RACE 4: JELLY NOUGAT (#5)
Win for Gold (#3) strikes me as an untrustworthy favorite in this conditioned claimer. He has developed a history of failing to finish off his races, often noticeably shortening stride in the final furlong. That’s exactly what happened last time when he got a great trip stalking winner Ikigai’s moderate pace, yet couldn’t even hang on for a trifecta placing. He’s now dropping back down in class as trainer Linda Rice acknowledges that she might have made an error claiming this running back for $35k. He also could have a difficult trip coming given the presence of Fenway (#4). This 5-year-old could complicate the tasks of all of the other speed types in this race, as he’s a run off front-runner. This level might be a bit too advanced for him, but I don’t want to ignore his presence in this race. The kind of early speed that he possesses could discourage the other forward types, which is what happened when he won back in December. He’s going to be a big price and could take these a long way. Yet I do expect the race to come apart at some point, and the most likely beneficiary of that scenario is Jelly Nougat (#5). This horse was ridden too aggressively last time at Parx when sent on a mission to stay in contact with the leaders, always being hustled. I think he’s a more proficient sprinter than he displayed that day, and his only other recent sprint effort came in a Grade 2 stakes. These connections have sent some live runners to this circuit and he’s getting significant class relief as he drops in for the $25k tag.
RACE 6: WUDDA U THINK NOW (#2)
Dr. Ardito (#4) figures to go favored in this Haynesfield as he makes his stakes debut. This lightly raced 5-year-old has done little wrong despite a few stops and starts to his career. He returned from yet another layoff last time and put forth his usual strong effort to extend his winning streak to five. Yet he did get a very good trip, as his uncoupled stablemate Nabokov did more of the hard work on the front end and arguably ran the better race. Now he gets his first stakes test, so he has to come off Lasix. Chad Brown, who is known for great statistics, is surprisingly 3 for 34 (9%, $0.83 ROI) with last-out winners switching off Lasix in dirt stakes over 5 years. I think there are reasons to be skeptical of this gelding, and his main rival seems like a better option. Wudda U Think Now (#2) is seeking his third stakes victory in a row after taking down the Alex M. Robb and Say Florida Sandy already this winter. His recent Beyers in the high-80s seem a little light compared to the morning line favorite, but his TimeformUS Speed Figures of 123 and 116 make the horse to beat. Those numbers account for fast paces in each of those last two races. He has always done his best work over this surface, and seems to be thriving now that he’s making use of his early speed again. Dylan Davis has ridden him aggressively in those last two starts, and he figures to be sent forward to make the lead over main pace rival Sea Foam once again.
RACE 7: PRACTICAL COACH (#6)
No Burn (#7) could go favored here off his 4-length victory at the N2X level in his prior start in January. He got a strong 119 TimeformUS Speed Figure for that performance, but he’s facing a different set of circumstances this time. While he did set an honest pace that day, he got a muddy track which he clearly handles and was beating a pretty weak field for that level. He drew well outside this time for the turnback to a mile, but I think this is a more interesting race than defaulting to him. Market Alert (#3) finally showed some subtle improvement in his third start off the claim for Rob Atras last time. He was aggressively ridden to push eventual winner Wudda U Think Now on the lead and gamely battled back for second in the late stages. Perhaps it’s a slight negative that he now comes back for this $80k tag rather than running in the Haynesfield, but the distance may have something to do with that. He’s a contender with a similar performance. I also think we could see a better effort from another New York-bred, Lobsta (#1). His return last time felt like a prep, as he was used to chase the fleet Pirate Rick in the early stages before fading while racing off the rail against an inside bias. He’s won at this distance before and should be forwardly placed from this rail draw with the switch to an aggressive rider. My top pick is Practical Coach (#6), who is a new face at this level in New York. Trainer Butch Reid tends to send live runners to this circuit, going 10 for 61 (16%, $2.17 ROI) at NYRA tracks on dirt over the past 5 year, with 61% of those starters hitting the board. This horse might look a cut below these at first glance, but he showed some potential when finishing fifth in the Grade 3 Smarty Jones last fall. Since then he’s improved in his last couple starts, just missing against claimers two back before running deceptively well at Laurel last time. That Jan. 14 race featured a pretty strong field, and he was game all the way through the stretch to finish fourth. Horses have run back out of that race to improve, including runner-up Southern District, who just missed in his next start on this circuit. This son of Practical Joke figures to appreciate the one-turn mile, and it strikes me as a good sign that he’s so ambitiously placed here.