Aqueduct Horses in Focus for Sunday, February 2


Heavy favorite Fort McHenry is curiously spotted in this optional claiming race, since he must race for the $50,000 tag. While that might seem like a reasonable enough move for a horse with his résumé, let’s remember that the owners paid $1.1 million for this half-brother to California Chrome as a yearling. He’s undoubtedly been a disappointment, and the fact that he’s been gelded and is dropping so abruptly off one poor effort raises major red flags. I think it’s fair to be a little skeptical of that 83 Beyer achieved two back at Gulfstream Park West, since the TimeformUS Speed Figure of 86 seems more in line with the quality of that field. (Also note the first quarter was actually 24 2/5 seconds.). Minor details aside, that performance still makes him the clear horse to beat. But how short of a price do you really want to take on this colt given the question marks? I want to take a shot against him with My Sacred Place. This colt had to drop down to the $30,000 maiden claiming level to notch his first victory two back, but he accomplished it fairly easily. He was moved back up in class last time and didn’t fare as well, though he didn’t get an ideal trip. Breaking from the rail, he found himself towards the back of the pack behind a slow pace. Jose Lezcano then sent him right down to the inside path in the lane, which probably wasn’t the place to be. This son of Temple City is out of a Grade 3-winning router, so he’s supposed to relish added ground—and it doesn’t matter to me that failed to do it on turf. Furthermore, Jason Servis is 18 for 48 with 3-year-olds stretching out on the dirt over the past 5 years.



Hay Field is going to be a prohibitive favorite in this race as she seeks her third consecutive victory for a third different barn. She was claimed out of her last race by Linda Rice and this isn’t the first time that Rice has had this mare in her care. Hay Field’s recent form is solid but it’s not as if she has some insurmountable advantage over this group. She got the job done as the 3-5 public choice last time, but she had to work hard to put away main rival Puffery. Furthermore, contrary to what intuition might tell us, Linda Rice is just 2 for 28 (7%, $0.43 ROI) first off the claim in dirt sprints at Aqueduct over the past year. Couple that statistic with the fact that her barn has been a little cold this week, and I want to look in a different direction. I have no problem with Puffery, who seems to have finally turned the corner for Rudy Rodriguez, following up that good second-place finish to Hay Field with a strong effort against the speedy Forgotten Hero last time. A similar performance could put her in the winner’s circle here. I’ll use her prominently, but my top pick is the reliable Archumybaby. You have to admire this mare’s consistency and tenacity, having won a third of her 36 career starts while rarely putting in a poor effort. She’s typically been a little out of her element in these N2X optional claimers, but her form has subtly been improving in recent starts. She didn’t get the most comfortable trip when chasing Forgotten Hero last time and actually did well to rerally for fourth. She has the tactical speed to work out a good trip in this paceless race and you know she can win a photo finish if it comes to that.



Harvey’s Lil Goil figures to go off as the favorite here and I’m not trying to beat her. This daughter of American Pharoah ran deceptively well in her turf debut, closing belatedly into a moderate pace while racing wide over a track that was significantly favoring inside runners. It seemed a little curious that Bill Mott moved her immediately to dirt after such a promising start to her career, but it all made sense when she dominated that crew in a 6-length romp. Her pedigree indicates that dirt probably should be her preferred surface since her Tapit-sired dam is a half-sister to Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner I’ll Have Another as well as the multiple graded stakes-winning router Golden Award. Harvey’s Lil Goil showed improved tactical speed last time and she should work out a good stalking trip going this 9-furlong distance. Her main rival appears to be Water White, who drops out of the Grade 2 Demoiselle. I didn’t think she got the best trip that day, as Manny Franco made the tactical error of not using her tactical speed leaving the gate. She actually broke a length ahead of the eventual winner Lake Avenue, but he allowed that filly to rush past him early and Water White was subsequently forced to race wide around the clubhouse turn. All things considered, she stayed on well to be fifth and will be a major factor here if able to save more ground from today’s rail post position. The other horse that I’d want to throw into exotics is Ankle Monitor. This 4-time winner ships in from Laurel after having run nearly as fast as her local counterparts. She’s a grinding type who should appreciate the stretch-out to two turns and she’s going to be a square price.

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