Aqueduct Horses in Focus for Friday, December 20

RACE 3: BANQUE DE MARGAUX (#3)

There’s not much dirt form to analyze in this race, to say the least. Those who figure to attract the most support are switching from turf to the main track. The potential favorite is Evade, who earned a competitive speed figure in her debut last month. She has route experience and she showed good tactical speed that day, so she figures to have a say in the outcome if she can handle dirt at all. Furthermore, her dam was primarily a dirt horse, so it’s not as if her pedigree is strictly geared towards turf. I’m using her prominently, but she’s hardly reliable at a short price. Tokyo Bay, another runner who could attract support, is a little less appealing since she seems more turf meant and was merely picking up pieces when fifth on turf last time. If I’m going to take a horse trying this surface for the first time, I want it to be Banque de Margaux. This filly ran like one that really needed her debut. She was badly outrun in the early going in that 6-furlong turf sprint, but she did kick things into gear in the last quarter mile, passing half the field despite never making a serious impact. She stayed on like a horse who wouldn’t mind some added ground, and her pedigree supports that notion. Central Banker is a versatile sire, and the dam has produced foals who generally have excelled over route distances, including dirt route winners Mlle Margaux and Mlle. Minuit. If she takes any kind of step forward with the added distance, I think she can beat this field.

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RACE 5: THREE TO THIRTEEN (#2)

Joe’s Smokin Gun is obviously the horse to beat as he seeks his second win since the claim by Rudy Rodriguez. He earned a 104 TimeformUS Speed Figure when he won at the N1X level last Saturday and now he’s bypassing the N2X allowance condition to instead contest this slightly softer $25,000 state-bred claimer. A repeat of his last performance would make him tough, but now he’s returning on just 6 days’ rest. Over the past 5 years, Rudy Rodriguez is 5 for 17 (29%, $1.21 ROI) with last-out winners returning in just 1 to 7 days on dirt. So these horses win at a high rate, but are typically overbet. I nevertheless still prefer him to one of his main rivals, Gambler’s Fallacy. This Chad Brown trainee is primarily a turf horse. While he did win on the dirt early in his career and earn a competitive speed figure on the main track last December, his lack of speed is always going to be a problem in races like this. Furthermore, he was in better form then and is hard to endorse off his recent efforts. I instead want to take a shot with the horse who figures to be the controlling speed. The Pace Projector is predicting that Three to Thirteen will be in front in a situation favoring the early leader, and that should make him pretty tough to run down. He’s coming off a string of losses dating back to March, but he hasn’t actually run that badly in most of those efforts. He’s just been facing tougher competition at the N2X allowance level and is simply getting a needed drop in class here. I also don’t mind the rider switch to Eric Cancel, who has been more aggressive recently and typically rides well for Kelly Breen. This horse has been known to get brave on the lead when he makes the front and he hasn’t enjoyed a clear early advantage in quite some time.

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RACE 6: VARIANT PERCEPTION (#3)

I suppose Proven Reserves and Sargeant Drive will vie for favoritism. The former is getting needed class relief after having been stuck at the N2X allowance level for over a year. However, he was pretty disappointing off the layoff last time and it’s no guarantee that he’ll win this race if he merely repeats that effort. Sargeant Drive, on the other hand, is moving up in class after easily defeating an inferior group of off-the-turf rivals last time. The 105 TimeformUS Speed Figure that he earned for that effort puts him in the mix at this tougher level, but he was able to control that race on the front end and he hasn’t always been as effective when he has to close from off the pace. I could also use a runner like Allured, who was simply overmatched against a tougher group last time and had previously run some competitive speed figures. However, I think this is a spot where we can get a bit more creative. My top pick is Variant Perception, who switches back to dirt for the first time since his 2-year-old season. I think it’s somewhat significant that Chad Brown had originally pegged this colt as a dirt horse, running him twice on that surface in 2017. He did ultimately improve on turf, but that may have been due to natural maturity and the stretch-out in distance. After all, he doesn’t have much of a turn of foot, which has always held him back in his turf races. Furthermore, he’s always trained well on the dirt, even recently, and his pedigree is certainly geared towards dirt, as a son of Curlin out of a half-sister to A. P. Indy and Summer Squall. I know Michelle Nevin is running here due to the lack of turf options, but I nevertheless think this colt deserves another chance on the main track.

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