Aqueduct Horses in Focus for Thursday, February 18

RACE 2: CENTAVO (#6)

Prospect Mountain looks like a deserving favorite as he makes his third attempt at this level. This colt showed some ability right from the start, closing from last-to-first in his debut victory, a race that has proven to be much stronger than the speed figure would indicate. And he’s improved significantly since then, particularly last time out at this level. Stretching out to a mile for the first time, he showed uncharacteristic early speed, gamely hanging on until the late stages when he was nipped by favored Bourbonic. He’s been privately purchased since that race and is now with Danny Gargan, who is 20 for 68 (29%, $2.11 ROI) first off a trainer switch on dirt over 5 years. I’m hardly against him, but I do worry that he’ll be bet down to an unpalatable price. His main rival is Respect for All, who wasn’t that far behind the favorite at the finish line last time, falling back just slightly in the last eighth after stalking early. That was a nice step forward off his facile maiden win, in which he dominated an overmatched group of rivals. He was claimed out of that debut, and now he’s been claimed again out of his most recent start. His tactical speed should play well in this relatively paceless affair, but he will have to improve to turn the tables on the favorite. I want to get a little more creative, so I’m taking a shot with Centavo. This chestnut colt was slowly coming around in his sprint races this winter before exploding with an easy open lengths victory last time when stretched out to a mile. He was off the pace briefly after an awkward start before taking over on the backstretch and sailing clear late, geared down at the end. That 84 TimeformUS Speed Figure doesn’t put him that far off the favorites, and he arguably could have run faster last time. The problem is that he was beating a woefully weak field, but perhaps that doesn’t matter and he’s just putting it all together. He has the tactical speed to work out a decent trip and will be a square price.

RACE 3: SUZ (#6)

This race provides an opportunity for some bias handicapping. Cover Photo will likely be favored despite going out for low-profile connections, and she will probably beat this field if she repeats her last effort. However, it must be noted that Jan. 31 was a day when the rail was dead and she benefited from closing outside into a pace that fell apart. She still ran a speed figure that makes her a strong contender here, but she’s unlikely to get quite as favorable a setup this time, and it’s hard to take these connections at a short price. Another horse who could take some money is Movie Score, who earned a strong 95 TimeformUS Speed Figure for her blowout victory at a cheaper level on Feb. 8. Yet, this time, she was helped by a strong rail bias, as the inside path seemed to be a significant advantage by the end of the day on that card. I doubt she can achieve a similar result over a fair surface. I’m instead interested in a horse who was compromised by a bias. Suz finished some 19 lengths behind Cover Photo last time, but she got the wrong trip over that Jan. 31 track featuring the dead rail. She was ridden hard to make the front over today’s rival Lune Lake, but in doing so found herself right down in that inside path. Like so many who wandered down inside, she was totally empty by the time the field got to the quarter pole. She’s better than that based on her prior efforts, and I think she might be able to wake up in her second start for Karl Broberg. She gets a positive rider switch to Luis Cardenas and is drawn well outside of the other speed.

RACE 7: MALIBU STAR (#8)

Family Biz seems like the horse to beat despite moving back up in class. He appeared to be back in top form off the claim for Linda Rice last time as he closed from far back to get up to win a very strong race for the level. Notably, runner-up Limonite returned to win his next start with a 115 TimeformUS Speed Figure. Family Biz’s overall form has been a little inconsistent, but he’s clearly this good when he’s at his best. Furthermore, he projects to get the right trip in a race where the TimeformUS Pace Projector is predicting a fast pace. I’m not against him, but I do think there are some others to consider. Among those who figure to contest the pace, I’m most interested in Daddy Knows. Like the favorite, he’s moving up in class out of a claiming event – and an even cheaper one at that – but he put in an exceptional effort to win that race. Daddy Knows contested a fast pace going this distance and turned back multiple challenges to hold off the closers late, earning a win that was much better than the half-length margin would indicate. The 114 TimeformUS Speed Figure he earned was actually a slight step back from the 118 he achieved in his prior start, suggesting that he’s ready for this class hike. I’m using both of these runners prominently, but the runner that I find most intriguing is Malibu Star. This well-bred colt looked like a future stakes winner when he broke his maiden here in December, earning a 112 TimeformUS Speed Figure to defeat his stablemate. For whatever it’s worth, he was privately sold following that start, as was runner-up Citizen West (who returned to bomb at the Fair Grounds). Malibu Star was understandably bet down to 9-5 for his first start against winners last time, but he was uncharacteristically dull, never getting involved before getting eased in the stretch. Clearly something went awry, but at leas he’s now coming back in jus 4 weeks, suggesting that whatever issue plagued him may have been sorted out. He also sports an impressive 58 3/5 bullet workout last week, the fastest of the morning at that distance by over 3 seconds. I expect him to rebound, but there are some lingering questions about his form.

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