#4 DRIFTER will likely be favored in this race off his established form as the known commodity in the field. He could have that advantage and might just catch the right bunch to win. However, he’s been at this condition in his two most recent starts and overall came up short of winnings effort keying off the C+ and B- OptixGRADES. #1 POPSTER could be sitting on a peak effort as he makes his third start of this form cycle. As he lands in this spot, some positive intent could be in play as he finds a distance change shortening up, and a positive following the NO_KEEP at the mile distance on Dec. 18. He also picks up a rider change to journeyman Torres, a change to support the positive intent theory. Popster earned a C+ OptixGRADE making his first start off the layoff on Dec. 3 posting a 74 OptixFIG, a number that is not far off Drifter and comparable on class. That number is key as Popster is still lightly raced and could still present a move forward, whereas Drifter has established himself and his ability.
#11 MOONLIGHT BLAZE has some upside as a second-time starter with some changes in play for this event. She debuted last month at Remington Park at the Special Weight level and sprint distance where she technically finished seventh, though she was part of blanket finish for show. More competitive than the running line and finish could appear to the public. She earned a 62 OptixFIG, a number that stacks up with many in this field, and still could hold a move forward as this will be just her second start. Lukas will take over the training, drops her in class to a maiden claiming, and stretches her out in distance to a mile. Contreras will have the call and has been a live rider for this barn.
#8 NOVEL SQUALL will get a look in this spot coming back under similar conditions off the “BTL/Better Than Looked” effort here on Dec. 12. The running line and fourth-place finish look rather common on paper, though does not show her making a MOVE early after a slow start (SLOG) into a faster part of the race (X_FLOW) and still showing determination to stay on late with that hidden adversity. Trip will be key here for Novel Squall as she will have to show positional speed to keep pace with the Quad I group as there does show visually some separation from the Quad I to the Quad IV group.
That Quad I cluster is the “Fire” Contention though the moderate 25 SpeedRate must also be considered. If that group can create some separation on the Quad IV trio and the pace is not too fast as projected by the SpeedRate the race can be won by a horse on or near the lead. That scenario upgrades #2 SARAH HARPER with the edge on pace, higher on y-axis above Par Line, as well holding progressive OptixFIG in RANGE for this allowance condition. She is on an improving OptixFIG pattern with some upside making her second start of the meet and that important second start against winners.
Trainer Bret Calhoun will return with the pair of #5 GO WEST and #9 VICTORY MARCH exiting the Dec. 11 Maiden Special Weight event. Go West ran a new top 99 OptixFIG, a strong number that stands out in this group, though will be required to hold his form (not regress) as he makes his second start off the layoff with that potential in the realm of possibility. Where regression is possible on his stablemate, Victory March has the potential to improve making just his second start and off the trip just 29 days ago. His trouble began at the start (SLOG, TROUBLE_S) which forced a middle MOVE and loss of energy as stablemate Go West and the eventual winner, Emperador, both horses racing forwardly placed throughout (similar for the tiring show finisher #2 STRATOFORTRESS) to finish together and clear at the wire.
#1 BEST BET could also present a move forward as he makes his belated second start and transfers to the barn of Brad Cox. The case for a contender is tougher to get to from the others in this field with racing experience, and while some of the first-time starters could be live for capable connections, they will be giving up recency and experience as well as holding some overall reservations making their belated debut as older horses. #11 UNCLE BERLEY will debut here as the lone sophomore in the field and has the opposite challenge taking on older for the first time.