Aqueduct Horses in Focus for Saturday, January 21

RACE 5: MY FRIENDS BEER (#6)

Optic Way (#8) looks like a deserving favorite at first glance, as he’s coming off the best speed figure that he’s achieved in a while and has been claimed by a barn that has great stats using this move. Yet it’s a little strange that this horse hasn’t run back for two months, and Jose Camejo doesn’t appear to be as dangerous recently as when he first appeared on this circuit. Overall, he’s just 2 for 12 (13%, $0.96 ROI) first off the claim at NYRA. I’m a bit skeptical that this horse can run back to that last performance and there are plenty of other options to consider. Cool Quartet (#3) is another runner who goes out for a dangerous trainer, as he makes his second start off the switch to Rob Atras. He did face a much better field last time, but I don’t love his prior form at Finger Lakes and feel he would need to improve to beat this group. Dark Storm (#5) interests me more. He’s another coming off a brief layoff, but he was in solid form when last seen. He did well to wear down favorite Its All Relevant two back and then ran a good second at this level last time when mildly impeded by his entrymate through the lane. Something has obviously kept him off the track recently, but he returns with no drop, and gets Turkey’s champion jockey aboard. My top pick is My Friends Beer (#6). Perhaps the unfamiliar connections will scare some players away, but I really liked his effort last time. He made a game run through traffic, altering course in the stretch to take a good shot at the superior winner Winter Pool. That result may look like an outlier, but he had excuses prior to that. He’s never been too fond of wet tracks, so I don’t want to hold his two sloppy performances at Parx against him, and he was going the wrong distance back in November. This horse has plenty of back class and appears to be rounding back into top form. He closed from far back last time but does possess a bit more tactical speed than that.

RACE 6: LOST IN ROME (#3)

I have mixed feelings about O’Trouble (#2), who could go favored here as he makes his first start off the claim for David Jacobson. The Jacobson horses have been performing better in recent weeks, and this horse is a neck shy of having won his last three starts. He beat a weaker field last time, but was much the best that day as Jose Gomez nearly botched the ride, getting him in trouble early before finding a clear path along the inside. He has the speed figures to win at this level, but his best performances have generally come against cheaper foes. Quick Return (#1) and Durkin’s Call (#6) both competed in a $25k claiming race back in early December, where they filled out the trifecta behind Jemography. Durkin’s Call ran the slightly better race that day and came back with a deceptively game performance against a much tougher field last time going a mile. I think he’s a threat if the pace comes apart, but he’s never been the most reliable win candidate. I’m going for a bigger price with Lost in Rome (#3). This horse has really woken up since getting claimed for just $10k by trainer William Younghans. He was game to get the job done in November, and then showed a new dimension, rallying from off the pace to win that starter allowance over O’Trouble two back. I won’t hold his last against him, since that was a very ambitious spot. He’s now dropping back down to a more realistic class level and I don’t mind him turning back in distance with so much pace signed on. Heman Harkie has ridden him well, and the price should be fair.

RACE 8: FLIGHT TO SHANGHAI (#4)

I certainly respect Betsy Blue (#5), who has been one of the most consistent racehorses on the NYRA circuit for the past two years. She’s steadily improved for Linda Rice and really seems to have taken her game to a new level since last summer at Saratoga. She didn’t get the right trip in the Iroquois two back when she registered a rare off the board finish, but she bounced back with a better effort in the Go For Wand. Turned back to her preferred sprint distance in the Garland of Roses, she delivered a strong stretch rally to run past the talented Beguine in the late stages. A similar performance makes her tough to beat, but she’s also going to be a very short price now that her best form has once again been exposed. It’s also unclear if she’s going to get the same pace setup that she enjoyed last time, as the horses who you would expect to be forwardly placed aren’t exactly that fast. Miss T Too (#2) is perhaps the quickest of them all early, but it’s been a little while since she’s been sent to the front and she doesn’t have the most aggressive rider on her back. She had some real sprint talent early in her career, but a series of setbacks have derailed her. I considered putting her on top, but I found another who may offer better value. Flight to Shanghai (#4) obviously doesn’t sport as strong a resume as some others in here, but I thought she took a subtle but significant step forward off the claim for Horacio De Paz last time. Sent off at 72-1 in that Go For Wand, she applied serious pressure to the impressive winner Dr B in the early stages and was still in the mix at the quarter pole before fading. While she hasn’t run as fast as Betsy Blue, she earned a strong 110 TimeformUS Speed Figure for that last performance. Furthermore, Horacio De Paz is 7 for 17 (41%, $3.74 ROI) second off the claim on dirt over the past 5 years. And at NYRA tracks, he’s 5 for 9 (56%, $6.08 ROI) with 3 seconds. I expect her to get an aggressive ride from Jorge Vargas and the slight turnback to 7 furlongs should suit her. I believe she’s the biggest threat to Betsy Blue and the price should be fair.

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