Aqueduct Horses in Focus for Thursday, November 19

RACE 2: DIVIDED SKY (#6)

I feel pretty confident in likely favorite Divided Sky in this spot. This filly took a ton of money to go off at 2-1 in her Saratoga debut for Wesley Ward two summers ago. However, whe didn’t get away cleanly and then rushed up before tiring that day. She made a similar mistake at the start at Woodbine when stepped up against stakes foes, and then was put on the shelf for a long time. The good news about her return for Abel Castellano is that she appears to have gotten over her gate troubles. She broke clearly going a mile last time, but just couldn’t see out the distance after traveling keenly early. This cutback in distance makes sense, and she gets a bit of class relief. There are a lot of signs pointing in this direction, and I just can’t get behind any of her rivals. Buyer’s Remorse disappointed in her turf debut despite getting bet down to 2-1, as she was even passed by Rapido Gatta in the late stages. Perhaps she was hindered by the fact that the eventual winner showed unexpected early speed, as this filly may not be keen to pass horses. Barring something unforeseen, she figures to make the lead this time, but even that might not be enough to get her to the winner’s circle unless she improves. Perhaps the more intriguing alternative is Tea in China, who ran surprisingly well in a minor stakes on turf at Laurel last time. The favorite didn’t really show up in that spot, but she nevertheless held her own against some superior horses. It’s possible that sprinting on turf is just what she’s wanted to do all along.

RACE 6: POP THE BUBBLY (#11)

There is limited turf form in this race, so it’s important to watch races and pay close attention to pedigrees. Of those who have already run on the turf, I’m most interested in Cara’s Dreamer and Sassy Melissa. The former may get somewhat overlooked moving back to this surface for Mitch Friedman, but she’s bred to handle grass. She was beaten by a couple of today’s rivals in her lone turf route attempt in September, but I thought she ran well within the context of that race, and she’s subsequently improved in route starts on the dirt, suggesting she may be fitter now. Sassy Melissa was a non-threatening fifth in her debut going 7 furlongs, but she ran like a horse who needed that start. She moved up in the opening furlong after a slow start and then raced keenly behind horses on the turn before striding greenly through the stretch. John Velazquez tried to work her into the clear, but she showed a tendency to lug in all the way to the wire. She should benefit from that experience and I don’t expect the added distance to be an issue. I’m using both of these, but my top pick is one of the first time turfers. Pop the Bubbly was intended for this surface first time out when she was rained off the grass on October 12. Yet I thought she ran deceptively well over a surface that she probably doesn’t relish. She was off slowly but quickly advanced into the contention on the backstretch. She then stalked the pace from the inside before having to alter course multiple times into the lane. She had plenty of opportunities to throw in the towel but she refused to quit, staying on for third in a race that has proven to be stronger than it appears. Now she’s getting on turf, which is the surface she’s bred for. War Dancer is strictly a turf influence and her dam earned all 4 of her career victories on turf. None of this filly’s siblings have yet handled turf, but keep in mind that all of them were by negative turf influence Giant Surprise.

RACE 9: LAST OPPORTUNITY (#6)

If Duress repeats either of his last two efforts, he’s probably going to beat this field. You can’t fault him for failing to reel in the supremely talented Fiya two back when closing for second in a very fast race. Then last time he made what seemed like a winning move in upper stretch but just got tired in the last furlong over a boggy course. Now he finds himself in against a relatively soft N1X allowance field in a race that features some pace for him to close into. I’m hardly against him, but I do see one viable alternative who could get dismissed at a price. Last Opportunity makes his first start off a trainer switch to Todd Pletcher and cuts back in distance. While the barn change certainly doesn’t hurt, especially considering Pletcher’s strong start to this meet, it’s the turnback that encourages me. This horse just doesn’t strike me was one that wants route distances. In most of his turf races in this country, he’s raced keenly early, sometimes makes a middle move, and has been unable to finish. Those are hallmarks of horses that need to be cut back to sprints, and his European form would also suggest that. He debuted going 6 furlongs at Leopardstown as a 2-year-old and won impressively, closing from the back of the pack with an impressive burst of speed. Plus, he’s bred to sprint, as sire Dandy Man was a 5-furlong specialist. He, too, figures to benefit from some pace in this race, and I have to imagine that he’ll be a square price even with Irad Ortiz taking the mount. I’m just not a fan of the other alternatives, particularly Ahead of Plan, who benefited from a very soft trip last time and has other speed to contend with here.

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