This foray into public handicapping is a bit more difficult than I had anticipated, but alas, I’m not too discouraged yet. As long as I come out of the races with some interesting observations to help me out next time, I’ll keep on going, and I certainly have plenty of them this week! But first, I’ll give a brief mention to some of the stakes action.
I, like everyone else, was extremely impressed with Union Rags’ return in the Fountain of Youth. The Beyer came back a decent 95, but the performance was so much more than that. He physically towered over the field and when Leparoux let him have his head around the five-sixteenths pole, the extension of his stride was especially eye-catching. I know that he was beating nothing, but Michael Matz has said repeatedly that this past weekend is just a first step on the path to the ultimate goal and I’d imagine his connections could not be more pleased. (I’m currently working on an article about his unusual back story, which I will probably be posting soon.)
It seems like we are going have two legitimate Derby contenders coming out of Louisiana this year. El Padrino disproved those naysayers who labeled him a slop freak and Mark Valeski showed that he really does want a route. Both of these horses were really giving their all and I always marvel at what a strong finisher Rosie Napravnik is down the stretch. Some jockeys can just carry a horse to the finish line and she is one of them. Unless a new face ships in, these two should dominate the Louisiana Derby as well.
As far as the other stakes action goes, I was not surprised by the dull effort from Royal Delta and am not going to read too much into it. She has shown on numerous occasions that she does not run well fresh and needs at least 1 1/8 miles to perform her best. Bill Mott seemed pleased, so I still think she has a big chance in Dubai.
Looking forward to this upcoming weekend, it appears that Aqueduct is putting together a fantastic card for Saturday. Hansen headlines what could be a huge field in the Gotham, Caleb’s Posse returns to face Calibrachoa and the brilliantly fast Emcee in the Tom Fool, and It’s Tricky starts her campaign in the Top Flight. I think I’ll probably be posting an analysis of the entire Aqueduct card, so look for that later in the week.
Now onto the new horses to watch and there are plenty of them, all at Aqueduct. Let’s roll out the bullets:
Friday, February 24th
- She’s not so much a horse to watch in the same sense as the others, but I just want to give a shout out to Judicial Leader who has completely turned her career around for Chris Englehart. She’s won five in a row and six of her last seven. In her win on Friday’s card, she was giving the field between 8 and 12 pounds and just galloped. She’ll probably need to step up in class soon, but she could be up to the task.
- The one other race I want to look at on Friday is the sixth. The track was playing extremely slow all day, and while the pace of this race may seem moderate on paper, it was comparatively very fast. That said, Hockley ran an absolutely huge race almost wiring the field on the front end. He’s as good a $30,000 claimer as you’ll find and is the horse that you really want out of this race, but also keep an eye on Ruffino, who finished third. He was also up close to that quick pace and, while he lost a bit of ground around the turn, was very game in the stretch to re-rally and get a piece.
Saturday, February 25th
- Four races to mention on this day. In the first, Cinder Cone was the 1-2 favorite, and while he got beat, everything was against him here. The two other speeds ganged up on him and he had to duel between horses for most of the race, which is never a good situation for a frontrunner. The winner rallied from the back of the pack and Cinder Cone was the only horse up on the pace who was anywhere around at the finish. Cinder Cone’s PPs after this race might lead you to believe that he’s gone off form, but give him a pass for this one because it’s not as bad as it may look.
- In the second, Big Budget was making what appeared to be a winning move up the rail when things tightened up and he became a bit reluctant to go through the hole. Ultimately, he may not have been good enough, but right around the eighth he was visibly struck in the face with the whip of the eventual winner. From there he quickly backed up and was beaten about 3 lengths. This was the case of a horse being intimidated out of going through on the inside whereas if he had been making his run on the outside he could have been involved in the photo.
- If I said that the pace Cinder Cone set in the first was fast, then the pace of the sixth race was supersonic. Itsagoodtendollars (#2) sped through a half in 46 4/5 pressed all the way by Bold Deed (#5). This was a race that should have set up for the closers (that was how I bet it), but these two pacesetters would not relent and Itsagoodtendollars held on to win by a head. The top two ran excellent races and they’re both going on the list, although do take note that Itsagoodtendollars was claimed by David Jacobsen and could step up next time. On a more sentimental note, I need to mention that the dam of Itsagoodtendollars is an old favorite of mine for her clever name: Goomada byda Sea (Sea Hero-Grand Girlfriend)
- In Saturday’s seventh race, a maiden special weight for 3-year-olds, there once again was a fairly quick pace, although nothing close to the one set in the previous race. However, the race was noticeably dominated by closers with the exception of Sky Colors (#8), who survived the duel and turned away multiple challengers to hang on for second at 33-1. He may be finding some decent form in his ninth start and could break through next time for some modest connections. Also, Shy Humor (#4) makes it onto the list for getting an atrocious ride. This horse is a frontrunner with 45 and change speed, yet jockey Cornelio Velasquez was nearly pulled out of the saddle trying to strangle him back behind horses early in the race. Look for him to turn back to a sprint next time.
Sunday, February 26th
- Race 5 featured a strong favorite in Rick Dutrow’s Sacred Success and she absolutely cantered to an easy win. The real race was for second and 61-1 shot Princess Reyana (#7) may have had a real shot at that if her jockey, Carlos Montalvo hadn’t pressured her into making a premature four-wide move around the turn. This is a horse who closed from far back to break her maiden for $35,000, and while she may not be good enough to win at this allowance level, she would be an interesting play when back in for a tag.
- In the seventh race, Ground Force (#4) was squeezed back badly at the start and from there was never really able to get back into the race He’s a horse who prefers to be on the lead or at least pressing the pace and has only really performed badly when not able to get into such a position early. Off his best form, he could be competitive at this level, albeit with a good break and an aggressive ride.