RACE 5: YANKEE DIVISION (#1)
Rudy Rodriguez appears to hold a strong hand in this New York-bred N2X optional claimer. The likely favorite is Wudda U Think Now, who is moving up in class off a victory at the N1X allowance level last time. He had to work a bit harder than expected to get the job done as the even-money favorite, but the runner-up did finish well clear of the rest. The problem is that, even though that race got a reasonably fast speed figure, the second-place finisher returned to regress badly in a subsequent start. I still have respect for Wudda U Think Now, as he’s shown ability in prior starts, especially two back when second to the talented Jerry the Nipper. Yet I prefer Rudy’s other horse at a bigger price. Yankee Division is coming off a brief layoff here, but he’s been working throughout his time away, suggesting that he didn’t have a major issue. He ran quite well to be third at this level two back, chasing an honest pace while earning a strong 112 TimeformUS Speed Figure. And last time he had little chance to win when placed over his head in the Alex M. Robb, but he nevertheless stayed on gamely through the stretch to be third behind classy stakes performers Bankit and Mr. Buff. A repeat of either of those efforts will make him tough here, and his tactical speed should play well in a race that doesn’t feature an abundance of pace. I would also use Danebury, who should play out as the early leader and has a right to improve in his second start off the layoff after needing a race sprinting.
RACE 6: REGGAE MUSIC MAN (#1)
First time starters figure to attract some support in this state-bred maiden affair, and that group is led by a Florida shipper for Todd Pletcher. This Repole homebred is by 9% debut sire Outwork. The dam was a stakes-placed multiple dirt sprint winner, and her only foal to race is dirt router Microscope, who is running in today’s 5th race. Todd Pletcher is 9 for 33 (27%, $2.11 ROI) with maiden first time starters in NY-bred dirt sprints at Aqueduct over 5 years. A couple of his Palm Beach Downs works are in company with unraced 3YO filly La Victoria (by Tapit out of champion La Verdad) and that Jan. 29 work was in company with Ishfaaq (a distant 5th in GP debut). King Moonracer could also take some money for George Weaver. This colt was an RNA for just $4k as a yearling. Mission Impazible is a 9% debut sire, and he dam was a minor dirt sprint winner. Both siblings to race are winners, topped by his colt’s full-sister to Mabel Island, a multiple dirt route winner. George Weaver is an excellent 17 for 71 (24%, $3.61 ROI) with first time starters in dirt sprints over the past 5 years. However, I’m going with experience, and the most logical option of those who have run is Reggae Music Man. You have to respect the grittiness this ridgling has displayed in his first couple of starts. He gamely chased the winner in his debut, undeterred by sloppy kickback, in what turned out to be a relatively quick race. He then showed improved speed last time, but a swift first quarter appeared to take its toll. Yet even though he looked finished at the quarter pole, he gamely fought on to come back for third. He’s by the speedy Maclean’s Music, but his best half-brother is synth router Frankie Barone, so 7 furlongs should be OK. He has to deal with the rail post again, but he’s apparently worked well since that last race.
RACE 7: VICAR’S LEGEND (#10)
Shamrocked will beat this field if he merely maintains his form on the dropdown. However, one has to wonder why he’s dropping so precipitously in just his second start off the claim after being purchased for twice this price just two races ago. He was last across the wire in that $40k claimer last time, and while he earned a decent speed figure for that effort, horses have not come back out of that race to run well. Furthermore, this gelding seems to do his best work as a front-runner, and there is other speed to vie for the lead with him. The Pace Projector is predicting a fast early tempo, which could also hinder one of his main rivals Diddley. This runner would be a major player here if able to repeat his performance two back on Jan. 9, and he had a valid excuse last time when he was off slowly and unable to make the lead. Yet he could have trouble working out the right trip with other speed signed on. I’m going in a different direction with Vicar’s Legend. This deep-closing gelding would need the pace to come back to him, but that might happen. He nearly won at this level on Nov. 21 when closing from far behind to just miss by a nose. And since then he’s simply been in over his head in two starts for Ray Handal. Those New York-bred $25k claiming events attract some pretty salty fields, and Vicar’s Legend had little chance to make an impact, especially last time in a race that was dominated on the front end. This is the drop in class that he needs, and he brings a more consistent set of recent speed figures to the table than many others in here.