Race 1: #1 Zoning Order 3-1
#1 Zoning Order should be tough to beat in the opener to kick off the new week. This is a massive drop in class from straight maidens to 15k claimers and it’s not like she was getting pummeled in the big leagues either. She took money both starts against straight maidens and split the field after showing speed both times. Two back was against Elysian Field who returned to win the Woodbine Oaks a couple weeks ago, so there’s no doubt Zoning Order was keeping good company. Her best race was her debut where she ran against optional claimers, still much tougher competition than what she faces in here, and she ran a good second after stalking the pace from the inside. That’s likely the trip she’ll get in today’s heat and she can save all the ground. The biggest question mark is the switch to the turf and while the pedigree doesn’t scream turf, she did get a workout over it recently so they must’ve liked the way she handled the new surface. Banach is not having his best year, but he has done really well with turf sprinters recently and Hernandez bothers to ride back.
Race 3: #9 Spanish Prince 4-1
#10 Exult (7/2) is strictly the one to beat exiting tougher races at Gulfstream and New York. He’s likely to take plenty of money considering the company he kept and the speed figures he earned in those races. However, he’s a horse that clearly is at his best when he’s allowed to lag well behind the field, and I’m not sure that’s the winning formula for this race given the lack of speed signed on. Like most of these, he’s also been camera shy at short prices throughout his career so he’s difficult to trust. I strongly considered #5 Small Talk (8-1) making his second start off a layoff. He’s one that can be forwardly placed and I thought his last start was better than it looked considering the two speeds finished up the track at reasonable odds. I ultimately decided I needed to see a tad more than he showed last time, since he really threw in the towel in the final furlong.
My top pick is #9 Spanish Prince (4-1) who is looking to make it three in a row, this time for the Mcknight barn. He’s been a different horse in 2023, winning each of his starts in convincing fashion and earning respectable figures in doing so. I know he had perfect trips in those races, stalking the pace from outside posts, but on paper he’s supposed to get a great setup yet again. There’s not a lot of speed lined up in here and there’s a real chance that he could find himself on an uncontested lead. And if somebody else is hellbent on making the front, he can sit right off them like he’s done in his last two victories. I love that he’s cutting back from a two-turn race as he should have a fitness edge over his rivals at this tricky seven furlong distance. The McKnight barn isn’t exactly lighting the world on fire, but it’s encouraging to see Salles ride through the claim, and I think you should get the 4-1 offered on the morning line.
Race 9: #4 Cliff’s Head 10-1
I want to take a shot with #4 Cliff’s Head at a price (10-1). She drew well in the four post and has tactical speed in a race where most of the competition wants to sit back and make one run. She’s definitely an inconsistent sort and difficult to trust, but her better races put her in the mix. The morning line favorite is #9 Zippity Day (5/2) and Cliff’s Head has actually defeated that rival twice already this year(albeit on synthetic). Although Zippity Day has had more success on this surface, I don’t believe it justifies this big of a difference in the morning line and I’m hoping to capitalize on that opinion.
There are questions about her ability to handle the two turns and the turf but I think she can overcome those hurdles. She’s been on the turf course before and could only manage one second from four starts. The one start that’s in the racing form wasn’t bad though when she was able to finish fourth and pass a few rivals in a race that was dominated by the speed. The figure she earned that day was about on par with what she had been running on the synthetic at the time so I think she’ll be okay on the turf. Her one race around two turns was one of the worst of her career, but it was followed by a long layoff so there’s a good chance that something went wrong that day that was unrelated to the distance. Her even running style in elongated sprints indicates to me that two turns shouldn’t be an issue so I want to give her another opportunity to do so.