Aqueduct Horses in Focus for Friday, March 10


Systemic Change (#3) is obviously the horse to beat as he makes his third start off the layoff, and many horseplayers are likely to just concede this race to him. Yet I have some reservations about accepting a short price on this horse. He returned from the layoff in a Dec. 15 race that hasn’t proven to be quite as strong as the speed figure suggests. Then last time he was no match for his stablemate after contesting an honest pace. He may win here if he merely holds his form, but there’s no guarantee that he’ll be as effective stretching out to 9 furlongs. One horse for whom distance shouldn’t be a concern is Rapper Zapper (#6). This fellow 4-year-old has had more experience than his main rival and has put forth his best efforts in two-turn dirt races. He ran well to finish just behind Afjan two back at Laurel, and that rival has since validated that form in New York. He figures to be charging late under Trevor McCarthy at what could be a fair price. However, my top pick may offer even better value. Chess Spectacular (#5) could get dismissed as the outsider in this 6-runner field. He looks light on speed figures, but he actually ran well in the second and third starts of his career facing solid maiden special weight fields. He made a strong move into a quick pace behind Rudder’s Men on Oct. 22. He faded late but didn’t finish that far behind Classic Legacy and Classic Catch, who have since done some nice things against winners. Then two back he was closing belatedly behind Sam F. Davis winner Litigate and Gotham runner-up Slip Mahoney. He obviously disappointed when dropped in for a tag last time, but he got a poor ride, buried inside early before getting shuffled out of position. I like progeny of Mastery going longer, and he could play out as the speed here. James Ryerson is 5 for 29 (17%, $2.06 ROI) first off the claim over 5 years. 


I’ll be interested to see how the pace develops in this conditioned claimer. It appears that multiple horses want the front end, but two of those come from the same barn. Tom Morley trainees Mauritius (#3) and Built to Last (#6) possess similar running styles, both doing their best work on the front end. It seems counterintuitive that both would be used aggressively to duel for the lead, so perhaps this pace won’t be quite as fast as it looks on paper. That could work against a horse like Necromancer (#1), who would fall into a great trip in four horses did battle for the lead. I’m just skeptical that scenario will transpire. The pace shouldn’t bother morning line favorite Jester’s Song (#5) too much, as he’s generally pretty versatile. Yet I have some doubts about this runner’s current form. He has faced much tougher fields in each of his last two starts, but he still didn’t do any running in those races. Now he returns from yet another layoff dropping down to a realistic level. I just wonder if he’s still capable of producing those speed figures he was earning in the middle of last year. I want to go in a different direction with Upper Level (#8). I think this horse is as likely to win as anyone else in this field and I doubt he attracts enough support to be favored. He’s been facing better fields at the starter allowance level and hasn’t run that badly in his recent starts despite the fact that he hasn’t been ridden that aggressively. This horse had the misfortune of facing off against the speedball Ikigai twice in a row, and it’s nearly impossible to outrun that rival to the front end. Last time Jose Gomez didn’t even try, experimenting with rating tactics. I expect the intention is to be more aggressive here with the switch to Jaime Torres. He’s drawn well on the outside and I think he’ll be tough to beat if he can reproduce either of his first two efforts after being claimed by Natalia Lynch. 


I don’t deny that Dame Cinco (#5) is a contender in this $32k claimer, but she strikes me as one that will be a very short price and I don’t think she’s quite that likely to visit the winner’s circle. Her speed figures are strong, but they don’t make her some kind of standout. This is a drop in class out of some tougher spots, but she also got great trips in her recent races and in some cases took advantage of favorable circumstances. I don’t want to just concede the victory to her at a short price when I think there’s another viable contender in this field. Royal Meghan (#1) seems just as likely to win this race and she figures to be a more appealing price. This mare won at this level three back with a strong speed figure. Since then, she stepped up to face a much tougher field two back, and failed to run her race in the fog. Then last time she was against a track that was favoring inside paths, racing 3 to 4-wide around the turn and into the lane. She was beaten by today’s rival Mon Petit Shou (#7), but I thought Royal Meghan ran the better race that day. Now she’s drawn inside and I’m hoping to see Kendrick Carmouche give her a more aggressive rider, mimicking the successful tactics she used in October.

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