Aqueduct Horses in Focus for Saturday, March 20

RACE 2: PLAYWRIGHT (#6)

The two runners with recent back class in this field are Blugrascat’s Smile and Hammerin Aamer. The former will drop back down to the $8k level, which is where he last won in mid-December. Since then he’s achieved some inconsistent results, but he did run fairly well two back to be third behind the aforementioned Hammerin Aamer. He certainly got the tougher trip in that spot, as he was never on the rail while the winner was inside much of the way. I can forgive his last outing when he was second off the claim for Rudy Rodriguez, since he was wheeling back on just one week’s rest and was wide against another rail bias. This is the right kind of spot for him and he seems like the horse to beat. Hammerin Aamer did defeat his rival two back, but I was less than thrilled with his most recent performance at the $16k level. He lagged behind early and just never got involved over a fair track. He has the back races to be competitive here, but I trust Blugrascat’s Smile more. My top pick is actually the other Wayne Potts trainee. Playwright is a little cheaper than the two favorites, but he’s had some legitimate excuses for his recent performances. He got a wide trip two back in a tougher race at this level going a distance that might have been too short for him. And then last time he got a terrible trip, conservatively handled early which forced him into a wide trip around the far turn on a day when the rail was a significant advantage. All things considered, he did well to close for third in a race where the two finishers rode the rail. He has more tactical speed than he’s displayed in some recent starts, and I’m hoping Luis Cardenas gets him into a forward early position.

RACE 7: THE SICARII (#6)

I find the favorites in this confusing $32k claimer to be totally untrustworthy. Sneakiness will probably be the public choice as she drops in class out of an N1X allowance race earlier this month. However, he ran poorly that day despite getting bet down to favoritism in what was a fairly weak race for the level. Furthermore, his effort two back for Linda Rice was similarly disappointing, as he lacked early speed and never got involved, only making up ground when the race was falling apart late. He would be tough if able to reproduce his form from Jan. 9, but he hasn’t come close to that level since. Reed Kan finished just behind Sneakiness in that Feb. 6 affair, perhaps hindered by the fact that he was unable to make the early lead over the swift Happy Farm. Perhaps he didn’t care for a sloppy track last time, but his performance was still pretty disappointing, as he again failed to make the front and had no answer in the stretch. I want to go in a different direction, so I’m giving a shot to The Sicarii. This closer is often at the mercy of pace, but he should get an honest setup in here with the two aforementioned speeds and potential some early zip from Full Salute on the rail. The Sicarii is often placed over his head, but he generally runs well when he finds himself sprinting at a realistic class level. He put in a good effort to be second in the slop last time, and he should appreciate getting back to a fast track and dropping a little more. After all, the last time he competed for a $32k tag he won, and the jockey that day was Eric Cancel, who climbs back aboard on this occasion.

RACE 8: MORE GRAYTFUL (#6)

The first thing you must do when handicapping this race is decide how to handle Bustin Timberlake. If he repeats that 119 TimeformUS Speed Figure that he earned last time, the rest of this group is probably running for second. The obvious question is, where did that come from? The temptation is to just say he rode the rail, but that’s not exactly true. A close viewing of the head-on reveals that he was never on te rail early, or on the far turn, only dropping down to the inside path after he had decisively moved to the lead in the stretch. We do sometimes seem some unusually fast races at Aqueduct that are never replicated, but I get the sense that this horse is doing very well at the moment. I’m not against him, but I’m also reticent to take a short price on him. I do prefer him to the other horse coming off a blowout “victory” of the unofficial variety. Steam Engine crossed the wire well in front at this level last time, but he actually rode a strong rail almost the entire way and also fouled a few of his foes in the process, including today’s rival Dark Money. I think Steam Engine caught lightning in a bottle last time and I’m against him in this spot with more speed signed on. I prefer some horses who can stalk or come from off the pace. My top pick is More Graytful, who gets needed class relief after facing a much tougher field at the open N2X allowance level last time. He actually ran pretty well considering his trip, as he was chasing 3-wide the entire way over a rail-biased surface. He still received a strong 112 TimeformUS Speed Figure for that performance, suggesting he’s back in the form we saw out of him when he won at this level last November. He can be effective from a stalking position and should work out a good trip. At a bigger price, I’d also use deep closer Double Shot. He ran well to be third last time behind the loose-on-the-lead Steam Engine, and he defeated today’s favorite Bustin Timberlake two back. However, he needs a fast pace and may not be quite good enough even if everything works out perfectly.  

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