RACE 5: DREAMPOINT (#9)
Mr. Connecticut is clearly the horse to beat as he tries to improve on his runner-up finish at this level last time at Belmont. He got a good trip that day and was just second-best to Shutters, who got the jump on him coming off the far turn. That said, Mr. Connecticut was finishing best of all late and now is arguably landing in a softer spot despite the large field. He has to work out a trip from this outside post position, but he’s a deserving favorite in this spot. I prefer him to Umbria, who is drawn one slot wider in post 12. He had no answer behind Mr. Connecticut on turf two back, as he was unable to take advantage of a slow early pace in fading to third. He had previously run better in his prior start at Saratoga, and he did rebound on dirt last time. However, I’m more concerned about a wide journey for him given his more forward running style. They’re the two most likely winners based on form, but they figure to take all the money and there’s one rival who interests me at a far better price. Dreampoint has obviously had more chances than a few others in here, as he makes his 8th career turf start. However, he was really coming to hand when he was last seen over the summer. He just missed in a few maiden claiming races at Belmont before he was moved back up to this level on opening day at Saratoga. That July 15 race did not feature much early pace, and he did well to get up for fifth while closing from far back in upper stretch. That’s proven to be a live race, as the top three finishers have all come back to win, and many improved their speed figures and form in subsequent starts. Dreampoint was entered once more at Saratoga but got scratched on the track after getting washy in the lead-up and has been given plenty of time since then. He now returns in a favorable spot and should get somewhat overlooked given the layoff.
RACE 7: LOVE AND THUNDER (#2)
Too Sexy looked like a pretty ordinary sort earlier in the year, but she’s really come around over the past few months, having won 3 of her last 4 starts. Those last two victories arguably make her the horse to beat here. She got a good trip when she won that optional claimer two back but she backed it up last time in the Floral Park. There was a strong pace ahead of her which did fall apart, but she absolutely flew home to beat those horses while rallying down the center of the track. If she brings that Belmont form to Aqueduct she’s going to be a handful, but you’re not going to get much of a price on her this time. Among the favorites, I prefer Change of Control. This underrated mare rarely gets the respect that she deserves despite a resume of strong performances in stakes. With the exception of the Grade 1 Woodbine Mile, she hasn’t finished off the board in any of her starts against her own gender this year, winning a couple of graded stakes along the way. While she’s never won at this 6-furlong distance, she’s obviously effective going both shorter and longer. Michelle Lovell has picked her spots well this year and she’s found another race in which she makes a ton of sense; plus a little give in the ground would only help. My top pick is Love and Thunder. She took some money in the Grade 3 Noble Damsel last time but could never really land a blow in a race that was primarily dominated on the front end. Perhaps stretching back out to a mile wasn’t her preference, since she had run so well going shorter in her prior start. That victory two back came going 7 furlongs and now she’s turning back to three-quarters of a mile. Yet shorter may be better since she ran deceptively well in her lone prior start going 6 furlongs back in April when she outfinished Too Sexy in a paceless race.
RACE 9: VERGARA (#3)
Mischievous Kiss and Caironi finished just a half-length apart when completing the exacta in the Chelsey Flower earlier this month at Belmont. Mischievous Kiss probably ran the better race that day as she made the first move into a very fast pace and opened up in midstretch before Caironi cut down the margin late. Caironi closed from well back that day, but her early position was primarily due to some trouble at the start which placed her at the back of the pack. Now Caironi gets a rider switch to Irad Ortiz for this rematch with her main rival. They’re obviously strong contenders here, but I want some confirmation that Chelsey Flower was quite as strong as the speed figures indicate. All of the others have to run faster to beat these two favorites, but I think a few have upside. Anador is the one that many will consider as the biggest threat, but I thought she got a great trip when she won at Belmont last time. There was some give in the ground that day, which she appeared to relish as she traveled strongly into the race. She had trouble putting away a pesky longshot in the late stages, which concerns me a bit as she stretches out an extra sixteenth of a mile here. I’m instead interested in Vergara, who ships in from Fair Hill for Graham Motion. This filly wanted no part of sprinting in her debut at Laurel and improved quite a bit last time when stretched out to 1 1/8 miles. That’s a demanding distance for 2-year-olds, so I’m not so concerned about the slower speed figure for the race. She only won by 1 1/4 lengths, but the victory was more dominant than that margin would indicate. She’s bred to be a nice turf runner, and she picks up Luis Saez for her stakes debut.