I’m going to start off the day at Aqueduct by doing something a bit uncharacteristic for me: I’m advocating playing some likely favorites. Later on I’ll take a couple of shots and also discuss some interesting two year-old races which might produce a few horses worth following into stakes later this winter.
Race 1: Maiden Claiming $16,000 at one mile
I honestly do not see many scenarios in which Alpha Zumba (#5) loses this race. I would even venture to say his chances of winning are somewhere in the 80%-90% range, which would mean that fair odds on him are somewhere around 1-4. I doubt his price will drop that low, so anything over that number is an overlay in my book. You may be asking how I can excuse his most recent non-effort, but there is a valid reason to give him a pass. Watch the video and notice that Alpha Zumba, breaking from post nine, just never gets anywhere near the rail at any point in the running. It’s as if jockey Angel Arroyo thought he was still riding at Parx where going ridiculously wide is preferable. Alpha Zumba literally had to run five or six-wide for the entire run around the turn. That spells doom for any horse at Aqueduct and he predictably had nothing left for the stretch drive. The majority of his races are much better than that and I think the drop in class is more a sign of frustration that an indicator of any physical issues. After all, he is coming back in just 6 days, so what can really be wrong with him? I like the switch to Irad Ortiz, Jr. and feel comfortable that he can win this with or without the early lead. I won’t bet him to win unless his odds are closer to the morning line, but I will play the double…
$10 Double 5-6 (WINNER; Payout: $46.00)
using him with…
Race 2: Maiden Claiming $20,000 at one mile for two year-old fillies
…Everything Sweet (#6). I don’t see how you can reasonably make a case for anyone else in here. No, I did not forget about Bacheliere from Todd Pletcher’s barn, but I just don’t think she’s very good. Her dirt debut was one of the weakest maiden special weights run in New York this year and she finished last. Next time, on turf, it may appear that she closed decently on paper, but if you watch the race you’ll see that she once again did no running. Her printed running line is more of an illusion that anything else since the race completely collapsed late. The second place finisher that day, Melody Lin, has since come back to run two races that make me doubt the speed figure assigned to that November 14th affair. What’s worse is that horses like Bacheliere are always going to be bet solely because of the connections regardless of whether or not they could outrun you or me.
On the other hand, there are things to like about Everything Sweet. Her first race at Saratoga really isn’t that bad and came against much tougher $150,000 (!) claiming foes. Next time she apparently didn’t care for the turf and was subsequently dropped down into a realistic spot versus $50,000 claimers. The trip she got that day merits watching the replay. The head on reveals that she got slammed from both sides at the start and was soon shuffled back to last place. Instead of allowing his mount to use her natural speed to run up into the race, Alan Garcia seemed intent on maintaining his position at the back of the pack and took Everything Sweet under a strong hold. She fought him for most of the run around the turn and then had nothing left for the stretch drive. It was not a smart move by Garcia since the pace was very slow (they went the half in nearly 47 seconds). The stretch-out to a mile is a question mark, but she has been working well coming into this race and most signs point to her firing her best shot today. I’m hoping for the Irad Ortiz, Jr. double and will also bet Everything Sweet to win since the presence of Bacheliere should have her at reasonable odds.
$15 Win 6 (WINNER; Payout: $30.75)
Race 3: Optional Claiming $75,000/N1X at one mile and 70 yards for two year-old fillies
It’s a bit early to make any definitive statements, but there may be some promising prospects in this little optional claiming race. Kimono was purchased for $550,000 and is coming out of a small stakes so I’m guessing her connections like her a little bit. Meanwhile Princess of Sylmar earned her way back to the bigger stage of NYRA racing after crushing a field at Penn National by 19 lengths.
Neither of them would be surprising winners, but I saw something in Firenze Feeling‘s (#2) debut that makes me think she could have the brightest future of all. Check out the video of her debut at Laurel and focus on the run around the far turn. She was checked once around the three-eighths pole behind a tiring leader and then again quite severely at the top of the stretch. She was stymied in behind that horse for a good sixteenth of a mile before getting around her at around the three-sixteenths pole. This would be the end of many a two year-old first time starter’s race, but Firenze Feeling wasn’t done and she re-rallied to get up and win the race with something left in the tank. She comes from a nice family of mostly routing turf horses, but apparently gets enough influence from her sire, Macho Uno, to handle the dirt. I feel she would have won that first race by a wide margin without the trouble and I think anything above 2-1 would be great value.
$15 Win 2
Race 4: Maiden Special Weight at six furlongs for two year-olds
Clawback (#3) is obviously going to be very tough in this spot and it would be nice to see a horse with so much obvious talent finally break his maiden. He had the misfortune of running into Always in a Tiz and Vyjack in his first two starts and they came back to finish 1-2 in the Traskwood Stakes on Sunday. Vyjack especially seems to have a very bright future and his connections are talking about embarking on the Derby trail. That last maiden race also produced one of my personal favorites, Orb, who came out of a fourth place finish there to break his maiden going a mile next time out. So Clawback is a major contender, but I have a second horse who I’m interested in playing back and may be a bit of a price.
Some horses, no matter how much preparation you give them in the morning, are just not ready the first time they spring that latch in the afternoon. That was obviously the case with Circle City (#8) in his debut. The gates opened and he had absolutely no idea what was happening. He veered out, turned his head sideways and required much jerking of the reins from Ramon Dominguez to even get into full stride. That’s a disastrous start to any debut, but especially so when you’re competing in the fastest maiden race run in New York all season. Circle City trailed by over 20 lengths for the entire race, but in fairness, he never had a chance to catch up. Blinkers go on today, there’s no drop, and he draws a better outside post position. I’m hoping that this half-brother to the ill-fated G3 stakes winner Stormalory can get his act together today and contend here at a big price. I’ll mostly use him underneath Clawback, but will also make a small wager to win on him.
$5 Exacta 3-8
$5 Win 8
Race 8: Optional Claiming $35,000/N3L at six furlongs
This a confusing race and there are many contenders that I wouldn’t have much argument with, but I’m partial to one. Narrowing down the players in races like this is often a matter of assessing who has been keeping the best company lately. You have horses coming out of all sorts of races and conditions so it really helps to know the horses in each contestant’s running lines. I would say with some certainty that the two horses coming out of the strongest races are Take Down Two and Beggarthyneighbor. The difference between them is that Takedowntwo ran admirably to be third in a field of classy old handicap warriors last time while Beggarthyneighbor did no running in his return. Beggarthyneighbor can certainly improve today, but I would need more than his 3-1 morning line to take a chance on him.
I picked Take Down Two (#4) last time and I’m betting him back today. There just aren’t any Head Heart Hoofs or Frazils in this race for him to contend with so right off the bat I can say this is an easier field. Furthermore, I still believe that Bruce Levine is the sort of trainer who can get this horse to run his absolute best. He ran the fastest race of his 81-start career when Levine sent him to post at Saratoga this summer and an effort close to that performance will surely win this. As for the others: Driven by Solar is dangerous, but how much is David Jacobson really going to improve on Jason Servis? Starforaday seems to have run his best races earlier in the year and was basically given away by Jacobson last time, so I don’t want him. Maan is certainly interesting, but I’m not quite sure that he’s actually this good. Take Down Two is the horse for me and if I can get that 5-1 morning line, I’ll be a pretty happy guy.
$10 Win 4
[12:35 p.m. update] – As predicted, Alpha Zumba ($4.40) took a clear advantage early and never looked back winning as much the best. I ended up betting him to win since right up until post time he was about three times the price I thought he should have been. Now let’s try to get the second half of the double.
[1:08 p.m. update] – Well I don’t usually play favorites, but this was a case in which I thought I saw two very likely winners in the first couple of races. Everything Sweet ($4.10) just barely validated my chalky gamble by getting up to beat Madison Av. Jo Jo in the final strides after a rail-skimming ride. The Irad Ortiz, Jr. double came back at $46.00 for my $10 wager.
[2:05 p.m. update] – Well, Firenze Feeling completely failed to show up as Pletcher ran one-two. But the real story is the impressive final furlong of the winner, Princess of Sylmar. She absolutely exploded once Rajiv Maragh got her into the clear and ran her final 70 yards in 3.79 seconds. After some quick calculation, that means she crossed under the finish line going approximately 38 miles her hour. Now that’s really smoking at the end of a route race. I hope they keep this one around for the winter to compete in some of the winter stakes for three year-old fillies.
A race later, Clawback just toyed with a field of maidens. My stab Circle City probably needs more ground or may just not be all that good. Clawback, on the other hand, is a serious racehorse. He accomplished the unusual feat of running every quarter of this race faster than the previous one culminating in a 22 4/5 second final two furlongs.
[4:25 p.m. update] – The early scores and a small flyer on Summer Flick in the finale just barely made it a winning day. Take Down Two failed to fire his best shot in the eighth race, although going three wide all the way around the turn may not have helped on a day when it was preferable to be closer to the rail. Odds-on favorite Driven by Solar hung like a chandelier as the cheaper Pleaseandthankyou somehow held on first time out for Randi Persaud. I’ll have to watch these races back later in the week to see who was hurt most by wide trips.