RACE 2: MISS LIANA (#1)
You have to admire the consistency of likely favorite Lovely Lady Lexi. She finished in the exacta in 9 of 10 starts in 2020, winning 6 times. While she’s yet to visit the winner’s circle since coming to Aqueduct, she has run well in both local starts. She simply found a mile to be too far for her two back when making the lead in mid-stretch before fading, and she stayed on well last time to be second in the slop last time. Now she gets some realistic class relief and she should be right there if repeating any of her recent efforts. Her main rival No Deal is the real wild card in this field. There was a time when she would have crushed a group like this, yet her recent form leaves plenty of questions to be answered. She ran well here last winter and got back on track over the summer at Penn National. However, her return to NYRA in the fall has been a disaster. Her last effort was particularly perplexing, as she was sluggish early and basically restrained late. She’s supposed to be loose on the lead here if she can regain her early zip, and perhaps that will be enough to revive her form. I’m using both of these, but my top pick is Miss Liana. The running line for her last race has been corrected from an earlier error. That was a decent effort at the $20k level, and she actually might have shown more speed had her rider asked her in the opening furlongs. Furthermore, that Monmouth effort two back is better than it seems. This time she lands in a race with a murky pace scenario, so her tactical speed should be an asset. This drop in class is more significant than a typical $20k to $16k move given the lack of quality in this field. She’s in solid form right now and should not be dismissed.
RACE 4: DARK MONEY (#1)
Runaway Lute may go off as the lukewarm favorite. His recent speed figures may be a little light, but he’s faced much better fields in his last two starts. He had no chance against the likes of More Graytful and Tale of the Union last time. Prior to that he had run well at the tougher $40k/N2X level, finishing just a couple of lengths behind solid allowance performers Fort Worth and Celtic Chaos. He’s probably now just getting the class relief that he needs, and he also figures to work out a nice outside stalking trip. Who knows what we’re going to get from returnee Sicilia Mike off a lengthy layoff and trainer switch. He clearly has prior form that would beat this field, but Wayne Potts does not have particularly strong numbers off layoffs. My top pick is Dark Money. That last effort isn’t nearly as bad as it seems, as he got caught up in a very fast pace chasing two-wide over a rail biased track. The race completely fell apart in the late stages, so he can be forgiven for fading. His performance prior to that was quite strong, in which he set the pace going a distance that is too far for him at a tougher level. Now he makes his first start off the claim for Tom Morley, who is 4 for 32 (13%, $3.92 ROI) first off the claim over the past 2 years. The biggest hurdle for this horse may be the prospect of an early duel with the very fast Steam Engine, but he’ll be dangerous if he can let that one go and stalk.
RACE 6: DADDY KNOWS (#9)
I struggled with the morning line in this race, as it feels like a toss-up as to which direction the public will go. Just Right, The Caretaker, and Daddy Knows all figure to take money for different reasons. I made Just Right the slight favorite off the strength of the claim by Rob Atras. This barn is a strong 7 for 23 (30%, $2.07 ROI) first off the claim in dirt routes over the past 5 years. While he was defeated by both of those aforementioned rivals in that Dec. 19 event, he was coming off a couple of victories at this levels prior to that. He’s stretching out off the claim, but he’s handled his one-mile distance in the past. I’m not the biggest fan of this horse, but I do expect him to move forward with this barn change. The Caretaker arguably has the strongest form of anyone coming into this race, but I’m skeptical about him stretching out in distance. He’s tried routes in the past with little success, and he has a tendency to flatten out at the end of even some of his 7-furlong races. He’s getting some class relief and undoubtedly ran well on Dec. 19, but I prefer others this time. The horse I want most out of that Dec. 19 affair is Daddy Knows. This 5-year-old has been a different horse since getting claimed by Rudy Rodriguez for $14k in October. And that performance last time when finishing third at this level was the best of his career. He chased the pace while racing three-wide over a rail-biased track in a race that fell apart. That 119 TimeformUS Speed Figure is the highest in this field. Some might be skeptical about him stretching out as well, but recall that he broke his maiden going 9 furlongs at Saratoga as a 3-year-old. Furthermore, he’s the younger half-brother to popular New York-bred Mr. Buff.