Aqueduct Horses in Focus for Thursday, February 24

RACE 2: LEFT LEANING LUCY (#1)

Bastet is the horse to beat as she drops in class down to this $25k conditioned level after faring poorly against open allowance foes last time. Her prior efforts since the claim by Ed Baker all make her the horse to beat in this spot. Yet there is some concern that she may be tailing off. She didn’t have to set a particularly fast pace last time, and just had no answer despite spending much of the race on the best part of the track. Furthermore, she isn’t the clear speed here, as R Working Girl and even Investment Grade could show speed to her inside and prevent her from reaching the front end. R Working Girl comes in with similar credentials as she also drops in class, but she was aided by a speed bias two back and her true abilities are probably closer to her last effort. I want to go in a different direction with Left Leaning Lucy. This grey mare ran speed figures that make her competitive here last fall before getting a short break. While she hasn’t run up to that level in two starts since her return, she’s been compromised by track biases in both races. She was wide against a rail bias when overmatched against allowance foes two back. And last time she spent too much time trying to find a path through along the rail on a day when the best running was done in outside paths. I think she’s in much better form than it appears, and I like the turnback in distance for her.

RACE 5: RED LINE OVERDRIVE (#8)

Todd Pletcher holds a strong hand in this 9-furlong maiden affair. Beyond Best should go favored as he ships up from Florida. This son of Curlin made his debut going a mile at Belmont and ran like a horse who needed the race. He returned with an improved effort at Gulfstream despite encountering some trouble. Breaking from the rail, he was put in tight quarters heading into the clubhouse turn and got shuffled back before coming around the field to close for fourth. He ran better than the result would indicate, and has valuable two-turn experience as he stretches out. Yet I prefer his stablemate, who also makes the trip up from Pletcher’s Palm Beach Downs base. Red Line Overdrive was well supported in his debut at Belmont, getting bet down to 3-5. He showed early speed in accordance with such tote support, but was unable to sustain it, fading badly through the stretch. Ultimately he may have needed the start, as he put in a much better effort last time. That Dec. 26 maiden affair was a strong one, as winner American Icon returned to repeat his speed figure against winners, and third-place finisher Happy Boy Rocket came back to win, beating Beyond Best. While Red Line Overdrive’s pedigree isn’t that stamina-oriented, he has some of that Uncle Mo scope to him, and should be able to handle this distance if he can shake loose on the front end. I prefer him of the two Pletcher runners, and he could be the better price. I’m somewhat against a couple of the others shipping in from different circuits. Awesome Aaron ran along evenly in his debut at Gulfstream, but I’m skeptical of the Practical Joke progeny going this far, even though Chad Brown has solid statistics with this move. South Street is a little more appealing as he makes his first start for the Bill Mott barn, as he’s faced some solid rivals in California. He strikes me as one that should run all day, but he’s shown very little speed in his races so there’s still some question about how much ability he possesses.

RACE 7: EASY TO BLESS (#6)

Aunt Kat is the horse to beat as the likely favorite in this N3X optional claiming affair. After reeling off a string of victories last year, she’s lost three consecutive races at short prices. She obviously threw in a rare poor effort in the Pumpkin Pie two back, apparently not handling the sloppy track. Yet she got back on track last time, rebounding with an improved performance at this level. That said, she was still beaten over 6 lengths by Glass Ceiling, and finished behind today’s rival Its Cold in Dehere. I do believe Aunt Kat had the toughest trip of those three, as she was never on the rail on a day when the inside path was a significant advantage. That said, she’s run her best speed figures when everything has gone her way, so I still think she’s a little overrated off the work she did last summer. Furthermore, it’s unclear if she’s quick enough to make the front here given the participation of Hey Mamaluke, who tends to run off in the early stages of her races. Aunt Kat also has to prove that she can handle 6 furlongs, which is shorter than she’s ever gone before. At a likely short price, I can poke enough holes in this favorite to take a shot against. The obvious alternative is Piece of My Heart. Yet she also has some distance questions to answer, as she’s done her best work going longer. She did put in a good effort in her return to dirt last time, and now goes first off the claim for Danny Gargan. Yet Gargan hasn’t been as dangerous as he once was off the claim over the past couple of seasons, and she could take money off the perceived strength of this trainer switch. I’m going in a different direction with Easy to Bless. I typically shy away from horses off blowout victories because they’re often overbet, but I doubt she takes that much money here despite her strong speed figure last time out. She’s almost always underrated by bettors even as she continues to put in one strong effort after another. She proved that she could step up against tougher foes last time, and she’s a 6-furlong specialist, whereas others have to prove they can handle this trip. I love that she’s drawn outside of the speeds, and the rider switch to Julio Correa is hardly a negative.

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