Race 1: In the opener, we're not trying to beat the likely favorite, TAILOREDFORSUCCESS (#5), who faced a much better field in her debut. She didn't do that much running in that race, but she still earned one of the fastest speed figures in the race. Chad Brown has phenomenal numbers with his maiden special weight to maiden claiming dropdowns, getting a 100 trainer rating in that category. Crimson Cat (#7) finished an even fifth in her maiden claiming debut at Gulfstream after getting rank in the opening furlong. She was somewhat green that day and perhaps will do better here as she returns in a similar spot. Miss Aja Brown (#4) was the runner-up at this level at Aqueduct last time and will try to take these as far as she can on the lead.
Selections: 5 – 7 – 4 – 8
Race 2: Giant Fox (#8) is the horse to beat as he drops in class to this bottom-level conditioned claimer. The seven furlong distance is perfect for him, but it is somewhat suspicious that his connections are giving up so quickly after a decent return to the races at the $35,000 level last time. There also is not much speed in this race and the Pace Projector is predicting a situation favoring horses on or near the lead. Two horses likely to attract support are Sunny Puzzle (#4) and Fleeting (#6), who finished second and third in a similar spot recently. Sunny Puzzle was with the flow last time, racing close up to a slow pace (color-coded in blue), but that could be the case again today. Given the expected dynamics, we're going to take a shot with MANHATTAN JOHNNIE (#3). This horse has not shown speed in his last few starts, but he was a frontrunner at one time. Given the lack of other speed rivals, we're hoping that an aggressive Luis Saez can hustle him to the front and wire this field. It's not our strongest opinion, but at least this horse will be a decent price. After all, Saez was aboard for his last win, as long ago as that was.
Selections: 3 – 8 – 4 – 6
Race 3: Doctor Mounty (#6) is likely to go off at a very short price here. Last time he could not quite negotiate the extra furlong, just succumbing to Peter Pan entrant Lost Iron in the final strides of a nine-furlong maiden race at Aqueduct. Nevertheless he still earned a 98 speed figure, just bettering the number he earned for his strong effort against the promising Mo Power at Gulfstream two back. We're hardly against him, but we want to take a small shot with another runner at a much better price. TALE OF MIST (#1) looked as if he was on track to do some nice things after a solid third place finish behind subsequent graded stakes winner Shagaf in his second start. However, he completely fell apart at Gulfstream, failing to reach contention in any of his starts over that track. It's well documented that some horses just don't take to that surface, so we're willing to forgive those efforts. We still think we haven't yet seen the best of this half-brother to Tonalist.
Selections: 1 – 6 – 3 – 4
Race 4: Our pick is the closer CLIFTON PLEASURE (#1), who almost certainly would have won his last race had he not been shut off when trying to rally between horses in deep stretch. As always, he needs a little bit of pace help, but he should get just enough of that to set up his late run here. The horse he has to run down is Proletariat (#3), who has run a series of superior speed figures in his recent starts, including a field-best 112 when he held off Clifton Pleasure two back. The mile and a sixteenth distance may be pushing him to his limit, but he's still dangerous. The wild card in the race is Hit It Once More (#9), who was impressive when breaking his maiden off the layoff last time. However, he was facing a much weaker field that day and has yet to run fast enough to suggest he can compete with these.
Selections: 1 – 3 – 9 – 7
Race 5: Of those with experience, the two strongest contenders appear to be Gorelli (#2) and Brooklyn Major (#4). We slightly prefer the latter, since Gorelli has just had so many chances and is developing a history of merely picking up minor awards. Brooklyn Major may have spent a little too much time racing down on the rail taking mud in his face last time, considering that the race was dominated by horses that made wide moves. He's improved since getting Lasix and could find himself on or near the lead here. However, we're not enamored with either of these otpions, so we'll instead take a shot with first-time starter ROYAL EKATI (#1). Barclay Tagg has done excellent work his debut runners over the past year or so and this colt sold for a hefty sum as a yearling. He's been working very strongly for this initial start and has attracted the services of Javier Castellano. You're always guessing with horses like this, but there are a few arrows pointing in his direction.
Selections: 1 – 4 – 2 – 5
Race 6: OFFERING PLAN (#7) is likely to go off at a very short price, and we have no knocks against him. Chad Brown just routinely wins with horses coming off these types of layoffs, especially in turf routes. This colt got very good towards the end of last season, impressively taking a minor stakes at Belmont before running deceptively well in a loaded Hollywood Derby to close out his season. There figures to be enough pace in this race with the speedy Integrity leading the way early, but it may not matter, since he just appears to be superior to this group. Western Reserve (#6) appears to be the most obvious alternative, but we're somewhat concerned about moisture in the turf course, since he seemed to really improve over a very hard course at Gulfstream last time. He'll still be on our tickets, but we think Weekend Express (#5) may offer better value. He did not get the most clever ride last time, chasing three-wide most of the way, and today he gets a positive rider switch to Joe Bravo. He's run well enough on occasion to contend for a minor award at a big price.
Selections: 7 – 5 – 6 – 3
Race 7: Let's kick off this all-stakes Pick-4 with a price. Carrumba (#6) figures to go off as the short-priced favorite. While we were encouraged to see her return in good form, we're a little skeptical of the "question mark" 120 speed figure assigned to her last race, since it seems pretty high for many of the runners involved. If Carrumba repeats that figure, she will probably win, but we believe she doesn't have that great of an edge on this field. Many will regard Cavorting (#1) as her main rival. One could argue that she had excuses in her two tries at today's one-mile distance, but we are also concerned about her current form. She just doesn't appear to possess the same spark that she had last summer. Given these questions, we want to take a shot with SPELLING AGAIN (#3). She had been in great form through last fall and we feel she has been compromised in her two most recent starts. She raced towards the inside on November 27, a day at Aqueduct that was strongly favoring horses that avoided the rail. Then, in the Grade 1 Madison last time out, she had a valid excuse, since she was steadied hard around the far turn. Bad Cox, who gets a decent enough 75 trainer rating with runners coming off layoffs, gets a 100 trainer rating when those horses make their second starts back from a break.
Selections: 3 – 6 – 4 – 1
Race 8: We're not trying to get nearly as creative in the Beaugay. MY MISS SOPHIA (#8) routinely ran well against the best fillies and mares in the country last summer and fall. If she can regain that form off the lengthy layoff, she is supposed to win this race. Furthermore, while she doesn't necessarily need the lead, she is almost assuredly going to get it, according to the Pace Projector, in a situation favoring horses on or near the lead. Recepta (#1) is her main challenger and she has drawn well down on the inside. Yet even at her best, we believe she's a slight cut below the good My Miss Sophia. The only other runner we could use is Strike Charmer (#6), who put in a very strong late rally in her return at Aqueduct last time.
Selections: 8 – 1 – 6 – 3
Race 9: Unified (#7) is likely to go off as the heavy favorite. He easily bested a field of sprinters in the Grade 3 Bay Shore, earning a lofty 121 speed figure. If he repeats a number like that, he’s probably going to win this race. However, we have some doubts. That race was contested over a muddy track, which he clearly relished. Additionally, the horse that finished closest to him, King Kranz, earned a speed figure of 117 in finishing second, 15 points higher than he had ever run before. King Kranz is a fairy consistent horse, and sure enough, he ran last week and regressed 15 points, returning to his typical 102 speed figure while winning a minor stakes. It’s no small feat to stretch out from seven furlongs to a mile and an eighth for the first time. We strongly prefer Unified’s chief rival, ADVENTIST (#3). This colt has been plagued by greenness throughout his brief career, but he finally appeared to be putting it all together in the Gotham, where he was slightly against the track bias, and the Wood Memorial, in which he was moving best of all late after a wide trip. This nine-furlong distance suits him perfectly, as should the one-turn distance at Belmont. He’s a significant overlay at anything over 5/2.
Selections: 3 – 7 – 5 – 6
Race 10: Pace and trips figure to have a major influence in this race, given the lack of confirmed frontrunners. The closest we get is Go Around (#5), who has been in great form at age four and wired an optional claiming field two back. Though he was beaten by Money Multiplier in the Saranac last year, Go Around ran the much stronger race, launching a wide bid from the back of the pack before flattening out in the final furlong. We doubt we’ll get as high as his morning line price of 10/1, but he is a very logical contender for top honors. We'll use him, but we slightly prefer Mott's other runner, CLOSING BELL (#4). We felt that he ran better than it looks in the Hollywood Derby last fall, chasing a fast pace (color-coded in red) before coming up empty in the stretch. He also ran well behind World Approval last time at Fair Grounds, and that one returned with a huge effort on Kentucky Derby day. Let’s hope the blinkers will have him placed closer to the pace. Kaigun (#7) is the other horse we would use, but despite being in some of the best form of his career, he's prone to picking up minor awards.
Selections: 4 – 5 – 7 – 6
Race 11: Ancient Secret (#4) displayed an impressive turn of foot in her maiden-breaking score last year, rallying from just off the pace to win by a comfortable margin. The 88 speed figure that she earned, even as a two-year-old, would put her in the mix here. While we acknowledge that she's the horse to beat off the layoff, we slightly prefer AMAZING ANNE (#11). As a three-year-old last year, she put in a spectacular effort against colts at Saratoga, making up a ton of ground into a slow pace (color-coded in blue). She was entered back just three days later and could not reproduce that same effort. Unfortunately, that quick turnaround may have knocked her out for the year, since she was uncharacteristically dull in one final start in September. Her return at Aqueduct last month was encouraging and she has every right to move forward off that effort here. Pace players Hillaryinthehouse (#8) and Majestic Bloom (#5) are ones to consider using on larger backup tickets.
Selections: 11 – 4 – 8 – 5