Aqueduct Horses in Focus for Sunday, December 29

RACE 2: FIRENZE FREEDOM (#1)

Likely favorite Playtone was very green in her first couple of starts. That was particularly evident in her loss to Firenze Freedom on Sep. 22, as she had her head cocked towards the stands while seemingly reluctant to pass horses. Georg Weaver added a shadow roll to her equipment two back and that appeared to make all the difference, as she ran straight and earned a field-best 99 TimeformUS Speed Figure. She backed up that maiden victory last time despite having to close from off the pace over a track that wasn’t playing kindly to that style. It’s not a great sign that the winner of that race, Big Q, returned to bomb as the odds-on choice next time out, but more evidence is needed to knock the speed figure. This filly is simply the horse to beat. However, she does face some intriguing rivals. The one that interests me is the one that beat Playtone second time out, Firenze Freedom. This grinder can take a while to reach top gear, but she produces a potent finishing kick once she gets going. That power was on display two back when she ran down today’s favorite to break her maiden. She stepped up against stakes foes next time and didn’t run nearly as badly as the result would indicate. While it’s not noted in the chart comments, she had to steady sharply at the quarter pole, totally losing momentum just as she was commencing her move. She has a right to be a nice runner as a half-sister to Grade 1 winner Firenze Fire. The one minor concern is the turnback to 6 furlongs, since she doesn’t possess a ton of speed, but there is a bit of pace in this race.

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RACE 3: BRUNATE (#8)

Cold Hard Cash took a big step forward second time out, as Linda Rice runners tend to do. He had originally been intended for turf in his debut, but seems to be taking to the main track just fine. A repeat of that 89 TimeformUS Speed Figure from last time would make him tough to beat here, since others just haven’t shown nearly as much in their dirt starts. Furthermore, Rice now adds blinkers, and she is 17 for 44 (39%, $3.05 ROI) when switching to blinkers with maidens on the dirt. The only thing not to like is the strong likelihood of a short price, but there’s no denying that he is clearly the horse to beat. However, there are some second time starters that are worth considering. Superego didn’t do much running in his debut, but he was green that day and has a pedigree to suggest he may handle added ground. John Servis is 6 for 20 (30%, $2.11 ROI) with maiden second time starters going from sprints to routes on dirt over 5 years. Empire Express can also improve as he switches to dirt for Brad Cox. It’s not as if he has some massive turf pedigree, since his dam was actually a 19-time dirt winner, and he did well to pass horses when closing into a slow pace first time out. I’m using both, but I want to go for a bigger price. Brunate interests me as he gets on dirt for the first time. This horse actually showed some hints of ability first time out as he stayed on well after lagging behind early in a race that was dominated on the front end. That was a turf sprint, but he’s bred to handle dirt, since his best sibling is the multiple dirt winner Cathy Naz. He’s been gelded since that debut and the James Bond barn has been putting up solid numbers so far at this Aqueduct meet.

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RACE 6: AM IMPAZIBLE (#8)

The Great Johanna figures to go favored as she seeks her third victory in a row. Rather than immediately trying this N1X allowance condition following her maiden win, her connections instead took advantage of the open starter-allowance condition for which she was eligible. She had to work a bit hard to win that day than her even-money odds might have suggested, but she nevertheless earned a career-best 97 TimeformUS Speed Figure. A repeat of that number makes her a top contender here, but there are certainly others to consider. Some may gravitate towards Paved With Gold due to her flashy 102 TimeformUS Speed Figure on the turf last time. While she has been competitive in her prior dirt starts, most of her top performances on that surface came over the summer and her recent form had tailed off. I’d rather look in a different direction. My top pick is the recent maiden winner Am Impazible. This filly had shown some potential in her career debut on Nov. 1, when she greenly dropped back in the early going while reacting badly to kickback. Despite losing so much ground, she nevertheless battled back through the lane to pass over half the field. Ultimately, that six-furlong distance was probably just a bit too short for her, and she appreciated an extra half-furlong last time. Now she has to stretch out in her first start against winners, but there are some positive indicators she can improve further. She’s bred to handle added ground since her dam won at a mile, and that dam is a half-sister to millionaire dirt router Royal Posse. Furthermore, Kelly Breen does very well off maiden wins, going 5 for 8 (63%, $4.97 ROI) with last-out maiden winners on dirt over the past year, and 8 for 20 (40%, $3.45 ROI) over the past two years.

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