Stewards are often put in no-win situations. Any decision they make is going to offend someone watching the race who disagrees with them, even ones that seem obvious to neutral observers.
However, we’re starting to see riding that goes beyond “aggressive” and into “reckless,” and it’s not getting penalized. It seems like horses are getting herded, bumped, cut off, and forced to alter course in dramatic fashion at least once a day. Sometimes, that’s non-malicious, bad racing luck (like what happened in Wednesday’s seventh race, where Dylan Davis’s horse was simply in the wrong spot at the wrong time and caused Eric Cancel and his mount to fall). Other times, it’s stuff that shouldn’t have a place in the game.
I’ll add my voice to a growing chorus: If this doesn’t change, riders and horses alike are at risk of getting hurt. Some contact is bound to happen, as is aggressive race-riding. Recklessness, however, has no place at any level of the sport, especially the highest one.
WEDNESDAY’S RESULTS: Skylander gave me some hope turning for home in the fifth but, unfortunately, flattened out. I dropped $24 after scratches.
THURSDAY’S PLAY: I’ll once again focus on the fifth race of the day. #9 ON PALM SUNDAY is my longshot of the day in the pick box, as I think he’s this race’s lone true early speed. In addition to a $15 win bet, I’ll key him in $2 exactas above and below #7 SENSE A GIANT and #10 MR. CONNECTICUT, and I’ll single him in $3 doubles starting in the fifth that end with #4 CURLY LARRY AND MO and #6 DONEGAL SURGES in the sixth.
TOTAL WAGERED: $29.
Best Bet: Empress Tigress, Race 9
Longshot: On Palm Sunday, Race 5
Patrick the Great
#4 PATRICK THE GREAT: Just missed last time out in a similar spot downstate and was nearly six lengths clear of that day’s third-place finisher. Irad Ortiz, Jr., sees fit to ride back for the new connections, which is certainly a plus; #6 CATCHING CUPID: Adds blinkers after running third in his first try against maiden claimers earlier this summer. This is the third start of his form cycle after a long layoff, so it wouldn’t be surprising if he’s sitting on a career-best effort; #5 SALT CAY: Will likely take plenty of betting money because of trainer Chad Brown, but I have my doubts. It seems like they were salivating to get him on turf after a pair of off-the-turf races last season, but he was 10th as an 8/5 favorite last time out and now gets dropped down the ladder. At his price, I’ll try to beat him.
#2 ANGELINKA: Runs for a tag for the first time and seems to have found a very weak field for the level. Neither stateside start is inspiring, but she’s got some back class from her time in Europe and has been chasing much, much better horses here; #4 VIOLENT POINT: Broke through to win for the first time in a while last time out and comes back to the turf. I’m not sure what she beat that day, but she earned an 81 Beyer Speed Figure in doing so, and she’d be competitive if she can repeat that performance; #5 BAY JEWEL: Hasn’t won since May of 2021 but goes first off the claim for a barn that doesn’t sport bad numbers with new acquisitions. The jump up in class hints at some confidence, and the two races she ran at this route last year against allowance foes weren’t terrible.
#5 DAME CINCO: Ran well when second for a slightly higher tag at Keeneland in April. He’s shown he likes this one-mile distance, and Luis Saez rides back when he likely had a few options in this event out of the Wilson chute; #2 PREPOSTEROUS: Goes first off the claim for Antonio Arriaga, who’s already found the winner’s circle a few times with his small string of runners. She was second last time out behind a major class-dropper, and she won going a mile last fall at Belmont; #1 BELARUS: Tries winners for the first time after breaking through downstate in June. I don’t think she beat a ton that day, but her form looks considerably better if you assume she just doesn’t like the Aqueduct surface she floundered over twice during the winter.
Nicky the Vest (MTO)
#2 BARRAGE: Ran well to finish second behind a “horse for the course” last time out in a similar spot, one that featured a bunch of horses that show up here. He seems to have moved forward in his 4-year-old campaign, and he’s a very logical favorite given this closer-friendly race shape; #3 RUSE: Is 0-for-4 this season, but did the best work of his career here last summer, when he won twice in three local starts. Of the probable pace-setters, he’s the one the hits me as the most likely winner; #7 STRAW INTO GOLD: Figures to benefit from a lively pace and retains Joel Rosario for Christophe Clement. That tag team merits respect, but it’s worth wondering if he prefers the downstate tracks given his 0-for-3 record at the Spa.
On Palm Sunday
Sense a Giant
#9 ON PALM SUNDAY: Certainly looks like the main speed in a race largely devoid of early zip. He comes back to his preferred surface after his local debut was washed off the turf, and I think he could get very comfortable and prove tough to catch at a big of a price; #7 SENSE A GIANT: Drops in for a tag at second asking and adds blinkers following a one-paced debut at Belmont. It’s not easy to make a first start going a route of ground, so improvement could certainly be in the cards; #10 MR. CONNECTICUT: Runs for a tag after finishing third earlier this summer, but the race he exits has not aged well. The second and fourth-place finishers both came back to run poorly over the weekend, the far outside post doesn’t help, and I just prefer others (especially at this one’s likely short price).
Curly Larry and Mo
#4 CURLY LARRY AND MO: Ran well to be second in his debut earlier at this stand and has every right to move forward at second asking. This barn’s numbers with second-out maidens are strong, and his experience edge over this entire field isn’t a small asset; #6 DONEGAL SURGES: Sold for $150,000 last year at Keeneland and debuts for Todd Pletcher. The most recent drill is impressive, as is his pedigree, but it’s worth wondering why he was worked twice on turf after a string of so-so drills earlier this summer; #8 IMPRESSOR: Sold for $335,000 earlier this year despite a modest pedigree and has every right to be a runner. If there’s hesitation here, it’s because Steve Asmussen trainees often need a race to get going, but it wouldn’t surprise me if this one went favored and he’s not without a shot.
#8 WINTER POOL: Ran well here twice last summer in a pair of races at this route. He’s been off since being claimed by Norm Casse in June, but an impressive series of drills ahead of a return to his favorite track has me encouraged; #4 KERSHAW: Was second in the very first race of the meet, one that fell apart due to a very fast pace for the level. He was probably a bit too close to it, but has every right to improve here in his first start for a barn that hits with 29% of runners first off the claim; #6 CLAYTNTHELIONHEART: Has cracked the exacta in five of six local starts and was third last time out in a pretty strong race for the level. He’s a pretty versatile runner, one that could give Julien Leparoux plenty of options early on in this two-turn event.
H. T. Xena
#5 BELLA PRINCIPESSA: Is a tepid top pick in a wide-open starter allowance race for older fillies and mares. She’s spent time on the turf of late, but ran well on dirt downstate earlier this season and has won at this tricky seven-furlong distance; #2 H. T. XENA: Cuts back from a mile in her first start for new trainer Matt Shirer, who protects her from being claimed in this spot. She romped going seven furlongs at Keeneland this past spring and may be figuring things out in her 4-year-old campaign; #1 ECHO FOXTROT: Is 2-for-2 after a pair of victories on the Mid-Atlantic circuit and ships up for a barn that must be respected. This is a pretty significant class test, but it does help her cause that the last-out runner-up has since come back to win.
Makin My Move
#7 EMPRESS TIGRESS: Has done nothing wrong to this point and handled a major class hike with aplomb to win the Coronation Cup last month. The Galway is a logical next step, and many runners she beat last time out will try her again here; #8 MAKIN MY MOVE: Has won two in a row since being switched to the turf and would benefit from a pace meltdown. One of those wins came at this route of ground, and when this barn gets horses on the right track, they tend to stay there; #6 BREEZE EASY: Cuts back after two stakes placings going longer downstate. She came over here after starting her career in Europe, where she placed in several stakes races going short against decent runners.
Lem Me Drink
#9 JOCOSITY: Was one-paced in her debut, which turned out to be a pretty fast race for the level. Bill Mott trainees usually move forward with experience, and I’m expecting progression here in the Thursday finale; #2 LEM ME DRINK: Showed some late interest in his debut going shorter and stretches out to a route of ground. There’s stamina in his pedigree, so the distance shouldn’t be a problem, and Javier Castellano is making the most of every mount so far this summer; #11 SUCCULENT: Rallied late to be fourth in the same race my top pick exits and earned a career-high Beyer Speed Figure in doing so. The faster they go early on, the better this one’s chances figure to be.