#11 EXCULPATE will make some positive changes in her third start of the meet. She debuted for Steve Asmussen on February 13 and was favored in that first start, running an average C+ OptixGRADE effort. She was claimed that day and perhaps “protected” to some extent as she was stepped up to the $40k maiden claiming level on March 12. She presents a move forward today with the OptixNOTES Projections given the added ground (STRETCH) and class DROP today running for the $20k maiden claiming tag. The “Red” PlotFit is in play, as often the case with lightly raced types and many in here, including Exculpate, trying something new. As far as Standard, she fits with today’s projected profile with the higher 73 SpeedRate as a stalking Square in Quad II.
A value case can be made for #6 UPSTRIKER with some hidden form and recency making his third start of the form cycle. The connections decided to wait for this race, scratching from a similar event, though more contentious bunch on the Arkansas Derby undercard. Ron Moquett worked Upstriker that morning of April 2 to suggest there was not an issue keeping him from the race. They will make a rider change today and project a favorable move following the trip and poor rider TACTIC- on March 12. That trip tracking inside and behind horses off a slow early pace (S/Slow O4S) was a contrast to dynamic on February 20 dueling inside horses on a very-fast (VF/Very Fast O4S) half-mile pace.
The change in rider tactics in the races this season for Upstriker have created a mismatch on the Plot from his E RunStyle. Upstriker had success on the lead as a sophomore, though could find himself more of a PC RunStyle as an older horse. That trip could work favorably as he sits right off the “Fire” Contention in Quad I and could sit first run under Tiago Pereira.
#5 MUCH BETTER has also shown some legit early speed this season, and that is reflected on the Plot as a Quad I Circle. The lack of finish is also documented and could see Isaac Castillo, a rider change today, try to change things up and move into a pressing trip. In that case, Upstriker and Pereira could try and make the lead off those February 20 early fractions and potentially with less pace pressure.
Form cycle comes into play for the other Quad I runners. #7 ABSOLUTE CHAOS will wheel right back in 22 days from that April 2 race that Upstriker decided to pass. Absolute Chaos finished second, though also had a PERFECT trip and still came up short. He also earned a new OptixFIG top, and some regression is possible on the quicker turnaround for this horse. There are similar form cycle concerns for #3 BREAKING NEWS and #8 LEAGUE OF LEGENDS, two horses returning to run here on shorter rest, wheeling back off new top Optix FIGs, respectively, along with this step up in class. Class will also be a test for #1 LIGHTNING STRUCK and #4 BODOCK as three-year-old colts making their first start against older.
Optix FIGs are on the decline for #2 GREELEY AND BEN, arguably the horse to beat in this race. That decline has some concerns attached and will find some changes from his races this season. The blinkers will be removed again today; and this change is one that has been used in the past without much change in his form or speed when utilized. Greeley and Ben will also run today for the claiming tag, and that comes with some justified reservations as a player with that change. One has to consider the connections are still willing to lose a horse that has won three stakes races for them as well as two in-the-money finishes, including his most recent race finishing third in the Whitmore (G3) — his first attempt at the graded stakes level. A reasonable case could also be made from a business standpoint by looking back over his form to where he was originally picked up by Broberg for $12.5k during this Oaklawn meet last year. This eight-year-old gelding has more than paid back that purchase price, a number that is much lighter than today’s $62.5k tag — they could also be willing to gamble that there will not be any takers.