Before discussing the new additions to the “Horses to Watch” list this week, let me mention an apprentice to watch at Aqueduct. There are many riders at this meet who I’m reluctant to rest my faith (or money) on, but lately there has been a unique opportunity presenting itself for some young riders. With Ramon Dominguez and Rajiv Maragh out with injuries, there is a real void at the top of the jockey standings. The Ortiz brothers are trying to fill those spots right now, and while they’re promising riders, they’re hardly a replacement for Ramon.
Pierre Tomas has been one of those riders that I’ve been pretty reluctant to bet since he started getting mounts in New York. He still has not won a race at this meet, but I’m starting to see flashes of potential in this seven-pound bug that will make me less reticent to bet on the horses he rides in the future. Go and watch any of his rides from this past week or two at Aqueduct and you’ll find that, despite the fact that he didn’t ride many horses with a real chance, he still did a lot of things right. He’s been hustling his mounts out of the gate and doing his best to try and get to the rail, which is more than you can say for a lot of the journeymen around here. He still needs to work on his finishing technique in the stretch, but even that’s improving. Go and watch the second race from January 26th and you’ll see him guide Rocky Field from the outside post down to the rail and cut the corner at the top of the stretch. He came through inside the leaders and smoothly switched to left-handed whipping in the stretch to coax his mount to drift out to meet the eventual winner and then back to right-handed encouragement to ask for his best in the final sixteenth. They battled to the wire and he lost by a head, but it’s hard to imagine anyone else giving that horse a better chance of winning. Of course I’m not advocating blindly betting this guy, but if I find myself making a case for one of his mounts I certainly won’t hesitate to try and capitalize on this observation before others catch on.
Now onto this week’s “Horses to Watch.” There were only two days of racing at Aqueduct, but I’ve found four horses who were compromised by less than ideal trips and/or rides:
Undrgroundregulatr (January 26, Race 1)
This horse basically needs the lead to run one of his better races and thus was immediately put at a disadvantage when he was off slowly. Matters did not get any better when Ganador, who on paper looked to be one of many speeds, was able to shake loose early. Mike Luzzi tried to do the right thing by gradually allowing Undrgroundregulatr to slip through along the inside into a stalking position around the turn, but things didn’t quite work out. Mike Luzzi had his mount’s head cocked to the left all the way around the turn trying to get him to squeeze through a tight spot, but Undrgroundregulatr would not comply. Luzzi instead swung him out for the stretch drive and he actually responded well to run up into second, but Ganador was long gone. This is the second time in a row that he’s been compromised by a slow start, so there is a concern that it’s becoming a habit. Yet for now I’m going to view it as a coincidence since he’s never really had documented gate troubles in the past. He should be winning races like this with a clean break and the strong run he put in here on Saturday proves that he’s in fine form. I want to bet him back in a spot like this next time.
Bolt Action (January 26, Race 3)
This colt was sent off at 7-5 in his debut, which may have been partly due to the fact that Ramon Dominguez was riding, but probably indicated that he was well meant. After getting completely clobbered at the start he was left at the back of the pack with essentially no chance to make up a ground on the slow pace that was developing in front of him. Perhaps he was supposed to do better first time out, but his pedigree suggests that he should really blossom going two turns. His dam has not yet produced much, but she’s a half-sister to the dam of stakes winners Shared Property (Arlington-Washington Futurity) and Whiskey Romeo (undefeated listed stakes winner). If you dig deeper into his second family there is even more concrete route pedigree. Bolt Action’s maternal granddam is a half-sister to Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Epitome, who was the dam of multiple graded stakes winning millionaire router Essence of Dubai (incidentally by Pulpit, Bolt Action’s damsire). Maggie Wolfendale even noted in the paddock that Bolt Action is physically built like a horse who wants to stretch out.
On this day, Bolt Action (#3) broke well, but that was about all that went right for this son of First Defence. Cornelio Velasquez took a hard hold of him going into the clubhouse turn in an attempt to get him to stalk just off of Able Baker Charlie’s flank. That’s when things went awry. Able Baker Charlie started to drift away from the rail and likely lost sight of it due to the large cup on his blinkers. He bolted towards the outer rail taking Bolt Action and eventual winner, Transparent, with him. While Transparent got carried very wide, he didn’t really have to take up and was able to work his way back into contention on the backstretch. Bolt Action, meanwhile, got squeezed between those two in the incident and had to steady sharply, losing many lengths and any chance in the race. This ironically named ridgling has been very unlucky in both of his starts and may actually have some ability. There’s really no way to know how good he is, but I’ll certainly be betting him next time before we find out.
Odea (January 27, Race 5)
Odea (#5) appears to be a horse with a lot of ability, but he didn’t get a chance to show that on Sunday. His jockey, Jose Ortiz, is a young rider who has shown a great deal of promise, but trips such as this remind us that he still has some lessons to learn. This four year-old gelding broke his maiden very impressively in fast time in late December and was well bet to make it two in a row here. His debut effort was already faster than what most of his competition was capable of running and he figured to improve since Jimmy Jerkens usually doesn’t have them fully ready first time out. Odea broke first out of the gate was perfectly positioned to go on and wire the field much as he did in his debut. But once Cornelio Velasquez on Flying Zealous also asserted some early initiative, Ortiz immediately conceded the lead and wrangled Odea back into a stalking position. This would have made sense if Flying Zealous was being handled aggressively, but Ortiz allowed Velasquez’s mount to mosey along on the lead through a half in 47 1/5 seconds as Odea, now in a pocket on the rail, waited eagerly in behind him.
I think Jose Ortiz just badly misjudged the pace, because even when he got out at the top of the stretch it was as if he was just expecting Flying Zealous to come back to him. He confidently handled Odea, barely asking him for run before the eighth pole, at which point he realized that the leader was not slowing down. Odea ran on well to only lose by a length even though the winner blazed the final two furlongs in 23.40 seconds. There’s no doubt in my mind that if he had been allowed to use his natural early speed he would have won. I’m not sure that this horse will offer much value next time, but I think there are stakes in his future.
Bob and Jim (January 27, Race 7)
Cornelio Velasquez is a very good rider, but his major flaw is that sometimes he will come out of the gate with a set-in-stone plan and not adapt to circumstances. Bob and Jim (#1) broke well and obviously wanted to go to the front with the addition of blinkers, but Cornelio was intent on taking him back. Bob and Jim may not have been able to beat the winner anyway, but it would have been nice if his rider had given him a chance. Velasquez allowed favored Cousin Michael to waltz through a half mile in 49 and change and six furlongs in nearly 1 minute and 15 seconds. Bob and Jim came up empty at the top of the stretch, but I’m hoping that was more due to him fighting the restraint early than not getting the trip. The pedigree to go long is definitely there since his dam, by Dynaformer, is a full sister to multiple Grade 3 winning turf router, Sitka. I’d like to bet him back going two turns, but perhaps with new tactics or blinkers removed.