Aqueduct Horses in Focus for Saturday, January 25

RACE 1: DISTORTED SKY (#5)

Bill Mott holds a very strong hand in this race, sending out two major players, including Modernist, who is likely to go postward as the odds-on choice. This promising colt really appreciated the stretch-out in distance last time, closing with determination through the lane to finish behind a pair of talented rivals. Three horses have returned to win out of that race, so it was a strong affair. Modernist now has to get the 1 1/8 miles, but his dam is a half-sister to Grade 1-winning routers Life Is Sweet and Sweet Catomine, so the pedigree is there to stretch out further. I have no major knocks against him, other than the fact that he’s going to be an awfully short price. Bill Mott has another contender in this race and I wouldn’t dismiss him lightly. Distorted Sky is a trickier read than Modernist, having never started on dirt. It’s no surprise that they placed him on turf first time out, since he’s a half-brother to multiple foreign-trained winners, topped by French and Italian Group 1 winner Laverock. Distorted Sky came charging from the back of the pack with a strong finish in his debut in a race that didn’t favor closers. As a June foal, he’s likely to keep improving with maturity as he catches up to his peers. The switch to dirt seems curious at first glance, but he is a son of dirt sire Distorted Humor and we saw Mott make this same turf-to-dirt move with impressive maiden winner Harvey’s Lil Goil late last year. There are obviously plenty of turf spots down at Gulfstream where this horse would have been quite formidable, so it seems meaningful that he’s still here getting a shot on dirt.

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RACE 7: IMAGINAR (#1)

Financialstability is a deserving favorite, since he has simply run faster speed figures than the majority of his rivals in three of his last four starts. That said, he’s now had three chances to break through this N1X level and he’s failed to get it done at short prices each time. He may not have wanted to go the mile two back and caught an unusually strong field at this level last time, so he’s had some minor excuses. Yet he’s going to be a prohibitive favorite once again and seems likely to be an underlay. Many will perceive his main rival to be the returning Daddy Knows. This gelding hasn’t been seen since they took a shot at the Albany last summer at Saratoga. He was just overmatched that day, but had previously run well at this level going today’s distance. Linda Rice does reasonably well off layoffs of this type, and this runner still has more upside than many in here. I’m using him, but there are others to consider at more enticing prices. My top pick is Imaginar. This 5-year-old’s two prior efforts on the NYRA circuit this winter have been fairly disappointing, as he’s failed to transfer his excellent Finger Lakes form to this new venue. Yet, he has had some excuses. He was outrun for the lead in both of those starts, and actually did well to make up some ground last time over a speed-favoring surface. The Pace Projector is predicting that he’s quick enough to be vying for the front here along with Oh My Papa in a situation favoring the early leaders. He also gets a switch to a 10-pound bug rider who has shown some promise, and may be unjustly ignored for that reason.

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RACE 8: STAN THE MAN (#5)

Mr. Buff is clearly the horse to beat as he attempts to win the Jazil for a second year in a row. This venerable New York-bred gelding has struggled in a few attempts at the graded stakes level during the past year, but he’s otherwise been nearly impossible to defeat against New York-bred or listed company. He’s a specialist at this 1 1/8 miles distance and he loves the Aqueduct main track. The major question for him is whether he can step up against a field of this quality while dealing with the early speed of Leitone, who is likely to be on a mission to make the lead from his outside post position. Mr. Buff has effectively stalked the pace and won in the past, but he’s done some against inferior rivals. Furthermore, there is plenty of rain predicted in the area on Saturday and Mr. Buff has never run a top race over a sloppy, sealed track (almost all of his wet track starts have come on harrowed surfaces). I’m using him prominently, but I prefer his main rival Stan the Man this time. I believe Stan the Man is probably a little better going slightly shorter distances than this, even though he’s 2-for-2 at 9 furlongs. Yet I was encouraged by the fact that he won going this distance off the layoff in the Queens County last time, gamely holding sway late after chasing a fast early pace. He has a versatile running style, which allow him to adapt to whatever pace scenario plays out. He also relishes any kind of wet track, having been particularly effective over sloppy, sealed surfaces like the one he is likely to encounter on Saturday. Sir Winston is the other major player likely to take money, but I can’t bet him at a short price off one dismal effort on the turf. He may yet get back to the top form we saw from him last summer, but I get the sense he isn’t quite there at this point in time.

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