RACE 2: MISTER BOBBY (#3)
In some ways the key to this race is Beaver Creek, since he has the most upside of anyone in here. He showed little in his debut, but looked like a different animal when dropped in class at Churchill last time, displaying improved early speed before gamely winning a stretch-long duel to the wire. This well-bred gelding is by Speightstown out of a Grade 1-winning dam, so clearly there were issues for him to be risked for just $30,000 in his second career start. That said, he may be putting it all together now, and he isn’t in for a tag here. He should find himself stalking the speedy Rejected Again. This colt showed improvement off the claim for this barn last time out, albeit on the turf, finishing a solid third as the weaker half of a favored entry. Now he switches back to dirt, a surface he’s handled well in the past. He returned from the layoff this summer at Saratoga as a more mature, faster horse and he’s going to be tough here if he still possesses that same early speed. I’m using both of these, but my top pick is Mister Bobby. He was one of the few horses sent out by the Bond stable that didn’t seem to thrive in Saratoga this summer. He was given some time off after that summer meet and appeared to return in much better form last time. He was no match for the improved Money Ride, who was winning his second straight, but stayed on well for second in what was arguably a tougher heat at this level. Mister Bobby has plenty of speed figures from last year’s Aqueduct meet that will make him tough here, so perhaps he is just a winter specialist. He figures to work out another good stalking trip for the Bond barn, which is heating up lately.
RACE 4: UNBRIDLED HONOR (#6)
Both Bill Mott and Todd Pletcher each have a pair of runners in this intriguing maiden special weight going 9 furlongs. Between the Mott pair, I’m most intrigued by Hardison. This grey son of Tapit obviously has ability, but tries a new surface for the firs time. That second start has proven to be a strong race as winner Hard Love returned to finish a strong second in a stakes next time. At first glance this switch to dirt might look like a move of desperation after he disappointed as a short price last time. However, Mott and the connections have probably always had dirt in mind for this colt but had no reason to switch surfaces immediately after his surprisingly strong debut. He’s bred for dirt through and through, as his dam Octave was a multiple Grade 1-winning dirt router, and all of her foals have excelled routing on dirt, including Belmont Stakes fourth-place finisher Incognito. Pletcher’s pair are both second time starters, and he has excellent stats with horses like this. Over the past 5 years, Pletcher is 5 for 6 (83%, $5.55 ROI) with maiden second time starters in 9-furlong dirt races at Aqueduct. Some may gravitate towards Constitutional Law given his awesome pedigree, as a full-sibling to Constitution. He ran into a good one in his debut when he was no match for Ten for Ten, who just missed in the Grade 2 Remsen. He was never really a threat to win that race, but just kept grinding away on the outside, never in the bridle, but always responding to pressure. He gave off the vibe that distance wouldn’t be an issue, so stretching out makes sense. Yet I prefer Pletcher’s other runner Unbridled Honor. This homebred son of Honor Code just looked very green first time out, as he dropped back midway through the race while seeming to lose focus. He appeared to reengage in the stretch and was finishing up best of all late. Added distance isn’t supposed to be a problem as his dam is a half-sister to Haskell winner Roman Ruler and Cigar Mile winner El Corredor. He actually broke sharply last time, so I expect him to show more tactical speed on the stretch-out and potentially get the jump on some others who appear to have plodding styles.
RACE 8: FOXTAIL (#4)
I’m not trying to beat Foxtail, who just seems like the right horse once again as she seeks her third in a row and fifth win in her last six starts. She’s been a picture of consistency since switching to dirt this summer at Saratoga. While she returns from a bit of a layoff this time, you can’t blame her connections for giving her a couple months to rest considering her busy summer schedule. They probably want to have a fresh horse for the winter, where she can do some real damage in her current form. Notably, they’re not risking her for the $62,500 claiming price here after running her for the tag in her prior starts at this level. If she repeats that 107 TimeformUS Speed Figure she earned last time, she’s going to be tough for this field to handle. And she should be able to do it the same way on the front end, since there really isn’t much early speed to challenge her. I suppose her most intriguing rival is the 3-year-old Daphne Moon, who gets back to the NYRA circuit after finishing second in her return at Laurel. While it was no disgrace losing to the in-form Landing Zone, she got a pretty good trip stalking that filly and was never a threat through the lane. She’s going to have to improve to beat Foxtail, and I’m not sure that turning back to a mile helps her at all. I was a fan of this filly early in her career, but I’m just not sure that she’s gone on developing. Perhaps the biggest threat to the favorite could come from Ujjayi, who ran her best race in a very long time over this track on Nov. 19. That surface was a little speed-favoring, and she made a solid late run from off the pace. It seems like she’s turned her career around since getting into Mike Maker’s barn and she’s a major player based on her last effort.