RACE 5: KOKUTAI (#1)
Bistrita is probably the horse to beat off her solid runner-up finish on debut. That was not the strongest field for the level but it was the faster of two divisions of that maiden condition on the day. If she improves at all on that initial effort she’s going to be a handful against this field. Though it is somewhat of a concern that she was so dead on the board first time out. For what it’s worth, Jeremiah Englehart is 16 for 81 (20%, $2.28 ROI) with maiden second time starters in dirt sprints at NYRA over the past 5 years. Glittering Prize also makes some sense primarily due to the fact that she possesses early speed. She made the front two back at Belmont but got outrun every step of the way last time after a poor start. She’s getting needed class relief and may be naturally faster than Bistritta, and that could make her dangerous if the rail bias that we saw on Saturday is still in effect. I want to go in a different direction with Kokutai, who comes out of the same race as Bistritta. This filly was off slowly and checked coming out of the starting gate, which put her at the back of the pack early. From there, she did not get the strongest ride from Jose Ortiz, who had trouble riding her as she strode greenly towards the back of the pack. I think there’s more ability here than she showed in her first start and she may get somewhat ignored as she makes her first start off the claim for Greg DiPrima.
RACE 6: MAKINGCENTS (#7)
Customerexperience has gotten back into top form recently after some inconsistent efforts through the middle of last year. She’s always done some of her best running at Aqueduct and she made a triumphant return to this venue last time, winning decisively. She was racing outside the entire way on Dec. 19, a day that featured a dead rail, so she was with the track bias. She was also going out for the sharp Rob Atras barn that day. She’s now been claimed by William Morey, who himself has had a strong run so far at Aqueduct. She’s handled the one-mile distance in the past and is the horse to beat, but I wouldn’t want to settle for too short a price. I’m highly skeptical of Charge Account, who could also attract support. If she brings her best form she’s going to be a handful in here, but it’s a little hard to trust her as she drops back in for a tag off the layoff. Kelly Breen is 10 for 81 (12%, $1.20 ROI) off 90 to 180 day layoffs over the past 5 years, so there are some reasons to be skeptical that she can deliver her best race. Bee Bit has some appeal based on her recent dirt form, but Chris Englehart has very poor numbers first off the claim with dirt routers. I want to give a shot to Makingcents on the dropdown. She clearly hasn’t looked like the same horse after her 3-year-old season. However, I thought she showed some signs of life when dropped in for a tag against NY-breds last time. That Dec. 19 race was a strangely run affair where they set a glacial early pace before sprinting home. Notably, this mare was glued to the rail the entire way on a day when all the best running was done on the outside. That effort may be better than it looks, and she figures to be the controlling speed from the inside this time. It’s the last chance for this once classy runner.
RACE 8: GAMESTONKS (#4)
Magic Circle is the horse to beat in this Busanda, and she’ll be awfully tough to handle if we’re still dealing with the rail-biased surface that we saw on Saturday. She is the primary speed from the inside, though I suppose Waters of Merom could get an aggressive ride from the two-path. Magic Circle is simply a superior horse, as she comes off a solid third-place effort in the Demoiselle. While I’m not convinced that 1 1/8 miles is her best distance, she did run well enough last time. It’s just mildly concerning that she got so visibly tired in the late stages of that last race, as she was drifting erratically in the final furlong. I’m not way against her, but I also don’t want to take a short price since this may be a field of comparable quality to the Demoiselle. Rosebug looks like a viable alternative based on her last race, in which she dominated a field of maidens, winning under wraps at the end. She’s clearly more of a dirt horse, as she ran quite well on debut against a tough field at Saratoga before graduating in her return to that surface last time. While her dam could handle this kind of trip, she’s produced foals that don’t necessarily want to run this far. I believe she has some quality, but I didn’t want to take a short price on her either. My top pick is Gamestonks. This filly wanted no part of sprinting in her debut, but she’s relished the stretch-out in distance in her last couple of starts. It took her a long time to hit top gear two back, but she was finishing best of all across the wire. Expectations were low considering that she raced for a $20k tag that day, but it seemed like the light bulb went on in that start. This filly was much more professional last time, getting herself into the race earlier before taking over with authority in the stretch. She drew clear to an impressive win, finishing like added ground will be no problem. We know very little about Blofeld as a sire, but the dam’s family is all stamina influences. Brittany Russell sends live runners to New York, and it doesn’t hurt to have Trevor McCarthy in the irons given his recent hot streak.