Aqueduct Horses in Focus for Sunday, January 15

RACE 5: BALPOOL (#1)

My Betsy (#6) has run well in all three starts, but hasn’t exactly progressed much from a speed figure standpoint since the summer at Saratoga. She ran well in those first couple of starts, but then went to the sidelines for a few months. She returned last month with a solid second behind Occult, who starts as one of the favorites in the Busanda on Saturday, but I would have liked to see her put up more of a fight. The slight cutback to 7 furlongs shouldn’t bother her, and she figures to be right there at the end with her typical effort. I just thought some others had a bit more upside. My top pick is second time starter Balpool (#1). She didn’t take much money on debut, and ran like a horse who needed the race. She got bumped and steadied back at the start, putting her in last early. She raced a bit greenly on the turn, but I liked the way she responded when asked for her best in the stretch, finishing better than anyone else while closing into a slow pace. This barn isn’t known for success with these types, but the Atras barn has been doing well recently and I think this filly has a right to take a big step forward in her second start. I also think we could see more speed out of her if she breaks cleanly from the rail. The other runner I want to use is another second time starter from that same race. Shirl’s Delight (#3) took a bit of money took a bit of money that day and actually tried to show some speed after breaking a step slowly. She just got a little too keen racing down the backstretch and ultimately faded after making a mild move on the turn. She’s another who has a right to do better with that experience under her belt.

RACE 7: MONEY MIKE (#5)

Likely favorite Lastchanceatglory (#2) has been pretty popular at the claim box, changing hands in each of his last 6 starts. And it’s understandable why he’s appealing, since he’s just a neck shy of having won 4 of his last 5 starts. He comes off a decisive victory at this $40k level for Rob Atras, but he’s moving into another hot barn. Linda Rice is 12 for her last 24 (50%, $3.38 ROI) first off the claim at Aqueduct over the past 2 months or so, as of Thursday. He’s obviously the horse to beat, but his form is exposed and I think he’s landed in a race that features some others with upside at better prices. I don’t want to write off Famished (#4) just because he finished over 4 lengths behind the favorite last time. He did get a good trip that day, but this Horacio De Paz trainee has run some superior speed figures in the past and may appreciate getting back on a fast track. Another intriguing entrant is American Rule (#3), who returns from a 6-month layoff. He has plenty of prior races that give him a chance here. While the layoff is a concern, it’s worth noting that he’s not in for a tag. Orlando Noda has actually won with his last two starters off similar layoffs at Aqueduct, both in January. One of those, Glory Road, won in a similar situation, in a $40k claimer with the tag waived, ridden by Davis. I considered him, but I wanted to go in a different direction for my top pick. Money Mike (#5) seems like an odd participant in this race, as he’s primarily been a sprinter. His lone prior attempt at a mile didn’t go well, but I did like the way he finished in a two-turn 7-furlong race at Charles Town last year, a performance that may have been better than it looks. He is also bred to go longer, being out of the classy Ahh Chocolate, a Grade 2 and Grade 3 winner going 1 1/8 miles on dirt. He put in a relentless rally from off the pace to beat a field of conditioned claimers last time, making his third start in just two weeks. This is a much tougher spot, but he has been claimed by Jose Camejo, who is 17 for 53 (32%, $2.68 ROI) first off the claim on dirt over the past 5 years. I think this horse deserves another chance going longer, and he may be ready for a step forward now that he’s had 6 weeks between starts.

RACE 8: WHAT’S UP BRO (#7)

There are three main players in this New York-bred allowance affair. D’ont Lose Cruz (#6) could go favored as he switches into the barn of David Duggan after making an auspicious start to his career for the now retired Rick Schosberg. After just getting nailed on the wire in his debut, he beat a very good horse in the talented Mariachi to break his maiden. He perhaps didn’t run quite as well last time when losing the Notebook as the favorite, unable to fend off a game Acoustic Ave. He crossed the wire just ahead of today’s rival Starquist (#1) in that spot, but I prefer the Kimmel trainee from that race. There is plenty of speed signed on in this 9-horse field, so D’ont Lose Cruz figures to have some company up front. Starquist may get a better setup than last time, when he just ran out of ground trying to close down the dueling leaders. I still think this son of Nyquist will ultimately want more ground, but he has been improving with each start. These two should take the most money, but I’m most intrigued by the likely third choice in the wagering. What’s Up Bro (#7) ran like a horse who needed a race on debut, as he was a little slow into stride and raced greenly while taking plenty of kickback. He was much more professional in his second start, displaying improved early speed before pulling clear impressively. He earned a solid 93 TimeformUS Speed Figure, and horses have come back out of that affair to run well. The second-place finisher Quick Chaos won his next start, improving by 10 points, and the third-place finisher returned to improve his figure by 9 points. What’s Up Bro failed to change leads in the stretch of that last victory, so I think he still has room to improve as he steps up against winners.

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