This is a competitive claiming event for older horses over a six-furlong sprint distance. Looking at OptixPLOT there are minimal changes from Standard (current form for today’s horses) and Surface/Distance, their ability to sprint on the main track, though the “Yellow” PlotFit will still be respected when it comes to the shape (Circle or Square) of each individual winner. The “Fire” Contention is shown visually, with the bulk of the field surrounding Quad I. This scenario could set up for the closers, Quad IV, #6 ALEX’S STRIKE or #7 CALIFORNIA SWING, however there is a lower 38 Speed Rate and the separation (visual distance between Quad I and Quad IV) could leave those runners too much to do late on the win end.
First run looks to sit with #3 FUTILE (Quad I/II) and #4 TAPPIN FOR A DANCE (high on y-axis in Quad I) as a favorable position on the Plot. The “Yellow” will be considered here in this case and while both are capable, their current class and speed with today’s OptixFIGRANGE will be tested in this race. That is especially the case with Tappin Fora Dance as his current OptixFIG sit below today’s RANGE to win as he is listed as the morning line favorite. He sits as a “soft favorite” in this race, despite the favorable Plot position, when factoring in form, speed and class where he could be exposed today. That could also extend for #8 RIVER RULER, a Quad I/III Square, one that is below on OptixFIG for this race. Value will be expected on River Ruler, a horse that is not the strongest prime contender but one that could hold on for a share (Quad I/III Square) in the verticals.
Trainer Chris Hartman will make some changes with FUTILE; the now nine-year-old gelding will cut back to a sprint from his recent route races. The barn has been live here at Oaklawn Park and given some consideration as Futile makes his first start of the meet. His Plot position is the more dramatic change shifting to a Quad II Square on Surface/Distance. That could be the key for this horse to get the trip as one that is not the most willing to win and has required that perfect trip to win in the past.
#5 VERRAZANO FIRST could be a sneaky player in this race and one that could be upgraded from his current visual on the Plot. As noted above, even with the “Fire” Contention, the lower SpeedRate, could assist horses forwardly placed. Verrazano First is the lone “E” in the field and could use that Run Style to make the lead and present himself as a front-end threat. Both #1 TOMATO BILL and the filly #2 CHAKRA are showing in Quad I/III with some first call (left of the Plot) speed; however, their preferred “P” (presser) RunStyle could see them in a stalker or “presser” role rather than taking the lead.
Positive intent also could be in play for VERRAZANO FIRST as he makes his first start back after a 92-day layoff and has been training consistently here at Oaklawn Park. His trainer, Karl Broberg, has him placed in a favorable spot in terms of class at this claiming level with OptixFIG in RANGE along with a live rider in Ramon Vazquez. His most recent start was back on October 7 at Remington Park and there were some positive expectations that day as Verrazano First was bet down to 4.3-1 from his 15-1 morning line. The trip as shown by the Keywords in the Past 3 Runlines created some excuse, especially as that race was followed up by a layoff.
Another competitive event and there is a full field of runners to look for value from in this race. That starts by assessing the morning line favorite, #12 WINDY NATIONS. As far as OptixPLOT and his OptixFIG he stacks up with this field. His current form, however, is questionable as he makes his first start back in 362 days. That return from a layoff is combined with a severe class drop exiting the stakes races with the purse money in the six figures, a drop running for $25k and the $10k tag. Class par wise, the stakes races he exits hold a similar OptixFIGRANGE (OFR) to today’s race and he will have to improve to compete here on a class (GRADE) standpoint to win, even as the OptixFIG sit in RANGE. There could also be some added concerns with the placement by trainer Mike Maker to run on this circuit, as the barn has been on the colder side and come up short with heavy favorites (Drena’s Star on 1/1 for example) while the current Aqueduct meet is going on, and it would make sense for this New York bred to race on that circuit. All things considered and as the favorite at a shorter price, Windy Nations can be taken on with some vulnerabilities in that role especially as there are alternatives in this field.
Some of the alternatives are exiting a common race on December 11th, a race at a slightly higher claiming class condition. #6 SHACKS WAY will be the most obvious of the set, coming off the show finish and holding early speed (Quad I Square) for Diodoro. He can be given a slight race-flow upgrade as the race shape began to slow late. Overall, he will have to improve as his OptixFIG lack and edge over others to justify being the alternative wagering choice in this race. A similar race-flow upgrade could be given to #7 FALLEN EMPIRE, one that moved forward after a slow start (SLOG) to briefly contest the pace. He would need a career best to win with some racing luck, though he does have races to run back to that would make him competitive here as he goes out second off the claim for Matthews.
Circles and Squares readers will recognize #1 THE FEATURE as he was highlighted coming into his December 11 race off some subtle trips capable to improve for that third start of the form cycle. He will be given another look back today off that and a more subtle trip as shown in the Past 3 Runlines. His current “dirty” form should have him overlooked and at least what is expected, according to the morning line. Those recent trips play a role in his Circle shape while the Plot position, a position high up on the y-axis (second call), suits today’s dynamic.
The lighter SpeedRate and “Sun” Contention can give a look to Quad I Squares, #8 LOCH GARMAN and #11 WOBBERJOD, from a pace standpoint though both could have some value concerns lacking recency while also coming into this race light on class and speed. Loch Garman will make his first start of the form cycle coming back today off a 112-day layoff and he will need to transfer his form and speed from Prairie Meadows to compete here as this is a class test. Wobberjod faces a similar class test – he comes off a dominant debut win but he will have to improve to compete here off the 75 OptixFIG. The B+ OptixGRADE generally supports horses taking a step up in class, though this is a big rise as the Remington Park maiden race back on October 23rd was a 74-66 OptixFIGRANGE (OFR) compared to today’s 86-78 OFR.