RACE 4: ANCIENT BROWN (#5)
Ice Princess is obviously the horse to beat as she drops out of the Grade 1 Frizette. You can’t blame her connections for taking a shot in that prestigious race, but it was nevertheless a tall order for a filly who had merely beaten an overmatched group of turf horses in her debut. She put forth an honest effort, closing willingly to be fourth in a race that didn’t exactly set up for late runners. Her TimeformUS Speed Figures in the mid-90s are clearly the best in this field and she still has room to improve in just her third career start. I’m hardly against her, but her merits are fairly obvious. I’m taking a shot against her with the second time starter Ancient Brown. She made a decisive middle move around the far turn in her debut after breaking slowly and proceeded to draw off with ease in the lane. The problem with that race is that it was objectively slow from a speed figure standpoint. However, a longshot got loose on the front end through moderate early fractions that day, which may have negatively impacted the final time. It was also the first race of the day, and we have routinely seen this Aqueduct main track speed up throughout the afternoon. I think it’s also noteworthy that the runner-up from that race returned to win her next start by 10 lengths with an improved speed figure, suggesting that the race may be better than it appears. Ancient Brown figures to show more speed here and I don’t anticipate her having trouble with the added distance.
RACE 7: HEAVY ROLLER (#2)
Wicked Trick continues to do his best impersonation of Cigar, as he has completely turned his career around since a switch to dirt. Linda Rice chose to bypass the Grade 3 Toboggan to instead target this starter allowance. The tradeoff in taking the path of least resistance is that he has to stretch out to a mile this time. He’s handled longer trips on turf, but the stretch-out is still a minor concern for a horse who seemed to wake up when turned back to sprint distances. He’s going to take plenty of money and there are plenty of viable alternatives in this field. Rob Atras has a pair of runners, the classier of which is Dynamax Prime. It’s been a little while since he’s won a race, but that is really the only knock against a horse who has otherwise been in fantastic form. His speed figures are among the best in the field and he’s getting significant class relief after meeting Mr. Buff in 4 of his last 6 starts. However, cutting back to a one-turn mile may not be ideal for him since he does seem to relish two turns. I prefer Atras’s other runner Heavy Roller. This 6-year-old is coming off a victory in the slop against a high-priced claiming group. These connections took quite a risk when they dipped in to claim him for $62,500 after he had previously been taken away from Atras for just $32,000. He delivered last time and he figures to hold that form since Rob Atras is 3 for 7 (43%, $2.69 ROI) second off the claim with last-out winners. Some may argue that he’s best with moisture in the ground, but he handles a fast track just as well and this one-turn mile distance figures to be right up his alley.
RACE 8: NEW YEAR’S WISH (#5)
Saguaro Row is the horse to beat in this Interborough as she drops out of a good second-place finish to the classy Spiced Perfection in the Grade 3 Go For Wand last time. While I acknowledge that she’s the class of this field, I’m somewhat concerned about the fact that she loses Joel Rosario for this race. Some riders just have the magic touch with certain horses and this mare is not an easy one to ride. Rosario has a way of getting this typically keen runner to shut off early and finish late, and her record with him aboard is quite telling. She’s 5-3-2-0 when Rosario pilots and 7-1-0-1 when ridden by anyone else. I’m not at all knocking Jose Lezcano’s ample talents as a rider, but it should not be ignored that he’s getting aboard this mare for the first time. The Pace Projector is predicting that Our Circle of Love will be on the lead in a situation favoring the front-runner, and that may make her difficult to pass. However, I’m a little concerned about her getting the 7-furlong distance and I can’t overlook the fact that she ran considerably worse than New Year’s Wish in the Garland of Roses last time. New Year’s Wish probably should have won that race, but she blew the start, breaking about 4 lengths behind the field. Her gate antics have now been an issue twice in a row, and that’s a major concern. However, Linda Rice has said that she’s worked on her at the gate since that last race, and while she may not be completely over the problem, the only way that she can break worse than last time is if she utterly refuses to participate. As long as New Year’s Wish makes it out of the gate, she’s going to be pretty tough here based on that last performance. She’s always shown a great affinity for Aqueduct and 7 furlongs is the perfect distance for her.