Aqueduct Horses in Focus for Friday, December 31

RACE 1: EVERESTING (#2)

Castle Chaos looks pretty formidable at first glance, having paired up solid speed figures in his two starts. Claimed for $75k out of his career debut, in which he ran quite well to be 2nd behind repeat winner Boldish, he backed up that form at Belmont for the new connections. He was obviously no match for the talented Happy Medium, but he stayed on gamely for second in a race that has produced four next-out winners. The layoff since then is of minor concern, especially considering that he’s going to be a very short price. That said, Falcone’s horses have been firing lately and stretching back out to 7F figures to help. Main rival Mandatory is clearly good enough to beat this field when he’s at his best. He ran well in a couple of maiden events here last winter, checking in third behind the talented Mystic Night on Jan. 30 before splitting Hometown and Happy Medium in a strong maiden event on Mar. 14. He owns the best speed figures in this field, but he does need to move forward off his return race last time. Both favorites can obviously win, but I’m more interested in another rival at an enticing price. Everesting put forth a career-best effort off the claim for the new connections last time, opening up a sizable early advantage before tiring. It looked like he was going to get swallowed up in mid-stretch, but he battled on gamely to come back for third at odds of 36-1. That was obviously on the turf and he has made most of his starts on that surface. However, his lone dirt performance back in March wasn’t that bad, as he got involved in a fast pace that day against a solid field. Perhaps he’s just improved for these low-profile connections, and he’s going to be a square price. 

RACE 7: DANNY CALIFORNIA (#2)

Speedy 6-year-old Sea Foam is always dangerous in these races, especially when he looks like the controlling front-runner, as appears to be the case this time. He’s held his form well since the claim by his current connections. He did have a speed-favoring track working in his favor when he won the Evan Shipman over the summer, but he still won decisively. I won’t fault him for failing to handle 1 1/2 miles at Parx, and he bounced back nicely in the Empire Classic. While he was no match for the very good Americanrevolution, he was probably second best despite getting nipped at the wire for place. I’m not against him, though he could receive some early pressure from the likes of Our Last Buck and Chowda. Rudy Rodriguez has a pair of entrants in this race and they’re both strong contenders. Tiergan owns the better recent form. He’s been a fantastic $16k claim for these connections. He hadn’t finished out of the exacta in any of his 2021 starts until trying the Empire Classic two back. He didn’t run well that day, but bounced back in a big way last time, staying on gamely behind a pair of talented open company rivals. Horses exiting that Nov. 28 optional claimer have fared well in subsequent starts. He’s a major player based on that performance, but it’s a little hard to trust this rider, who has to work out a trip from the outside post. I prefer Danny California of the Rudy pair. Some may be deterred by the recent string of defeats, but it’s worth digging a little deeper into this guy’s PPs. He’s always been best over longer distances, so 1 1/8 miles is right up his alley. He won going this distance at Saratoga on Aug. 7 with a career-best 119 TimeformUS Speed Figure. A repeat of that performance would put him in the winner’s circle here. He regressed subsequently, but he had excuses (quick turnaround on Aug. 11 and speed-favoring track on Sep. 5). He didn’t run well last time but was steadied early in a race dominated on the front end. Now he picks up Jose Ortiz and is drawn well inside.

RACE 8: SALTY HEIR (#3)

I’m not thrilled with any of the likely short prices in this finale. The two horses who could vie for favoritism are both switching from turf to dirt. Curlin’s Wisdom and Excursionniste had both previously run well on the dirt, but it’s not like their prior form suggests they’re all that formidable here. I prefer the early speed of Curlin’s Wisdom, who was forwardly placed sprinting in his debut. He faded that day, but was racing wide against a rail bias. I don’t know why his connections tried turf in his second start, but he’s probably getting a chance to do what he prefers this time – route on dirt – since he’s by Curlin out of a half-sister to Connect. Excursionniste ran a respectable speed figure on the dirt two back in the Sleepy Hollow, but he wasn’t really competitive there and he just hasn’t moved forward as much as one might have expected following his second start. I want to get a little more creative. Salty Heir should get somewhat overlooked after losing his two starts by a combined 30 lengths. However, I think this horse may have more ability than his running lines indicate. He never had a chance against an unusually strong field in his debut, and he took a subtle step forward second time out. He was ridden to chase the pace after a poor start but dropped back on the turn while racing extremely wide. He looked hopelessly beaten in upper stretch but stayed on well through the lane and was actually gaining at the end. He ran like a horse that needs more ground, and his pedigree supports that notion. He’s a half-brother to Lobsta and Chowda, both of whom improved going longer. Whereas they’re both by Emcee, this colt is by established route sire Micromanage, so the distance really figures to work in his favor.

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