Aqueduct Horses in Focus for Sunday, December 19

RACE 6: EMILIA’S MOON (#4)

Maiden Beauty could go favored here as she drops back down in class after trying tougher company. Her Empire Distaff performance wasn’t quite as bad as the result would indicate, since she chased a fast pace that fell apart while facing a pretty strong field of NY-breds. She’s arguably the horse to beat off her 108 TimeformUS Speed Figure two back, though do note that she was riding a rail bias on that occasion. She now has to deal with the early speed of Finger Lakes shipper Pioneer of the Sky, as well as some others. She’s a major player here, but I wonder if she’ll take too much money off that September performance. Battle Bling and Vegas Weekend may also attract some support going out for dangerous barns. They faced off in a $50k claimer at Saratoga over the summer, when both were entered for turf in a race that was rained off the grass. I find it a little odd that Battle Bling hasn’t improved at all off the claim for Danny Gargan, and this is the first time she’s entered for dirt. Vegas Weekend took advantage of a weak field at this level two back and I think she’s vulnerable here. She exits the Comely, but I prefer Hybrid Eclipse out of that race. She was out of position throughout and can rebound here if getting back to her best efforts from the summer. My top pick is Emilia’s Moon. She’s a perfect fit for this race off her efforts two and three back. That Saratoga performance in August was particularly strong, as she was facing a tougher field at this level than the one she meets today. Some will be deterred by that most recent loss as the 3-2 favorite, but note that she veered out badly leaving the gate – essentially taking a right hand turn. She found herself out of position behind a slow pace in a race wired on the front end. I expect her to rebound here, especially if she manages to get back on a fast track.

RACE 7: DRAFTED (#4)

It was reported earlier this week by DRF’s David Grening that morning-line favorite Wondrwherecraigis will be scratched out of this Gravesend due to a foot issue. That opens up a race that had looked pretty straightforward prior to the defection. The pace scenario gets altered with that favorite coming out, but there still figures to be an honest pace up front given the presence of Chateau. This Rob Atras trainee has one way to run, and that’s to blast off to the front end and try to bottom out the field. Jaxon Traveler figures to be chasing and may be the one to inherit the lead if Chateau throws in the towel. They’re the two runners to catch, but there are some intriguing closers who will trying to chase them down. Majestic Dunhill is a wild card as he returns from a long layoff for George Weaver. This barn doesn’t have great stats off layoffs of this type and Majestic Dunhill can be somewhat unreliable. He did get very good in the fall of 2020, but that was when Joel Rosario was riding him more aggressively. It’s unclear if he still possesses that same tactical speed. I’m giving a shot to Drafted. I know he hasn’t had any success in his prior stakes attempts, but he’s run deceptively well in a few recent starts. Drafted got caught in significant traffic when he was trying to rally off the layoff on Oct. 1 in a race that he arguably could have won. He was then caught behind a slow pace in the Bold Ruler and again last time in that November optional claimer. He actually ran quite well in that last start, as he closed into those moderate fractions behind the talented Cost Basis. I don’t think this is the strongest field with the favorite out, and Drafted should finally get some pace with Chateau in the mix.

RACE 8: BACKSIDEOFTHEMOON (#2)

Mystic Night is arguably the horse to beat as he steps up to make his stakes debut in the Queens County. He looked like he was destined for races like this when he won an allowance race here last March, but he hasn’t visited the winner’s circle since then despite going favored in his three subsequent starts. While he’s run reasonably well in those races, I haven’t been thrilled with the way he’s finished. He had dead aim on the leaders in his losses at Belmont and Saratoga and just couldn’t get the job done. I was especially disappointed in his effort two back when he got a great trip sitting just off a slow pace and was nearly passed from behind by the rallying You’re to Blame. He can win here stretching back out, but I didn’t need him at a short price. Empty Tomb scares me as a wire-to-wire threat. This 5-year-old can be pretty unreliable at times, but he got back into top form for Rob Falcone last time, leading all the way going the one-turn mile. That optional claimer came up very fast, but now he has to stretch out. He’s never won going this 1 1/8 miles distance, but he’s run well going this far on a few occasions. I’m not thrilled with the idea of taking him as the second-choice after he was 22-1 last time, but he can obviously win. My top pick is Backsideofthemoon, who is seeking his second consecutive victory in the Queens County. He obviously got a little lucky in this race last year, when he beat the gate at the start and got to control the pace on a gold rail. His form since then has been a little spotty, but he’s recently gotten back into strong form for the Pat Reynolds barn. He ran very well when he nearly beat You’re to Blame at Belmont three back and then lost all chance at the start last time in a race controlled on the front end by Empty Tomb. He’s been successful going 1 1/8 miles before, so I like the stretch-out and Jose Lezcano usually gives him a more aggressive ride than some other jocks. He’s also the sentimental pick as a longtime favorite of mine. This is likely the last race of his career, as he’s about to age out of NYRA competition when he turns 10-years-old in January.

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