Picks & Plays for Friday, May 24
by David Aragona
Race 1: 5 - 7 - 1 - 2
Race 2: 5 - 3 - 4 - 2
Race 3: 1 - 6 - 3 - 5
Race 4: 6 - 8 - 7 - 5
Race 5: 2 - 3 - 6 - 5
Race 6: 3 - 1 - 9 - 6
Race 7: 12 - 9 - 7 - 5
Race 8: 1 - 4 - 6 - 7
Race 9: 4 - 7 - 2 - 1
RACE 1: CLYDE’S RUNNER (#5)
Blacktop Legend may go off as the favorite as he drops in for a tag for the first time. He’s shown an affinity for turf in his two starts, but both of those efforts came in route races. His debut was an oddly run affair in which a run-off leader opened up nearly 15 lengths on the backstretch. The entire field came together at the wire, so Blacktop Legend was not actually finishing as strongly as his running line indicates. He was overmatched against a tougher field at Gulfstream last time and now drops. Thomas has solid numbers with these trainer moves, so I’m definitely using him, but I prefer his main rival. Clyde’s Image makes his 4-year-old debut after a series of frustrating efforts as a 3-year-old. He showed real promise when he made his debut over this course last year, closing well to be second behind the capable Be Gone Daddy. However, his connections then stretched him out against tougher company, and he did not respond well to the changes. As a half-brother to turf sprinter End Play, he’s just not suited to going two turns. Following those missed opportunities at Saratoga, he got one more chance to sprint in the fall at Belmont but worked out an impossible, wide trip over a rail-biased turf course. This horse has a lot more ability than his form indicates, and I like that he’s getting back to six furlongs on turf. He’s making his first start as a gelding, and he has the services of leading rider Jose Lezcano. All signs point to a top effort. The other horse that I would include in exactas and trifectas at a big price is first time turf El Fenomeno. This son of Paynter actually has some turf pedigree and should move up with the surface switch.
Exacta Key Box: 5 with 1,2,7
Trifecta: 5 with 1,7 with 1,2,3,4,7
RACE 4: TEN EYCK (#6)
Stock Trade is obviously the horse to beat in this spot, and he figures to go off as the prohibitive favorite. Bill Mott, who is this colt’s owner and trainer, has chosen this easier spot instead of a tougher starter allowance race yesterday. Stock Trade is dropping in class to race for the cheapest tag of his career, and that makes sense given his current form. While he has not run poorly in his recent starts, he has failed to progress since early in his 3-year-old season. He disappointed at short prices in each of his last two starts at Gulfstream, but this softer spot may get him back into the winner’s circle. I’m using him prominently, but I think this horse be vulnerable to an upset. I’m taking a shot against the favorite with Ten Eyck. This gelding’s form declined after the summer in 2018, but he had been in decent form prior to that. He ran very well in his maiden score last July, handling a yielding turf course while winning by 8 lengths. The speed figure that he earned that day would make him a serious threat in a spot like this. Tom Morley is not known for having horses ready to fire off long layoffs, but Ten Eyck actually ran well off a similar layoff last year. If he returns in top form, or has improved at all as a 4-year-old, I think he’s the best alternative to the favorite. Junior Alvarado has to make sure that he doesn’t lose contact with the field in the early stages, but the horse should get some pace to close into with speeds like River Knight and La Maquina Gris in the field. The other horse I would use as a backup is Mr. Massena. He’s hard to trust given that his recent dirt form has been poor, but he ran well the last time we saw him on turf in September.
Exacta Key Box: 6 with 3,5,7,8
Trifecta: 6,8 with 6,8 with 2,3,5,7
RACE 6: CHINA RIDER (#3)
This is a very confusing race with contenders coming in from a number of circuits and class levels. In some ways, the horse to beat is Sweet Bye and Bye, who may go off much lower than her morning-line price of 4-1. While she’s never sprinted on turf, she appears to have the tools to handle it. Furthermore, the Pace Projector is predicting that she will be on the lead in a situation favoring the front-runner. The only major question mark is the layoff since this may be merely a stepping-stone to goals this summer. I’m using her, but I prefer the confirmed turf sprinters. I believe Oleksandra is going to be pretty tough to beat if she shows up with a top effort. This mare relished her first two starts over the downhill turf course at Santa Anita and was impressive two back despite winning by only a half-length. Something may have happened in her last start since she loomed as a formidable presence approaching the quarter pole but abruptly flattened out in the stretch. I take it as a good sign that Neil Drysdale is shipping her to the NYRA circuit, and she appears to be well suited to the conditions of the race. I’m using both of these contenders prominently, but my top selection is China Rider. I know she looks to be too slow based on her recent races, but there are some reasons to believe that she is going to run a lot better in her first start off the layoff. She tried this level on turf only once last year and was involved in a tougher spot behind the stakes-placed Fear No Evil. China Rider obviously went off form after that and was accordingly dropped in class. Cannizzo and these connections lost her, claimed her back, and put her away. She’s now showing a series of uncharacteristically fast workouts at Saratoga for her return, which is notable since China Rider has never been a flashy work horse in the past. Furthermore, she has done some of her best work over turf courses with a little give in them, and Thursday's rains should have the Belmont course just soft enough to suit her. At her best, she’s capable of competing with this group, and I won’t be surprised if she’s ready to go off the break.
Exacta Key Box: 3 with 1,4,6,9
RACE 7: PASSPORTTOVICTORY (#12)
Chiclet’s Dream is the obvious favorite as she returns from a layoff for Chad Brown. She made four starts last season, winning one and losing to her stablemates in the remaining three. She clearly handles a variety of turf conditions, so rain in the forecast for Friday should not bother her. She ran perhaps the best race of her career over yielding ground when last seen in October. She got a very good trip that day, staying on the rail for six furlongs over a course that was favoring inside runners, but she finished up strongly once outside in the clear. The slight cutback to seven furlongs should be to her liking. She’s quite formidable, but I want to take a shot against her with Passporttovictory. This filly subtly improved this winter under the care of Jeremiah Englehart. She does not seem to run her best races over wet dirt tracks but put forth solid efforts when she encountered fast going in December and April. That effort April 5 was much better than it appears, as she got shuffled back in the early going and made an eye-catching late run in a race that did not set up for closers. I don’t mind this switch to turf at all since her prior turf efforts suggest that this is arguably her preferred surface. Her grass races are generally better than her surrounding dirt efforts, and she’s in much better form now than the last time she switched surfaces.
Exacta Key Box: 12 with 5,7,9
Trifecta: 9,12 with 9,12 with 4,5,7,11