Aqueduct Horses in Focus for Saturday, January 16

RACE 5: SKYLER’S SCRAMJET (#9)

You can make a reasonable case for almost every runner in this highly competitive $25,000 claiming event. Therefore, I think it would be a mistake to just default to the likely favorite McErin. This horse can definitely win if he merely holds his form, but he’s coming off a victory, and is racing first off the claim for Rudy Rodriguez with leading rider Kendrick Carmouche named. That’s just a recipe for him to be an underlay in a confusing race. His two main rivals appear to be Square Shooter and Clench. They each exit different races on Dec. 19, a day that featured a strong rail bias, and both were against the track. However, at least Square Shooter ran well in his performance, closing from well back after an awkward start to get up for second. Clench was meeting a much tougher field, but he never got involved after getting outrun early. That said, horses have returned from the allowance race he exits to do well, and he is getting significant class relief. I’m trying to beat these shorter prices with Skyler’s Scramjet. I’m not sure why he was bet down to 2-1 last time in such a competitive field, but that was a tough spot and he was hindered by getting caught up in a fast pace with Big Mountain. I won’t hold that against him, and he has prior form that would make him a player here. He’s not the easiest horse to trust, but he is now making his first start off the claim for A. C. Avila, who is 7 for 31 (23%, $5.07 ROI) in such situations on dirt over the past 5 years. I’m hoping he gets the right kind of outside stalking trip this time.

RACE 8: A LIFE THAT’S GOOD (#3)

This race is probably all about the two favorites, who do come in with superior speed figures. Laobanonaprayer earned a field-best 96 TimeformUS Speed Figure when she won that lucrative New York Stallion Series race by 8 lengths last time. A repeat of that performance will make her tough, but keep in mind that she was facing a weaker field that day despite the large purse. This is arguably the toughest test she’s faced yet, and she’s being asked to turn back to 6 1/2 furlongs, a distance that may be a tad short for her. I’m using her, but I have more faith that her main rival Vacay will step forward. This filly didn’t exactly distinguish herself in her debut, but she ran much better to win the Key Cents last time, finishing powerfully after rating off the pace. A little added ground should help, but she nevertheless seems like more of a natural sprinter than Laobanonaprayer. I’m using both, but I’m interested in one alternative who figures to be a much bigger price. A Life That’s Good was entered on the wrong surface for her debut, and Jeremiah Englehart quickly made the correction in her second start. She’s bred to be a dirt sprinter, and she ran to that pedigree last time, winning off by over 5 lengths in impressive fashion. Some will be discouraged by the fact that the runner-up lost a maiden claimer next time out, but that filly actually improved her TimeformUS Speed Figure by 9 points in the process, while third-place finisher Coffee Bar improved by 20 points when breaking her maiden next time out. Furthermore, Jeremiah Englehart is a remarkable 8 for 20 (40%, $3.70 ROI) with last-out maiden winners in NY-bred dirt sprints at NYRA over the past 5 years.

RACE 9: SAY MOI (#1)

The finale is among the most competitive races on this Saturday card. It’s hard to know where the public will go with regard to making a favorite. I had a hard time choosing between South of the Shore and Love and Love when making the morning line, as both have questions to answer. Love and Love comes into this race off a solid victory against New York-breds, but she got a perfect trip and this is a step up in class. South of the Shore didn’t really ever look like a winner in her return last time, but she had a right to need that race and she has prior speed figures that would make her tough here. I’ll use both, but I think there are definitely others to consider. I ultimately decided that I wanted the horses exiting that Nov. 28 race at this level won by Kansas Kis. The winner returned with a strong runner-up finish on Friday, and others have come back out of that race to run well. Critical Value could attract some support as she stretches back out to a mile after finishing fifth in that race. She didn’t get the best trip, as she was steadied out of position in the opening furlong and had to rally from well off the pace. I’m using her, but I’ve never been her biggest fan. I instead went to Say Moi as my top pick. She finished one position ahead of Critical Value last time, but she didn’t have the smoothest journey either. She was held up in behind horses coming to the quarter pole and chose to follow the wrong rival in heavy favorite Center Aisle, who eventually backed up in her face. I’m not convinced that more distance necessarily helps either of these runners, but Say Moi has no had less-than-ideal trips in two of her last three starts, and I think she can rebound.

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