Picks & Plays for Sunday, February 5
by David Aragona
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Race 1: 3 - 5 - 1A - 4
Race 2: 2 - 4 - 1 - 3
Race 3: 3 - 2 - 4 - 1
Race 4: 1 - 6 - 5 - 3
Race 5: 1A - 6 - 3 - 7
Race 6: 2 - 6 - 5 - 4
Race 7: 2 - 3 - 6 - 4
Race 8: 5 - 4 - 6 - 1
Race 9: 7 - 5 - 6 - 1
Race 10: 5 - 6 - 1 - 2
(Guide - WIN: recommended win/key horse at fair odds; UPGRADE: value horses I picked underneath to consider upgrading in vertical/horizontal wagers; USE: runners to include in vertical exotic wagers with Win horse)
RACE 1: TRYINMYHEARTOUT (#3)
Likely favorite Check Engine Light (#1A) showed some promise in her career debut last summer at Saratoga, closing belatedly for fifth behind the highly-touted Prank. She returned from the layoff in December and just didn’t seem comfortable racing inside of horses on the far turn, appearing to get discouraged after getting put in tight quarters in the stretch. That might not be an issue on the stretch-out, but I am a little concerned that race she’s exiting might not be that strong. The winner and runner-up returned to regress in their subsequent starts by 10 and 33 TimeformUS Speed Figure points, respectively. She’s a contender, but perhaps not the most appealing option at a short price. Balpool (#5) is a horse that I was interested in when she was entered to make her second start sprinting back on January 15, but she was a vet scratch that day. I’m a little concerned about the stretch-out to a mile as she now targets this one-mile maiden event instead. Her debut was better than the result indicates, as she got off to a rough start, breaking slowly and getting bumped. She actually did well to make some progress through the lane after racing a bit greenly, since that race didn’t feature much pace. Rob Atras doesn’t have the best statistics with second time starters, so I’m inclined to explore other options. My top pick is Tryinmyheartout (#3). She actually took some money on debut, going off at 7-2 in a race that featured plenty of interesting first time starters. She maintained contact with the leaders on the backstretch, but couldn’t keep up on the turn, dropping out of contention by the quarter pole. However, she didn’t completely throw in the towel, and was staying on well at the end with big, steady strides. I get the impression that added distance is really going to be this filly’s friend. The dam won going a mile and is a 3/4-sister to G1 Santa Anita Derby winner Honor A. P. Additionally, her second dam Hollywood Story was a multiple G1-winning dirt router. She gets a rider upgrade and I’m expecting a much better effort.
WIN: #3 Tryinmyheartout, at 9-5 or greater
RACE 5: PERCEIVED (#1A)
This race really centers around Warrior in Chief (#3) and whether or not you trust him to get back into form first off the claim for Michelle Nevin. This horse put forth efforts two and three back that would make him awfully tough for this field to handle. However, those performances came for Ray Handal and he hasn’t been as effective for other trainers recently. He is exiting a race where the pace came apart, so perhaps he’ll fare better here, but he really needs to turn his form back around. The logical alternative is Cool Quartet (#6). He’s steadily been dropping down the class ladder since the trainer switch to Rob Atras this winter. He was simply overmatched two back, and fared better at the $20k claiming level last time. That race completely fell apart, and he was arguably too close to the pace while also racing wide against an inside bias. He has a right to do better here, but it’s not as if even his best races at Finger Lakes make him all that formidable. I’m hoping that the Rudy Rodriguez entry is a slightly better price than this pair, because I like Perceived (#1A). He clearly has lost the career-best form that he displayed for this barn last summer, but dropping down to this low-level claimer could wake him up. He didn’t run well when dropped in for a $25k tag last time, but that was a significantly tougher spot than this. The top two finishers are both classy animals, and a few horses who finished further back in the pack have already returned to win with improved speed figures. I think he can fare better here, and it does feel like the Rudy Rodriguez barn is starting to emerge from its slump.
WIN: #1A Perceived, at 5-2 or greater
RACE 7: UNCLE MOONLIGHT (#2)
Likely favorite Sheriff Bianco (#6) looks pretty formidable based on his recent set of speed figures. Ever since switching back over to dirt for Linda Rice, he’s been on quite a run, reeling off three victories in a row before just missing at this level last time. Despite losing that recent race, he seemed to handle the step up in class, taking a good run at winner Pirate Rick, who came back to win again. The big question for him is the stretch-out in distance. His best half-sibling is Never Gone South, who was stakes-placed going a mile but was a bit better sprinting. Linda Rice is 10 for 44 (23%, $2.17 ROI) with non-maidens making their first route attempt on dirt over 5 years. He’s the one to beat, but there are some other viable options who are proven at the distance. Main rival Winit (#3) can be his own worst enemy, as he tends to break sluggishly from the gate and often proceeds to get rank soon after. Kendrick Carmouche had seemingly figured him out in his recent starts, but he won’t be riding on this occasion, just announced to be off his mounts for 3 to 4 weeks. It's also a concern that Kimmel now decides to add blinkers, which could work against a horse that already tends to get keen. I’m going in a different direction with Uncle Moonlight (#2). This 6-year-old had really come into form in the middle of 2022. He ran deceptively well off the layoff on Apr. 22 when against a track bias before breaking through his N1X condition with a commanding score on Belmont Stakes Day. That effort earned a career-best 119 TimeformUS Speed Figure, though he may have been a bit aided by the track profile early in the day. While it’s not a great sign that he went to the sidelines in his best form, his return last month for these same conditions wasn’t so bad. He contested an honest pace that came apart and battled back pretty gamely through the stretch for fourth. He has a right to do better second off the layoff and the price should be fair.
WIN: #2 Uncle Moonlight, at 3-1 or greater
RACE 9: WRITER’S REGRET (#7)
Golden Code (#5) could go favored here as he returns from a lengthy layoff for Todd Pletcher. This colt showed some ability here last winner when breaking his maiden by over 10 lengths before finishing a good third in the Grade 3 Gotham. However, he failed to handle a stretch-out in distance in the Wood Memorial and now hasn’t been seen since. Todd Pletcher is 15 for 68 (22%, $1.38 ROI) with horses off layoffs of 180 days or more going from routes to sprints on dirt. I won’t be surprised when he runs well, but I didn’t need to default to him at a short price. Another runner who could take money from a powerful barn is Tin Pan Alley (#2). He returns from a similar layoff for Chad Brown after putting in a dull effort as the favorite in the Mike Lee last year. I’m just a little skeptical of this runner’s overall quality, since the maiden race that he won last March hasn’t proven to be quite as strong as it might have seemed at the time. The “now” horse in this field is My Man Matty (#6), who steps up against winners for the first time. This lightly raced 5-year-old took a while to get to the races, but he ran into a very good rival on debut and moved forward last time when beating winners. He fits from a speed figure standpoint and merits respect. My top pick is Writer’s Regret (#7). He comes out of a race at this level last month won by Warrior’s Revenge, has won 8 of his last 9 starts. No one was in the same league as that rival, but I thought this 5-year-old battled on gamely for second after stalking the pace. That was his return from a layoff and he has a right to step forward in his second start back. He’s always most dangerous when he can make use of his early speed and he’s drawn well outside of his main pace rivals. Trainer Ralph D’Alessandro can fly under the radar at Aqueduct, and is 20 for 163 (12%, $3.80 ROI) on dirt here over the past 5 years.
WIN: #7 Writer's Regret, at 3-1 or greater
RACE 10: QUALITY STONES (#5)
Kant Hurry Love (#2) figures to go favored in this finale off her impressive 5-length victory at the N1X level here last month. The trainer switch from Christophe Clement to David Duggan is a lateral move, as both barns have plenty of success on this circuit. I’m just a little concerned that this filly will be as effective on the rise in class in a race that features more early speed. She generally has done best when she can get to the front, and that could be a difficult task given the presence of one key pace rival. Quality Stones (#5) is just naturally quicker in the early stages, and figures to be sent to the lead by the typically aggressive apprentice Jason Huayas. This mare ran a race against claimers three back that would make her competitive here, but she failed to reproduce that form when stepped up to this level on Nov. 20. She rebounded nicely last time, battling on gamely after setting a very fast pace. Now she’s returning from a brief freshening, first off the claim for Gustavo Rodriguez. This barn had been in a slump for the past several months, but it does feel like his horses have started to run better during the past couple of weeks. This horse is capable on her best day, and really hasn’t been in a high profile barn in some time. The other runners that I would want to use are Vallelujah (#1) and Khali Magic (#6). The former has been in solid form recently and will benefit from any pace that develops. Khali Magic can be a little random at times, but she’s capable on her best day and should benefit from drawing an outside post position.
WIN: #5 Quality Stones, at 7-2 or greater