RACE 7: COOL QUARTET (#1)
Vintage Hollywood (#6) and Truculent (#3) finished first and second in a $10k claiming race last time, and now they’ve moving up to the $16k level. Yet that might have been a tougher race than this one, as winner Dust Devil is a classier horse that any rivals they’re meeting in this spot. I prefer Vintage Hollywood from that race, not just because he finished ahead of his rival. January 22 race was a day where the rail appeared to be a significant advantage, and Vintage Hollywood was stalking in the 2-path, whereas Truculent stayed inside for his entire trip. The former seems to be rounding back into form for Gustavo Rodriguez, and I view him as a strong contender. Yet I want to go in a different direction for my top pick. Cool Quartet (#1) ran a race two back that would make him competitive against this field, drawing away to win a $12,500 claimer by nearly 6 lengths. He was claimed out of that spot by Orlando Noda and wheeled back 6 days later in a much tougher $25k claimer. He obviously didn’t fare well, but the ride he got didn’t do him any favors. The horse caused some problems by stumbling at the start, but he then got steered to the far outside and was ridden to make a premature 5-wide move into contention before fading in the stretch. He’s better than that, and I think he can rebound here second off the claim as he gets a rider upgrade to Manny Franco. The wild card in the field is Daddy Knows (#7), who has been claimed back by Ray Handal. The horse had success for these connections earlier in his career, but his recent form has been pretty ugly. He’s also been getting out badly in his races, so the outside draw could work against him.
RACE 8: GOOD SKATE (#6)
Many players are likely to just concede this race to Curbstone (#2). He has been in great form lately, reeling off two consecutive victories by open lengths since moving into the Tom Morley barn and switching back over to dirt. The distance of this affair, 1 1/4 miles, also figures to work in his favor, since he’s the only horse in the field to have won going this far, and more ground does appear to benefit him. However, he was beating up on a weaker group last time and will be getting a real class test for the first time. It is true that this N1X allowance affair didn’t come up quite as tough as it could have, but he’s still facing one rival in particular that merits serious consideration. Good Skate (#6) was probably never beating winner Tonal Impact when he tried this level last time. Yet he wasn’t done any favors by the tactics, as Manny Franco elected to rate him off the leaders after he got bumped coming out of the starting gate. The horse appeared to resent that restraint on the clubhouse turn, as he was tugging at Franco before ultimately settling on the backstretch. He made a strong move to challenge for the lead in upper stretch but couldn’t withstand the late charge of the winner. All things considered, he proved that he handles the two turns. This time he should get a better trip from the outside post position, as he looks like the controlling speed. He’s going to be a better price than Curbstone, has a superior rider on his back, and his last TimeformUS Speed Figure of 107 suggests that he’s nearly on par with that foe.
RACE 9: GEM MINT TEN (#4)
This New York-bred maiden finale is arguably the most interesting race on the card, having attracted 13 competitors with no obvious standouts. The likely favorite is Victory Money (#9), who was mildly disappointing when checking in fifth on debut as the 3-1 second choice. Yet he ran into an awfully talented rival in winner Mariachi, who looked bound for stakes prior to going to the sidelines. We have seen horses run back out of that race validate the speed figure, and his 90 TimeformUS number certainly makes him a deserving favorite. The big question for him is the stretch-out to a mile, and he’s bred to handle it, being by 17% dirt route sire Constitution. Yet I didn’t want to settle for a short price in such a wide open field. Engineer Empire (#8) could also take some money as a first time starter for Christophe Clement, who is 6 for 34 (18%, $2.04 ROI) debuting in dirt routes over 5 years. This son of Empire Maker is a half-brother to Grade 1 winner Belle Gallantey, but there really isn’t much production on the dam’s side beyond that star sibling. I prefer another of the second time starters. Gem Mint Ten (#4) took money on debut to get pounded down to 2-1 favoritism last month. That race was flattered on Saturday when winner Dr. Kraft returned to finish a good third in the Gander Stakes. Gem Mint Ten broke well and displayed decent early speed before struggling to keep up on the turn. He lost some ground in upper stretch, but was staying on well at the end, suggesting that added ground will benefit him. His sire Laoban can certainly get runners that will go a mile, and he seems like more of a dirt type despite a turf-oriented female family. Ray Handal hasn’t had much success with stretch-outs like this, but he does do well overall with second time starters. I would also use a couple of others at bigger prices. Lucky Lucky Luke (#3) may ultimately be more of a turf horse, as his pedigree suggests that, but he did run deceptively well on debut at Gulfstream, launching a wide, premature move before fading. Wanna Winna (#12) has had more chances at this level, but I think he could appreciate getting back on a fast track after not seeming to handle wet surfaces as well in his last couple of starts. He’s a big, heavy horse who may also benefit from getting gelded.