Aqueduct Horses in Focus for Friday, January 31

RACE 3: KEEP YOUR DISTANCE (#3)

I’m not trying to beat likely favorite Keep Your Distance here because I am just not thrilled with any of the alternatives. Some may be deterred by this mare’s poor effort against $25,000 claimers first off the claim for Gary Gullo last time. Yet she actually ran fairly well within the context of that event, as she rushed up to challenge the speedy Malibu Mischief for the lead down the backstretch. She then put that rival away and only succumbed to late runs by closers in a race that fell apart in deep stretch. The winner got a surprisingly high speed figure, but she came back to validate by beating N1X allowance company in her subsequent start. Prior to that, Keep Your Distance had easily handled cheaper claimers and now she’s back in the right kind of spot here. Furthermore, Gary Gullo is 11 for 32 (34%, $2.38 ROI) with horses dropping in claiming price by 50% or more over the past 5 years. Declan Carroll was very aggressive last time, but she showed in prior starts that she’s just as comfortable rallying from off the pace. I simply trust her more than a horse like Malarkey, who returns from an extended layoff for Linda Rice. While this barn does well with this move generally, I’ve never been a big fan of this horse, who seems to need a sealed wet track to do her best running. Malibu Mischief is the clear speed this time, but she’s a total wild card off the claim for Mike Miceli after getting eased in two of her last three starts.

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RACE 4: SAFFRON GIRL (#2)

My My Michelle figures to go off as the slight favorite in this spot after running well going route distances in her first couple of starts. She only beat one runner home in her off-the-turf debut, but she finished up with good interest that day while earning a respectable speed figure. I think it’s fair to be a little disappointed in her second start, as one would have expected this Michelle Nevin charge to improve with that initial run under her belt. Bet down to 7-5 favoritism, My My Michelle stayed on mildly after a wide trip but was never a real threat to the winner, who had only beaten her by 1 1/2 lengths in her debut. She can win here, but the barn is going through a dry spell and others appear to have a bit more upside. I prefer the Linda Rice second-time starter Saffron Girl. Some may be deterred by the fact that she debuted for a tag first time out, but I don’t view that as a major negative for a New York-bred competing against open company. This filly wasn’t ever a threat to win that day but she did run in spots, showing some grit to regain her momentum after suddenly dropping back heading into the far turn. It was a typical effort for a Linda Rice firster, and such runners typically improve with a start under their belts. Rice is 17 for 47 (36%, $2.24 ROI) with second-time starting maidens in dirt routes over the past 5 years. This filly is bred to have a bit more ability than she displayed first time out and she might actually be getting a bit of class relief this time as there doesn’t appear to be a rival of the caliber of last-out winner Vibrance in this lineup. The other runners to consider are a pair of first time starters for these same two barns, Michelle Nevin and Linda Rice. Yet neither stable is known for having them cranked up to win their debuts.

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RACE 6: SHOCK THERAPY (#1)

Playwright is the fairly obvious favorite based on his superior recent speed figures. However, he’s been relatively short prices in his last two starts at this level and he’s failed to get the job done. This runner’s lack of early speed can sometimes cause issues for him, as his late run tends to fall just short, evidenced by the 9 runner-up placements to go along with his 4 wins. That said, he still goes out for one of the most dangerous barns on the grounds and this is his best distance. I’m using him and certainly prefer him to main rival Bebe Banker. This gelding hasn’t yet shown the improvement that one might have expected since the claim by Rudy Rodriguez. He has yet to get back to his career-best effort from last September when he posted a 109 TimeformUS Speed Figure at this level aided by a rail bias. His last performance is difficult to excuse, as he was supposed to get past a horse like High Command for third. That Ronald Breed-trained rival is far from impossible in this spot given his current form, but I want to look in a different direction for my top pick. Shock Therapy moves back into state-bred company after trying a variety of claiming and starter spots in recent months. Given his running style, he’s always at the mercy of the pace and he’s been compromised by slow early fractions a number of times over his past several races. He was caught behind very slow paces in both Saratoga appearances, and encountered an even more pronounced scenario at Belmont in October. He was simply overmatched in a tough spot going this distance last time, but he is well-spotted this time. He appears to be working well for the return and will surely offer better value than the likely favorite.

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