#1 TANGO KILO was featured on Circles and Squares on January 22nd, he was given a look making his second start receiving favorable added ground from the debut. While noted that he still could be a race or two out, his presence in the race was worth mentioning due to the price and again the preferred route distance for this runner. While he did not win that afternoon, he did show some run in spots and should benefit from that added experience. He will wheel right back for the connections in just 15-days and returning with the class drop, running for the maiden claiming tag this afternoon. Overall improvement is still needed to win and capable to move forward due to that class change and being lightly raced. Tango Kilo fits right in line with the bulk of this field outside the two more experienced runners here #6 BEAUCETTE’S EKATI and #7 OPTIMUS KAT with their speed figures standing out in this group. In terms of Beaucette’s Ekati, there are some stamina concerns with him based on his races to date. Optimus Kat seems logical in this spot and should not have any excuses today. With that said, most of his form was on the turf and shifting to the main track on November 13th he chased the winner around the track and that Churchill Downs maiden race has not been a strong or productive event going forward.
#6 CHANGE DIRECTION will have just that this afternoon returning to make his second start of the meet going route-to-sprint for trainer Paul Holthus. The distance going the two turns on January 22nd was questionable for him in terms of stamina, and especially given the race shape that afternoon. The “Sun” Contention and 50 SpeedRate looked to set up horses from off the pace and that is exactly how the race played out – see OptixRESULTSGRAF in the image below.
Change Direction was part of that “Very Fast” (VF O4S/O6S) pace before losing ground and can be upgraded here in terms of race flow. That plays well here as he also finds a cutback in distance returning to a sprint. His OptixFIG from this current form cycle recorded at Hawthorne fit in RANGE this afternoon. There is a class change as well, and a significant change comparing the OptixFIGRANGE from January 22nd with the 94-88 to today’s OFR of 87-79.
In terms of today’s race shape, Change Direction sits favorably in Quad I as the lone Square, a change as well from last out as a Quad I Circle. That is an important distinction as he does face a “Fire” Contention and another 50 SpeedRate though in a spot where he can compete. The race shape should allow for Quad IV, #9 THE BIG BLUFF and #4 TAPALIST to run on late and get into the mix.
The King Cotton Stakes does not draw the largest field, though makes up for it in terms of competition as a case can be made for each runner in this field. With that said, #1 STRIKE POWER might just hold a pace advantage, to take this field gate-to-wire. Strike Power is not a horse I have been a “fan” of going back to his first couple starts when he was able to make easy leads, lack of lead changes and moderate paces in those initial wins. He became exposed with pressure and added ground with his form tailing off at the end of the sophomore season. Following a layoff and fresh for his four-year-old return Strike Power was back to winning ways with a strong allowance effort in the spring of 2019 at Gulfstream Park. He was stepped back up to graded stakes company in his next start, the True North (G2) at Belmont Park, where he showed some determination dueling throughout only to get picked up at the wire by Catalina Cruiser. He struggled to maintain his form after that race and had to deal with a series of layoffs, pretty missing the entire 2020 racing season. When he made that lone start of 2020, it was his first race back in 354-days and first start with trainer Steve Asmussen. Strike Power from the rail found himself dueling inside a contentious pace early; he was unable to stick with the eventual winner though did not quite seem at his “peak” on the day visually. Since that November 26th Churchill Downs race, Asmussen has kept with the training and perhaps some confidence here running in stakes company. The key with Strike Power seems to be trip and securing that lone lead. There are others in here capable to duel and press, as shown with the Contention on OptixPLOT. With that said, Strike Power presents more as an “E” RunStyle and under an aggressive ride from the inside could just find his ideal “lone” trip and take the group gate-to-wire.
Value will have to be there with Strike Power due to his lack of consistency, though price should hold with the depth of today’s race. #3 FLAGSTAFF is a legit player based on his graded stakes form and Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) effort here last season. He has the right RunStyle (Quad III Square) to find himself the right trip, however, Flagstaff does have run off the 132-day layoff and Sadler horses so far have been struggling here this meet, things to keep in mind as the race favorite.
#2 SEVEN NATION ARMY and #6 MR. JAGERMEISTER also sit in Quad I, though as shown on the Plot lack quite the same first call (furthest left) of Strike Power and have been most successful in a presser/tracker type role. Tactically, those two runners could have a say in the outcome in terms of playing a role in the race shape, though slightly below in terms of class require serious racing luck in order to win.
The separation visually between the Quad I and Quad IV runners, #4 MUCHO and #5 BOLDOR could leave that off-the-pace pair too much to do late. This where Contention and SpeedRate can take on different roles. The lower 17 SpeedRate today, does not often favor closers even with the “Fire” Contention. That SpeedRate can also be seen on OptixPLOT with the ParLine and in this case only one runner, Strike Power, sits above that line.