Aqueduct Horses in Focus for Thursday, April 1

RACE 2: RESPECT FOR ALL (#4)

I’m not trying to beat likely favorite Respect for All as he drops in class into this $32k claimer. Some might be deterred by his seemingly poor effort first off the claim for John Toscano last time, raising concerns that he just hasn’t maintained the strong form that he displayed two back for Rob Atras. However, a close viewing of his trip last time reveals the reason for his regression. This horse reacted very badly to the addition of blinkers. He was extremely rank in the early stages under Pablo Morales, who was engaged in a fight with the horse for the first half-mile of the race. Respect for All eventually settled down heading around the far turn, but his energy was already sapped by that point. He’s capable of better than that based on his preceding efforts, and I expect him to rebound second off the claim, and stretching out to a more appropriate distance, as the blinkers are removed. His primary rival could be Scotty, who exits an easy maiden victory for a $25k tag in late January. He ran well to win that day, maintaining his advantage even as he drifted down to a dead rail late. Yet, like other recent maiden winners in this field, he’s getting a serious class test here as he meets winners for the first time. I’ll use him, though I think Ghost Stalker is perhaps a bigger threat at a better price. This George Weaver trainee was soundly defeated in a couple of starter allowance starts over the winter before getting some class relief last time. Yet he didn’t get the best trip in that most recent start, forced to race wide on the turn in a race dominated by inside runners. He can do better as he stretches out again.

RACE 3: MO GOTCHA (#4)

Only one half of this Rob Atras entry will start with Kendrick Carmouche named on both. Not Phar Now is the one that I prefer over Montauk Daddy, who has had his chances at short prices in recent starts. Not Phar Now got the job done first of the claim for Atras last time, aggressively spurting clear in upper stretch before getting leg weary late. Seven furlongs looked like his limit last time, so this turnback to 6 furlongs should benefit him. He earned a respectable speed figure last time and would be tough here if maintaining that form. Rob Atras is 6 for 16 (38%, $2.21 ROI) second off the claim with last-out winners on dirt, so this runner must be respected. Yet there are a couple of class droppers who make this a difficult spot for the Atras duo. Mo Gotcha seeks to get back on track as he drops in for a tag for the first time in his career. He would be pretty formidable if able to recapture his form from 2020 when he was routinely earning superior speed figures. He went off form this winter, but a few of his recent efforts aren’t as poor as they seem. He was wide against a rail bias while overmatched on Dec. 19. Then last time he was actually contesting the pace for a furlong before getting shuffled back to last on the rail. He still finished with interest and galloped out best of all. Jeremiah Englehart puts the blinkers back on, so he should be more forwardly placed this time. He’s my top pick, but I could also use fellow class dropper The Right Path. Like Mo Gotcha, he’s racing for a claiming tag for the first time. Yet he’s doing so while returning from a layoff. He seemed to tail off last summer, but he certainly has the back class to beat this field if he could recapture his best form. However, even then he would need some pace to close into, and it’s unclear if he’s going to get that here.

RACE 7: SHARP STARR (#3)

Invaluable comes into this race with the strongest recent form, having finished in the exacta in 7 consecutive starts and won her last two outings. A repeat of that last performance, when she won her N1X condition in the mud and earned a career-best 110 TimeformUS Speed Figure, arguably makes her the horse to beat here. However, she faces some new obstacles as she moves up to this N2X allowance level. She’s stretching back out to a mile, and will have to deal with some additional pace pressure from the likes of Maiden Beauty and Gone Glimmering. I’m using her prominently, but I prefer her main rival Sharp Starr. Some may be concerned that this New York-bred filly has simply tailed off since recording a couple of fast victories over this track in late 2020. However, I’m of the opinion that some unfavorable circumstances have contributed to the recent regression. While she disappointed as the heavy favorite in the La Verdad, I wasn’t thrilled with her connections’ decision to turn her back to sprinting. That race featured a slow pace and turned into a sprint for home, and that’s just not this grinder’s forte. Subsequently they stuck with sprinting 7 furlongs in the Barbara Fritchie and Sharp Starr never got involved. Yet she was understandably outrun that day by some very fast horses, and she’s never been as effective when forced to rally from well off the pace. Now she lands in a much more favorable spot going her preferred one-mile distance where she can get a stalking trip. She’s my top pick, but I could also use some of the runners returning from layoffs. Some may gravitate towards Water White based on her form from last summer when losing the Acorn to Gamine. Yet Rudy Rodriguez has poor numbers off this kind of layoff in dirt routes. I’d actually be more interested in Alandra at a better price. She showed some promise as a younger horse and could be ready to step forward now that Shug McGaughey has afforded her time to mature.

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