Aqueduct Horses in Focus for Friday, February 21

RACE 4: EMPIRITA (#4)

Quasar didn’t run well last time, but it was her first start in five months and she caught a sloppy track. She put forth efforts last year that would make her pretty tough for this crew to handle, and she did so while facing tougher fields than this. Ribaudo again adds blinkers, which she wore in one of her best performances at Saratoga. It’s probably a good sign that Junior Alvarado sticks here, and she’s likely to catch a fast track this time. She’s not totally trustworthy, but she’s still the horse to beat and I prefer her to main rivals Gottahaveaholiday and Jasminesque. They’ll likely have Gottahaveaholiday to catch on the front end, and perhaps that will be enough to get her to the winner’s circle this time. However, she’s hard to recommend based on her recent form, and rival Jasminesque would have beaten her last time if she hadn’t clipped heels in the lane. Both of these contenders have been facing weak fields, so I would prefer to look for a new face. Empirita debuted for a $10,000 tag late in her 3-year-old season and was claimed by these connections, who then had to lay her up for well over a year. She finally got back to the races at Mahoning Valley last month as a 5-year-old and ran a curious race. She was up close chasing the pace early, dropped back under little to no encouragement on the turn, but then rallied willingly once her rider finally asked her in the stretch. That felt like a prep and now she’s stepping up in class for her second start off the layoff. It’s unclear how she fits from a class standpoint, but she has more upside than most and could get a little lost in the wagering.

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RACE 7: LOVE OF MY HEART (#1)

Fierce Lady may go favored once again, but I have little trust left in this filly after she faded to finish off the board in her return against New York-bred stakes company last time. While the result was very disappointing, it should be acknowledged that she set a very fast pace after getting gunned to the lead from the rail. Yet even given that less-than-ideal trip, she should have shown more staying power in the lane. It was among the worst outings of her career, and that’s been the pattern, as she has steadily declined in each start since her stellar debut at Belmont last summer. I have similar feelings about the other runner likely to attract support, Autonomous. This filly looked bound for better things following her debut triumph at Aqueduct in November, but she disappointed as the favorite in an inexcusable loss at Penn National and then again failed as the prohibitive choice last time. She should appreciate cutting back to a sprint, but I prefer others. Leaveuwithasmile makes some sense based on her recently improved form at Laurel. She earned an impressive 98 TimeformUS Speed Figure for her victory last time out and she’s been cycling toward such a performance for a while. However, it remains to be seen if she can transfer that form to New York for a barn that has been very cold recently. My top pick is the recent maiden winner Love of My Heart. She won at 14-1 last time and will be a much shorter price here, but everything about that effort seems legitimate. She earned a competitive 96 TimeformUS Speed Figure and that number was validated by two next-out winners. She did miss a start in the Ruthless last month, but she’s since come back with a fast workout last week and appears primed for another good effort. Furthermore, the Mark Casse barn has been sending out nothing but live runners at this meet.

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RACE 8: LEFT LEANING LUCY (#1)

Central Exit is obviously the horse to beat after finishing a solid second at this level last time. That 76 TimeformUS Speed Figure that she earned will win many races at this level, and the performance was flattered when third-place finisher Maru returned to win. She was previously overmatched against stakes company and had shown some signs of life in her first two starts, so it’s not as if that improvement came out of nowhere. I’m hardly against her, but there are other options to consider. A few first-time starters have a right to do well, the most intriguing of which appears to be Central Perk. This filly is a full-sister to Bebe Banker, who is competitive in New York-bred dirt allowance races on this circuit. She sold for $65,000 after working a furlong in 10 2/5 last May, displaying a nice reach to her stride during that move. She shows two gate drills for this, which is something you rarely see from Rice prior to a debut. I’ll use both of these, but my top pick is the second-time starter Left Leaning Lucy. Her debut trip was an eventful one. She was actually contesting the pace for nearly a furlong after the start, but got squeezed out of that position and then greenly backed up through the field, eventually dropping almost 10 lengths off the pace. It looked as if she was going to finish far back, but she suddenly found a new gear at the quarter pole, rallying gamely through traffic in the lane. She figures to move forward with that experience under her belt. She does move up in class, but it’s not that significant a jump and I think she can beat the favorites with routine improvement.

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