Aqueduct Horses in Focus for Sunday, December 15

RACE 4: YANKEE DIVISION (#5)

The Linda Rice entry of Later Cat and Spectator Sport are likely to attract a large chunk of the tote support here, as both are legitimate contenders. While some may find Later Cat appealing off his maiden win last time, I strongly prefer Spectator Sport. This horse has earned TimeformUS Speed Figures that make him good enough to win this race on multiple occasions in the past. Those performances primarily came for his prior trainer, but now he’s making his first start off the claim for Linda Rice. She is a remarkable 19 for 47 (40%, $2.56 ROI) first off the claim in dirt routes at Aqueduct over 5 years, so this colt is likely to improve. If he takes any kind of step forward, he’s going to be tough to beat, but he does need some pace to close into and it’s unclear how that might play out. I’m using him, but I never like to bet entries when I only am interested in one half. My top pick is Yankee Division, who also makes his first start off the claim. Rudy Rodriguez picked this gelding up out of his last start, and Rudy also has great statistics with this more. Over the past 5 years, he is 4 for 10 (40%, $4.27 ROI) first off the claim with last-out maiden winners in dirt routes, and 8 of those finished in the exacta. He also has great numbers off the claim in dirt routes at Aqueduct in general. Yankee Division needs to get faster to take down a foe like Spectator Sport, but he was game to get the victory going this distance last time and he feels like one that’s heading in the right direction. He’s a big, impressive-looking son of Midnight Lute, so the new barn definitely has something to work with here.

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RACE 5: HARPERS FIRST RIDE (#2)

Likely favorite Felix in Fabula is going to be pretty tough to deny if he merely holds his form; has earned TimeformUS Speed Figures between 101 and 108 in ten consecutive races, a testament to his consistency in a race where some of his chief rivals lack anything of the sort. He returned from a four-month layoff last time and picked up right where he left off in the summer and he’s simply the horse to beat. One of his main rivals appears to be Supreme Aura. Unlike the favorite, consistency has been a major issue for this 4-year-old, but he’s capable of competing on terms with any of these when he’s at his best. The switch to Rudy Rodriguez is noteworthy, since this barn is 30 for 71 (42%, $2.67 ROI) first off the claim in dirt routes at Aqueduct over 5 years. On the other hand, it’s been a while since this horse has won and 1 1/8 miles may not be his best distance. My top pick is the up-and-comer Harpers First Ride. This 3-year-old is the ‘now’ horse in this field as he seeks his fourth consecutive victory. He was a surprise maiden winner at Churchill Downs back in September, but he’s stepped forward in his two subsequent starts against winners. This gelding doesn’t have much of a turn of foot, but he’s a grinder who should appreciate the slight stretch-out to 9 furlongs. He gets tested for class here after beating weaker foes at Laurel, but the 109 TimeformUS Speed Figure he earned two back puts him squarely in the mix and that number is validated by the talented runner-up. This barn has shown the ability to win on the NYRA circuit and I think he can stage a minor upset.

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RACE 8: A FREUD OF MAMA (#6)

It’s pretty clear that Big Q is going to beat this field if she repeats her winning effort in the Key Cents last time. She earned a 101 TimeformUS Speed Figure for that 5-length score, which is fast for any 2-year-old filly, let alone a New York-bred. That number just makes her significantly faster than all of her rivals with dirt form. The one problem with Big Q is that her prior form doesn’t even come close to that performance. She was coming off a layoff last time and it’s certainly possible for these 2-year-olds to make massive strides forward in the span of 3 months. However, you have to be somewhat concerned that the last race was a bit of a fluke, especially given that she’s going to be a prohibitive favorite. I’m just not that thrilled with the alternatives, primarily those who have competed on dirt. Time Limit has been is going to be on the lead in a situation where the Pace Projector is favoring the front-runner. However, she’s been quitting going shorter, so why is she supposed to get 7 furlongs here? I actually prefer Mike Maker’s other horse A Freud of Mama, and I’ve made her my top pick due to the fact that she should be a square price. I’m guessing a bit because she’s never tried dirt, but she’s shown some ability on turf and she’s definitely bred to handle this surface. While she’s sired by good turf influence Freud, that sire’s progeny can also run on dirt, and the dam’s side is all dirt influences. The dam was a confirmed dirt horse and all of her other siblings have shown a preference for dirt, despite the fact that some of them are also by capable turf sires. Furthermore, the dam is a half-sister to Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Haynesfield, so a little added distance shouldn’t be an issue.

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