Aqueduct Horses in Focus for Monday, December 30

RACE 5: H MAN (#1)

There are a couple of horses in this race who have earned some flashy recent speed figures, but neither one is particularly trustworthy. The potential favorite is Summer Bourbon after he seemingly regained top form last time without warning. The addition of blinkers might have had something to do with that sudden improvement, as she showed newfound speed in the early going. However, the fact remains that he was beating a vastly inferior group to the one he faces today, so I’m a little skeptical of him repeating that performance. Mo Diddley has earned multiple recent speed figures that suggest he’d be tough to beat in this spot. However, those came for Mertkan Kantarmaci and now he’s in the barn of Bruce Brown, who doesn’t win at as high a rate. I won’t hold the loss on turf against him, since he was overmatched anyway, but one has to wonder if he can maintain this form. Both of these runners have speed, so there should be an honest pace up front. That should help my top pick H Man, who turns back to a more appropriate distance after fading going a mile last time. He was never going to be any match for the vastly improved Joe’s Smokin Gun that day, but he nevertheless stayed on fairly well after taking a shot at the quarter pole. He also ran well two back when he rallying from far behind into a moderate pace on Dec. 5. The winner also rallied that day, but he was undoubtedly best and returned to win with a similar speed figure. It seems like H Man has regained solid form for Orlando Noda and he’s landed in a good spot.

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RACE 6: POSSE NEEDED (#4)

There’s no denying that Alisio is clearly the horse to beat in this spot. She’s just been in strong form ever since returning from a layoff this summer at Saratoga. She got cooked in an early duel in that first race back, but she’s progressively improved in each start since then, topped by a clear victory going this distance last time. She was flattered when runner-up Kept True returned to win against New York-breds next time, but that filly actually earned a slower speed figure in doing so. Horses like Honey I’m Good and Filibustin have to be sent to challenge for the early lead to have any chance, so one would imagine that the pace will be honest. That said, I still prefer Alisio to her main rival Avalina, who got very good over the winter and spring last year, but now hasn’t ben seen for nearly 6 months. I don’t love the turnback in distance off the bench, since this feels like a potential prep for something longer. She also may find herself outrun in the early going, and I’m not sure closing from off the pace is her best style. If I’m going to take a closer in this spot, I want it to be Posse Needed. This mare looks overmatched at first glance, but I actually think she’s landing in a good spot for once. I don’t know why they focused so single-mindedly on turf with her for the past several months since she’s not really that effective on turf and many of those grass races don’t unfold in a manner that suits her. Prior to that, she was running some respectable races on dirt but had been hindered by one slow pace after another. This time she’s actually some speed signed on, and she’s going to be a generous price.

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RACE 7: CELTIC CHAOS (#3)

Honor Up looked like he might be turning into one of the best New York-breds in the country last winter after gamely winning a couple of stakes and finishing third in the Grade 1 Carter. However, he failed to show up with a top effort in the Commentator in May and now hasn’t been seen in 7 months. If he returns in top form, he’s going to be difficult for this field to handle, but you have to be a little concerned about taking him at a short price. While he’s won sprinting before, he’s never won going this short, and Michelle Nevin does not have the strongest statistics off layoffs like this. I’m using him defensively, but there are others to consider. The Pace Projector is predicting a fast pace and that seems very likely to be accurate given the presence of speeds like Tribecca, Dugout, and even longshot Coolboy. Tribecca is somewhat intriguing as he ships in from Finger Lakes since he has really improved in recent months for Chris Englehart. While I’m usually skeptical of horses coming in from Finger Lakes with superior speed figures, this guy has prior numbers at NYRA that would make him a player here. It’s just the pace scenario that might work against him. Given the likelihood of a fast early tempo, I’m taking a shot with deep closer Celtic Chaos. It might appear that this 6-year-old has gone off form in his old age, but I think he’s had legitimate excuses for each of his last two performances. He was steadied on the turn in the Hudson when forced to rate behind a slow pace and was really never in a position to be competitive that day. Then last time he was asked to go a distance that is too far and was again caught behind some excruciatingly slow early fractions. He was running figures that would make him tough here as recently as the summer and I wouldn’t be shocked to see him get back to that form.

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