Aqueduct Horses in Focus for Thursday, February 4

RACE 3: HALO CITY (#3)

Likely favorite Chaysenbryn has turned into a completely different horse since stretching out in distance over this Aqueduct main track. She announced her improved form with that 10-length triumph against cheaper in November and she’s since validated that performance with a pair of solid results at this level. She arguably put in the best effort of her career last time when surviving a pace duel with today’s rival Cousin Basil, battling back on the rail late before just succumbing to the perfect-trip winner. A repeat of that performance will make her pretty tough for this field to beat, and she brings a speed figure consistency to the table that some others lack. However, she figures to be a short price and there are at least a couple of intriguing alternatives. One of those is New York Rock Star. At first glance it might appear that this filly failed to transfer her Parx form to the NYRA circuit last time. Yet she never really had a fair chance in that race, as she was outrun in the early stages and steadied behind a tiring rival at the top of the stretch when attempting to make her move. She’s better than that and shouldn’t be hindered by the stretch-out in distance. However, trainer Jamie Ness is 0 for 13 on the NYRA circuit over the past 5 years. I’m using her, but my top pick is Halo City. It took this filly 12 starts to break her maiden but now she’s seeking the third victory in a row after twice visiting the winner’s circle in January. She beat males to get the diploma on Jan. 3, closing resolutely to get up in the mud over a pair of rivals (Mandatory and Ajhar) who returned to validate that 93 TimeformUS Speed Figure in their subsequent starts. While she won a slow race against claimers 7 days ago, she was just cruising to the wire as much the best, the final time perhaps slowed by the pedestrian early fractions. Now she makes first start off the claim for Natalia Lynch, who did get her first victory as a trainer in a stakes at Laurel last month.

RACE 4: AMISTAD (#8)

It’s difficult to predict where the public will land in this confusing conditioned claiming affair going a demanding 1 1/8 miles. I pegged Social Group as the slight favorite on the morning line, but I’m not thrilled with the idea of supporting this horse at a short price. While he arguably has the most upside of anyone in this field, he was beating a woefully weak field when he broke his maiden here last month. He was sent off as the 4-5 favorite largely due to the fact that there were key scratches of the top two contenders from that race. He may have to run faster to beat this group. Open Lengths is one alternative, but he’s not exactly the most reliable sort after disappointing as the 4-5 favorite against an inferior field at the $16k level last time. That said, he’s now making his first start off the claim for sharp connections and he handles the distance. I’m using him, as I trust him more than dropdown First Line. This Orlando Noda trainee is the class of the race, but his form has been declining lately and it seems dubious that he’s about to turn things around, even at this softer class level. I’m going in a different direction with Amistad. While this 5-year-old was campaigned as a sprinter early in his career, he ran well enough going a mile last time to suggest that added ground may be in his wheelhouse. It also appears that he’s just an improved horse since returning to Chris Englehart’s barn late last year. He would have been competitive at a tougher level two back if he hadn’t blown the start, and last time he resolutely made up ground from far back to getup for third in a race that has proven to be a strong one for this level. This time he should possess the tactical speed to be forwardly placed from the start.

RACE 8: RUMDUM BYDA SEA (#6)

This final race of the day is a fascinating New York-bred maiden event, pitting some experienced rivals against some first time starters from top barn. I’m personally leaning heavily towards those with experience, as Todd Pletcher has poor statistics with firsters in dirt routes at Aqueduct, and Chad Brown’s debuting runner is a homebred who may need a start. The most experienced member of this field is Brew Pub, who has yet to put in anything less than strong performances going a mile on dirt.  He’s improved with each successive start, and did well to just miss last time after engaging in a fast early pace. I’m certainly using him, though it would appear that others have more upside at this point. The horse to beat is probably Full Moon Fever, who would be pretty formidable if able to get back to that 100 TimeformUS Speed Figure he earned for his runner-up finish at this level two back. He clearly disappointed last time, but he appeared to struggle with the muddy going while attempting to gather momentum in the second half of the race. He also didn’t get the savviest ride from journeyman Mike Luzzi who is back aboard today. I’m a fan of this horse, but he’s hard to take at a short price without a rider switch. I’m actually most interested in a different horse out of that Jan. 16 race won by Lobsta. Rumdum Byda Sea was making his career debut in that spot, and finished 3 1/2 lengths behind Full Moon Fever while checking in sixth. He clearly has to do better than that to have a say in the outcome here, but he seemed like a runner who badly needed that first experience. He was striding greenly through the early stages and seemed reluctant to sustain a rally when driven inside for the stretch run. This son of Bellamy Road is a big, gangly colt who should appreciate getting on a fast track this time. He also has plenty of pedigree to be a runner, as a full-brother to accomplished dirt router Bellamy Way. He’s not the most likely winner, but he’s probably better than that first run indicates and he’s going to be a generous price this time.

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