I hope everyone had a lovely Christmas and got to enjoy some downtime with family and friends. I took a bit of a break from writing or handicapping for the past few days to finish up some last minute baking and gift purchasing, but I’m ready to dive back in today. Aqueduct is open again and I have four races to discuss on today’s card.
But before we get to it, let me just mention that I added two new “Horses to Watch” to my list from the first week on the inner track (December 12th – December 16th). They are Reserved Quality, who made a wide closing move into the first race on Wednesday, the 12th, and Seventy Six, who I will discuss below since he’s running in today’s fifth race.
Race 1: Claiming $30,000-$25,000 at one mile and 70 yards
I have trouble believing that Irish Lion (#3) is going to be anywhere near his 3-1 morning line, but one can hope. Regardless of price, he looms as a very likely winner here and will probably give Ramon Dominguez his first win since his month-long vacation. This just looks like another very shrewd claim by Michael Dubb and Rudy Rodriguez. Irish Lion had already run a few races this year that would be good enough to beat this field, but you have to think that the new connections are going to move him up off his form for Bill Badgett. With enough speed coming from Pleasantfriday, Lindell A. C., and Sumo, he should get a decent pace to run into and I think realistic odds on him are around 7-5. Morning line favorite Romancing the Gold does have a chance, but I think he’s a bit dressed up off wins out of town and will find these waters a bit deeper.
$15 Win 3
Race 4: Alex M. Robb Stakes at 1 1/16 miles for New York-breds
Perhaps I’m reaching a bit here, but I think you can poke some holes in the favorites, Saratoga Snacks (#2) and Saginaw (#5). Don’t get me wrong; they are two of the best New York-breds we’ve seen race this year, but I think there is reason to at least entertain the thought that they might not be at their best today. For instance, where has Saratoga Snacks been for the past two months and why did he not post a single recorded workout between November 6th and December 16th? This is a horse who has had some physical issues in the past, so I wonder how fit he really is for this comeback. Saginaw, meanwhile, is trying for his 11th win this year, which would be a truly remarkable feat, but doesn’t it feel like Jacobson may be squeezing too hard for that last bit of juice? You can also make the case that he’s probably a bit better around one turn and today’s distance is really pushing the limits of his comfort zone.
I admit that while I did like my “Horse to Watch” Idle American (#3) very much upon first handicapping this race, I still was a bit hesitant to pick him on top due to how tough it came up. Then I noticed in perusing the NYRA website that Andy Serling had the guts to pick my selection over the favorites, so I guess I’m not completely crazy. (Note: I rarely check other handicapper’s picks prior to making my selections.) After all, Idle American really seemed to have gotten his act together in his two turf races book-ending that extended summer vacation. Then, last time, you need to take a look at the replay, because the back half of the field, including Idle American, was hampered by a loose horse that dropped its rider at the start. Idle American was dull that day, but there were extenuating circumstances so I’m choosing to throw it out. Now his dirt form is another matter, but he’s bred to do just fine over the surface and I think he’s more mature now than when he was competing here last winter. The price should be right so I’m taking my chances. I’ll bet him to win and use him under the favorites in case just one doesn’t show up.
$10 Win 3
$5 Exacta 2-5 with 3
Race 5: Maiden Special Weight at one mile and 70 yards for New York-bred two year-olds
In discussing my selection for this race, it’s necessary to go to the replay of the seventh race from December 13th and watch the trip of my aforementioned new “Horse to Watch” Seventy Six (#5). He was making his debut that day and was sent off at 26-1 by the low-profile and low-percentage Richard DeMola. The comment line for the race, “angled out, no bid” shockingly makes no mention of the trouble this horse had to overcome. After breaking a step slowly, he was quickly bumped and shuffled to the back of the pack. After her biding his time back there for the first half of the race, Wilmer Garcia started to urge Seventy Six to advance towards the leaders. Seventy Six responded immediately and ran up into contention, but soon found himself stuck in a pocket behind the #1 horse. He ran there in tight quarters for about a sixteenth of a mile before steadying sharply and dropping all the way back to last again. Wilmer Garcia went right to work and got him back in gear and he again picked up momentum and started passing horses. But yet again, the response was so quick that he didn’t have time to steer him off the rail and he run right into the back of the fading frontrunner. Finally, Garcia got him into the clear at the three-sixteenths pole, but the leaders had pulled clear by quite a ways and he had to settle for third.
The point is, this horse ran much, much better than the comment line and paltry 54 Beyer would suggest. For a first time starter to stop and start as many times as he did and going two turns no less, it’s apparent this horse has quite an engine. If he runs anywhere near as well as he did in his debut, he should beat this field.
$15 Win 5
Race 7: Starter Optional Claiming $50,000 at one mile and 70 yards
I know Minescape (#3) is moving up in class here and lost as the even money favorite versus $30,000 claimers last time, but he was so much the best that day. He was sent hard early by Javier Castellano to chase a blazing pace of 22 2/5 and 45 seconds before taking over as the field came into the stretch. Even then, it seemed that he might survive the bruising early pace and hold on, but Charlie’s Quest, who received a perfect trip, made a run from nine lengths back to nail him at the wire. Minescape had already been on my “Horses to Watch” list before that race due to his trip two back when he was stuck down on the rail at a crucial point in the running. I think he’s a bit better than his recent form makes him appear and the claim by Dominic Galluscio shouldn’t really affect him positively or negatively. I think he has a better chance to win than his main rival, Photon, who will probably be shorter odds.
I also must make mention of Praetorian Guard (#6), who may be in over his head here, but has a chance at a big price. After easily breaking his maiden for $16,000, he was thrown into a seemingly impossible spot versus optional claiming allowance company in his first start versus winners. Surprisingly, he actually ran quite well, rating in last early behind a crawling early pace before passing some horses to be third. He may have run even better with a fairer setup and he should get that today with speed likely coming from Terminus, Visionary Man, and Grand Contender. Basically, he appears to be rounding into form for a dangerous outfit and would not surprise me in a race where many of the main contenders have to deal with major class hikes.
$10 Win 3
$5 Win 6
[12:33 p.m. update] – Irish Lion really wasn’t worth the bet once he drifted down to 4-5 and didn’t run well after having every chance in the stretch.
[5:22 p.m. update] – I had to spend most of the day away from the television so that I could run some post-Christmas errands. It was probably for the best because I gave out plenty of bad opinions today and saw most of my wagers go up in flames as I just watched the card back. It’s really not worth recapping since none of my selections really did any running whatsoever, but I will say this: Later in the day as the weather took a turn for the worse, the track seemed to get very tiring and a little speed favoring. It’s something that is worth remembering when assessing some of the also-rans from today.
[5:54 p.m. update] – I don’t pay attention to very many of Santa Anita’s races, but I think we need to keep an eye on Footbridge, who just finished third in the sixth race for maiden two year-olds. He was making his debut and really put in a nice run around the turn before flattening out late. However, I’m especially interested in him because of his pedigree. He’s by Street Cry out of a winning Dubai Millennium mare. You don’t see Dubai Millennium in very many pedigrees, especially in this country, since he died after siring only one crop. The dam is a half-sister to Marietta, who won the Arlington and Iowa Oaks (G3), and is out of Minister Wife, who won the Demoiselle Stakes (G2). Minister Wife is out of Dowery, who won 13 of 25 starts and was a G1-placed router. Dowery is a half-sister to Reluctant Guest, a G1 winner who took 10 of 26 starts in her career and earned over $800,000.
Footbridge is bred to run all day and should really move forward off this initial experience. I know it’s early to start point out Derby horses, but this one looks to have a future and I’ll be adding him to my “Horses to Watch” list.