Aqueduct Horses in Focus for Saturday, November 26


Up to the Mark (#4) figures to go favored here as he turns back to a sprint distance after Pletcher had tried to gradually stretch him out. He obviously possesses plenty of talent, as he showed in his first couple of one-turn starts this summer. However, he just wanted no part of 9 furlongs last time, and he also didn’t get the right trip, as he was rated farther off the pace than he had been in any of his prior starts. Perhaps it’s as simple as getting back to basics with this horse, but I’m hesitant to trust this horse at a short price – and he will be pretty short with Irad Ortiz named to ride. Pletcher is an uninspiring 29 for 156 (19%, $1.32 ROI) with 3YO+ non-maidens going from routes to sprints on dirt over 5 years. The two most obvious alternatives are Life Changer (#2) and Reggae Music Man (#3), who faced off in a race at this level earlier this month. I wasn’t particularly impressed with either one’s performance, though I would give slight preference to Life Changer given his positive experience at 7 furlongs. My top pick is a runner exiting a different race at this level. Luni Sima (#1) was facing a tougher field last time when he finished behind the promising Winit going a mile. I didn’t think he got the best trip that day, as he was shuffled back on the far turn and his apprentice rider seemed to have some trouble finding a clear path for his mount until the race had gotten away from them. He was beaten by Life Changer three back at this distance, but it seems that he’s improved a bit since then and now he’s getting a rider upgrade to Javier Castellano.


General Jim (#10) figures to vie for favoritism in this race as he seeks to stay undefeated on turf in his third attempt on this surface. He was a workmanlike maiden winner at Saratoga two back before impressively winning an allowance race last time at Keeneland. That was a slightly weaker spot than this one, and he also worked out an absolutely perfect trip, saving ground on the turns before tipping out into the clear at the head of the lane. Now he’s stuck in the far outside post position with a pretty quick run to the clubhouse turn. He has the talent to win here, but I wanted to look elsewhere at a short price. Another runner who I wanted to avoid is Bat Flip (#2). He won a fairly strong maiden event last month, but he is another who got a great trip in victory. He was setting a moderate pace while riding an advantageous rail path in a race where those racing outside were compromised. I instead want to focus on a couple of runners coming out of the Awad Stakes. Let’s Go Big Blue (#9) is the one who had the obvious trip in that race, as his rider Eric Cancel didn’t do the best job of putting him in the right spots. He was wide every step of the way, and Cancel was unable to secure a clear path for him at the top of the stretch. Another rival was blamed for fouling him by the stewards, but this horse caused a lot of his own problems before finishing up with good interest late. He has the ability to win a race like this, and perhaps the addition of blinkers will help him focus. My top pick is Dandy Handyman (#7), who finished second in the Awad. While he stayed clear of all that trouble, he did have a hand in producing problems for those in behind him as he drifted out through the stretch. That said, he had done plenty of hard work prior to that, setting a fast pace that set it up for the closers. The TimeformUS Pace Figures for the early fractions are color-coded in red and the race was dominated by closers, with the exception of this gelding. I like the versatility that he’s displayed in his first couple of starts and he figures to be a better price than the aforementioned runners.


Likely favorite Soldier Rising (#9) just missed in this race last year when he was a 3-year-old facing older rivals. He arguably got left with a bit too much ground to make up, as he came with a late rush for third despite being well behind with a quarter mile to go. Since returning this year, it took him a few starts to reach his peak at the start of the season, but he has run well twice in a row against Grade 1 company in recent starts. He closed well two back in the Sword Dancer, and then last time was unlucky in the Turf Classic, as he got buried in traffic in deep stretch. He finished just behind today’s rival Astronaut (#4), but Soldier Rising surely ran the better race, all things considered. He’s the horse to beat. Chad Brown has entered a couple of runners. Highest Honors (#1) finished ahead of stablemate Balthus (#3) in the Sycamore last time at Keeneland, but I much prefer the latter runner. Highest Honors drew a wide post position last time, but he actually got a great trip, as Tyler Gaffalione guided him over to the rail and he just followed the winner. Balthus had a more difficult trip, as he was never inside and encountered traffic when set down for his best in deep stretch. He appeared to finish with something left in the tank and still has upside. I’m going in a different direction with Dynadrive (#11) at what figures to be a better price. It looked like his career was heading down the wrong path earlier this year, but he completely turned things around off the trainer switch to Tom Morley this summer. He worked out great trips in his first two starts for the barn, but he also showed up with some of the best efforts of his career, culminating with a win in the Lure. He’s been off the board twice since then, but has had excuses. He didn’t like give in the ground two back in a race dominated by a front-running winner. Then last time he never had a chance, going wide against a rail bias while also compromised by a slow pace. He has to prove he can handle this marathon distance, but he figures to fly under the radar and fits here with his best effort.

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