TimeformUS Kentucky Derby Prep Analysis: Jersey Agenda looks ready to step up in the Southwest

Oaklawn | Race 9 | Post Time 5:09 p.m. (CT) | Go to the TimeformUS PPs 
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The connections of the runners from last month’s Smarty Jones failed to be swayed by the results of that race since six of the eight participants are back to contest the Grade 3 Southwest on Monday. The headliner is Smarty Jones winner Gray Attempt, who led from start to finish in what was essentially a merry-go-round race. However, the waters get deeper this time with the added presence of an impressive recent allowance winner and some shippers from Florida. Steve Asmussen was unsuccessful when sending out a trio of runners in the Smarty Jones, so he has increased the size of his army to five for the Southwest.

Southwest-Pace-Projector.png

The Pace Projector is predicting that Gray Attempt may have to work harder in the early stages to replicate his front-running Smarty Jones score. A fast pace is expected, with pressure likely to come from the speedy Jersey Agenda (#5) as well as Boldor (#4) and Olympic Runner (#11). Asmussen’s quintet is sure to deploy a diverse array of tactics so that he’s well positioned to capitalize regardless of pace. If the early fractions are indeed swift, midpack runners like Cutting Humor (#3) and Sueno (#7) will be especially dangerous, and Bankit (#9) may be running on fastest of all late.

Let’s go through the field:

#1, GRAY ATTEMPT (7-2): He’s been unstoppable ever since getting cooked in a speed duel on the Breeders’ Cup undercard when he made his debut last November. He’s not the most visually impressive front-runner. His stakes victories have been accomplished in a scrappy, workmanlike fashion as he’s failed to draw away from his competition in the late stages. That said, his Sugar Bowl win was subsequently flattered when Manny Wah and Hog Creek Hustle returned to place in the Lecomte. We haven’t gotten a chance to assess horses running back out of the Smarty Jones since almost all are in this race, but I don’t feel quite as confident about the overall quality of that field. While the pace was hardly slow, horses who raced near the front seemed to have a distinct advantage. Those chasing found it virtually impossible to pass a single rival in the final quarter-mile. Such a scenario played to the strengths of Gray Attempt, who gamely held sway up front in the short stretch. However, now he’s going to face more serious pace pressure, as he is essentially mandated to go to the lead from his rail draw. He handled the flat mile under ideal circumstances, but I’m concerned that his pedigree is eventually going to catch up with him. Graydar has been a versatile sire, but the female side of Gray Attempt’s pedigree is geared toward sprinting. While I would expect him to put forth another game effort, I believe this is the right time to take a shot against him. Vulnerable at a short price.

#2, NINTH STREET (30-1): Undeniably Asmussen’s fifth-stringer, it’s difficult to view him as a serious win candidate off his Delta Downs efforts. If anything, the fact that he was recently able to get within 1 1/4 lengths of Smarty Jones fourth-place finisher Six Shooter casts a troubling shadow over the form of that race. Pass.

Cutting-Humor

#3, CUTTING HUMOR (3-1): Those looking for a new face will find this colt to be a welcomed addition to the lineup. It took him a few starts to find the winner’s circle, but he did encounter some talented runners prior to doing so. Notably, the top two finishers in that Oct. 7 maiden race would go on to win and place in graded stakes in the subsequent months. Cutting Humor broke out of the maiden ranks in November, but it wasn’t until he met winners in January that he finally upgraded his previously mediocre set of speed figures. He was pitted against the talented Bourbon War, who was coming off an encouraging fourth-place finish in a strong edition of the Remsen. While he was no match for that foe, he stayed on well to secure second in a race that was above par for the level. The 107 TimeformUS Speed Figure that he was assigned places him among the top contenders in this field, and that performance was flattered when fourth-place finisher Everfast returned to close for second in the Holy Bull. If Cutting Humor takes a similar step forward, he will win this race. The fact that John Velazquez has flown in to ride is another positive sign, but all of these factors are going to drive down his price. He’s the favorite on the morning line, and I could see him going off as such for all the aforementioned reasons. I still have nagging concerns about the recent record of Todd Pletcher’s stable, as he is in the midst of a graded stakes drought with his 3-year-old dirt horses. (The only Pletcher horse from this crop to win a graded stakes on dirt has been Sombeyay in the Sanford last July.) I’m certainly using this horse, but it’s not as if he’s the only viable alternative to Gray Attempt. One of several contenders.

#4, BOLDOR (12-1): While he was three wide for much of the Smarty Jones, he also benefitted from racing close to a pace that held together. He successfully negotiated the one-mile configuration that day, but the race flow was undoubtedly a contributing factor. It’s encouraging that he has shown the ability to rate even as the distances have gotten longer. Yet as a son of Munnings out of a dam who has produced sprinters, it’s hard to envision him progressing much further on the Derby trail. Pass.

Jersey-Agenda

#5, JERSEY AGENDA (5-1): It should not come as any shock that Asmussen originally started this colt on turf given his pedigree. His dam, Risky Agenda, is a full sister to Riskaverse, a multiple Grade 1 winner who earned more than $2 million while racing primarily on grass. However, deeper in this female family, there are also classic dirt influences. Jersey Agenda’s third dam, Toll Fee, is the granddam of both Havre de Grace and Tonalist. Therefore, I’m encouraged to see that not only has this son of Jersey Town improved with the switch to dirt, but he has also been getting better with added distance. His sloppy-track maiden victory was strong, as he defeated a solid rival in runner-up By My Standards. Returning from a brief layoff, he picked up right where he left off at Oaklawn, proving that two turns and a fast track were also well within his wheelhouse. While the field was perhaps not quite as strong as that of the Smarty Jones, Jersey Agenda won that race with complete authority and earned a 110 TimeformUS Speed Figure, tied for the highest in this field. It’s encouraging to see Ricardo Santana land here since he undoubtedly had his pick of the Asmussen contingent. While the Pace Projector is predicting a fast pace, this colt is drawn perfectly, just outside of Gray Attempt and Boldor. He’s poised to sit a comfortable trip, and I’m hopeful that he possesses the stamina to outlast the closers even if the early fractions are taxing. The selection.

#6, SUPER STEED (20-1): Unfortunately, that romp in the slop back in November is beginning to seem like the outlier in his past performances. Gray Attempt has soundly defeated him in consecutive starts at different distances. While dynamics were not in Super Steed’s favor either time, I still would have preferred to see him offer up a stronger late kick. Pass. 

#7, SUENO (7-2): This colt has come a long way since beginning his career in the maiden-claiming ranks. Following a three-month layoff, he stepped directly into stakes company and passed his first two-turn test with flying colors. While he was not facing a particularly accomplished group that day, he gave the impression that further improvement was forthcoming. He took that next step forward when returned to dirt in the Sham, grinding away to be a game second after a wide trip. There’s still something slightly unprofessional about this colt, as he was a bit too eager in the early going and then appeared to be waiting on runners in the lane. This is the logical next step as Keith Desormeaux allows him to gradually ascend the class ladder. However, his top TimeformUS Speed Figure of 104 does not quite make the cut, so he will need to run faster to beat this group. He seems capable of adapting to a faster early pace and should be running on late once again. Among the chief threats.

#8, SIX SHOOTER (20-1): I suppose it’s possible that he took a massive step forward in the Smarty Jones, though that seems somewhat unlikely given that he’s the most experienced member of this field. He was one of the only runners to be making up ground in the lane that day, and I’m concerned that his surprising fourth-place finish may be an indictment of the entire field. A repeat of that performance gives him an outside chance to hit the board, but I’d rather side with those who offer more upside. Pass.

Bankit

#9, BANKIT (10-1): If I’m giving a second chance to any horse exiting the Smarty Jones, it would be this guy. It’s difficult to explain why closers had so much trouble making up ground in that race, but the visuals do not lie. Bankit just never had a chance to get into the race, and he was done no favors when his rider chose the widest route into the stretch. Prior to that, I had been impressed with his runner-up finish in the Springboard Mile, in which he unleashed an impressive turn of foot while closing from dead last. He had previously put forth a similar effort against fellow New York-breds in the Sleepy Hollow – the first time he implemented his new running style. It’s fair to be skeptical of this runner’s stamina, especially given how well he ran in sprints early in his career. However, it appears that he has the mental capacity to switch off for the first part of his races and use his burst of speed as late as possible. That valuable attribute may help him get the 1 1/16 miles, and his field-best 101 TimeformUS Late Pace Rating suggests that he is the most likely to capitalize on a fast early pace. It’s encouraging to see an Ortiz brother climb back aboard, and I believe it would be premature to give up on this one. Best chance for an upset.

#10, LONG RANGE TODDY (10-1): The only difference between the Smarty Jones efforts of Bolder and this colt was that Long Range Toddy saved more ground while racing on the rail throughout. He got closest to Gray Attempt at the wire, and his weight-adjusted 110 TimeformUS Speed Figure is tied with Jersey Agenda’s last number for the highest figure in the race. However, I get the sense that others possess more talent and upside. I thought Bankit ran the superior race when they met in the Springboard Mile two back, and Long Range Toddy’s performances prior to that are all just a bit slower. The one edge he may have this time lies in the stamina department since he’s one of the few participants bred to improve with added ground. On the other hand, he’s now drawn in an outside post position in a race that is expected to feature a contested pace. He’s benefitted from perfect stalking trips in his last two starts, and that streak has to come to an end at some point. A fringe player.

#11, OLYMPIC RUNNER (15-1): I’m reticent to put too much stock in blowout wins over sloppy tracks. This colt won his maiden on the same afternoon that Hidden Scroll was unveiled, and there’s been much discussion about the speed-favoring nature of Gulfstream Park’s main track that day. Unsurprisingly, the Race Rating box is color-coded red in TimeformUS PPs, indicating that speed horses had a distinct advantage throughout the card. His 108 TimeformUS Speed Figure stacks up very well against the numbers earned by the top contenders in this race, but Olympic Runner accomplished that figure under ideal circumstances. Now he’s breaking from the far outside and is unlikely to make the lead with faster horses drawn inside of him. Furthermore, I’m not convinced that he’s truly a dirt horse given his ambiguous pedigree and the fact that he’s been entered for turf in both starts. Pass.

  

THE PLAY

My top pick is Jersey Agenda (#5). He possesses more upside than the other entrants, and his allowance victory appears to be on par with Gray Attempt’s Smarty Jones in terms of speed and quality. He’s situated in a good spot to get a stalking trip, which should allow him to overcome a potentially fast pace. I believe it’s worth taking a shot against horses exiting the Smarty Jones, with the lone exception of Bankit (#9), who was hindered by the merry-go-round nature of that race. I also want to prominently use Sueno (#7) since he appears to be improving and should work out the right trip from midpack.

Win: 5
Exacta Box: 5,7,9
Trifecta: 5 with 7,9 with 1,3,7,9,10
Trifecta: 7,9 with 5 with 1,3,7,9,10
Trifecta: 5 with 1,3,10 with 7,9

 

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Sunday TimeformUS Highlight Horse: A Barn change and switch to fast going can wake up Flatexcel

Aqueduct | Race 2 | Post Time 1:22 p.m. (ET) | Go to the TimeformUS PPs
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I suppose a discussion of this race should start with an assessment of morning-line favorite Discreet Mission (#3). Some might feel that this gelding will be formidable since he has run a series of competitive speed figures and was a runaway winner the last time he raced for a tag. However, I’m skeptical of this runner. John Kimmel does not have strong numbers with this allowance-to-claiming move (2 for 27, 7 percent, $0.78 ROI over the past five years), and this runner’s last race on Dec. 20 is of great concern to me. He was never involved, and David Cohen appeared to ride him very tentatively. His form has gradually been tailing off, so I wonder if the physical issues that kept him off the track for two years may be catching up to him.

In my opinion, the horse to beat is Rogue Nation (#2). He seems to be improving for Rudy Rodriguez, and he’s getting some logical class relief. While his form is completely exposed, I nevertheless think that he may be able to win this race if he merely repeats his last effort. Yet there are some intriguing entrants who figure to go off at much bigger prices, and one in particular may significantly outrun his odds.

Flatexcel.png

FLATEXCEL (#4) looks overmatched at first glance but merits a closer look. This horse can barely stand up on a wet track, so I can excuse all of his performances on tracks rated less than fast. Considering the muddy going last time, he actually didn’t even run that poorly, as he was chasing two to three wide against a golden rail. He ran a competitive speed figure when he encountered a more favorable scenario two back. The main question for him is the stretch-out in distance, but he’s certainly bred to go long, and he’s handled route distances in the past. In fact, he won his maiden around two turns. Furthermore, I’m intrigued that he’s making his first start off the claim for new trainer Edmund Davis. This former Jimmy Jerkens assistant has gotten his limited number of starters to run above their prior form in the past month, and Flatexcel can win this race if he shows similar improvement.

THE PLAY

Win/Place: 4
Exacta Key Box: 4 with 2,3,6,7

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Aqueduct Horses in Focus for Sunday, February 17

Race 2: Flatexcel (#4)

  • The Pace Projector is predicting that he will be on the lead early, and inside speed has been very dangerous recently.
  • The added distance should be no problem since he broke his maiden around two turns as a younger horse.
  • Will appreciate getting back on a fast track.

12-1 on ML

———

Race 4: Carthon (#3)

  • May appreciate the stretch-out to 1 1/8 miles, since he has a grinding style that makes him well suited to more distance.
  • Usually is an overlay and will offer value in the face of the heavily favored entry.
  • Eric Cancel rides this horse very well and will aggressively attempt to make the lead over a track that has been kind to inside speed.

9-2 on ML

———

Race 7: Syndergaard (#2)

  • Ran an exceptional race in the Say Florida Sandy, contesting an honest pace and earning a 119 TimeformUS Speed Figure.
  • Should handle the stretch-out to a mile, since he ran one of the best races of his career in the Champagne as a 2-year-old.
  • Possesses the speed to secure a forward inside position.

3-1 on ML

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Saturday TimeformUS Highlight Horse: Wegotoldyougotsold looks poised to rebound

Aqueduct | Race 7 | Post Time 4:08 p.m. (ET) | Go to the TimeformUS PPs
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Monteleone (#5) has to be considered the horse to beat as he seeks his fourth consecutive victory while steadily climbing the class ladder. However, he will face a new obstacle on Saturday – a fast track. This gelding clearly has a strong affinity for wet surfaces, particularly sealed ones, and he has gotten such going in all the victories during his win streak. Yet not only must he contend with a new surface, the waters get much deeper as he moves into N1X allowance company. His TimeformUS Speed Figures suggest that he stacks up with this group, but they don’t give him any kind of advantage. I’m somewhat against him, and I hold Tap Master (#4) in similar regard. He makes that same class move after beating starter-allowance foes last time, but he benefited from a fantastic trip that day.

In my opinion, the two runners you want are those with proven form at this level. Royal Asset (#6) would be a massive threat were he to run back to his Dec. 15 performance, in which he was just a length behind subsequent stakes winner Honor Up. However, his most recent start was poor. I’m concerned that he took no money that day, and now Rudy reaches out to a second-tier rider.

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Therefore, my top pick is WEGOTOLDYOUGOTSOLD (#2). This gelding’s first two starts for the Bruce Levine barn would likely beat this field. He trounced Monteleone when they met on Nov. 30, and it was no disgrace losing to a freakish effort from Fully Vested in the slop two back. Some may be deterred by his seventh-place finish at odds of 5-2 last time, but I think he had an excuse for that performance. While there was not a true golden rail on Jan. 26, horses racing inside did appear to have an advantage, and that was especially true during the race this horse exits. He was wide throughout and only finished two lengths behind the runner-up, as they were all far behind the rail-skimming winner. This time the Pace Projector is predicting a scenario that is far more favorable to front-runners, and he figures to work out a great trip stalking Royal Asset. I believe this runner is going to rebound with an improved performance this afternoon.

THE PLAY

Win: 2
Exacta Key Box: 2 with 4,5,6
Trifecta: 2,6 with 2,6 with 3,4,5

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Aqueduct Horses in Focus for Saturday, February 16

Race 4: Becca Takes Charge (#8)

  • Could play out as the one of the primary speeds in a race lacking a confirmed front-runner.
  • Should appreciate the stretch-out in distance as a daughter of Will Take Charge from a versatile damside family.
  • DRF Formulator Fact: Over the past 5 years, Linda Rice is 10 for 25 (40 percent, $2.60 ROI) with maidens going from sprints to dirt routes in their second starts.

3-1 on ML

———

Race 7: Wegotoldyougotsold (#2)

  • Would be formidable if he were to run back to either of his first two starts for the Bruce Levine barn.
  • Has earned his speed figures against tougher company than his foes, including likely favorite Monteleone.
  • May have been hindered by a wide trip last time over a track that seemed to slightly favor runners on the rail.

5-2 on ML

———

Race 8: Filibustin (#6)

  • The Pace Projector is predicting that she is fast enough to clear off to the lead, which is her preferred running style.
  • The 112 TimeformUS Speed Figure that she earned in the Iroquois suggests she may be good enough to compete with these.
  • Showed improved finishing power in her first start for the Gary Contessa barn last time.

6-1 on ML

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TimeformUS Kentucky Derby Prep Analysis: Country House can deliver on potential in the Risen Star

Fair Grounds | Race 12 | Post Time 6:02 p.m. (CT) | Go to the TimeformUS PPs 
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Fourteen three-year-olds are expected to line up in the starting gate for Saturday’s Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds, led by morning-line favorite War of Will. Despite his dominant win in the Lecomte, the Mark Casse trainee has not scared off any competitors. Those attempting to upend the favorite have to be encouraged by the fact that he is mired in an outside post position (stall 13 after the expected scratch of Kingly). In addition to the returning Lecomte also-rans, there are a slew of new challengers, including a couple of runners shipping in from other jurisdictions.

Risen-Star-Pace-Projector

The Pace Projector is predicting a fast pace, which is likely to be set by Manny Wah (#7). Kingly, who would have been in close pursuit of that rival, is not going to participate, but also-eligible entrant Gun It (#15) may replace him in a chasing position when he draws into the field. Others likely to make up the second flight of runners are Owendale (#8), Dunph (#11), and War of Will (#14), who notably will be looking to work out a journey similar to his Lecomte trip. Two contenders that should benefit from a fast early tempo are Hog Creek Hustle (#6) and Country House (#9), the latter of which possesses the highest Late Pace Rating in the field, a clear indicator of a horse who will benefit from a fast pace.

Let’s go through the field:

#1, PLUS QUE PARFAIT (10-1): He was regarded as one of the top contenders heading into the Lecomte following his encouraging runner-up effort in the Kentucky Jockey Club last November. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to find too many positive aspects to his performance in that 3-year-old debut. While the Lecomte didn’t exactly set up for closers, Plus Que Parfait had better overall position than Hog Creek Hustle, who ran right past him in the lane. He did have to overcome a slight stumble at the start, but it would be foolish to use something so minor as an excuse. I found his dull effort to be such a letdown that I now find myself reassessing my opinion of his Kentucky Jockey Club. Did he just appreciate the sloppy, sealed track that day? Was he merely the beneficiary of an extremely fast pace? Or was the Kentucky Jockey Club just a weak race for all involved? I think it’s worth entertaining those possibilities and I find him difficult to support for a top placing this time. An exotics possibility at best.

#2, ROILAND (20-1): If I’m taking a negative view of Plus Que Parfait, I suppose I’m also expected to downgrade this colt, who finished over 3 lengths behind that rival in the Lecomte. While it’s true that he did not run particularly well last time, he also got the wrong trip. Whereas Plus Que Parfait was tracking the eventual winner in the early stages, Roiland was lagging behind the field in the last position for over half of his journey. It would have been impossible for him to make up the necessary ground on the leaders given the pedestrian early fractions. He also lost to Plus Que Parfait in the Kentucky Jockey Club, but Roiland was unwisely sent inside to weave through traffic in the stretch on that occasion. Due to those excuses, I think the jury is still out regarding his overall ability. I realize that he’s never earned a competitive speed figure, but I still get the sense that he’s an improving sort who is supposed to get a more favorable pace setup this time. There are worse bombs to throw into the exotics. Don’t underestimate.

#3, MR. MONEY (12-1): He rewarded his connections’ seemingly ambitious aspirations with an improbable fourth-place effort in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at odds of 41-1. He never really threatened winner Game Winner that day, but he was put himself squarely in the hunt approaching the quarter pole before fading while still finishing ahead of many talented runners, including Sham winner Gunmetal Grey. It would be tempting to assert that his performance was a significant leap forward, but he had actually hinted at possessing significant ability in his prior start. It would appear that this son of Goldencents has just significantly improved with added distance.

Mr-Money

He must now prove that those autumn efforts were not mere flukes, and his preparation has not been ideal. He missed the Lecomte due to illness, which might cause some potential supporters to balk. On the other hand, Bret Calhoun insists that he’s working better than ever ahead of his belated return, and I get the sense that he’s getting lost in the shuffled in the aftermath of the Lecomte. I’m inclined to be optimistic about his chances. A major threat.

#4, CHASE THE GHOST (30-1): He ran the best race of his career in the Lecomte after working out a decent ground-saving trip. It appears that he’s responded well to the stretch-out in his last two starts. I still prefer others out of the Lecomte, but he’s not without some ability so I would not fault anyone for using him at a massive price. Pass.

#5, HENLEY’S JOY (10-1): This turf specialist will transition to the main track in an attempt to satisfy his connections’ Derby dreams. He clearly possesses ability as a grass horse, having fallen just a nose and a neck short of winning four stakes races on that surface, his lone poor performance coming in the Breeders’ Cup. As for his dirt aspirations, I’m fairly skeptical. His dam did win 3 races on dirt, but she was really more of a turf horse during her career. Kitten’s Joy has thrown the occasional dirt performer, but the overwhelming majority of his foals are turf runners. Pass.

#6, HOG CREEK HUSTLE (8-1): While War of Will was clearly best in the Lecomte, this son of Overanalyze deserves a ton of credit for his runner-up finish. While only the first quarter mile of that race featured a blue color-coded pace figure, indicating a slow pace, horses just didn’t seem to be passing each other in the stretch of that Lecomte. I had been convinced that this runner was a closing sprinter following his visually impressive optional claiming score at Churchill Downs in November, but he showed a real affinity for two turns last time. He was rated towards the back of the pack in the early going while never saving much ground. Florent Geroux steered him to the far outside coming off the far turn and he ran right by many of today’s rivals. He couldn’t make inroads into War of Will’s advantage late, but I still believe his effort was better than it seems. This time, the Pace Projector is predicting that he will get a faster pace ahead of him, so he has to be considered a major player once again. A contender.

#7, MANNY WAH (12-1): He was just two lengths behind Hog Creek Hustle at the wire in the Lecomte, but there’s no comparison between their trips leading up to that point. Whereas Hog Creek Hustle was hindered by the lack of pace, Manny Wah worked out an excellent trip through the early portions of that race. Breaking from the far outside post position, he benefitted from Plus Que Parfait’s stumble, as he had no trouble clearing the runners inside of him and angling into the two-path on the clubhouse turn. Considering his pace advantage heading into the lane, I thought he should have offered up a stronger response to War of Will’s acceleration at the quarter pole. I still have concerns about this colt’s stamina and I expect that he will be exposed if the early fractions are legitimate this time. Pass.

#8, OWENDALE (6-1): He’s the second choice on the morning line, which is somewhat perplexing. He was no match for Roiland and Limonite back in October, and neither of those runners will be among the favorites in this spot. Furthermore, Tackett, who defeated him in December, returned to disappoint at a relatively short price in the Lecomte last time out. His supporters will argue that his 91 Beyer Speed Figure in that optional claiming win last time out makes him a serious rival for War of Will, but I have some doubts. It had to be difficult to make accurate speed figures on Jan. 17 at the Fair Grounds, so it’s unsurprising that independent figure-making methods would lead to divergent results. I think it’s worth noting that the TimeformUS Speed Figure for the race is a mere 95, and those numbers are typically about 20 points higher than the corresponding Beyers. If you believe the TimeformUS Speed Figure – and I tend to fall into that camp – then Owendale should be among the longshots in this race. Furthermore, he’s run his best races when he’s been placed up close to the pace, and a fast early tempo in this Risen Star could put him at a disadvantage. Pass.

#9, COUNTRY HOUSE (20-1): First off, let’s address the morning line. There is absolutely no chance that this colt is going to be 20-1. Frankly, I’ll be surprised if his odds are even double-digits, as a price of 6-1 seems far more likely. There’s been plenty of buzz around this horse since he broke his maiden so impressively at Gulfstream last time. It’s true that he earned a speed figure which pales in comparison to those of his rivals, but there’s no doubt that he could have run much faster given a different set of circumstances. It was bad enough that Country House broke far behind the field, but he was put at a further disadvantage when the pace never developed ahead of him, as the blue color-coded pace figures indicate. Luis Saez had to steer him to the far outside to make a run, and I thought this son of Lookin at Lucky was incredibly impressive to draw off and win by over 3 lengths considering the circumstances. Looking at Trakus figures for the race, Country House ran his final 5/16ths of a mile in a remarkable 29.96 seconds.

Country-House

Despite the impressive nature of that win, I would still be somewhat skeptical if not for his December 1 effort at Aqueduct. Even though he lost that day, his performance demonstrates that he’s capable of running much faster than he did at Gulfstream. The 114 TimeformUS Speed Figure that he was assigned for that runner-up performance is actually the highest such number in the field. While it’s fair to be skeptical of a maiden race receiving such a massive speed figure, we did see winner Kentucky Wildcat return to finish second in the Sam F. Davis last week. Country House possesses the highest TimeformUS Late Pace Rating of any horse in this field, so he should be set to take advantage of the expected fast pace. As long as he breaks cleanly this time, I think he’s going to show up with a big effort. The selection.

#10, LIMONITE (10-1): He ran well in the Kentucky Jockey Club, but I’m starting to doubt the overall quality of that race. His trip was similar to that of Plus Que Parfait, with the main difference being that Limonite saved a bit more ground early and waited longer to make his late run. He passed a remarkable number of rivals in the lane, but he also did so while racing in the clear as others were attempting to weave through traffic inside. You have to be somewhat concerned that he just loved the sloppy going and benefited from a pace that fell apart, since his prior speed figures would suggest that he’s an outsider in this field. These horses can always improve between their two-year-old and three-year-old seasons, but I’d rather take a horse like Roiland, who sports similar form and will be a much more enticing price. A minor award may be the ceiling.

#11, DUNPH (20-1): He looked great winning his first two starts in stylish fashion, but he’s subsequently been exposed against better competition. I suppose you can excuse his Kentucky Jockey Club, in which he was close to the pace and may not have cared for the surface. However, he’s going to have to run a lot better than his performance at Remington Park to have any impact on this field. Pass.

#12, FROLIC MORE (10-1): If I’m against Owendale, of course I want no part of this runner. His runner-up effort behind that rival was fine, but he illustrates what I was referring to with regard to the difference between the Beyer and TimeformUS Speed Figures for that race. His Beyer represents a 24-point jump off his previous best, whereas his TimeformUS Speed Figure represents just a 6-point improvement. The latter is the one that I buy, and it doesn’t make him nearly good enough to contend with horses of this quality. Pass.

#13, KINGLY (12-1): Expected to scratch.

#14, WAR OF WILL (5-2): I’m picking against War of Will at what figures to be a very short price, but I have the utmost respect for this runner’s talent. He showed plenty of ability on turf through the summer and fall of his 2-year-old season, but he has undoubtedly taken a step forward since being switched to the main track. He proved that his visually impressive sloppy track maiden triumph in November was no fluke with that Lecomte win. Whether you’re looking at the Beyer or TimeformUS Figures, he is the horse to beat off his effort that day. He was a little rank into the first turn but he settled well thereafter and finished powerfully through the lane. This horse showed no signs of stopping as he crossed the wire and Tyler Gaffalione had to work hard to pull him on the gallop-out.

War-of-Will

Added distance should be no issue for him given all of the stamina influences on the bottom side of his pedigree. His dam is by Sadler’s Wells and she has produced Tacticus, who won a stakes going as far as 1 3/4 miles during his career. Some may be concerned about the outside draw, even though he’s likely to break from post 13 after the scratch. I think it’s something to take into account given his likely short price, but I will not be at all surprised if he’s able to overcome that minor imposition. Simply the horse to beat.

Also Eligible:

#15, GUN IT (10-1): I’m actually glad that this one is drawing into the race. While I’ve made it clear that I believe in the paltry TimeformUS Speed Figure for that Jan. 19 optional claiming race, I did like his maiden win two back. He earned a 101 that day, which puts him on par with some horses that will be shorter prices. Importantly, he may possess the speed to get over from this outside post position and stalk Manny Wah. Ricardo Santana appeared to have a difficult time handling him in the stretch, as the horse threw his head and shifted about through the lane. Nevertheless, he won geared down and he’s certainly bred to improve with added experience. I think it’s very interesting that Santana is keeping the mount on this colt and giving up a chance to ride Limonite. A fringe player.

 

THE PLAY

While I respect the prohibitive favorite War of Will (#14), I’m taking a shot against him with Country House (#9). This Bill Mott trainee has shown great potential in his two dirt starts, and I believe he can take advantage of a pace that should be honest.

Win: 9
Exacta Key Box: 9 with 2,3,6,14
Trifecta: 9,14 with 9,14 with 1,2,3,6,10,15
Trifecta: 9,14 with 2,3,6 with 9,14​

 

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Friday TimeformUS Highlight Horse: Crimson Frost is back at the right distance

Aqueduct | Race 7 | Post Time 4:08 p.m. (ET) | Go to the TimeformUS PPs 
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While it’s not really my style to recommend likely favorites, I just feel that CRIMSON FROST (#5) has found the right spot and is a very likely winner. She’s coming off a couple of disappointing third-place finishes, but I believe she had legitimate excuses in both of those performances. She’s just not a sprinter, so I can forgive her for failing to get involved going 6 1/2 furlongs two back. Then last time, she was at the opposite end of the spectrum, as 1 1/8 miles is a bit beyond her range of ideal distances. Furthermore, she seems to give the best response when she closes outside in the stretch, and Junior Alvarado got her stuck inside behind tiring rivals from the three-eighths pole until deep stretch. This time, she’s back at her best distance, and she figures to work out a perfect trip, sitting a few lengths off a number of speedier rivals.

Crimson-Frost.png

Some may consider Jump Ruler (#4), who is probably the biggest threat to the favorite. However, Crimson Frost easily defeated Jump Ruler when they last met going this distance on Dec. 7. Jump Ruler earned a formidable speed figure in her following start, but she was aided by a favorable pace scenario.

I’m totally against the other horse who is likely to attract support, Face It (#6). In my opinion, she was exposed last time out at Laurel when she actually faced horses of quality. While she earned respectable speed figures in her wins at Aqueduct, those victories came over vastly inferior foes. I think she’ll have a tough time putting away the other speeds in this spot, which should help set things up for Crimson Frost’s late run.

THE PLAY

Win: 5
Exacta: 5 with 2,3,4
Trifecta: 5 with 2,4 with 2,3,4,6

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