I’ll be primarily analyzing Aqueduct today, but will take a brief excursion to Gulfstream to discuss their ninth race, which features two of my “Horses to Watch.”
Aqueduct, Race 2: Maiden Claiming $16,000 at one mile and 70 yards for three year-olds
This is one of those instances where I hope Eric Donovan’s morning line odds are accurate. On paper, it looks like Proud Day Indeed really stepped up his game going a route of ground last time and is the horse to beat in here. Maybe I’m just bitter because I needed him to get it done last time, but I thought he ran terribly. I realize that the winner was helped by a little bit of that Ramon magic, but Proud Day Indeed had no response for him when it mattered and was really struggling to finish in the final furlong. If he’s anywhere near those even money odds, I want no part of him. I’m also skeptical of Closing Date, the clear second choice. I suppose he can improve with the gargantuan class drop, but he just did no running in that debut.
I’m going to hope that this field runs the sort of speed figure that it usually takes to win a $16,000 maiden claimer here (something in the 40s, probably) and will try Paddy Kunuckles (#3). His past performances aren’t flashy, but he’s fairly consistent. It’s also worth noting that the one time he tried a route of ground it was against the toughest field he’s faced by quite a ways. Now he drops to the lowest claiming level of his life and has Irad Ortiz, Jr. back in the saddle. I don’t foresee the two turns posing a problem at this level since he has enough pedigree to suggest he’ll handle it. His sire, Friar, who I’m not familiar with, is a half-brother to Pulpit, and his dam is a half-sister to Successful Appeal, who was a stakes winner going a mile and a half. His morning line odds would present excellent value.
$10 Win 3
Aqueduct, Race 4: Maiden Special Weight at one mile and 70 yards for New York-breds
You may have read that I was extremely dissatisfied with Cornelio Velasquez’s ride on Bob and Jim (#5) last time and subsequently added him to my “Horses to Watch” list. He had the potential to be a major pace player that day, but Velasquez wrangled him back and allowed the eventual winner to waltz through excruciatingly slow fractions. I’m not exactly pleased to see a rider who is known for being even less aggressive on his back today, so I’m hoping the trainer gives instructions to send him to the front here.
Look, if you’re a follower of New York racing and seriously want to bet Potus or Papa Tom, be my guest. Their form is proven and if it’s only going to take a number in the mid-60s to win this race then they can probably do it. I’m hoping that someone jumps up and runs well enough to beat them and the only horse who I believe to be capable of that is Bob and Jim. He obviously needed his first race back from the layoff when beaten by Papa Tom going a sprint distance and then was never given a fair chance last time after fighting his rider for half the race. He’s got plenty of pedigree to negotiate today’s distance since his dam is a full-sister to a multiple graded stakes placed turf router. He’s likely the third choice here at best and I think, with the right sort of ride, he’ll win. [Update: I’m happy to see the blinkers are coming off Bob and Jim. He was a bit too keen last time.]
$15 Win 5
Aqueduct, Race 7: Maiden Claiming $35,000-$25,000 at one mile for three year-old fillies
I see three horses who can win this race, but I believe one of them may get lost on the tote board and go off a higher price than she really should. High Inflation and Al’s Rosie have shown themselves to be competent going a route of ground on the dirt and will likely garner much of the play here. Yet I consider Pure Afleet (#8) to have just as good a chance and she’s sitting on the morning line at 10-1. This filly has only raced over the dirt once in her debut and she faced much tougher competition than many of the others have dealt with. Kiss the Lady and Elghayoor, who finished first and second that day are two of the favorites in Saturday’s Dearly Precious Stakes. I think the stretchout in distance can only help her since she’s a half-sister to a horse who won 3 of 16 route starts while recording an 87 Beyer top. Nick Canani has won with 7 of the 13 starters when adding blinkers in the past year and I think this filly looks ready to wake up today.
$10 Win 8
Aqueduct, Race 8: Optional Claiming $25,000/N2X at six furlongs for New York-breds
I certainly will not be surprised if B Shanny, Maggie’s Hadder, or Isn’tlovejustgrand (who I won with last time at an overlaid price) wins this race, but I have a different idea. Ground Force (#4) is a perfect example of the type of trainer change that you’re supposed to bet. He’s a horse who has on occasion run well enough to win this race but has been plagued by inconsistency. David Jacobson takes horses like this and gets them to put forth their best efforts for him right off the claim. I realize that Ground Force hasn’t run a race that would even hit the board here in quite some time, but I think there’s a possibility that he still has it in him. He’s a horse who needs to be forwardly placed so I’m happy to see Jacobson give a leg up to the fairly aggressive apprentice. This was a shrewd claim and I think it’s going to payoff–hopefully at a nice price.
$10 Win 4
Aqueduct, Race 9: Claiming $12,500B at six furlongs for fillies and mares
If you’re waiting to hear my clever reasoning behind picking Miss Libby (#2), I don’t have it–well, not quite. I didn’t pick her name out of a hat; I just believe she fits at this level and has been finding some decent form recently that should be competitive in most races like this. Now perhaps this didn’t come as soft as most of the races do at this level since we have Skiddles n’ Bob and Mizzen Donald showing up here. But I think you’re kidding yourself if you expect Mizzen Donald to show up with one of her Beyers in the 70s here. I think those days are largely behind her and I don’t like that Linda Rice is throwing her into an even easier spot right off the claim. She’s also going to be closing into a pace that probably won’t be all that fast given that Skiddles n’ Bob is the lone speed. As for Skiddles n’ Bob, I just don’t trust her to win. She seems to have lost any of the finishing punch that she once possessed.
Miss Libby needs to run a lifetime best to win this race, but I think she may be cycling up to that. Last time she had no chance going a distance that is a little too far for her and Joe Aquilino sports an enticing percentage and ROI with turnbacks such as this. Pierre Tomas, as I’ve noted previously, has been riding quite well lately and I expect her to get a perfect trip just in behind the speed before pouncing in the stretch. We’ll see if she’s good enough, but the price should certainly be right.
$5 Win 2
Now onto the ninth at Gulfstream:
Gulfstream, Race 9: Optional Claiming $80,000/N3X at one mile on the turf for fillies and mares
Baffle Me (#3) and Pianist (#4) made it onto my “Horses to Watch” list after being involved in that torrid pace in the Stardusk Stakes at Aqueduct last fall. Pianist put forth a monstrous effort to still be around battling it out at the finish of that race after an overly aggressive ride form Javier Castellano and I see no indication that she isn’t holding the good form that she displayed over the summer. Baffle Me gets a free pass for that race after getting bumped at the start and completely blowing the first turn. Joel Rosario unsuccessfully tried to rate her that day and reverted back to the tactics that work for this filly in her most recent start at Gulfstream. She set a solid pace that day over a slow turf course and did well to hang on until the final sixteenth of a mile. The cutback in distance should be perfect for her and I think they’ll all be chasing her into the stretch. The Gulfstream turf course has been kind to horses that have some tactical speed and can stay close to the rail and I can only see that helping my selections.
I’ll use each of these two to win and box them in the exacta.
$10 Win 4 (Payout: $27.00)
$5 Win 3
$5 Exacta Box 3-4 (Payout: $111.50)
[1:58 p.m. update] – I’m taking Bob and Jim off the list. That was pitiful. Junior rode him perfectly and he had no response.
[4:49 p.m. update] – My “Horses to Watch” Pianist ($5.40) and Baffle Me both made up for a so-so day at Aqueduct by dominating the ninth at Gulfstream on the front end. Baffle Me ran an ambitious race by going out and setting quick fractions, but she was good enough to hold on for second and complete the exacta ($44.60) behind Pianist.