Aqueduct Horses in Focus for Sunday, February 27

RACE 3: ARISTOCRATIC (#3)

Likely favorite Happy Farm drops down to the lowest claiming tag he’s tried since he hit his peak for Jason Servis back in 2019. He’s actually run some nice races for other trainers since then, but he’s had trouble staying on the track, needing plenty of time between starts. This gelding threw in a rare bad effort last time for Wayne Potts, though he was facing a much tougher field. He now goes out for Rudy Rodriguez, who is 28 for 88 (32%, $2.06 ROI) first off the claim in dirt sprints at Aqueduct over the past 5 years. Happy Farm should sit a good stalking trip just off the speedy Aristocratic, and will be tough with his good effort. He’ll be a much shorter price than the other two class droppers in this race. Mr Phil and Free Enterprise are both dropping down after facing some tougher fields in their recent past. I liked some of Free Enterprise’s form from last year, but his most recent effort at Finger Lakes was poor. That said, Jeffrey Englehart’s runners have been firing lately at this meet. I’m going with the likely leader. Aristocratic is moving back up in class after winning off the claim for Charlton Baker last time. That was a very game effort, as he set an honest pace and held sway late. Yet it did come against weaker company, so he likely has to improve again on the class rise. Charlton Baker is in the midst of a strong meet, and this horse has back races that fit at this level. He did go off form for much of 2021, but was in a low-percentage barn during that time. He appears to be the controlling speed and he isn’tt one to give up without a fight, as he showed last time.

RACE 5: GREATEST LOVE (#4)

Few horses on the circuit have been as popular at the claim box as Saratoga Beauty. She now goes first off the claim for a new barn for the ninth consecutive start. Rob Atras takes her this time, and he’s had this mare before, including when she won with a 99 TimeformUS Speed Figure back in November. It does feel like she’s taken a step forward recently. Her last two fast track starts have resulted in blowout wins at a similar level to this. The one question mark is that she’s excelled going 7 furlongs, and now she’s going a furlong shorter than that. She’s the one to beat, but figures to be a short price. I like a couple of alternatives. Awesome Indra was twice beaten by today’s favorite last fall, but has since run better in two recent starts. She won for Ray Handal two back at a lower level, and now has been claimed back by that barn out of her last race. Handal is 8 for 47 (17%, $2.40 ROI) first off the claim in dirt sprints over the past 5 years. She was wide against a rail bias early that day, but did drift down inside late as she faded. She’s one of many who wants to be forwardly placed here, but at least she’s shown the ability to stalk on occasion. My top pick is Greatest Love. If you want a closer in a field loaded with speed, this filly is probably it. She made a nice late run on Oct. 29 after losing focus when possibly getting hit in the face with a rival rider’s whip at the quarter pole. Her form has been spotty since then, but she’s had some excuses. She was wide against a rail bias two back, and last time was going too far over a wet surface she may not appreciate. The Linda Rice barn has been pretty cold at this meet, but this one didn’t run that badly for her last time and should get a great setup.

RACE 8: BYHUBBYHELLOMONEY (#5)

There are a couple of interesting runners returning from lengthy layoffs in this New York-bred optional claiming affair. Betsy Blue and Secret Love were the top two finishers in last year’s Bouwerie. That was the last time we saw Secret Love, though Betsy Blue ran four times at this level after that victory, hitting the board without winning each time. This is Betsy Blue’s first start since September, and Linda Rice doesn’t have great stats off layoffs like this. That said, she lands in a race where the Pace Projector is predicting a fast pace, so she should get a decent setup. The other drawback is that the barn has been cold at this meet and she could go favored here. Secret Love goes out for another barn that doesn’t have particularly strong stats off layoffs such as this. That said, she ran well in most of her prior starts, throwing in just one clunker when asked to go a mile last February. Her other efforts are all good ones, and she won her career debut impressively, so perhaps she’ll do well fresh. Yet I think there are a couple of horses coming out of a different race who merit consideration. Linda Rice’s other horse Beautiful Karen finished ahead of a few of today’s rivals in that Feb. 6 race at this level, but she got a great trip setting the pace on the best part of the track. I prefer Byhubbyhellomoney out of that affair and she is my top pick. This filly has tried a variety of distances over the past year, but I do think she’s best as a closing sprinter. She raced in the bridle last time but had to briefly wait for room on the far turn and just had too much to do late in a race dominated by horses who were forward and inside. That was her first start with Lasix, and now Bob Dunham adds blinkers, so perhaps further improvement is forthcoming. I also wouldn’t totally dismiss Happy Sophia from that same race. She stayed on well for fourth after a 3- to 4-wide trip, and has outrun her odds on more than one occasion over the past few months.

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