of October Bliss in that Dec. 30 affair before he was overmatched in his first start off the claim for new connections last time. Yet he held his form well from a speed figure standpoint, and now drops back down to a realistic level. I think he’s the one to beat among the logical players, but there are others worth considering at bigger prices. My top pick is longshot Boys Code (#5). This grey gelding lacked speed and failed to make much of an impact in those first few sprints at Finger Lakes, though he was staying on best of all late in that Sep. 21 affair. That was also a strong race for the level, as a few horses returned to improve from that affair. He returned from a layoff last month on turf at Tampa, facing a tougher open company field. He didn’t show much affinity for the surface, but he did steadily keep pace through the wire, suggesting that the added distance was no problem. He’s bred to route as a half-brother to 2-time dirt route winner Vienna Code, and sire Boys at Tosconova is much more of a dirt influence. Mike Miceli has been in a slump, but he is 10 for 42 (24%, $3.76 ROI) first off a trainer switch over 5 years.