Aqueduct Horses in Focus for Thursday, January 23

RACE 1: BAY BURNER (#3)

Asking these maiden claiming three-year-olds to go 1 1/8 miles seems like an experiment designed to introduce chaos. None have attempted two turns before and less than half of the field have even tried a route distance. I suppose Little Mazzy and Lightning Rob will vie for favoritism after they finished about two lengths apart when they met at this level in late December. Lightning Rob ran the better race to hang on for second after contesting the pace the entire way, but Little Mazzy didn’t have the smoothest journey through the stretch as he had to alter course a few times while attempting to secure a clear path. I would also use Super Wicked Charm out of that race, since he closed well from the back of the pack and seems like a grinding type that shouldn’t have a major issue with more ground. They’re all legitimate contenders, but I think this race is open to some new faces. The one that intrigues me most is second time starter Bay Burner. This colt obviously didn’t do any running in his debut, as he was behind by over 20 lengths at every call. However, he was extremely green leaving the gate and took himself out of contention very early. While he didn’t make up much ground in the stretch, he did finally settle into a more fluid stride towards the end of the race and gallop out decently. He’s not supposed to have an issue with added ground as a son of Tiznow and John Terranova’s dirt horses typically do better with a start under their belts.

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RACE 5: HOLD MY CALL (#5)

First Deputy seems like the horse to beat as he attempts to pair up victories following a solid maiden score last time. Aside from one poor performance routing in November, he’s run well in all of his sprint races on both dirt and turf. His speed figures haven’t progressed much since last summer, but he’s still running some of the fastest numbers in this field. Furthermore, his versatile stalking style should ensure that he works out a good trip in a race with a somewhat murky pace scenario. He’s the horse to beat, but there are some intriguing challengers in this field. Mission Wrapitup deserves a look as he drops in class on dirt. His connections targeted nothing but stakes events following his impressive debut victory last year, with mixed results. He’s just not a turf horse so I wouldn’t put too much stock in his effort last time. He’s now back at the right level on the correct surface, so he merits respect. My top pick is the likely speed Hold My Call. This lightly raced runner is also getting need class relief after trying that lucrative state-bred stakes event last time. He never had a fair chance that day after stumbling at the start and being forced to steady back in traffic along the rail. He had shown promise prior to that when setting the pace against a tough maiden group in September. He was beating a weaker field when he broke his maiden against claiming company two back, but I think that performance is better than it looks. The two horses that he was dueling with early, Carters Got Sass and Shandian, both returned with vastly improved efforts in their subsequent starts, indicating that the pace may have been more taxing than it appears. A repeat of that performance makes him a player here.

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RACE 7: A BRIDGE TOO FAR (#6)

The Great Johanna is simply the horse to beat in this New York-bred allowance affair, which is essentially another N1X despite the convoluted conditions. Her form since switching back to dirt and adding Lasix has been very strong. She was beating weaker fields two and three back, though it’s not as if she was disgraced in defeat when losing as the 4-5 favorite last time. The winner of that race has shown promise and her this filly didn’t regress much on the Beyer scale. She also possesses a versatile running style, which should come in handy given the amount of speed signed on here. One of her main rivals appears to be Gilda Marie, who has been a little unlucky to lose both starts since returning from another layoff this winter. She was chasing a very fast pace that fell apart two back and then was resurgent last time, falling just short in another chaotic finish. Both of those performances came at 6 furlongs and now she’s being asked to stretch out on dirt for the first time. She’s actually a half-sister to Lem Me Have It, who runs in today’s sixth race and has won at a mile, so she has the pedigree to handle more ground. Yet a potential fast pace could work against her. In race where many have already had their chances at this level, a horse like A Bridge Too Far stands out. She showed little in her turf debut at Gulfstream last year, but Mark Casse had her ready to go off the layoff last time. It seems like dirt may just be her preferred surface and her pedigree supports that notion, since she’s a half-sister to solid dirt router Sea to Sky and her dam is a half-sister to Kentucky Derby winner Orb. Given those pedigree influences, the added distance shouldn’t be a problem. It’s also not as if she has to get much faster to take down The Great Johanna, and I believe she’s worth a shot as the likely second choice.

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