We’re finally back racing at Aqueduct after a five-day break. There are plenty of intriguing races carded today, three of which feature “Horses to Watch” running back from my list. Let’s get to it:
Aqueduct, Race 3: Optional Claiming $25,000/N2X at one mile and 70 yards for New York-breds
There is no doubt in my mind that “Horse to Watch” Bigger Is Bettor (#1) has the most natural ability of anyone in this race. He has consistently run races fast enough to win today, but has been the victim of a couple of slow paces recently. Particularly last time, he never had a chance to be a factor after breaking slowly and ambling along in last place behind Readthebyline, who was setting a measured pace up front. Eddie Castro swung him wide at the top of the stretch, but the leader and eventual winner were able to cut the corner and opened up on the field.
The scenario should play out differently today. Readthebyline drew the outside post position and has to contend with Pearl of Wisdom and Fortitude for the lead. Even Cap the Moment, who stretches out from sprints, could wind up sending from the inside. After all, Bigger is Bettor doesn’t need a wickedly fast pace to run these horses down; he just needs an honestly run race. As for the others, Readthebyline has some ability, but he won’t have the advantage of running uncontested on the lead early. I don’t like Fortitude, whose recent win can be attributed more to Ramon’s ride than the horse’s merits, or Pearl of Wisdom, who doesn’t really want to go this far. Instead, in addition to betting Bigger Is Bettor to win, I’ll use him with my other “Horse to Watch” running here, Quiet Favorite (#4). Quiet Favorite doesn’t quite possess the ability of my top selection, but he’s a one-run closer who will benefit from the anticipated race flow.
$15 Win 1
$2 Exacta Box 1/4
Aqueduct, Race 5: Starter Optional Claiming $60,000 at six furlongs for three year-olds
Before making selections in this race, it is necessary to watch that January 16th optional claimer won by Chapman in which he beat Wild Finish and Leilani’s Ticket. Note right at the start that Wild Finish hops and has to take up. After that, it takes him about a sixteenth of a mile to get into stride and he was left far behind Chapman and the others early. In his prior two starts, he had stalked the pace, so this was not an ideal situation. Leilani’s Ticket doesn’t really run well here, but you can say that he may not have liked the condition of the racetrack. Chapman had a perfect trip and was able to just gut out the victory, but watch Wild Finish (#1) during the stretch run. Wild Finish indeed lived up to his name and made up a huge amount of ground in the stretch to just miss by less than a length. There is no doubt in my mind that he would have won with a clean break and I subsequently added him to my “Horses to Watch” list hoping he’d wind up in a spot exactly like this. He’s sitting at 8-1 on the morning line while Chapman is 2-1. I smell an overlay.
Yet there’s one other horse who merits discussion. Run Run Forrest (#2) may not be mature enough to handle horses like this, but he certainly possesses some ability. He was as green as can be in his debut and was able to make a run from last to get up to win despite the fact that Cornelio Velasquez was more concerned with preventing him from lugging in than actually riding him in the stretch. All of his dam’s wins came routing on the dirt so he may eventually want more distance, but he’s one to keep an eye on.
$10 Win 1 (WINNER; Payout: $51.00)
$5 Win 2
Aqueduct, Race 8: Optional Claiming $62,500/N2X at one mile for fillies and mares
The only reason I chose to discuss this race is because I want to play against Zero Yield. She’s won two in a row with two of the softest trips you’ll ever see. Now she has to step up and face some real runners and probably has to deal with pace pressure from Coco Ecolo. I want no part of her in here.
I think there are a couple of standouts in this race and they are the ultra-consistent Centrique (#2) and the aforementioned Coco Ecolo (#5). Ever since the light bulb went on for Centrique last September she has been a different racehorse. It’s remarkable to think you could have claimed this filly for $15,000 that day because she has now won five of her last six races and appears poised to take home another large check here. Her one loss in that span did come in her one try at this level, but keep in mind that the winner got to set a ridiculously slow pace that day and Centrique was really up against it from a dynamics standpoint. She handled this distance last time with aplomb and it’s hard to envision her not showing up with another solid effort once again.
Coco Ecolo lacks recency, but Kelly Breen has some good numbers bringing horses back from this type of layoff. That 59 1/5 second bullet five furlongs near the end of January signals that she’s probably ready to face these fillies. She doesn’t win very often, but her form is rock solid. She ran very well in a few similar spots over this track last year and I see her as a major player. She also has a tactical edge of this field since she will likely be the only one pressing Zero Yield early. I don’t think the pace will be that fast, but I trust this classy filly to put away the cheaper Zero Yield and have enough left to hold off most of the plodders late.
$5 Exacta Box 2/5
Aqueduct, Race 9: Starter Optional Claiming $60,000 at six furlongs for three year-old fillies
This is the female version of the fifth race. Let’s start by discussing Gritty Gal. She is probably going to be the favorite here and she can certainly win, but I see some red flags. Maybe she really is only worth $60,000, but after winning a N1X allowance last time, aren’t they setting their sights a little low in this spot? Couple that with the two-month layoff since that performance and I think it’s valid to wonder if she’s going to show up with her best effort today. I’ll be using her in multi-race wagers, but I think there’s better value to be had here.
It’s time to go to the replay center once again. Gee Linz (#7) wound up on my “Horses to Watch” list after her most recent effort, a sixth place finish in that January 31st NY-bred optional claimer. Gee Linz was positioned perfectly entering the turn, but apprentice Keiber Coa made an amateur mistake and over-committed to the rail coming to the top of the stretch. The leaders began to fade and Gee Linz was stymied in behind with nowhere to go. She still earned a 60 Beyer for that effort, but probably would have won without the trouble and earned a figure in the 70s. There is plenty of pace in this race and she should once again get a perfect trip from just off the pace. She also gets a mildly positive switch to the more experienced Eddie Castro.
$15 Win 7
[1:31 p.m. update] – It’s possible for a race to still have a fast pace, isn’t it? I actually give Eddie Castro a lot of credit for sensing how things might set up and sending Bigger Is Bettor up into a stalking position early. He really tried to make a run, but it’s tough to catch a horse who had such an easy time of it on the lead. Readthebyline is okay and will probably win one or two more races like this before the inner track meet is over. But once racing moves to the main track at Aqueduct and then Belmont, I’ll be interested to see if he can hold this form when the races are run fairly.
[2:27 p.m. update] – That’s more like it. Wild Finish ($10.20) got an aggressive ride and used the speed that was robbed of him at the start last time. Run Run Forrest will benefit from more experience and possibly more ground.
[5:24 p.m. update] – Things didn’t go as planned in the final two. Coco Ecolo was rated in the eighth so Centrique took up the role of pace presser. It didn’t really matter because no one was going to beat Royal Lahaina today. It looked in her last start like she might have turned a corner and that is indeed the case. She’ll be stakes bound next.
In the ninth race, Gee Linz had to go three-wide around the turn, but that’s really the only excuse I can find. Sweet Sway, yet another Dutrow-to-Rodriguez trainer change, ran easily the best race of her life and dismissed Gritty Gal at the eighth pole to go on to an easy victory. Gee Linz flattened out to be third.