Some people really get down on the inner track racing a Aqueduct, but if you follow it closely, there is much to be gleaned from watching races and usually many opportunities to make money. It’s not my favorite time of the year in New York, but I certainly appreciate it for what it is and I look forward to capitalizing on many a bad trip or poor ride through the winter. Opening day kicks off with a card full of head-scratchers. I have some horses that I like and some I’ve been waiting to bet back, but I don’t feel especially confident in any of these selections. That said, I think I’ve found the right horses to bet from a value perspective in many of today’s races. (I also don’t feel bad about taking a few shots after Indy Tune paid for these bets at Parx yesterday.)
Race 1: Claiming $30,000-$25,000 at six furlongs
I had a lot of trouble with this race the first few times I went through it. It’s hard not to keep coming back to the same three horses and those are Slash Five, Into the Fray, and Reserved Quality. I won’t argue too strongly with anyone trying to make a case of one of the others, but you need to have some reason to believe they are going to run the best race of their lives today to contend. Of the aforementioned three, I prefer Reserved Quality (#9) for the sheer fact that I can poke the least holes in his form. As an added bonus, he is probably going to be the highest price of those three as well. I know Slash Five looks like the speed of the speed on paper, but I just can’t make myself trust him at a short price. Yes, the field was tougher last time, but I wish he had shown some answer in the stretch after getting away with such slow early fractions. Into the Fray is a bit harder for me to dismiss, but I didn’t really like that he didn’t seal the deal at 1-2 odds last time. He should have had that race won and he just couldn’t put it away late.
Reserved Quality had the excuse of facing the streaking Big Business last time at a distance that is probably too far for him. I can also forgive him for his September 29th effort because that was a day when speed was really holding up through the first few races on the card. His race at Saratoga during the summer would easily win this and I’m not so sure he’s tailed off as much as his past performances would lead you to believe since that race.
$10 Win 9
Race 2: Maiden Special Weight at six furlongs for fillies and mares
The first time I looked at this race I completely dismissed the horse I ended up picking. But after closer examination and consideration, I think Stellabymoonlight (#7) can wire this field from the advantageous outside post. Bobby Zapper is the horse to beat in here, but I think her price may dip a bit lower than it should due to the lack of a clear alternative option. Glorious View has some speed, but lately she’s been more effective coming from off the pace. She’s also been a money incinerator. I know that it looks like Stellabymoonlight stepped up her game when she was moved to turf, but that doesn’t make sense to me. I believe in pedigree and this filly just doesn’t have any turf pedigree beyond what little she might get from Malibu Moon. Rather, I think she’s just a fast horse who was a little too speed crazy in some of her dirt races earlier this year and has learned to relax better over the summer. If you go all the way back to her one race as a two year-old, she actually ran pretty well on dirt to finish third to eventual Schuylerville Stakes (G3) winner Georgie’s Angel. She’s been working up a storm down at Belmont for her return today and I hope Channing Hill sends her from the outside and that this mediocre field never catches up.
$10 Win 7
Race 5: NY-bred Optional Claiming $35,000/N2X at one mile and 70 yards for fillies and mares
Well, if you’re following this blog, you’ll notice that I seemingly took the easy way out and just picked my two “Horses to Watch” in this very tough affair. However, it wasn’t really that easy for me and I considered many options before eventually settling on those two. I would not be the least bit surprised to see a horse like Lemon Splendor win and I can even make a case for the in form turf horse, Sally’s Dream (she’s actually bred more for dirt). But, that said, I think I’ve gone with the two fillies that will offer the best value as it relates to their actual chances of winning.
Mischief Maker (#7) has always been well thought of by her connections. That explains why they threw her into a stakes race as a maiden last winter. She’s had some ups and downs since then, but I think her last two races signal that she’s finally holding some good form. What’s that, you say? Her last race isn’t good? I beg to differ. This filly isn’t really a turf horse and she had every right to finish nowhere after being taken back behind a very slow early pace. The winner, Kibosh, exploded in the lane and won easily, but Mischief Maker actually put in a serious late run to just miss third in a photo. All things considered, it was one of her better races and I think she can win today with a similar sort of effort.
La Bella Valeria (#8) is the mysterious “Black Stallion” of this race (she IS actually a rare black thoroughbred, only a filly) and deserves some discussion. In case you missed her last race, CHECK IT OUT. She literally fell to her face at the start and probably spotted the field over 10 lengths right out of the gate. This is a filly who had shown tactical speed in previous races, but on this day she made a monstrous rally from an impossible early position to get up and win. I have no idea if she can route, but I do know that the 58 Beyer figure she received last time doesn’t tell the whole story, so she may present some value. I’ll make a small secondary bet on her.
$10 Win 7 (WINNER; Payout: $44.50)
$5 Win 8
Race 7: Optional Claiming $50,000/N2X at one mile
I’m hoping that the New York bettors continue their love affair with Big Business because I really don’t want him in this spot. He’s been beating up on inferior competition and must handle two turns today. I am very intrigued by David Jacobson’s other entrant, St Liams Halo (#10), who is the type of horse that this trainer routinely improves. It’s likely going to take a Beyer number in the mid-90s to win this race and St Liams Halo has already hit that mark three times this year. It’s no concern that he didn’t handle the turf last time and any slight improvement over his form from this summer will make him the winner. It’s also noteworthy that this is the second time I’ve seen Jacobson team up with shrewd claiming owner Roddy Valente. Their previous runner, Score Boyera, was technically declared a non-starter last week, but ran a winning race after being left at the gate. St Liams Halo needs to overcome post 10, but 8-1 would be a real gift.
Also, since I expect Big Business to get bet strongly, I think Sailmate (#6) may drift a bit higher in the odds than he should. Excluding my wild card selection to the outside, this horse is the most likely winner of the race. Recently he has run respectably behind Lunar Victory, Saginaw, and Saratoga Snacks, the three top New York breds racing this year. He always shows up and the one mile distance is perfect.
[UPDATE: St Liams Halo (#10) was scratched.]
$5 Win 6
Race 9: Maiden Claiming $16,000 at six furlongs
I need to discuss this race because one of my “Horses to Watch” is entered, but boy did it come up tough for this level. Horses like Superstructure and Towering are seemingly worth significantly more than $16,000, yet here they are being dangled for that tag. It is of some concern, but you can’t really ignore them either. That said, I’ll make a tentative bet on my “Horse to Watch,” Harvest King (#11), just in case the favorites fail to show up. Last time, when facing a much softer field at this same level, he was ridden into a tight spot down towards the inside and had to wait for room for almost an eighth of a mile before angling to the outside. I think he could have hit a Beyer of about 60 without that trouble, which would usually be good enough to contend at this claiming price. That’s probably not the case today, but I’ll throw $5 at him since the price should be pretty big and use him underneath the logical favorites in the exacta.
$5 Win 11
$2 Exacta 3-9 with 11 (Payout: $57.00)
[1:22 p.m. update] – Reserved Quality really ran a winning race in the opener, but got farther back than he should have early in the race before launching a crazy, six-wide move into the stretch. He ran his last quarter somewhere in the neighborhood of 23 seconds flat to get up into second, but couldn’t catch the winner who got a perfect trip up the rail. On the other hand, I was dead wrong in the second race about Stellabymoonlight, who just can’t run on the dirt.
[4:17 p.m. update] – That was a nice win by “Horse to Watch” Mischief Maker ($8.90) who reaffirmed that she is in the best form of her career and probably has more dates with stakes races in her future. My other pick, La Bella Valeria, didn’t handle the distance and bears watching on the turn back next time.
[4:30 p.m. update] – Harvest King ran a really nice race to be second to the heavy favorite, Towering, at 34-1. I just wish I had bet a little bit more on that exacta, which came back at $57.00 for my $2 wager. He surely won’t be as big of a price next time, but it looks like he’s really in the best form of his career right now.