Aqueduct Horses in Focus for Saturday, February 29

RACE 4: HERSH (#2)

Shamrocked would be a deserving favorite here as he makes his third start since returning from a layoff. While he could only manage to finish third in each of his last two starts at this level, he actually ran reasonably well in both of those races. He was setting an honest pace two back before getting run over by the juggernaut that is Wicked Trick. Then last time he found himself chasing outside over a racetrack that appeared to be slightly tilted towards inside paths. Now he’s drawn outside of his main pace rivals and he should work out a decent trip against a slightly weaker field. The one concern I have with him is the 6 1/2 furlongs. He has won going this distance, but he’s always getting leg-weary in the final sixteenth and that could leave him vulnerable to a closer. The best of those is clearly Hersh, who now cuts back in distance after trying a mile in his return from the layoff. Hersh got knocked off stride at the start last time, which put him a bit farther back in the early going than he otherwise might have been. Furthermore, that was a fairly moderate pace and winner Frank’sgunisloaded was heavily supported like he was meant to win that day. I’ve always thought that Hersh is better going shorter distances, and he figures to get a more honest setup this time with the fleet Ready to Escape in the mix. If he can build at all upon that last effort second off the layoff I think he’ll be the biggest threat to Shamrocked. I’m focusing primarily on these two, since I’m not a fan of Blacktop Legend, who has been beating significantly weaker horses.

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RACE 7: BEACH ACCESS (#1)

The two horses likely to attract the bulk of support in here both come into this race with significant flaws. Freaky Styley has more upside than the rest in just his fifth career start, but I think you have to be a little concerned about his current form. He ran exceptionally well in his first two starts at Saratoga last summer, but his last two efforts have been underwhelming. He had some traffic issues two back, but he still was supposed to win that race. Then last time he got an unexpected challenge from a longshot and had to work surprisingly hard to secure the victory. That last-out regression also makes me concerned about this ability excel at this one-mile distance. Yankee Division might seem like the obvious alternative, but I don’t fully trust him to repeat his last race. That one-mile claimer did come up unusually fast compared to other races that day but it was run just as a snowstorm was beginning and the track may have been changing a great deal. Runner-up Invest returned to run significantly slower despite getting claimed by Jason Servis, which further calls that speed figure into question. I want to look elsewhere, and the best option appears to be Beach Access. There appears to be some pace in this race, since Captain Frost, High Command, and Yankee Division are all likely to vie for the front end. While I don’t think the pace is going to totally fall apart, that should ensure that Beach Access works out a fair trip. He did well to be second behind the improved Playwright last time after having to alter course in deep stretch. A repeat of that 99 TimeformUS Speed Figure puts him right in the mix and it’s not like that was the first time that he’s run well over this course and distance.

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RACE 8: BLUGRASCAT’S SMILE (#8)

This is a very confusing race going an unusual distance. I suppose Leitone may go favored, but I’m concerned about the stretch-out. He’s handled 1 1/8 miles, but this is 1 1/2 furlongs farther than that and he’s not the kind of horse that is ever finishing with great energy. Furthermore, while the Pace Projector is predicting that he will be on the lead, he may face some early pressure from horses like Ekhtibaar and Armament. I’m using him prominently given his overall superior form, but I want to look for better value on the win end. Adventist makes plenty of sense after running right by Leitone in the late stages of the Jazil. He was just picking up pieces late in a race that was falling apart, but at least you know that he’s going to get the distance given that he won the G3 Greenwood Cup going 1 1/2 miles. I’ll use him and Jazil runner-up Backsideofthemoon, but I think we can get a bit more creative with the top selection. Blugrascat’s Smile is a horse who I have always wanted to see stretched out in distance, since he’s this imposing, long-striding type who often runs out of ground going shorter. He’s tried stakes company in the past to no avail, but this feels like a weird situation in which many of the top contenders could run below their best form. Blugrascat’s Smile’s recent efforts have been solid and he put forth one of his best performances to win going a mile last time, bulling his way through traffic late. Some will be deterred by the fact that he’s claimed away from Rob Atras, but Gary Sciacca is actually 10 for 55 (18%, $4.08 ROI) first off the claim on dirt over 5 years, suggesting that his recent claims are often overlays. It also doesn’t hurt that he picks up Eric Cancel, who has been winning races in bunches lately.

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