Picks & Plays for Thursday, January 18
by David Aragona
Thursday’s card offers a number of races that have been brought back, in some form or another, from days that we cancelled over the past two weeks. The only stakes, the Bay Ridge, is one of a few that has been carded multiple times. It now goes as race 3, and drew a compact field of just five runners, likely to be reduced even further by the expected scratch of Might Be. While it’s nice to see these New York-breds get their chance in the spotlight, this is hardly the most interesting event from a handicapping and wagering perspective.
The races that really capture my attention come later in the day. A pair of back-to-back N1X allowance/optional claiming races for statebreds serve as highlights. The seventh race is for three-year-olds, and features a projected duel between two speedy colts, Looking Ready and Flash Drive. The following race, a 1 1/8 miles test for older horses, looks more like a $25,000 claimer than an allowance race, as 7 of the 9 entrants are entered for a tag. Nevertheless, recent trainer changes and class moves make it a difficult race to assess.
For more on this card, visit DRF Live for up-to-date insights throughout the race day, including multi-race wagers, track trends, and other observations. Also visit TimeformUS to view this card’s Highlight Horse and get PPs.
Race 1: 6 - 5 - 1 - 3
Race 2: 1 - 2 - 3 - 5
Race 3: 4 - 2 - 5 - 3
Race 4: 8 - 7 - 5 - 6
Race 5: 5 - 1/1A - 9 - 4
Race 6: 8 - 6 - 4 - 1
Race 7: 3 - 9 - 7 - 8
Race 8: 1 - 8 - 5 - 2
Race 9: 1 - 8 - 5 - 7
RACE 2: PEGASUS RED (#1)
Installed as the second choice on the morning line, Brimstone might be the horse to beat by a slim margin. He turns back to six furlongs after going farther against tougher company in his recent starts. He typically needs the lead and figures to get early company from Fratello Del Nord and perhaps even Global Positioning. I think he’s vulnerable going this distance under sustained pressure. I’m hoping that the early pace is honest because I like the closer Pegasus Red. His last race, the first off the claim by Jason Servis, was not quite as bad as it seems. Seven furlongs is a bit of a stretch for him, and he worked out an uncomfortable trip, chasing the pace four wide all the way around the far turn. He typically does better when he’s reserved at the back of the pack and makes one late run. While Servis does well off the claim, he has similarly strong numbers in this situation. Over the past five years, he is 17 for 48 (35 percent, $2.24 ROI) second off the claim in dirt sprints, and that ROI goes even higher if you limit the sample to horses who lost first off the claim.
Exacta Key Box: 1 with 2,3,5,6,7
RACE 5: LYRICAL MIRACLE (#5)
Island Wind Racing brings a strong coupled entry to this $12,500 claimer. War Eagle’s Return has earned some of the highest recent speed figures in the group while competing against tougher foes. Saratoga Heater makes his first start off a trainer switch to Robertino Diodoro and gets some needed class relief. Furthermore, these two closers are aided by the likely race flow, since the Pace Projector is predicting a fast pace. My only knock against them is the likelihood of a very short price if both start. Their main rival appears to be Big Guy Ian, but he’s difficult to trust, even off a trainer switch to Rudy Rodriguez, given his lackluster recent performances. The horse I picked is hardly a likely winner of this race, but I do think he will offer some value. Lyrical Miracle has been competitive at this level in the past year. While his recent efforts leave a lot to be desired, I think he has some things going for him here. He will appreciate the turnback in distance, and he’s actually going to get a fair pace to close into. In his two prior New York starts for the Gary Sciacca barn, he was simply facing tougher company. Furthermore, I like the switch to Trevor McCarthy, who has made a favorable impression through his first few days riding on this circuit.
Exacta Key Box: 5 with 1,4,9
Trifecta: 1,4,9 with 1,4,9 with 5
RACE 7: LOVER’S LEAP (#3)
The two runners likely to vie for favoritism are situated in outside post positions. Looking Ready drops in class out of open company stakes races and switches back to dirt. While he ran into some nice horses in his first two main track starts in Saratoga, including stakes winners Alveenu Malcainu and Sea Foam, he will need to run a bit faster than that to take down the top prize here. That’s certainly possible since those races were run back in the summer of his 2-year-old season. However, his task is complicated by the presence of Flash Drive just to his outside. This speedy Chris Englehart trainee comes into this event having earned the highest speed figures in the field, and you can be sure that Paco Lopez will be aggressive from the starting bell. Flash Drive has only faced maiden company thus far in his career, but he’s nevertheless competed against some quality rivals, having led until deep stretch against subsequent Damon Runyon winner Empire Line two back. Looking Ready figures to be chasing Flash Drive early, as will fellow speeds like Nine Route and My Man Mo, so the early pace should be honest. Therefore, I’m trying to beat these two with closer Lover’s Leap. I know that he appears to be a bit slower than some of his main rivals, but there’s reason to believe he will improve here. He’s getting a significant trainer upgrade, going from the barn of Sal Iorio, Jr. (54 TimeformUS Trainer Rating) to the stable of Charlton Baker (88 Trainer Rating). Furthermore, Baker has solid numbers off trainer switches like this. Over the past five years, he is 5 for 21 (24 percent, $2.32 ROI) first off a trainer switch on the dirt at NYRA. Lover’s Leap has run better than it appears on a few occasions, and now he also gets a positive rider switch to Rafael Hernandez.
Exacta Key Box: 3 with 7,8,9
Trifecta: 3 with 7,8,9 with 1,5,7,8,9
RACE 8: CHILLY BON BON (#1)
Both favorites have flaws. Becker’s Galaxy goes out for top connections, but there’s no denying that he’s been a disappointment since getting claimed back by Rudy Rodriguez at Saratoga. He’s been well beaten in three starts, running slower each time, and now they drop him in class, looking to get rid of him. If he were to run back to that August win at today’s distance, he would be a cinch in here. However, that prospect seems highly unlikely. Iron Power was recently claimed away from Rodriguez and now goes out for Antonio Arriaga. This new barn has had some eye-catching successes with some big prices at this Aqueduct meet. Iron Power has run competitive dirt races in the past, but he’s been primarily a turf horse lately. Runners like this seem to get less versatile as they age. I wouldn’t be surprised if he wins, but I think he’s a risky bet at a short price. I instead want to take a shot with Chilly Bon Bon. I know that the Pace Projector does not indicate that he will be on the lead here, but I have to think Manny Franco will be looking to send him from this advantageous inside post position. After all, he’s clearly run his best races when able to control the early pace. Furthermore, he’s handled two turns well in the past, so this stretch-out in distance should agree with him. If Michelle Nevin can get him back to the form he displayed last winter, he’s a major threat here.
Exacta Key Box: 1 with 2,5,6,8
RACE 9: THIS CAT CAN FLY (#1)
Big Thicket is clearly the one to fear as he makes his first start off the claim by Linda Rice. However, she’s getting this horse from the highly capable Brad Cox barn, so I’m not sure how much improvement we can reasonably expect to see. Rice has pretty decent numbers with stretch-outs like this, but this horse’s only race at this distance was one of his worst performances. Given a short price, I’m mildly against him. I’m instead taking a shot with This Cat Can Fly. At first glance, he looks like nothing more than a turf horse. However, I’m wondering if he just improved with the stretch-out in distance last time rather than the surface switch. This horse is bred to handle route distances, being by Birdstone and out of a Cat Thief mare. He got rolling too late in his first couple of sprints on dirt over the summer. He returned four months later to run an improved race on grass, but he didn’t appear to be relishing that surface. Now he gets a needed drop in class as he tries a route distance on dirt.
Exacta Key Box: 1 with 3,5,7,8