RACE 1: PROVEN HOPE (#1)
#5 Jester’s Song obviously has the best speed figures in this field, but it must be noted that he was riding a track bias when he finished second on debut. The rail was a significant advantage on Jan. 13, and he rode the inside path for much of his trip. However, this guy wasn’t disgraced last time against a tougher field, and horses have come back out of that race to run very well. Chad Brown has a pair of runners in this compact field. The well-bred #2 Higher Quality figures to be the shorter price of the two. He began his career in the Juddmonte silks for Chad Brown last winter, and put in a solid effort on debut. He was no match for winner Promise Keeper, but that one would go on to prove his quality in stakes company, winning the G3 Peter Pan. Higher Quality was eventually sold for $95k at Keeneland November, but was purchased by owners who sent him right back to Brown. He’s dangerous off the layoff for a barn that typically has them ready. #3 Digitize makes his debut in this spot, but I wonder what we’ll get from this gelding who is a close relative to the barn’s Grade 1 winner Complexity, being by the same sire out of a half-sister to that one’s dam. All of his recent workouts have been in company with New York-bred Aggregation, who races later. My top pick is #1 Proven Hope. He only managed to finish 6th in his debut, but there was a lot to like about the effort. He broke well, but wasn’t quite quick enough to hold his position, causing him to get shuffled back multiple times on the backstretch. He entered the turn 11th of 12, but launched a wide move to pass half the field before flattening out. He got dismissed at 42-1 that day, so it’s not like there were high expectations. That came up a fast race, and we’ve already seen fifth-place finisher Emirates Road come back to win. Mark Hennig doesn’t have great second time out stats, but this one is surely a candidate to improve.
RACE 7: MODERN MIDAS (#3)
#7 Eminency has to be considered the horse to beat based on his overall consistency. He put in a strong effort in his career debut and has run up to a similar level in most of his starts since then. The problem is that he hasn’t really moved forward at all, and some others appear to have more upward mobility than he does. On the other hand, he did well to finish second last time, using his speed to contest the pace before getting passed by the odds-on favorite. He finished ahead of a couple of rivals that he meets again here, but I prefer one of the horses who followed him home last time. #3 Modern Midas obviously has issues getting out of the gate. He was bumped badly and steadied out of position in his debut before launching a mild rally. Then last time he bobbled a stride away from the gate, putting him at the back of that 14-horse field. He did well to negotiate traffic, getting up for fourth, but that early trouble cost him any chance of earning a higher placing. He’s clearly better than his results indicate, but he needs to break cleanly to work out a winning trip. He gets a rider switch to Jose Lezcano, and figures to be a fair price once again, so I’ll land on him as my top pick. If he can ever break cleanly, I suspect he possesses more natural speed than he’s shown. The other horse that interests me is #2 Khufu. This new face from Florida will make his first start against NY-breds. He tried synth in the debut and ran a decent race, but seemed to get discouraged trying to rally up the rail. Then last time on turf he was very keen wearing blinkers for the first time, tugging his way to the lead before fading late. He now tries his third surface in as many starts. I’m not too concerned about the low-percentage local trainer filling in for Biancone. This horse has shown ability in the mornings, and has pedigree to handle dirt. He’s dangerous picking up Javier Castellano.
RACE 10: PRINCE OF PHAROAHS (#4)
This is perhaps the most interesting race of the day. Speed has been good all week at Aqueduct, but it’s going to be difficult for anyone to wire this field with so many potential front-runners signed on. #2 Saint Selby could go off as the slight favorite, but he’s awfully difficult for me to take at a short price as he moves up in class. He was beating a vastly inferior field at the N1X level last time, doing so in gate-to-wire fashion. He is perhaps quick enough to make the lead once again, but he’s going to have to work hard to hold his position from the rail. #9 River Dog is a real wild card in this field. If he could remember who he was at the start of his career, he’ll be a handful for this group. However, he really tailed off towards the end of his brief 2021 campaign. I don’t think he’s a horse that needs to be in front, so he’s drawn perfectly to work out a stalking trip on the outside. He’s worked quickly for this return as he now makes his first start for the Kelly Breen barn. #8 Bustin Timberlake is another who wants to be forwardly placed but at least he’s drawn better outside of his main pace rivals. I liked that he took a step forward second off the layoff last time, though he was aided by a track that was helping speed types. I think he’s a contender, but I’m not confident that he’ll offer sufficient value. I want to go for a different horse exiting that March 19 affair. #4 Prince of Pharoahs was turning back to a dirt sprint that day, and I think he can a lot better than his result would indicate. This horse typically wants to be somewhat forward, but he was squeezed back soon after the start, relegated to the back of an 11-horse field. That was especially detrimental on a day when speed appeared to be aided by the racetrack. All things considered, Prince of Pharoahs launched a strong rally to get up into fourth. Now he’s making his second start off the layoff, and I like that Linda Rice is trying another sprint. He’s going to get plenty of pace to close into, and now the connections know they can ride him as more of a closing type.