Aqueduct Horses in Focus for Sunday, December 18

RACE 5: WATASHA (#8)

Curlin’s Wisdom (#9) is clearly the one to beat in this N1X allowance affair, which is a split division of today’s eighth race. He has really blossomed this fall for Linda Rice, finishing in the exacta in each of his last 5 starts, including a 3-race winning streak as he skipped through his New York-bred allowance conditions. He put forth one of his finest efforts two back when he just missed in the Empire Classic, and he maintained solid form last time despite settling for second at this level. However, I am a little concerned about the turnback in distance to a mile. He seems to have achieved his best results since he stretched out to 9 furlongs, making full use of his ample stamina. It’s unclear if he can be as effective over this shorter distance, and there are some worthy rivals in this spot. The biggest wild card is Up to the Mark (#6), who will seek to get back on track after a couple of disappointing efforts. I won’t be too hard on him for his 9-furlong loss two back when he was facing a better field for this level and chased an honest pace. Yet he didn’t have an apparent excuse last time when he was uncharacteristically sluggish on the turnback to 7 furlongs. I do get a little worried when these Todd Pletcher runners lose their early speed, but this colt clearly has the ability to beat a field like this with his good effort. I just want to go in a different direction with another lightly raced option. Watasha (#8) makes his first start off an auction purchase for $120k and trainer switch to Bill Mott after starting his career with Chad Brown. He took a couple of races to figure things out, but he seemed to put it all together when he returned from a layoff this fall, showing improved early speed to dominate a field of maidens over this track. He was also flattered when runner-up Southern Flag came back to win with a 109 TimeformUS Speed Figure. He disappointed when he stepped up to this level last time, but the trip just didn’t work out. He broke a step slowly and was bumped soon after the start, relegating him to the back of the pack. He made a decent move into contention on the far turn, but was always out of position. I like this stretch-out to a mile, since he can make better use of his tactical speed from this outside post position. He’s certainly bred to go this far, as a half-brother to 29-time dirt route winner Our Caravan and marathon runner Muralist.

RACE 8: GULFSTREAM WAY (#2)

Likely favorite Money Supply (#4) has arguably been a bit of a disappointment since winning that debut so impressively, closing with a rush from off the pace. While he hasn’t won since then, he has consistently performed well in his last few starts at this level. He got the wrong trip at Churchill Downs two back when encountering significant traffic trouble, and returned from a brief layoff last time to follow home the talented but enigmatic Winit. A repeat of that performance may get the job done here, but it’s not as if he has some huge edge for a horse that could be a pretty short price. I’m trying to beat him with Gulfstream Way (#2). This Kentucky shipper was in great form when he got claimed for $50k earlier this year, and maintained that form for the Chris Hartman barn. Since winning two races in a row, he’s been unable to do better than garner minor awards at this N1X allowance level. And some might view his first start for the Brad Cox stable last time as a step in the wrong direction. However, that was a seriously tough spot, as winner Seal Beach earned a 113 TimeformUS Speed Figure, and other also-rans in that field had strong form coming in. I also didn’t think he got the best ride that day, as Florent Geroux squandered an opportunity to secure the front end, riding his horse conservatively down the backstretch. I would like to see Kendrick Carmouche get more aggressive here, since there isn’t that much pace signed on. One other runner that I would want to use at a bigger price is Luni Sima (#9). It’s possible that his best days are behind him, as he didn’t run well last time. Yet now he’s stretching out to a more appropriate distance, and he didn’t get the best ride when he tried this level going a mile two back. 

RACE 9: NANTASKET BEACH (#4)

This oversubscribed starter allowance affair is arguably the most interesting race on the card. The 9-furlong distance complicates the tasks of a few contenders drawn towards the outside, since there isn’t much of a run into that clubhouse turn. That’s the biggest problem for Tonal Impact (#11), who is seeking his fourth win in a row off the Linda Rice claim. This runner is capable of producing a strong finish, and has been beating progressively tougher competition over his last few starts. Linda Rice is 27 for 80 (34%, $2.10 ROI) first off the claim in dirt routes at Aqueduct over the past 5 years, but the horse is exiting some pretty strong barns in Kentucky. I acknowledge he’s a contender, but felt that better value could be found elsewhere. Fromanothamutha (#9) and Mo Rewards (#1) exit the same $40k conditioned claimer on Nov. 13. Some may be inclined to take Mo Rewards out of that race, since he stumbled badly at the start and did make a nice move to get back into contention before settling for third. Yet I still believe he’s more of a turf horse and question this stretch-out in distance. I find Fromanothamutha more intriguing, since his early speed figures to play well in this spot, especially if Jorge Vargas gets aggressive from this outside post position. Contrary to the way he’s been campaigned, I think added distance is better form him, and his last effort suggests he may be rounding into form. Yet I’m also intrigued by two runners who are based at other circuits. Gut Feeling (#3) was a game winner of a maiden claimer back in September at Churchill Downs. That 104 TimeformUS Speed Figure that he earned is better than any of Tonal Impact’s recent numbers, and he was flattered when runner-up Floki’s Flight came back to win two in a row with ascending speed figures. I think he’s dangerous making his first start off the claim for JKX Racing. My top pick is Nantasket Beach (#4), who is drawn just to his outside. It’s possible that this gelding is simply a turf horse, as he has improved since getting on that surface. Yet there’s plenty of dirt in his pedigree, as his Holy Bull-sired dam is a half-sister to Preakness winner Red Bullet. He handled dirt in his career debut, and I suspect he’s just improved overall since being gelded and stretching out in distance. He finished powerfully over soft turf to break his maiden two back, and ran surprisingly well, albeit with a great trip, in the Hill Prince last time. I think Chuck Lawrence has found a good spot for him to try this surface, where he can make use of his stamina. He drew a favorable post position and figures to be a square price.

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