Mucciolo’s Sophomore Spotlight
In this seven-furlong dash at Gulfstream Park, I think the outcome will boil down to the top two choices on the morning line. THREE RULES did not factor in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), suffering his lone defeat to date, though the son of Gone Astray was dominant in all five races prior to that, each of which came on this main oval. The Jose Pinchin pupil has trained well since that subpar run at Santa Anita and looks to be the one to beat in this small field. Florida-bred is simply too good on the Gulfstream Park dirt to ignore and he is my top pick at this stage of his career.
FAVORABLE OUTCOME, the 8-5 second choice on the morning line, made his turf debut in a daunting spot, the Juvenile Turf (G1), and I am glad to see the Chad Brown pupil back on the main oval. Third in the Champagne (G1) the second time out, $300,000 son of Flatter ran his best race at first asking off morning drills, recording a facile tally at Saratoga, and has the most long-term appeal to me in this field. Javier Castellano will ride the Kentucky-bred who will stalk and kick for home behind some speed today.
A compact field of mostly unproven three-year-old hopefuls leads the way at Santa Anita. I have a strong opinion on ROYAL MO and envision this one making strides this spring as a three-year-old to watch for conditioner John Shirreffs. Bay son of top young sire Uncle Mo finished second from a pair of sprint runs before graduating last time out in a two-turn bow at Del Mar and the colt has trained forwardly since. I really like the improving BRIS Speed numbers and his versatility, running from well off the pace as well as on the lead like he did last time. While the jump from maidens to stakes foes is a big one, Royal Mo lands in a field lacking a standout and we see him taking command in the lane from a cozy rail draw beneath regular rider Victor Espinoza, stamping himself as a serious sophomore in the process.
A field of 10 sophomores will run one mile on the main strip at Aqueduct to contest this interesting race, and the exciting EL AREEB will aim to roll home to a fourth straight huge tally. Trained by Cathal Lynch, the $340,000 son of Exchange Rate had the light bulb go on three races back and has been dominant since. Gray Kentucky-bred passed his first route race with flying colors in the form of an 11-length Jerome S. (G3) drubbing over the inner track and he looks tons the best at this stage of his career against these rival. The only potential concern is that his Jerome win was aided by a muddy strip and that he will come back to earth in here on a dry oval.
ALWAYS A SUSPECT is a runner I will be using in the exotics at 20-1 on the morning line. The Kiaran McLaughlin trainee fell a neck shy last time or would be coming into this race with a three-race win streak and the son of Exchange Rate will be making his first go over a route of ground. Dark bay colt is out of a Deputy Commander mare, suggesting that he can run long for sure, and his running style hints the same. Like the improving BRIS Speed figures since adding blinkers and the former maiden claimer is too nice of a price to pass up.
Nine three-year-olds will run 1 1/16 miles Saturday in the first of three Gulfstream races on the road to the Kentucky Derby. I am searching for an upset in this spot with unbeaten FACT FINDING. The Todd Pletcher pupil was a daylight winner in a first run at a mile on this main surface last time and while it was accomplished in sloppy going, the son of The Factor looks like the ‘now’ horse in the field. Gray colt is bred to run long on his dam’s side, he is in expert hands with Pletcher and John Velazquez, and in a field without a lot of pace, the colt might sit a dream trip to the top of the lane while keeping the odds-on favorite pinned inside for some time. Two bullet morning drills in his last four moves adds to the appeal and I have confidence Fact Finding can continue to show more at healthy 6-1 morning line odds.
Champion CLASSIC EMPIRE will make his first run since a big tally in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) in the fall and rates as the clear one to beat for conditioner Mark Casse. The once-beaten son of Pioneerof the Nile served notice early in his career that he had talent, but he has elevated his game a few notches since going long, with two terrific Grade 1 scores. A $475,000 yearling purchase, the bay colt likely will not be fully cranked up for this with eyes on bigger prizes this spring and summer, but he is a talent for sure who can win with something less than his best under Julien Leparoux.
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