Aqueduct Horses in Focus for Saturday, February 26

RACE 5: MYSTIC QUEST (#9)

Todd Pletcher has a pair of runners in this race, both first time starters shipping up from Florida. The one that I think is most dangerous is Mystic Quest. This homebred is by 12% debut sire Curlin, and the dam has produced 4 winners from 5 foals to race, topped by this one’s full sibling Point of Honor, a G2-winning dirt router. She’s also a half-sister to G1 Frizette winner Wicked Whisper, who won her debut sprinting. Todd Pletcher is 11 for 34 (32%, $2.32 ROI) with 3-year-old firsters in dirt sprints at Aqueduct over 5 years. That Feb. 5 workout was in company with Goddess of Fire, who came back to finish second in the G2 Rachel Alexandra last weekend. This colt was arguably traveling better than that stakes-placed filly in the work. There are plenty of other intriguing firsters to consider. Highly Respected is a half-brother to G3 Sanford winner By Your Side and goes out for the dangerous Chad Brown barn. I’m also intrigued by Flowing River, a NY-bred facing open company who has been working up a storm on the Belmont training track. That Jan. 18 bullet drill is very fast, and matches this barn’s older allowance type Patty H. However, Dutrow isn’t known for debut success. Among those with experience, Jester’s Song should take the most money, but I’m skeptical of this gelding. He rode a gold rail to that second-place finish on debut and I want to see the top two finishers come back to validate that figure. Fluid Situation is more interesting as he returns from a layoff. John Terranova has good numbers off layoffs like this, and with second time starters. He got involved in a fast pace in his career debut last summer and may be capable of better now.

RACE 6: ROCK SUGAR (#4)

A few of the top contenders in this starter allowance affair require some pace to close into, so I’m intrigued by the fact that the TimeformUS Pace Projector is predicting a situation favoring runners on or near the early lead. Extreme is expected to make the front, though he’s been unable to secure the lead so far in three start for the Ray Handal barn. That said, I think he’s run reasonably well in his last couple of appearances on this circuit. He was chasing a fast pace two back in a race loaded with speed, and then last time stayed on reasonably well going this one-mile distance. He is perhaps most dangerous of the four horses coming back out of the 6th race on Feb. 4 because the rest are closers. However, I would be willing to give another chance to Pier Forty, who was always out of position that day and ran so well in his prior start going 9 furlongs. Pier Forty is difficult to trust as a win candidate given his propensity to settle for minor awards, but he is a contender for a hot barn. Yet I want to go in a different direction for my top pick. Rock Sugar kept good company against maiden special weight fields during the early part of his career. He ran well to be second to Risk Taking as a 2-year-old, and more recently ran into promising runners like Core Conviction and Waxman. He didn’t run his fastest speed figure when he finally won on the drop in class last time, but I thought he ran well. That was a solid pace and two of the horses who chased him early have already come back to run improved speed figures. Furthermore, he’s claimed by William Morey, who has had success with new acquisitions at this Aqueduct meet. 

RACE 7: CAPTAIN BOMBASTIC (#11)

This race is going to feature a couple of scratches, as both Amundson and Secret Rules will scratch for a race on Sunday’s card. That should affect the pace scenario, since both of those runners figured to show early speed. That shouldn’t significantly affect the chances of the Chad Brown entry if both participate, since the two runners have complementary running styles. Risk Taking has more name recognition off his Withers victory from last year. However, this feels like it’s merely a starting point for a horse who probably wants longer distances. Chad Brown is 1 for 9 (11%, $0.50 ROI) off 150-300 day layoffs in dirt routes at Aqueduct over 5 years. I prefer Sound Money of the two. He really stepped forward last time, and that victory was flattered when runner-up American Monarch returned to win at the same level. I don’t think a mile is a problem for him and Chad Brown has been on fire at this meet. Zoomer figures to be the second choice, and I think he fits this spot well. Tom Morley claims him back after he won for him last October. Since then he’s continued improving, putting in a surprisingly strong effort sprinting two back before winning a high-priced claimer last time. Notably he was against a gold rail in that last victory, so he arguably could have run faster. I thought about putting him on top, but I ultimately went for a bigger price. Captain Bombastic obviously has some things to prove as he drops out of a series of stakes losses. However, I think there’s a notable change taking place in this spot. He’s finally getting to run on Lasix again, and his form really tailed off when he was taken off Lasix in 2021. His lone start with Lasix at Laurel last year resulted in his best effort in quite some time, as he defeated leading Maryland runner Cordmaker. With the other speed scratching out, he should sit a great trip right on top of the pace. I also like him cutting back in distance after he attended a fast pace going too far in the Alex M. Robb last time.

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