Aqueduct Horses in Focus for Sunday, January 22

RACE 3: LA VITA SOFIA (#5)

I imagine that Shidabhuti (#6) will take plenty of money off her 6-lengthh debut triumph at Monmouth. Yet I have some questions about this filly’s overall quality and her ability to handle the stretch-out to a mile. It’s a little odd that she’s been on the shelf for the past 4 months, since it seems that she’s been training right along the entire time, logging 15 workouts since that debut score. That says to me that Chad Brown just didn’t think she was good enough to compete in many of the stakes that came up during the interim and has been waiting for a softer spot like this to fill. Furthermore, she got a great pace setup in that debut while beating a very weak field. Practical Joke is not the best stamina influence and she strikes me as a more of a sprinter. The other debut winner Howzyourcashflow (#2) has a significant recency edge, having just competed 10 days ago. She’s making a big leap up in class, but she actually earned the fastest speed figure in this field, getting a 95 TimeformUS on debut. She’s another who has to answer the distance question, but I like the aggression being displayed. Yet I’m more interested in proven commodities at what may be bigger prices. Gold Medal Anna (#1) offers some appeal as she ships in from Parx. This deep closer has been beaten by a legitimate foe, Girl Trouble, in her last couple of stakes attempts. She’s getting mild class relief here and gives the impression that added ground should help, as she is a daughter of Grade 1 turf router Voodoo Dancer. My top pick is La Vita Sofia (#5). She didn’t seem to get the distance in the Demoiselle last time, but it’s asking a lot of these youngsters to try 9 furlongs. Her prior effort in the Tempted is better than it appears. She was traveling well approaching the quarter pole, but Jose Gomez overcommitted to the inside path and got steadied behind a tiring rival just as she was mounting a rally. She’s a little light on speed figures overall, but I think this is the right distance for her and she’s getting significant class relief.

RACE 5: STAGE LEFT (#2)

There may only be 6 betting interests in this high-level optional claimer, but it’s arguably the most interesting race on the card. Amundson (#5) had been in great form last fall and seemed to maintain that condition when he was first claimed by Linda Rice last year. However, he’s now lost twice in a row at short prices, and he figures to encounter a difficult pace scenario here with plenty of other speed signed on. The biggest early challenge figures to come from Pirate Rick (#1A), who is drawn just to his outside. This Lynn Cash runner wasn’t successful when he made his first trip to Aqueduct last November. However, he’s since rebounded to win three in a row, including a redemptive victory when he returned to this circuit last time. That came at a slightly lower level than this, but he defeated a pretty talented rival in Sheriff Bianco, snapping a 3-race winning streak for that foe. A repeat of that 123 TimeformUS Speed Figure could make him too much for this group to handle. Yet he and Amundson will be hard-pressed to wire this field, as even longshot Fire Sword (#4)figures to mix it up on the front end. Happy Farm (#3) is the most logical closer that many might consider. He was overmatched in the Fall Highweight two back and rebounded decently last time when closing for third behind a gate-to-wire winner. I’m reluctant to take horses from this barn at short prices, as they have been underperforming lately. My top pick is Stage Left (#2), who should also benefit from some quick fractions up front. He finished behind Amundson at this level last time, but he didn’t get the right ride that day, as he found himself pressing a contested pace. He put in a performance that makes him competitive here two back, and he’s also run well when closing from off the pace in the past. The turnback to 6 furlongs should suit him and he figures to be a fair price.

RACE 8: SECURITY CODE (#6)

Stonewall Star (#7) is obviously the most accomplished member of this Franklin Square field. However, I think she’s coming into this a little overrated. She enjoyed a very soft setup when she won the Key Cents back in November, and she had little excuse to lose that stakes at Laurel last time. She’s a nice horse, but I’m not sure that she’s really improved at all since last fall and there is other speed to push her on the front end this time. Among the likely short prices, I prefer the upside of Starry Midnight (#1), who ran quite a race on debut. This filly wasn’t actually that slow out of the gate and was briefly in contact with the field before she appeared to react badly to kickback on the backstretch. She was striding greenly as she abruptly dropped back, seemingly out of contention. Yet she put in an impressive rally on the far turn to get back into the race, which ultimately carried her to victory. This is a much tougher spot, but I think she’s capable of improving with that experience under her belt. I just wonder if she’ll be much of a price here, since it’s not secret that she had a trip first time out. I want to go in a different direction with another late runner. Security Code (#6) has been a disappointment since beating Stonewall Star at Saratoga over the summer. She went badly off form when she first came to Aqueduct in the fall, but her last couple of starts have been subtle steps back in the right direction. She closed decently to just miss second behind Stonewall Star in the Key Cents when not getting the best setup. And then last time she would have been clearly second to Banterra if she hadn’t been ridden into traffic at the quarter pole. She needs to take another step forward to upset this field, but she figures to be a generous price and I think there’s going to be some pace in here.

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