Aqueduct Horses in Focus for Saturday, December 14

RACE 4: DANNY CALIFORNIA (#3)

I’m not trying to beat Danny California, who figures to be favored here. This gelding would be pretty formidable if able to run back to that Oct. 20 triumph, in which he beat claimers by over 9 lengths. On the surface of things, it might appear that he’s regressed since the claim by Orlando Noda, but he’s actually been a victim of circumstances. Two back he was badly compromised by a slow pace during a time when kickback was hindering closers. Then last time he was unwisely placed on the rail behind two longshots heading into the far turn, and was forced to lose momentum before coming on again. He’s just very logical while facing a slightly softer field and would benefit from a more aggressive ride. His main rival appears to be Joe’s Smokin Gun. This horse is hard to take based on the form prior to his last race, since he has been outclassed at this level a number of times in the past and has struggled to even win claiming races. He did show improvement last time in a race that came up very fast, but that figure needs to be validated. More importantly, Rudy Rodriguez is a remarkable 30 for 71 (42%, $2.67 ROI) first off the claim in dirt routes at Aqueduct over 5 years. With numbers like that, how much does the prior form really matter? The other runner that I would use is Ten Twenty Nine. He’s done well to win 4 races this year after coming into the season with a 1 for 25 record, and he has continued to get better since the claim by Chris Englehart. He’s run well over the NYRA circuit in the past and this one-turn mile distance is ideal for him. I’ll throw him in underneath.

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RACE 6: HIZAAM (#6)

It’s difficult to know how the public will approach this race since there are a number of contenders, most of which are difficult to compare as they come out of different spots. I suppose Super Silver is the most trustworthy option, since he’s competed well at this level in his recent starts. He was simply beaten by a better horse last time, but he nevertheless ran well to be second after contesting an honest pace going this distance. The outside post position seems ideal for him given some other sped drawn to the inside, and he merits respect. Rudy Rodriguez has a pair of starters in this race, of which Traveling seems like the more intriguing option. He ran a competitive speed figure when beating claiming foes at Churchill Downs last time and would be a major factor here with a repeat of that effort. Furthermore, he handled a sloppy track that day and there is rain in the forecast ahead of Saturday. However, he’s been somewhat inconsistent and he’ll have to run faster in the early going if he’s to make the lead over this field. My top pick is Hizaam, who makes his first start off the claim for Linda Rice. He had shown good form for the Chad Brown barn in his prior starts, running well against some solid rivals in maiden and allowance company before dropping in for a tag last time. He has to doe better than that last TimeformUS Speed Figure of 98 to beat this field, but he didn’t get an ideal trip that day and appears to have room for improvement. Notably, Linda Rice is a remarkable 19 for 47 (40%, $2.56 ROI) first off the claim in dirt routes at Aqueduct, so improvement seems likely.

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RACE 8: GIANT SHOES (#12)

I have no argument with anyone who asserts that Dream Bigger and Captain Bombastic are the two most likely winners of this race. They’re the only two stakes winners in the field and they’ve just run slightly faster than most of their opponents. However, there are some intriguing new faces in this bunch and both of the top two choices have to work out trips in this large 14-runner field. Dream Bigger figures to be a decisive favorite over this main rival as he seeks his third consecutive victory. If he merely holds his form, he’s going to be tough to beat, but there are some obstacles. He should once again receive pace pressure from the speedy Mooachie and there are some other speeds drawn to the inside. The Pace Projector is predicting a fast pace, which could help to set things up for Captain Bombastic’s late run. Furthermore, Captain Bombastic seems more likely to handle this 7-furlong distance since he’s already won going a mile. Some may take it as a negative sign that he hasn’t started in nearly two months leading up to this race, but won would imagine Jeremiah Englehart has been pointing to this lucrative affair. Captain Bombastic has gotten good trips in both career starts, but he has nevertheless shown grit and determination in both victories. I’m using the two favorites, but I’m intrigued by debut winner Giant Shoes. I know that this horse was entered for turf first time, but he actually has more of a dirt pedigree and he took to the surface quite well. He broke well but greenly dropped back on the backstretch before coming on again with long strides though the lane. He clearly had no trouble handling a sloppy track, and he may encounter a similar surface on Saturday. Furthermore, Brad Cox is 17 for 41 (41%, $2.82 ROI) with last-out debut winners making their second starts on dirt over the past 5 years.

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