Aqueduct Horses in Focus for Thursday, April 8

RACE 3: FROSTED ICE (#1)

Likely favorite O’Trouble is hardly a win machine, having won just once in 8 starts despite hitting the board in 7 of those tries. Yet, to his credit, he’s stepped up his game since breaking his maiden three starts back. He ran the best race of his career in his first start against winners on Feb. 21, making a strong late run to just miss to the superior Runningwscissors. And then last time he appeared to hang a bit in the late stages when losing by a nose, but 7 furlongs may be a little farther than his ideal trip. Now he cuts back to 6 furlongs and is drawn well outside. He’s the horse to beat but there are other options to consider. Binkster would be a serious threat in this race if able to recapture his form from last summer. However, his 2020 campaign ended on a sour note, and now he’s returning from a layoff. He has a right to rebound, but there is some other speed to deal with here. I prefer Frosted Ice. This runner’s recent form may look fairly dismal at first glance, since his only victory during the past year was earned against much weaker at Belterra Park. However, this horse did once possess real ability, as he displayed when he won the Bertram F. Bongard on this circuit as a 2-year-old. Now he’s back in New York in the barn of Michelle Nevin. They tried a mile in his first start for this barn, but that distance is just too far for him. Furthermore, he was compromised by racing wide against a rail bias that day. He’s likely in better form than that, and now he’s catching a softer field while cutting back to an appropriate distance.

RACE 4: STAR DEVINE (#6)

Dovima ran reasonably well in a couple of dirt sprints last year, but there’s a strong argument that she’s a little better on grass. She just missed in her career debut to subsequent allowance winner Cost Benefit. She then was justifiably bet down to odds-on territory in her second start at Saratoga last summer. While she failed to hold on with a perfect trip, she was flattered when In Front returned to beat winners in her very next start. It’s possible that a mile is just a little too far for her, so this turnback makes plenty of sense. Chad Brown is 6 for 26 (23%, $1.85 ROI) off layoffs of 120 to 240 days in turf sprints over 5 years. I’m certainly using her, and I prefer her to main rival Candy Jar, who has faced weaker fields at Gulfstream. Yet there are other new faces to consider in this field, including a few first time starters. The Klaravich-owned Political Gridlock may attract some support, but Chad Brown has poor statistics with 3-year-old and older runners debuting in turf sprints. I’m far more interested in the Jorge Abreu first time starter Star Devine. This filly was purchased at the 2019 Tattersalls sale for $258k and is a daughter of top international sire Fastnet Rock. The dam was 1 for 3 in Europe, earning her only victory going 10 furlongs on all-weather. Notably, the dam is a half-sister to 3-time Group 1 winner (1000 Guineas, Irish Oaks, Yorkshire Oaks) Blue Bunting, so there’s pedigree for this filly to have quality on turf. Jorge Abreu is a stronger with firsters on dirt, but he’s 4 for 27 (15%, $1.81 ROI) debuting in turf sprints over 5 years. The workouts down at Palm Meadows look pretty solid, and she could get somewhat overlooked on the tote board. Among the bigger prices, I would also use Tipsy Chatter. This filly has only raced on dirt thus far, but she’s out of a turf winner and is a half-sister to multiple turf winner and synthetic stakes winner Caravel.

RACE 6: MONTAUK TRAFFIC (#3)

Big Engine is the horse to beat as he takes another crack at this N2X level after finishing third in a tougher spot last time. The winner of that race, Mihos, is fairly inconsistent, but is pretty talented when he chooses to run one of his good races. Eric Cancel gave Big Engine a perfect ride in the early part of that race, hustling him into mid-pack early and placing him on the rail on a day when the inside was an advantage. Yet he had to briefly alter course in the stretch when looking for a seam and it cost him some momentum. All things considered, that was yet another solid effort from a horse who has put forth nothing but strong performances in New York dating back to last summer. He makes plenty of sense, but I’m not thrilled with taking a short price on him here after picking him a few times recently. There should be an honest pace in this spot with Foolish Ghost likely to lead the field early. Yet he could get some early pressure from the fleet Aristocratic, as well as potentially Runningwscissors. I’m hoping they speed along up front, because that could set it up for Linda Rice’s other runner. Montauk Traffic is a little more pace dependent than Big Engine and doesn’t sport the same prior credentials at this level. However, I do think his last race is a sign that he’s rounding back into form. He twice disappointed off the layoff over the winter, but he had some excuses in those races. He was wide against a gold rail on Dec. 19 and then just didn’t want a mile when racing over a speed-favoring track on Jan. 15. He was getting significant class relief in that $50k claimer last time, but he nevertheless produced one of his best efforts, making a wide, sweeping move to the lead off the turn before drawing away impressively. I think he can build on that momentum for Linda Rice, who is 27-for-111 (24%, $2.26 ROI) with last-out winners in Aqueduct dirt sprints.

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