Aqueduct Horses in Focus for Sunday, February 16

RACE 5: GONGHEIFATCHOY (#2)

Implied Volatility may go favored here off the strength of his second-place finish at this level last time. However, he really had no excuse to lose that race after working out a perfect stalking trip. He had dead aim at leader Hudson Overpass in upper stretch and just didn’t want to go by a horse who himself has had issues winning races in the past. Perhaps a similar performance will be good enough this time, but I strongly prefer his main rival Gongheifatchoy. This horse has been in solid from since returning from a layoff last fall. He had trouble at the break when overmatched against tougher rivals in early November, but he improved significantly once dropped down to this $25,000 claiming level. Some will say that he improved on a muddy track two back, but his 85 TimeformUS Speed Figure for that performance wasn’t that much higher than the 83 he earned when finishing third last time. Gary Richards may have sent him a little too aggressively in the early stages of that Jan. 11 affair, as he faded through the stretch. Now he gets a subtle but considerable rider upgrade to promising apprentice Luis Cardenas, who seems to have a knack for placing horses well from a pace standpoint. He’s drawn outside of his main rival Implied Volatility so he can play the break and see how to react to that runner’s tactics. I believe Gongheifatchoy is the superior horse and I think he’s finally found the right field to allow him to break out of the maiden ranks.

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RACE 7: HIGH AMPLITUDE (#9)

This is a perplexing N1X allowance affair in which you have contenders coming in from a variety of directions and class levels. You can make a case for many different runners, so perhaps it seems counterintuitive that I’m defaulting to the likely favorite High Amplitude. I just think this Chad Brown trainee is probably better than this group and may sail through this allowance condition following a visually impressive score against maidens last time. While his two best results have come over sloppy, sealed tracks I don’t think there’s significant evidence that he’s better on such going. His lone fast dirt race was actually better than it appears, as he was put in a pocket early, got shuffled back, and had to rally again into a slow pace. His return from the layoff last time was dazzling and he earned an impressive 110 TimeformUS Speed Figure for the performance. That number has since been validated as third-place finisher Fast Master and fourth-place finisher One Eyed Jack both returned to win their subsequent starts with solid figures. I’m not trying to beat this favorite, particularly because I’m not enamored with the logical alternatives. I Love Jaxson seems like the biggest threat, but he’s now been off for nearly two months, which isn’t a great sign considering that Linda Rice prefers to strike while the iron is hot during the winter months. Notably he’s been a vet scratch on two occasions since his last victory. I’m even less confident in the chances of House Limit, who had everything go his way last time against a far weaker field. I believe he’d have to improve to defeat this crew. I’d prefer to entertain some larger-priced options underneath. The longshot who I find most intriguing is Hip Hip Jorge. I know he wasn’t beating much in that maiden win last time, but it was a fast race. It seems like he’s just turned the corner for Mark Casse, who is having a stellar meet at Aqueduct. It’s fair to be concerned about the stretch-out but he’s bred to relish added distance as a son of graded stakes winning router Andujar.

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RACE 8: BOURBON BAY (#6)

Scilly Cay may go off as the slight favorite after impressively winning the Rego Park by open lengths, putting away his main rival Dream Bigger while holding off the closers. He was primed for a top effort that day, but he arguably ran just as well two back when running through kickback to finish a strong second in the Notebook. He’s clearly coming into this race in great form for Linda Rice, but he will be stretching out for the first time. I think you have to be a little concerned about the added ground since he hails from more of a sprinting family, as a half-brother to the talented sprinters Midnight Transfer and Long Haul Bay. His talent may allow him to get the mile, but I think he’s going to have to be at his best to defeat the rival just to his inside. Bourbon Bay was no match for Kentucky Derby prospect Independence Hall in the Jerome last time, but I thought he stayed on well for second after taking a shot at the winner at the quarter pole. Unlike his two main rivals, he’s proven that he can get the mile and he’s bred to go even further than that. There appears to be enough speed in this race to set up his late run and it seems like he’s finally getting over the gate issues that once plagued him. He’s my top pick, but I also wouldn’t totally discount Bank On Shea. He was a little lucky to win that lucrative stakes last time, but it is interesting that Jose Lezcano, the regular rider of all three of these favorites, has chosen to stick with this Servis trainee.

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