RACE 5: ANEJO (#1)
Tonal Impact (#7) will be tough for this field to handle if he runs back to his last effort when he beat a starter allowance field by nearly 5 lengths. That was his fourth victory in a row while continuing to move up the class ladder, and he earned his highest speed figure first off the claim for the Linda Rice barn. This horse seemed to love the demanding 9 furlongs at Aqueduct, as he launched a sweeping move to the lead around the far turn before drawing off with authority. Therefore, this slight stretch-out to 1 3/16 miles shouldn’t bother him at all. I much prefer him to main rival Gasoline (#4), who is coming off a disappointing performance at this level in December. It’s hard to find an excuse for that loss as the even-money favorite, and his form has generally been getting more unreliable since a promising start to his career. My top pick is Anejo (#1). This New York-bred ran well on this circuit over the summer, finishing a good second at this level to Saint Tapit, before winning his last state-bred condition in September with a rail-skimming run. Since then he’s ventured back out into open company in Kentucky, but he hasn’t found the right circumstances. He got a poor trip two back when hung out wide every step of the way against a very strong field. And I won’t hold his synthetic race against him, as he’s proven to be better on dirt. I think he can handle this distance given the right trip and he should be a fair price.
RACE 6: SON OF AN EX (#6)
The Windylea Farm entry figures to go off at a very short price here, and both halves can surely win this race. However, I’m not confident enough in either of their chances to swallow their expected slim odds. Many may consider Simply (#1)the stronger half of this pair off his solid runner-up finish at this level last time. He arguably had a slightly tougher trip than winner Full Moon Fever, who saved more ground that day. He appears to be in solid form, but his lack of early speed is always a concern. I actually prefer Ouster (#1A) of the two Windylea runners. He’s excelled on turf recently, but he handled dirt without issue early in his career. I think the key to his recent success has been the stretch-out in distance, as he’s always looked like a horse that would relish more ground. Mark Hennig also tends to do very well with runners for this owner. He’s dangerous, but I wanted to look for some better value with one of the alternatives. Mason Mania (#2)may appreciate added ground, and Ria’s Angel (#7) is in solid form, but I couldn’t really get behind either one of them. My top pick is Son of an Ex (#6), who may be the best price of any of these contender. The Randi Persaud barn has been in the midst of a strong run at Aqueduct, going 10 for 64 over the past 4 months. Notably, Persaud is 10 for 42 (24%, $4.45 ROI) with horses that went off at odds of 20-1 or less during that time period, and 5 for 12 (42%, $6.03 ROI) with such runners over the past 3 weeks. Son of an Ex finished off the board in his return, but he was facing a much tougher open company field that day. The pace of that race was also pretty slow, so he had little chance to make a late impact. I think he’ll fare better here on the class drop, and he should be a decent price with a low-profile rider named.
RACE 7: SHORT SUMMER DRESS (#6)
With the report from Dave Grening that one of the Linda Rice runners, Fouette (#5), will likely scratch from this spot, Rice’s other entrant Piece of My Heart (#7) figures to vie for favoritism. From a speed figure standpoint, this 6-year-old mare is the horse to beat, but she’s awfully tough to endorse as a win candidate, especially at a short price. She’s lost 17 consecutive starts despite being in many races that she seemingly had a chance to win over the past couple of seasons. She’s been in strong form since the claim by Rice over the summer, but we saw her major character flaw on display last time, as she just failed to catch stablemate Fouette in the lane. Her main rival in the wagering figures to be Secret Love (#1), who move sup in class following a win at the N2X level last time. This New York-bred was steadily improving in the second half of last season, but she is meeting a tougher field than the one she defeated last time. That was also a race where a few key rivals had trouble at the start. I want to go in a different direction. Some may consider Easy to Bless (#2)in her second start off the layoff after she made a brief middle move in a starter allowance race last month. Yet I’m most interested in another runner from that affair. Short Summer Dress (#6) could get overlooked here after finishing fourth in that Dec. 11 affair, even though she defeated Easy to Bless that day. She got a strange trip, as she was advancing into contention on the turn before seeming to lose focus, drifting out while tentatively ridden to the quarter pole. She lost position, but then seemed to reengage one the field straightened away in the lane, coming on again to just miss third. Perhaps she can run a more professional race with blinkers added, and she figures to get the right trip, especially after the scratch of Fouette. I know it appears that she’s been off form for Joseph Lee, but I don’t think she’s run nearly as bad as it might appear and believe she can rebound here at a price.