Aqueduct Horses in Focus for Saturday, December 21

RACE 4: CARTHON (#3)

I Love Jaxson has to be considered the horse to beat as he drops back down to this New York-bred level. He already won this condition two back, so he’s in for the tag this time, but that’s probably where he belongs. This gelding improved significantly on the stretch-out in distance at Saratoga and he’s basically maintained that form since then with the exception of his last race. However, he had a legitimate excuse that day as he was facing much tougher company and didn’t get an ideal trip when placed in behind horses down inside, which is not where you wanted to be. If he rebounds with the drop in class, he’s just going to be pretty tough to beat. However, there are other legitimate contenders to consider. My top pick is Carthon, who makes his first start off the claim for Rudy Rodriguez. This gelding had been in good form going back to last winter when he ran a number of competitive speed figures at this level for Gary Sciacca. He returned with a solid effort off the layoff in September, but his form has declined since then. Yet there’s a good chance that he can turn things around here, since Rudy Rodriguez is 31 for 74 (42%, $2.65 ROI) first off the claim in dirt routes at Aqueduct over 5 years. Furthermore, Carthon should get a good trip in this race, as he does best from a stalking position and he can sit right behind the speedy duo of Foolish Ghost and Danebury in the early going. Danebury is another who has a chance, but he could find himself having to concede the lead to Foolish Ghost here.

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RACE 5: SEED MONEY (#5)

This isn’t the toughest N1X allowance, to say the least, so horses like Seven Is Heaven and Oh My Papa have to be considered major threats. The former got somewhat lucky to break his maiden two back, but nevertheless beat a strong rival in Freaky Styley. He couldn’t quite duplicate that performance in his first start against winners last time, but he was too far back early against a solid field. Oh My Papa finished ahead of his main rival last time when staying on evenly to be third in a tougher race at this level. That was his first start in 6 months, so he obviously has a right to improve in his second start off the layoff, especially since he showed some promise over this course when he was unveiled last year. Furthermore, the Pace Projector is predicting that he’ll be contesting the lead in a situation favoring frontrunners. A moderate pace should also help Leap to Glory, but he needs to rebound after tailing off in his recent starts at Finger Lakes. I could use any of the aforementioned runners, but I think this is a spot where we can get a bit more creative. My top pick is longshot Seed Money. This colt hasn’t been seen since mid-May and was in dubious form at the time. However, you can definitely make some excuses for those last two efforts. He didn’t like the sloppy sealed track two back, and something apparently went wrong last time when he got rank early and then drifted out badly on the turn before he was eased late. He was successful first off the claim for Gyarmati here last winter while earning a competitive 99 TimeformUS Speed Figure. There once was ability here, so if he’s gotten over his issues and has improved at all with natural maturity, he can be a factor against this field. Don’t underestimate this guy at a big price.

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RACE 8: BACKSIDEOFTHEMOON (#5)

Stan the Man had been in great form after returning from the layoff last year, earning a slew of TimeformUS Speed Figures that would just make him really tough to beat against a field like this. The major concern is obviously the layoff, since he hasn’t been seen since early June. However, it is worth noting that he’s been ready to run for quite a while, since he first appeared in the entries all the way back on Thanksgiving week when he was intended to run in the postponed Fall Highweight. His connections have ultimately chosen this spot instead, and one could interpret that as a vote of confidence in his fitness. After all, it’s no small feat to handle 1 1/8 miles off a significant layoff. I believe he’s the horse to beat, but he’s the kind of runner that I’d want to take a shot with at a price, not necessarily as the favorite. I suppose his main rival is Major Cabbie, who drops out of a tougher spot in the Grade 1 Clark. He earned a competitive speed figure that day, but his prior victories at Keeneland were achieved with the benefit of slow paces, and he might not get free on the front end here with Stan the Man in the race. I’ll still use him, but I’d prefer to look for better value. My top pick is Backsideofthemoon. This 7-year-old appears to be back in top form now and I like that his new connections are striking while the iron is hot. He clearly improved for the Rudy Rodriguez barn, but it’s not like they did anything more than get him to run back to his best efforts for Leo O’Brien. Now he’s with Robert Klesaris, who did win off the claim with a longshot at Belmont a few months ago. The 9-furlong distance is no problem and he has the tactical speed to work out a decent trip.

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