Aqueduct Horses in Focus for Saturday, December 18

RACE 1: EARLY VOTING (#7)

Among those with experience, Matt Doyle and Iconic Adventure are arguably the two with the best credentials. The former has yet to put forth a bad effort through 3 starts. The big question mark with Matt Doyle is the stretch-out to a mile, since progeny of Violence can be more proficient sprinters. He’s obviously a contender, but could be vulnerable to a lightly-raced rival with upside. I’m more intrigued by Iconic Adventure, who comes off a poor effort finishing behind Matt Doyle in that Nov. 20 maiden affair. However, he was riding the rail eating dirt much of the way, and briefly got caught in behind a tiring runner approaching the quarter pole. He’s bred to stretch out and probably deserves one more chance. Though, the quality of that Oct. 29 race won by Hagler is in serious doubt based on the disappointing performances of multiple runbacks. Some may make the case for My Brother Cam switching surfaces, though Michael Dickinson isn’t really known for targeting dirt races, winning just 2 on this surface over the past 5 years. I’m instead going with first time starter Early Voting. This $200k yearling purchase is by leading freshman sire Gun Runner, who wins with 22% of his debut runners. The dam was unraced and she has produced two minor winners, both of whom won on the dirt. And there’s real quality in the second generation, as the dam is a half-sister to Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner and top sire Speightstown. The dam is also a full-sister to Grade 1 Los Alamitos Futurity winner Irap (13-3-4-2, $1.6 million). Chad Brown is 4 for 15 (27%, $2.21 ROI) with first time starters in Aqueduct dirt routes over the past 5 years. There are some quick-looking workouts on the tab, the most recent of which matches Sound Money, a 3-year-old in the next race.

RACE 6: STIRDATPOT (#8)

The Great White Way Division is definitely the more wide open of the two New York Stallion Series Stakes on this card. There are a couple of turf horses in the mix who could attract support. Maseta might be the most naturally talented runner in this field based on his solid third-place finish in the Central Park last time. He does have some dirt pedigree on his dam’s side, but he’s only raced on turf and will be bet for the wrong reasons. The same goes for Geno, who had a tougher trip than Maseta last time, but has all turf pedigree from his dam. I want to go for horses who have raced primarily on dirt. Unique Unions is the one to beat in my view. He was prematurely pulled up in his debut after taking some awkward strides, but he rebounded with a dominant maiden win last time at Aqueduct. He has plenty of speed and should be contesting the pace from the rail. Though there are plenty of others who could try to attain forward position. My top pick is Stirdatpot, who ships in from Kentucky. This Florida-bred colt by Trinniberg debuted against open company at Churchill Downs facing a pretty strong field. The impressive winner returned to just miss in a stakes at Oaklawn in his next start, and the seventh and eighth place runners both returned to win with significantly improved speed figures. He has the tactical speed to be prominent throughout and is drawn well towards the outside. Trainer Genevieve Londono has been enjoying a strong year and I think she’s shipping in a horse with a real chance to make an impact. And he figures to be a square price due to the unfamiliar connections. I’d also want to use some other maidens at prices underneath. Safalow’s Mission can improve off the trainer change to Linda Rice after selling for $130k at Fasig-Tipton this month. I would even give a look to massive longshot Hot Stepper, who ran better than it appears last time when conservatively ridden early. This half-brother to Broadway Bay has more ability than his running lines indicate.

RACE 9: TAPIZEARANCE (#12)

Uncle George could vie for favoritism in this NY-bred finale, which drew a full field of runners. He’s never raced on dirt but he’d be tough for this group to handle if he were able to transfer his turf form to the main track. It’s probably not a good sign that he hasn’t tried dirt before now, since he’s probably been scratched out of a few off-the-turf affairs during that time. However, he does have some pedigree to handle this surface. His dam has produced some turf runners, but she’s also thrown multiple dirt winners Sioux and Storm Prophet. He’s trained well on dirt throughout his career, so he probably deserves a chance over it. I just can’t pick him on top at what may be a relatively short price. Raven Rocks may also take some money as he makes his first start off the claim for George Weaver. He’s returning just 9 days after beating a weaker field here when making his second start off a layoff. He needs some pace to close into, and should get it with plenty of speed signed on. However, I do think he needs to improve on his recent form to make it two in a row. I’m going in a different direction with Tapizearance. This gelding ran quite well two back, as he was contesting an honest pace and held well for second. He tried tougher foes at this level last time, facing talented New York-breds Big Bobby and Seven Lilies, and understandably wasn’t as competitive. Yet he also ran better than it seems that day, as he was wide the entire way against a rail bias. Now he’s encountering a much softer field at this level, and is getting a rider upgrade to Jose Lezcano. I also find it promising that Linda Rice isn’t dropping him back in for a tag, instead electing to protect him at this allowance condition. This horse has routinely run his best races over this Aqueduct course, and I’m hopeful he can wake up with the return to this surface.

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