As the track at Aqueduct has dried out over the past 24 hours, I’m hoping that the inside speed bias has disappeared along with the moisture. I had a good day yesterday, but I also was very fortunate that the jockeys of some of the horses I played wisely stayed on the rail. You could never have predicted the misfortunes of heavily favored Pinball in the seventh race, which left my pick, Sea to Sky, alone on the lead. And who would have guessed they’d leave the rail completely open for Junior Alvarado to come through with Score Boyera in the eighth race? It’s annoying to have to figure such things into your wagering since picking winners is hard enough as it is.
As usual, I’ve handicapped today’s races assuming that there will be no bias. By sheer coincidence I’ve ended up picking closers in each of the five races I’ll be discussing today, so obviously I’m hoping for a fair racetrack.
Race 1: Claiming $20,000 at six furlongs
There’s no denying that there is a lot of speed signed on in this race. Between Dorian Will, Hewitts, Schmooz Talker, and especially Crown the Chief, it is going to be a real scramble for the early lead. I think Crown the Chief is the best of those aforementioned horses, but he’s drawn widest of all and is going to have a very tough task ahead of him to clear early and hang on late. I’ll instead go to the closers, and one in particular–a “Horse to Watch” no less–who I’ve been waiting to be entered in a spot exactly like this.
Greeley’s Law (#9) looks pretty inconsistent on paper, but the truth of the matter is that he has been very unfortunate in many of his recent races. Going back to October 13th at Belmont Park, he broke slowly and was forced to rate behind a very slow pace for the distance. He never passed a horse, but it’s always difficult for a closer to make a run into a 23 4/5 second final quarter mile. After that they tried different tactics by hustling him to stay close early going six and a half furlongs, but that backfired. On November 25th he met one of the strongest groups of NY-bred N1X optional claimers assembled in New York this past fall and could not muster a rally. Last time, when he was finally facing a more realistic field, he may have been best at 20-1, but had to deal with another slow pace that allowed Cybertron to steal the race on the lead.
Now he gets a much needed drop in class and is back in with $20,000 claimers. The last time he raced at this level he sprung a 54-1 upset at Saratoga so his best races are certainly good enough to win. I expect him to be a long price again today and, with all the speed in here, he should have an excellent chance to close them down late. I’ll bet him to win and use him in the exacta with the other closer, So Scott (#8), who is being suspiciously dropped in for $20,000 after running well versus tougher prior to the three-month layoff.
$15 Win 9
$4 Exacta Box 8-9 (UPDATE: So Scott was scratched–increasing my win wager on Greeley’s Law)
Race 3: Claiming $15,000 at six furlongs
In my very first entry on this blog last winter, I added two horses to my “Horses to Watch” list to kick things off. One of those was Buckeye Heart (#1), who I thought had shown in his first career race that he had a bit of hidden ability. He has won four times in ten races since then, so I wasn’t completely wrong, but now here he is in for a $15,000 tag, the lowest since his debut run. I’ll be honest in saying that I don’t love him in this spot, but rather think that he will be a longer price than he really should be, which is reason enough for me to make a wager. In particular, I’m looking at his last race where he was beaten by today’s rival, Handsome Harbor. The pace was very slow that day and the speedier Handsome Harbor’s job was made even easier when the horse on the lead, Slash Five, was pulled up entering the far turn. That left Handsome Harbor in front with a clear advantage. Basalt, who was also up close, ran up on his inside and those two drew clear of the field at the top of the stretch. Buckeye Heart, meanwhile, had broken a bit slowly and was trying to rally from off the pace. He was beaten four lengths by Handsome Harbor, but I think, considering that circumstances were in that one’s favor, Buckeye Heart may have run better than it looks.
This race is probably going to be won by a horse who runs a Beyer in the mid-70s and that is well within Buckeye Heart’s capabilities. I feel that he is going to go off at longer odds than Handsome Harbor and some other horses I just don’t trust like Towering, Ancient Rome, and Bay Park Boy, so I’ll gravitate towards my old pal.
$10 Win 1
Race 5: Optional Claiming $25,000/N2X at one mile and 70 yards for New York-breds
This is a bit of a stretch, but I’ve been waiting for Quiet Favorite (#9) to show up in the entries again ever since his horrendous trip on October 12th at Belmont Park. I was hoping that he wouldn’t land in such a tough spot, but I need to throw a few dollars on him regardless. He’s a horse who has spent much of his career racing in spots that are just too tough for him (he actually has the distinction of being the only horse to compete in every leg of the Big Apple Triple this year). But by the same token, he has not had as many opportunities as some of the others to show that he really isn’t such a bad horse. I thought that last time he might finally be ready to come through with a breakout performance when dropped into a more realistic $30,000 claiming race, but circumstances were against him. He broke slowly in a race that was completely devoid of early speed and found himself running up four wide to try to attain position in a tight pack. After moving too soon and going wide around the turn, he had nothing left for the stretch as the leaders sprinted away.
I like that Leah Gyarmati gave him some time off after a busy summer and fall campaign and shows enough confidence to step him back up in class and protect him under the allowance condition. Still, I know that he would have to run far and away the best race of his life to take down this field today. However, the price should be gigantic so I’ll make a small win bet on him and use him underneath logical favorites Bigger is Bettor (#7) and Tug of War (#10) in the exacta.
$5 Win 9
$2 Exacta 7-10 with 9
Race 6: Maiden Claiming $50,000 at six furlongs for New York-bred two year-olds
I usually don’t like making picks in these two year-old maiden claiming races with too much conviction, but I just feel like G W’s Hammer (#5) is moving in the right direction and may be better than these. Last time, after being outrun early, he put in a four-wide rally around the far turn before staying on quite nicely in the stretch to secure fourth place. Since then, Alcolite, the second place finisher, came back to destroy a maiden field here on Wednesday, and the 6th place finisher, Mr. Lit, who rallied outside G W’s Hammer in that race, also came back to win. He gets blinkers today and should benefit from a speed duel between the two other main contenders, Readthesmokesignal and Burning Flame. I’m hoping the presence of the apprentice and low-profile trainer have him going off at decent odds.
$10 Win 5
Race 9: Maiden Claiming $16,000 at six furlongs
This one looks pretty simple to me. If Harvest King (#5) runs either of his last two races, he is just going to win. I know that his trainer is 0-for-21 this year and his jockey has been struggling a bit on this circuit, but that is only going to help his price. Two races back, I added him to my “Horses to Watch” list when he ran a lot better than it looks. He was literally stymied in traffic for about an eighth of a mile coming out of the turn and would have finished much closer to the winner with a clear run. Then last time, when I picked him at 34-1, he put in another solid rally behind Towering, who runs in today’s third race, despite being compromised by a slow pace. There appears to be plenty of speed in today’s race and if he works out a trip, I think Harvest King will run a Beyer in the 60s. No one else has proven themselves to be capable of that save perhaps Revere, who always seems to find at least one horse better than him. I think fair odds on Harvest King are around 2-1, but he may be double or even triple that.
$15 Win 5
[12:33 p.m. update] – The pace duel never materialized as Crown the Chief cleared early and set moderate fractions before pulling away to an easy victory. Greeley’s Law ran on well to be third after getting a very wide trip but was no match for the winner.
[1:29 p.m. update] – Another good run from a long shot pick, but 14-1 Buckeye Heart has to settle for third after getting a perfect trip and setup. On the bright side, the racetrack is definitely fair today.
[2:56 p.m. update] – Quiet Favorite quietly didn’t run all that badly coming through late to finish fourth at a whopping 79-1. He really wasn’t ridden all that aggressively and should be able to move forward off of this effort. I’ll keep an eye out for him next time he runs. One race later, G W’s Hammer didn’t run a step as the three firsters dominated.