Aqueduct Horses in Focus for Saturday, January 8

RACE 4: MALIBU STAR (#5)

I have no major knocks against American Monarch, who just seems like the horse to beat. However, he figures to go favored this time now that his solid dirt form is totally exposed, and there is at least one horse that I view as a more interesting option with less obvious merits. The short price that I don’t want any part of is Starting Over. I know that every horse Rob Falcone sends out lately seems to be delivering, but this gelding hasn’t been on the dirt in over 2 years and has clearly had issues along the way. I won’t be shocked if he transitions back to this surface since he did face good horses in his early dirt races, but I wouldn’t want to take a short price on that prospect. My top pick is Malibu Star. Some will be deterred by his poor effort at this level last time out at Churchill, but he had a legitimate excuse that day. The early pace was quick and he was leading early in race that was dominated by closers. Other horses who were attending that fast pace have since come back to run much better in subsequent starts, so I’m optimistic that Malibu Star can get back on track. I also like the turnback for him. I’ve been skeptical that he really wants to go longer, and so this 7-furlong trip seems ideal. The TimeformUS Pace Projector is also predicting that he will be on the lead in a situation favoring the front-runner.

RACE 7: RUVIES IN TIME (#6)

There are many difficult races on Saturday’s card at Aqueduct, and this might be the most wide open of them all. Impazible Donna makes plenty of sense off her solid return last time. The bettors were a little lukewarm on her off the layoff, but she put in a pretty good effort to be third. That performance was flattered when runner-up Eloquent Speaker returned to win next time out before just missing in a stakes. She has back form that makes her a major player and the Bruce Levine barn has been on a strong run. My Roxy Girl also comes into this race in strong recent form, having been part of Juan Vazquez’s 4-for-4 day on Dec. 10 at Aqueduct. Yet now the question is whether she can maintain that improved form for a new stable. Parx-based Silvino Ramirez is 0-for-7 at NYRA, and she’s also getting a negative rider switch from Jose Ortiz to a jockey who is still searching for his first win of the meet coming into this week. My top pick is Ruvies in Time. At one time she would have been considered the clear horse to beat against a field like this. Her form tailed off markedly in the second half of 2021, and she was uncompetitive in two starts since returning from a layoff. That said, she’s been claimed by Rudy Rodriguez, who is 30 for 93 (32%, $2.06 ROI) first off the claim in Aqueduct dirt sprints over the past 5 years; if she can bounce back to any of her good efforts from this time last year she will be tough to handle. I also want to use Prairie Fire, primarily underneath. She has the right style for a race that seems loaded with early speed types, and it’s a good sign that Linda Rice is moving her up in class second off the claim.

RACE 8: ALPHA CHI RHO (#1)

The two favorites, My Boy Tate and Lobsta, look pretty strong in this Say Florida Sandy, and they’re likely to complete the exacta if each runs as well as they did last time. However, Lobsta is hard to pick on top since he won at 28-1 last time and now he’s going to be a tiny fraction of that price as one of the main protagonists in this spot. He can obviously win, but horses like this, coming off career-best efforts, are generally bad bets. My Boy Tate seems more reliable, but it’s a little troubling that he lost last time. He seemed to have that victory in his grasp when he forged to the front at the eighth pole, but he allowed Lobsta to come back in the last furlong to beat him. Furthermore, he’s losing regular pilot Franco, who is out due to Covid, and will be ridden instead by Eric Cancel, who has been riding slightly below top form in recent weeks. I’m going to get creative and try to beat them with Alpha Chi Rho. This Laurel shipper looks like the speed, and the TimeformUS Pace Projector is predicting a situation favoring the front-runner. He obviously isn’t as classy as the two favorites, coming out of weaker optional claiming races at Laurel. However, he did put forth a career-best effort off the claim for Rodolfo Sanchez-Salomon last time, and that barn has been very dangerous in recent weeks. Sanchez-Salomon is 5 for 15 over the past 21 days, including a 59-1 winner of a stakes at Laurel. This horse has always been bred for success as a half-brother to multiple stakes winner Friend or Foe. It’s encouraging to see Jose Ortiz take the mount, and I expect him to take these a long way up front.

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