Aqueduct Horses in Focus for Monday, February 15

RACE 1: ROSE E HOLIDAY (#4)

The likely favorite in this $40k maiden claimer is dropdown Lightfoot Miss, who makes her second attempt going a mile on dirt after finishing fourth at the maiden special weight level last time. While that might look like a dull effort on paper, she actually ran better than it appears. She was off awkwardly and immediately relegated to the back of the pack. Jan. 15 was a day on which front-runners appeared to have an advantage, and she actually did well to close from far back to pass over half the field. Now she’s landing in a very weak spot and she arguably doesn’t have to improve at all on her prior dirt performances to win. I strong prefer her to others likely to take money, such as Suspended Campaign. This filly has been a disappointment for top connections, and her lone attempt at the mile distance was dismal. I’m only slightly less pessimistic about Nisbet Beach, who has been slow and sluggish in two starts. She was a little green last time at Parx, but that was a bad field and she did little running in the stretch even when she got into the clear. I want to go in a different direction, so I’ve landed on first time starter Rose E Holiday. Some may take a quick glance and dismiss her on the basis of that $85k purchase price now that she’s in for a tag on debut. However, her current connections didn’t pay that. She was actually an RNA at the 2020 OBS sale in June for $42k after working a quarter mile in 21 4/5. It’s reasonable to assume that she was privately purchased after that (presumably for a lesser sum than the RNA price) so debuting at this level isn’t as much of a negative as it might seem. She has some pedigree to be decent, out of dirt router Fair Rose, whose best foal is turf stakes winner Fair Point. This family also handles dirt, and Michelle Nevin can win with first time starters, even over route distances.

RACE 6: NOTORIOUS FLIRT (#8)

Bustin Timberlake has clearly improved since coming to the NYRA circuit this winter and is going to be tough for this field to beat in his current form. He was never going to defeat the vastly improved Jemography two back, as that one has since gone on to two consecutive victories while rising in class. And last time he ran a winning race but was just run down by deep closer Double Shot, who got a perfect trip closing into a fast pace. I’m using him prominently, but he could face another difficult pace scenario here, as there is plenty of speed signed on. The TimeformUS Pace Projector is predicting a fast pace, which seems ensured with the likes of run-off leader Step to the Bank in the field. Bustin Timberlake will have to overhaul the speeds and again hold off the late runners, the best of which is main rival Notorious Flirt. I prefer this Linda Rice trainee as he turns back in distance. He actually ran fine going a mile last time, earning a career-best 106 TimeformUS Speed Figure. That number came up very high, but horses have returned out of that race to do well, including winner Advanced Strategy. I sill believe Notorious Flirt is better going shorter distances, so I like this return to 6 furlongs. He was only beaten a half-length by Bustin Timberlake back on Dec. 20, and he was wide against the track that day. I also think he’s improved since then. If looking beyond these two, I wouldn’t discount Linda Rice’s other entrant Morgantown. He set the pace in the race that Bustin Timberlake exits last time, but now he takes the blinkers off and has a right to improve second off the layoff with a stalking trip.

RACE 7: AMUNDSON (#5)

Our Last Buck is going to be difficult for this field to handle if he maintains his current form. However, he’s going to have to do so while turning back in distance to 6 furlongs, which he hasn’t tried in over a year. It appeared that stretching out in distance had initially been the key to success when his form improved so dramatically last March. However, it’s also possible that he just developed under Michelle Nevin’s care and is actually a more versatile horse. I’m less concerned about the distance than I am the potential pace scenario in this race. He got a perfect setup last time when closing into a fast pace in the Say Florida Sandy. That’s unlikely to happen here with Tribecca the clear front-runner in a race where Amundson seems like the only one capable of pressing that horse. Tribecca returns from a brief layoff after getting run down in the last furlong of the Fall Highweight against open company last time. This horse loves to win races and he’s coming off one of the best seasons of his career, in which he won the Hudson over today’s rival Big Engine. Six furlongs is his best distance and he’s the main speed from the rail, which will make him especially dangerous if the rail bias from Saturday and Sunday persists. However, he’s gotten some favorable setups in recent starts, and I think others are more naturally talented. My top pick is the other speed Amundson. He has a layoff to deal with, but he was in great form in 2020, winning this race last year before earning a couple of impressive speed figures over the summer. Something clearly went awry when he was last seen in the John Morrissey, as he didn’t train for a while after that race. Yet now he’s coming back in the right spot for Horacio DePaz, who can certainly have horses ready off layoffs.

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