Aqueduct Horses in Focus for Sunday, January 8

RACE 2: OPEN TIL MIDNIGHT (#5)

There is very little speed signed on in this $25k conditioned claimer, and I have trouble building a case for the likely early leader Moonshiningbright (#3), who has never raced beyond 6 1/2 furlongs. All of the horses with decent form routing on the dirt are deep closers. Hang Tight (#1) could go favored as he makes his first start off the claim for Rob Falcone, but he’s been claimed away from some pretty sharp trainers in Linda Rice and Rob Atras. He also has done his best work as a closing sprinter recently, so I’m skeptical he can get this 9-furlong trip. Stamina isn’t a concern for Mailman’s a Flyer (#4) or Strong Light (#6), who have both run well around two turns before. Yet the former is coming off a second-place finish against weaker last time in a race that may not be quite as strong as the speed figure indicates. Strong Light looks a little more reliable, but he’s just a bit of a plodder who has to rely on others to come back to him. The only viable alternative that I can find is Open Til Midnight (#5). This gelding has some questions to answer, as he’s never raced beyond 6 furlongs on dirt. Yet he did achieve his only victory routing on turf as a 2-year-old, and he has always given me the impression that he’s a horse who does better with added ground. He had issues that kept him away from the races for the better part of 2022, and he was just placed over his head in his two starts since the layoff. This is the first time since his return that he’s running in an appropriate spot, and it appears that he possesses the tactical speed to get a good trip stalking Moonshiningbright. 

RACE 5: IMPROPER (#6)

I expect that American Law (#2) and Vodka Mardini (#5) will vie for favoritism in this race, and they both are obvious contenders. The former hasn’t exactly showed much interest in winning, collecting 6 runner-up finishes in his 10 career starts. Yet he’s continued to earn competitive speed figures, and comes off a career-best 109 TimeformUS Speed Figure in his last start. I’m just a little concerned that he may not appreciate the turnback to 7 furlongs in a field that features other speed. I do like the cutback for Vodka Mardini, who goes out of a hot barn. However, he didn’t run quite as well as I might have expected last time when he was taken off the pace, and he will likely have to rate again in this spot. I’m more interested in a couple of runners who should be better prices. Pricing Power (#3) only attracted lukewarm support when he made his debut at Keeneland, and he faded late after setting the pace along the rail. Yet there’s some evidence that the inside was not the place to be that day, so perhaps the track worked against him. He has had some time off since then and now returns in a slightly softer spot. Chad Brown is 17 for 45 (38%, $2.25 ROI) with 3-year-old and older second time starters in maiden dirt sprints over the past 5 years. My top pick is Improper (#6), who may be the best price of all. He faced a weaker field for this level when he was checked in third last time. Yet that was his first start in 8 months, and he just seemed to get a little tired after flashing speed. The slight stretch-out in distance shouldn’t bother him and he did show some hints of ability when facing some decent horses early last year. He needs to move forward, but John Terranova is 10 for 28 (36%, $3.08 ROI) second off a layoff of 180 days or more over the past 5 years, and he’s 7 for 16 (44%, $4.11 ROI) on dirt in that sample. 

RACE 8: MARKET ALERT (#5)

Wudda U Think Now (#4) could prove difficult to catch as the likely controlling speed in this Say Florida Sandy. He appeared to get back into top form last time when he got assigned a 123 TimeformUS Speed Figure for his Alex M. Robb victory. Yet that was a tough day to make speed figures, and it remains to be seen if he can run back to a number like that. He did set a legitimately fast pace and just kept going in a race dominated by speed types. He handles the distance and seems like a deserving favorite. My Boy Tate (#1) defeated him in the Hudson two back, but this 9-year-old has lacked consistency over the past year. He appeared to be off form in the summer, but he came around to win that Hudson with a powerful stretch drive. However, it’s hard to find an excuse for his loss as the favorite last time and he’s unlikely to get a favorable pace setup here. Bankit (#3) defeated him that day when getting an unusually aggressive ride from Jose Lezcano. Similar tactics could make him dangerous here, but he probably needs to run a faster speed figure than he’s earned in his last couple of starts. My top pick at a bigger price is Market Alert (#5). He’s also a little light on speed figures compared to some others in this field, but he has taken subtle steps since the claim by Rob Atras. He was game to try to battle on between horses two back when facing a pair of allowance rivals in solid form. Then last time he was always out of position in the mud after an awkward first furlong. Yet he never stopped trying, passing some tired rivals through the lane in a speed-dominated race. I don’t mind the slight turnback in distance for him, and he’s outrun his odds in some tough spots before. I don’t think we’ve yet seen the best he has to offer for Atras, and he’s getting a rider upgrade to Kendrick Carmouche.

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