Aqueduct Horses in Focus for Saturday, April 17

RACE 3: SWASHBUCKLE (#2)

City Mischief could go favored in this New York-bred optional claimer after beating open company in his maiden score. He was bounced around between horses following a crowded start, but got a very good trip thereafter, working his way into the clear for the stretch drive. This son of Into Mischief has an unusual action, running with his front legs splayed apart as he extends his stride. Though, that apparent flaw hasn’t hindered him much yet. The bigger issue for me is that a few runbacks from that Mar. 6 race have fared poorly in subsequent starts, calling into question the legitimacy of the speed figure. I prefer some others who figure to be better prices. I think the horse to beat is actually Dancing Buck. He only made one prior turf start in his debut last fall and it was a strong effort. He stalked a fast pace and made an early move to take over in upper stretch before getting run down by the talented Perfect Munnings. This gelding was hardly disgraced when he switched surfaces this winter, but he’s by turf sire War Dancer and his dam earned all 4 of her career victories on grass. He’s probably just now getting back to his preferred surface. I’m almost interested in first time turfer Dr. Blute. It’s a little surprising to see this horse move directly over to turf following that impressive debut victory on dirt. However, he actually does have plenty of turf pedigree, as sire Not This Time has won with 11 of 47 turf starters, good for a strong 23% win rate. The dam was unraced, and she is a half-sister to Grade 3 turf winner Khancord Kid. I’m using him, but my top pick is Swashbuckle. He won his debut like a god thing going 1 1/16 miles at Belmont last fall. He sat a perfect trip in behind the leaders and displayed a nice turn of foot once Rosario peeled him out into the clear. Clement turned him back to this 6 furlongs distance for his second start last year and he failed to adjust, finishing fourth. Owever, he got too keen on the backstretch, tugging on Joel, who then took him in hand and basically eased him to the wire. He’s almost surely better than that, and it’s interesting that Clement brings him right back in another sprint off the layoff. He should get some pace to close into, and I believe he’ll come running late.

RACE 4: MINE THE COIN (#6)

Honorable Service is obviously the horse to beat as he drops back down to the level at which he last won back on Jan. 7. However, it does seem like his connections are giving up on him a little prematurely. Aside from his race two back when he ran over a sloppy track that he doesn’t care for, his surrounding form has been solid. He had an excuse last time when he was forced to race extremely wide against a better field in that starter stakes. One would imagine that Rudy Rodriguez could get this horse to win at a higher claiming level, yet now he’s dropping down to the bottom. He’ll win if he shows up, but I’m skeptical that we’re going to see this one’s top effort. I prefer some others at bigger prices. One to consider is The Great Dansky, who the TimeformUS Pace Projector predicts will be vying for the lead in a situation favoring the early leaders. This horse was unwisely rated last time after breaking sharply. Yet he was also spotted to ambitiously in a race that was dominated by the superior Ryan’s Cat. He’s better than that and is now dropping back down to a realistic class level. Yet my top pick is another horse with tactical speed, who will probably attract more attention than I anticipated when I made the morning line for this race. Mine the Coin’s recent form is a little inconsistent, and he only ran a strong recent speed figure when he had the benefit of setting a slow pace over a rail-biased course. His first start off the claim for new connections last time was decent, as he was facing a better field than the one he meets here. However, none of that may matter if he runs as well relative to that form as the two Oscar Barrera-trained runners on Friday’s card at Aqueduct. Both horses showed up looking strong in the flesh and ran the best races of their respective careers for a barn that had previously struggled to succeed on this circuit. If Mine the Coin shows the same type of improvement here, he’s going to win. And he actually has prior speed figures that would make him competitive against Honorable Service if he merely ran back to them.

RACE 6: LITTERBOX (#3)

I wonder how the public will approach this race. I would imagine that Millean will take money for Todd Pletcher merely due to the fact that he competed in a Kentucky Derby prep race last time. He never lifted a hoof in that race, and if he was coming into this $25k claimer off his desperate maiden score, I wouldn’t be too encouraged. He beat a weak field when he broke his maiden two back and others sport stronger recent form. Main rival Profusion is a tough call. He’s likely to take some money here on the basis of his last-out maiden victory first off the trainer switch to Rudy Rodriguez. And the problem with that is the fact that he outdueled the camera-shy Warfront Fighter to the wire. That said, he still ran well off the long layoff, and he’s bred to appreciate added ground, being by Pioneerof the Nile. Furthermore, Rudy Rodriguez is 9 for 37 (24%, $2.87 ROI) with last-out winners going from sprints to dirt routes over the past 5 years. I expect him to run well, but I’m not thrilled about the prospect of taking a short price on him. My First Grammy makes some sense as a potential gate-to-wire threat, but his form is fairly exposed at this point. Some might also make a case for Giant Shoes on the class drop. However, I’m most interested in a different horse out of the race Giant Shoes exits. Litterbox finished some 5 lengths behind that rival when they met for the $40k tag on Mar. 25. Yet he lost all chance at the start when he was squeezed back out of position and forced to check sharply. He never got involved after but wasn’t really asked for his best following the poor start. Prior to that he had run deceptively well in each of his last two outings, beating track biases on both Feb. 25 and March 13, overcoming wide trips on rail-biased days. Those races came for Ralph D’Alessandro, who had a strong meet at Aqueduct, but now he makes his first start off the claim for Steven Jerkens, who has done a good job with the limited number of horses in his care.

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