Aqueduct Horses in Focus for Saturday, January 2

RACE 2: MEBS WEB (#6)

It’s hard to know who the horse to beat might be in here, as none of the likely favorites are particularly trustworthy. I suppose Left Leaning Lucy could be the public choice after finishing a decent fourth in a 13-horse field at this level. However, she hasn’t exactly distinguished herself in any of her starts against winners, basically running the same decent yet uninspiring race every time. She should find herself forwardly placed in this spot, but there’s plenty of other speed signed on, with Wings of Fire and Charlotte Webley potentially causing real problems for her up front. I do prefer her to the those horses, as well as Princess in Charge, who hasn’t run very well in either start since returning from a layoff in Linda Rice’s barn. Tuff Bird is perhaps a legitimate option as she turns back in distance after fading badly against a tougher field last time out. I’m not thrilled with her prior form at Churchill Downs, but at least she was running some competitive speed figures then. I want to go in a different direction and shop for a price, so I’ve landed on Mebs Web. I know this filly looks a little slow compared to some of her rivals, but it’s not like she’s been earning figures too much slower than a rival like Left Leaning Lucy. Mebs Web’s last effort was obviously poor, but she was hurt by drawing the rail last time, as she continually got shuffled back after a flat-footed start. Now she makes her first start off the claim for A. C. Avila, who is 7 for 29 (24%, $5.14 ROI) first off the claim at NYRA over the past 5 years. She only has to improve marginally to be a player, and she figures to get some pace to close into.

RACE 3: TOOK CHARGE (#1)

The two horses drawn towards the outside figure to attract the bulk of support, but they have very different profiles. Instinctive Rhythm will be attempting to win his first start against winners after finally breaking his maiden in his fifth attempt last time out. While it did take him a while to get that diploma, he’s run relatively fast speed figures in all of his starts, and may not need to improve much on his victory against maiden company last time to have a major say in the outcome here. Money Ride will be attempting to rebound from a sixth-place finish last time out at this level, but he had a major excuse that day. He got bumped around when sandwiched between rivals at the start, ultimately steadying out to last in the early going. For a horse who does his best running on or near the lead, he made a strong late rally past half the field, albeit in a race that featured a quick pace. I think both of these runners are dangerous, but I’m very intrigued by a new face. Took Charge showed real talent early on in his career, defeating the stakes-placed Three Technique in his career debut while earning an impressive 99 TimeformUS Speed Figure. He was off for a long time after that, but returned in strong form here last winter. Pressed through some very fast early fractions by today’s rival Money Ride, he put that one away before he was overhauled late. Given the amount of speed he displayed, it was odd that his connections decided to stretch him out in the Private Terms, and he predictably folded after running off early. Now he again returns from a lengthy break, but he’s posted some quick workouts and could play out as the controlling speed from the rail.

RACE 5: EKHTIBAAR (#4)

I have no major argument with anyone who argues that Creative Style is the most likely winner of this race. I suppose some could construe this as a negative drop, since he was claimed for $25,000 is now racing for half that price. Yet Danny Gargan is 7 for 17 (41%, $2.23 ROI) with 50% dropdowns over the past 4 years, so it’s something he does with a reasonable amount of success. Creative Style’s overall form has been solid, and a one-turn mile is probably his best distance. He did lose as the favorite last time, but he was taken a little out of his game to chase the pace in a race that was completely devoid of speed. If he shows up, I think he’s going to be tough for this group to handle. I slightly prefer him to his main rival Lucky Ramsey, who has run well in all of his recent starts, except for that loss to Creative Style two back in the slop. He may not have cared for the wet track, and he was also compromise by a slow pace, so I’m willing to forgive that performance. I’m just a little concerned about the lack of pace in this spot, since he’s a one-dimensional closer. I’m going to try to wire the field with Ekhtibaar. This horse has been off form recently, but he’s now getting significant class relief. He was simply overmatched in his two starts for Bruce Levine since returning from the layoff. I think his connections are just being realistic about the fact that he’s never going to get back to the career-best performances he put in for Jorge Navarro, and it’s not as if he didn’t run pretty cheaply for some prior trainers in the past. He has the tactical speed to control this on the front end, and his recent TimeformUS Speed Figures suggest that he’s still capable of winning a race like this when the pace goes his way.

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