RACE 3: VIENNA CODE (#4)
Default Protection figures to go favored here off a smashing 12-length maiden victory for in her second start for Chad Brown. She went off a the 3-1 second choice that day as her stablemate Precipitate took all the money. Yet that rival was eased down the backstretch and Default Protection was more than good enough to step into the spotlight. She put in a strong final quarter mile as she powered away to an easy victory, but there wasn’t much behind her among those who actually finished the race. The best thing she has going for her is her trainer, as Chad Brown is 10 for 27 (37%, $2.39 ROI) with last-out maiden winners in Aqueduct dirt routes over the past 5 years. This is a fairly competitive spot in which you can make a case for just about everyone except longshot Bravo Regina. Honey Money looks like the potential speed, but she’s stepping up to face a tougher field than last time. I gave a look to Courageous Girl, who was against the track when a distant third against stakes company last time. However, she just has one speed figure that makes her a major player. My top pick is Vienna Code. She was on the best part of the track when setting the pace in the Ladies last time, but she just wants no part of 1 1/8 miles. Now she cuts back to an appropriate one-turn distance and I think she’s catching a reasonable field for the level. She was easily better than Honey Money when they met going this distance two back, and she’s been steadily improving for quite some time for low-profile connections. She should work out her preferred trip coming from just off the pace.
RACE 4: CHECK THAT CHIP (#5)
Actualize made his debut against maiden claimers, in which he produced an extremely fast opening quarter after a poor start. He then got reined in heading to the half-mile pole and was passed on the turn before rallying again in the stretch. That was a strong race for the level as both runners who beat him have returned to win with strong speed figures. He’s been claimed out of that race by Charlton Baker, who is 3 for 8 (38%, $2.87 ROI) first off the claim with maidens over 5 years, and is also in the midst of a strong Aqueduct meet. I view him as the one to beat. First time starter Capone could also take money off some quick gate drills at Belmont, but I prefer to take the wait and see approach with Jimmy Jerkens debut runners. Several runners in this field exit the fifth race on Dec. 30. Rhumjar could take some money after checking in second that day, but he got a great trip in doing so. I’m most interested in Check That Chip. This colt took some money to get bet down to 5-1, but ran like a horse who needed the experience. He got bumped coming out of the gate and then steadied, putting him at the back of the pack. He launched a middle move into contention on the far turn but ultimately flattened out while racing greenly. That was also a track that was favoring front-running types, so he was compromised by that as well. Now he adds blinkers, which should help him focus, and the way he rushed up last time suggests he has more tactical speed.
RACE 9: BEACH BOY AL (#3)
Eminency is obviously the horse to beat as he makes his third career start. He did disappoint as the even-money favorite last time when unable to get the job done after working out a decent trip. Despite that regression, this colt showed ability in his debut, in which he took a good late run at talented winner Agility. Third-place finisher Impressionist returned from that race to win his next start impressively, and the same was expected of Eminency. Now he adds blinkers and gets a rider upgrade to Trevor McCarthy. Yet the latter of those two changes will just ensure that he’s a short price once again, and he faces some others worth considering who exit that same Jan. 9 race. The one that I prefer is second time starter Beach Boy Al. This gelding made his debut in that common race last time and arguably ran a better race than Eminency despite finishing just behind that rival. He contested the early lead and engaged in a battle with third-place finisher Raw Courage a long way out from the wire. Beach Boy Al actually surged to the lead in mid-stretch, but understandably got leg-weary late. The early pace of that 7-furlong affair was fast, and it took its toll on this horse in the late stages. Now he stretches out for his second start and should have gained some needed fitness from the debut run. He may have to deal with the early speed of Pineapple Man to his outside, but Beach Boy Al didn’t seem like a horse who necessarily needed the lead in his debut. I’d also use He’s Got It and State Planning from that same race. He’s Got It handled the transition to dirt and stayed on mildly, whereas State Planning obviously has room for improvement after blowing the start and racing very greenly.