Aqueduct Horses in Focus for Thursday, December 31

RACE 2: OK HONEY (#1)

Wasp is obviously the horse to beat as she attempts to break through her N1X condition in her second attempt. While she disappointed as the 4-5 favorite last time, she was probably a little overbet at that price and actually ran quite well to be second, finishing well clear of a couple of today’s rivals. A repeat of that 105 TimeformUS Speed Figure would make her very tough for this field to handle. That said, she got a pretty good trip last time, and I wouldn’t say the same for Courageous Girl, who was discouraged racing inside in the early stages and stayed on well in the lane. I’ll use both of these fillies, affording plenty of respect to Wasp, but there’s one rival at a much more enticing price who interests me. I understand Ok Honey is a little hard to take in this spot given her 2-for-42 lifetime record and low-percentage trainer. However, there’s no denying that she ran the best race of her career last time. Running over a rail-biased Dec. 19 strip, she endured a 4- to 5-wide trip around the far turn before staying on well in the stretch, closing some ground into a slow pace. She does always seem to come alive during the winter at Aqueduct, and her form is clearly heading in the right direction now. The question is whether she’s good enough to beat the likes of Wasp and others. I’m not quite convinced that it’s likely to happen, but she’s going to be a big enough price that I’ll take a shot that she outruns her odds. I’ll use her a little on top and in exotics with the favorite.

RACE 4: FLAT AWESOME JENNY (#9)

Daria’s Angel will probably go favored here as she makes her first start off the claim for Rudy Rodriguez. She won going a mile last time, but she’s handled sprint distances in the past, and obviously has the back class to prove tough against this field of $20,000 claimers. My issue is that I still have some questions about her current form. That performance on Aug. 7 at Saratoga has not held up over time, as multiple horses have come back out of that race to run poorly. She appeared to get back on track last time, but I felt that she benefited from a speed-favoring surface on Nov. 27. Rudy has strong numbers in this situation, but I nevertheless prefer her main rival Flat Awesome Jenny. I’m not sure why she ran so poorly in her first start off the claim for Rob Atras in October at Belmont, but she looked like her old self last time, charging down the center of the track to run away from an overmatched group of rivals. Now she’s moving up in class off that victory, something that Atras does vey well. Over the past 5 years, he is 20 for 54 (37%, $2.46 ROI) with last-out winners in dirt sprints. She’s my top pick, and I’ll use her with the filly she defeated last time, Rude Awaking. While getting claimed away from Linda Rice isn’t ideal, Richard Metivier does a decent job, and this filly’s tactical speed should play well in a race that isn’t projected to feature much early pace.

RACE 5: CIVIL WAR (#3)

Potential favorite Sam and Sy debuted for a tag at Belmont but won convincingly in the slop by over 13 lengths, beating Bowing Snowman, who would earn improved TimeformUS Speed Figures of 68 and 84 (winning last time) in his next two starts. He tried a tougher field at Churchill last time and came up short at 6-5, but nevertheless improved his speed figure while rallying up the rail for second. Brad Cox appears to have this one headed in the right direction as he now adds blinkers for his third start, and he has the tactical speed to work out the right trip. Yet he’s one of many who can win and could be the shortest price. Fire Sword’s connections took a risk running this $80k yearling purchase for a $50k tag first time out, but they got away with it. This gelding won with ease as he just glided away from that field under minimal urging. He earned a respectable 91 TimeformUS Speed Figure in a race out of which fourth-place finisher Charlie Five O, who dueled with this horse early, won his next start with a 92 figure. This Wesley Ward trainee’s biggest advantage is his early speed, since he figures to control this race on the front end. I prefer him to the other Kentucky debut winner, Conformist. He steadily pulled away to a clear victory for Eddie Kenneally, but I’m skeptical that this horse can step up against tougher foes. He beat a weak field last time and has a turf-oriented pedigree that leaves me skeptical about how far he can go on dirt. My top pick is Civil War. After winning his debut a Monmouth, this colt was thrown to the wolves in his next start when beaten 24 lengths by some of the top two-year-olds in the country in the Grade 1 Champagne. He didn’t fare much better in the Nashua last time, and now drops back down in class for this starter allowance. Deep closers like this are always at the mercy of pace, but the TimeformUS Pace Projector is predicting a fast pace this time. It is a little concerning that he hasn’t stepped forward much from a speed figure standpoint, but a favorable setup and some class relief can often wake up horses like this.

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