The Contention and SpeedRate are of note and in play with morning-line favorite #1A MATROOH. Already a two-time winner this meet and earning solid OptixFIG in the process he will look for a third here. Those races make him a contender though noted he had favorable (LONE and PERFECT) trips in those events. Things look to change on that front this afternoon, and at a short price is worth looking outside for alternatives.
#7 HE’S SO ZAZZY, though distance could be a factor here, has the ability to race from off the pace and improve from his first start of the meet back on February 22. Despite finding trouble from the start (TROUBLE_S) throughout his trip (TROUBLE, TRAFFIC) still ran on late and finished well once finally able to get into the clear.
#9 CROATIAN, who makes his third start of the meet this afternoon, looks to have the pace scenario with the outside post in his favor. He caught a solid allowance field back in January and was caught extra-wide in the early stages trying to find position. A similar tactic as he raced close to the pace from an inside draw last out forced his hand in terms of trip. As shown on OptixPLOT below, his Quad II Square position should find him able to track outside the first flight (Quad I/III) sitting with first run and the ability to finish.
RACE 8 – ESSEX H.
The Essex H. features a competitive group and for many a rematch coming out of the Razorback (G3) last month. Current form and speed figures are consistent amongst many runners in this field, and with that noted, the case for many. With those playing fields relatively even, trip/pace becomes a major factor here.
Looking at OptixPLOT there is a “fire” Contention rating paired with an honest 58 SpeedRate – more than half of the field in Quad I, and above the par line. This is favorable to #4 BANKIT looking to find the win after a couple tight finishes already this meet. He ran well (B OptixGRADE) in both the the Fifth Season S. (photo finish) and game in defeat behind the front-running winner Warrior’s Charge in the Razorback. It should be noted Santana has been aboard all the participating Asmussen runners #3 LAUGHING FOX and #6 SNAPPER SINCLAIR and will land here.
Note the rider change on #5 BRAVAZO as well with De La Cruz getting aboard, after having been up on #1 GUEST SUITE in his most recent races. BRAVAZO has yet to find the board this meet, though has not had the most ideal trips, and with pace/trip being crucial this afternoon could find his ideal setup. He has some tactical speed and used that in the Fifth Season before the rider allowed him to get shuffled back in traffic and give up ground. Giving up ground was the case bigly in the Razorback breaking from the far outside post that afternoon, and a post position he was unable to overcome with a wide trip throughout.
RACE 10 – REBEL (G2)
#1 NADAL is hard to knock off his two starts to date, breaking his maiden as expected first out and backing that up with the win last month in the San Vicente (G2). He has shown legit early speed, earned solid OptixFIG in those races, and showed class (B+ OptixGRADE) to dig in for the San Vicente win. With that noted he does find some challenges to overcome this afternoon. This will be his first start around two turns and based on his first two starts and drawing the rail expects to be on the lead right from the start. Physically he carries himself in a manner that kickback could be an issue, and probably something they will try and avoid here getting out in front of horses. As shown on the OptixPLOT below he does expect to find pressure on the front end and has a legit set (not cheap speed) challenging him in that role. It will be something for him to overcome and consider as he does expect to be a short price in here. Also, worth mentioning as noted the blinkers coming off for this race; the move is very subtle, as he has worn blinkers in his most recent starts, and the cup was so shallow it was almost non-existent.
#2 EXCESSION finds it hard to make a case for himself coming back to graded stakes this afternoon following his efforts against similar class (C+ OptixGRADES) at the Fair Grounds. He comes into this race certainly fit; however, he is on the lighter side in speed figures and a minor placing looks to be the ceiling.
#3 BASIN is respected coming into this race as he is a Grade 1 winner taking the Hopeful at Saratoga last summer. With that noted this will be his first start back since that race last September. He has had time to sort out what kept him off over the last few months and mature as well. That will be crucial here as this stakes race will be his first race around two turns. Watching his races from the summer there is nothing that jumps out to suggest the distance will be a concern, though still has to prove it here.
#4 SILVER PROSPECTOR, stablemate to BASIN, has proven himself at the distance and even over this course most recently taking the Southwest (G3). He was able to find a more preferred, an ideal “pocket” type trip that afternoon compared to the almost excuse trip in the Smarty Jones. The effort and his ability to rate and finish (Quad II/IV Square) give him a look right back in terms of form and trip for today’s event. With that said, it should be noted his visuals finishing in the Southwest as he was drifting out (NO_LINE) late and showing some indications of a distance limitation, something to keep in mind going forward.
#5 NO PAROLE, hardly challenged in each of his three starts, steps up in class and faces open company this afternoon. Even though he has been handling his challengers with ease he has looked impressive and the numbers back up those visuals. With the race complexion (Quad I), and NADAL in the field he expects to find a challenge on the lead this afternoon should the tactics here remain the same. Logically, it makes sense that they would not change anything here, though watching his races seems that he has enough class to rate if asked.
#6 THREE TECHNIQUE, coming off a place finish in the Smarty Jones, will return “fresh” this afternoon skipping the Southwest last month. All things considered, he ran a very solid race to finish second with some factors in terms of trip slow start (SLOG) and WIDE (against profile) that afternoon. That is given extra-credit though still lingering are some distance concerns for him. That will be the biggest test for him here as he not only competes this afternoon but looks ahead on the Derby trail.
#7 COACH BAHE certainly seems to be an improving type coming into this race, though has a legit challenge coming off the recent maiden win to make his first start against winners in graded stakes competition. There is some upside and while tough to make a strong case for him on the win end of things, could be encouraged with a good effort this afternoon moving forward.
#8 AMERICAN THEOREM makes his return this afternoon and will pick up right where he left off in graded stakes. He broke his maiden first out and while some factors were in his favor, ran his race and showed his ability that afternoon. Connections awarded for their ambition making his second start in the American Pharoah (G1) finishing a strong second – B OptixGRADE for the effort. That makes him a fit in this field despite his speed figures being on the lower end this afternoon. It is worth keeping in mind those numbers were earned almost six months ago which is a massive amount of time for a young runner to mature. Watching him train coming into this race he looks fit and as ready as he can be. The other thing that stands out about him and was picked in the morning going into his debut is his competitive drive, he has that “grit” characteristic — something that certain horses are just born with.