Aqueduct Horses in Focus for Sunday, February 28

RACE 1: TEKILA (#1)

Likely favorite Coal Shaft didn’t show much in her turf debut, only getting on track late once the race was basically over. However, she switched to dirt for her second start, and the light bulb appeared to go on. With blinkers added, she was keener in the early going, making an early backstretch move to challenge the leader. She chased that rival for a half-mile and never got past, but nevertheless turned in an improved performance. A repeat of that performance may be good enough here, and can improve in just her third start, but others have plenty of upside as well. I prefer Iaintafraidanoghost out of that race. She finished just a head behind today’s rival Coal Shaft, as both lost to a longshot winner. There’s some doubt about the overall quality of that race, but Jan. 15 was a day that appeared to favor front-runners, so his filly deserves credit for making up ground in the stretch. She’s improved with added distance in each start, and has a right to take another step forward second off the layoff. My top pick is coming in from a different direction. Tekila was no match for the impressive Hit the Woah in her debut, a race that produced five next-out winners. She raced greenly that day, dropping back on the turn after showing some early speed. Yet she was more professional last time, stalking outside before staying on for second. That performance was flattered when winner Hybrid Eclipse returned to win an allowance at Laurel by 6 lengths, third-place finisher Maracuja also came back to win, improving her TimeformUS Speed Figure by 12 points. She shouldn’t mind the one-mile distance based on pedigree.

RACE 3: EMPTY TOMB (#6)

With little warning, Tenderfoot transformed from a fairly disappointing maiden claimer into a stakes-level performer, and did so over the span of just a few months. He was surprisingly bet down to favoritism in that New Year’s Day allowance race, seemingly having created buzz based on his improved workouts. He crushed that field going today’s distance with a 108 TimeformUS Speed Figure, and validated that performance last time when second only to the venerable Mr. Buff. Cutting back to a mile should suit him perfectly. He also has superior tactical speed to most in this field, which should ensure that he works out the right trip. I’m using him prominently, as I do think he’s the horse to beat, and I prefer him to main rival Chestertown. This $2 million yearling is finally starting to deliver on that early promise, as he now seeks his third consecutive victory. While he’s coming into this race in career-best form, he will have to produce another personal best if he’s to keep that streak alive. He soundly defeated an N1X crew last time, but that race got a lot easier once his main rival Malibu Star essentially refused to participate. This move up from N1X to N2X company can be steep and there are some quality horses in this field aside from favorite Tenderfoot. Zoomer and Empty Tomb faced off in a race at this level on Jan. 15, in which they were third and second, respectively, over a speed-favoring racetrack. Zoomer has been claimed out of that race by Rob Atras and has a right to move forward. Yet I’m most interested in Empty Tomb. He returned from that runner-up performance on Jan. 15 to finish second again at this level last time. Yet he was compromised by a slow start, which took him out of his preferred position early. He got a great ride from Trevor McCarthy after that, but he arguably would have been much closer to the winner Limonite, who also got a rail-skimming trip, if not for that poor break. All things considered, Empty Tomb ran very well there, defeating stakes winner Backsideofthemoon in the process. Furthermore, Limonite returned with an excellent performance to be second to Mr. Buff in the Stymie on Saturday, bolstering the quality of that race.

RACE 5: FOREVER CHANGED (#1)

Invaluable is a deserving favorite as she moves back up to this N1X condition after defeating starter allowance foes last time. The last time she ran at this level she just missed to subsequent Grade 3 stakes winner Mrs. Danvers, and two back she ran exceptionally well against males when second to today’s third race favorite Tenderfoot. She finally go back to the winner’s circle last time going six furlongs, defeating today’s rival Sirenic. As long as she holds her form, she’s going to be tough for this field to handle. The only knock is that she’s going to be a pretty short price as an obvious standout in this field. Sirenic is an alternative that some may consider based on how well she ran last time, winning a starter allowance event by over 9 lengths. However, she benefited from a very strong rail bias on Feb. 8, getting to the lead and the rail soon after the start. She could be the speed again this time, but she’s struggled over wet tracks before and was no match for others in this race in prior outings. I want to lean in a different direction. Forever Changed has tried this level in each of her last two starts. She ran well to be second two back in the mud, putting forth an effort that gives her a chance here. She regressed last time, but she was taken too far off the pace early in a race that was dominated on the front end with slow early fractions. She never had a chance to make up much ground and should rebound with a more aggressive ride here. She’s also run well over wet surfaces in the past. The other horse that I would use is Glass Ceiling, who ran very well two and three back before disappointing as the favorite last time. She also likes it wet and has the tactical speed to work out a fair trip.

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