Aqueduct Horses in Focus for Thursday, December 8

RACE 5: ZAPRUDER (#4)

Bourbon Chase (#1) has been the runner-up in both starts despite going off as the odds-on favorite each time. He was beaten by a pretty good foe on debut, but I would have liked to see him take more of a step forward last time, when he had to work hard to merely secure second. He now stretches out as a son of Practical Joke, who has better stats with his sprinters overall, though the dam did win going a mile. Pletcher has a $1.29 ROI in an 89-horse sample with maidens adding blinkers on dirt over 5 years. I prefer horses exiting other races. Inspector (#3) was rumored to be a good one ahead of his debut, and hasn’t delivered on the promise. Yet he’s been hampered by some gate issues and hasn’t run as badly as it might seem in either start. He now stretches out as a son of solid dirt route sire Flatter. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him show more speed if he can finally break cleanly. My top pick is Zapruder (#4). This homebred debuted going long on turf where he was never seriously involved. However, a close viewing of that race suggests that he may have some upside. This gelding showed some immaturity throughout, but he was really running through the wire once he was fully set down for the stretch drive. Trakus caught him getting his final quarter in 23.21 seconds, and a final sixteenth in a flashy 5.75 seconds. What’s more interesting is that he’s actually bred for dirt. The dam has produced 6 dirt winners from 7 winning foals, including stakes winner Blindwillie McTell and solid allowance type Duquesne Whistle. Bill Mott is 13 for 54 (24%, $2.25 ROI) with maidens switching from turf to dirt routes over the past 5 years. I’m expecting a better effort this time.

RACE 6: BALDIZAR (#4)

Six Percent (#5) will probably go favored here as he finds himself in a softer state-bred N2X allowance than the spot he contested last time. There aren’t any rivals as good as winner Curlin’s Wisdom in this field, so perhaps the class relief will be enough to get him back to the winner’s circle. However, I have some reservations with this gelding. He did get the job done three back at Saratoga going this distance, but that was a weaker conditioned claiming race. He’s really hasn’t been much of a winning type throughout his career and can be pretty one-paced late in his races when push comes to shove. He makes plenty of sense on paper, but I want to look elsewhere if he’s a short price. I actually prefer the runner drawn just to his outside, Prince of Pharoahs (#6). He also faced a tougher rival in his last start when proving no match for the vastly improved Ebben in an open claimer. That was his first start back off a layoff and he was claimed out of that race by Mertkan Kantarmaci. This barn does a great job off the claim, going 14 for 68 (21%, $2.05 ROI) with that move in dirt routes at NYRA over the past 5 years. Prince of Pharoahs ran a race back in June at Belmont over a route distance that would make him awfully tough against this group. Yet I think there’s an interesting option in this race who I’m hoping will get overlooked. Baldizar (#4) appears too slow to beat this field off his two prior speed figures. However, I think this horse may be better than the form indicates. He won his debut despite racing a bit greenly, hanging on his left lead until they hit the wire. While he took a step backwards from a speed figure standpoint in his second start, that was an uncompetitive affair where he was never truly asked for his best against inferior rivals. He won that race under a light hand ride, yet still produced a final quarter in a strong 23.88 seconds. I just get the sense that there’s talent and upside here, and he figures to go off at a fair price with Heman Harkie named to ride. There isn’t that much speed drawn to his inside, and Harkie can be aggressive in these situations. The horse is bred to handle added ground and goes out for a barn that does very well with last-out winners.

RACE 9: RUNABOUT (#9)

I have some questions about both likely favorites in this finale. Styner (#5) will take money off a string of flashy speed figures earned at Monmouth, Parx, and Finger Lakes. While he’s met some decent rivals in a few of those races, he’s also beaten weaker fields on a few occasions. Notably, all of those races have come around two turns, so this turnback to 7 furlongs could be a real hurdle for him. He prefers to race close to the pace and may just not possess the tactical speed to get forward against this field without paying a price. Easy Day (#7) will also take money off his runner-up finish to Greeley and Ben in a similar spot last time. He was obviously flattered when that rival came back to win the Fall Highweight in his next start. However, I wonder how much this horse was carried along by that superior foe last time, as prior recent speed figures don’t quite approach that level. I want to look elsewhere, as I think this race is more competitive than it might initially appear. Colonel Bowman (#4) is one option as he switches into the barn of David Jacobson, who is 5 for 12 (42%, $3.33 ROI) off trainer switches on dirt over the past 5 years. He beat a solid field at Santa Anita last time and looks like a well-bred sort who may finally be coming around after dropping to get a confidence boost. My top pick is Runabout (#9), who figures to be a bigger price. The fact that he’s even running in this protected spot seems notable for a horse who would seemingly fit in a cheaper claiming event. Rudy Rodriguez obviously does well off the claim in many situations, but specifically with horses who are not entered for a tag in their first start off the claim on dirt he is 14 for 53 (26%, $2.54 ROI) over the past 5 years. Runabout actually faced a pretty good field of $16k claimers last time, from which the fifth-place finisher came back to win last weekend. Prior to that he had been rounding into form, and I don’t mind the turnback here since he figures to get some pace to ahead of him.

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