We’ve made it through winter on the inner track. There were some rough patches and lulls, but the opening of Aqueduct’s main track today is a sure sign of the coming spring and will hopefully usher in another fantastic year of top quality racing on the circuit. Today’s card holds a few possibilities, which I will outline below, but it’s also a difficult set of races and it was quite refreshing to have to delve so deeply into a few of them.
Aqueduct, Race 2: Maiden Claiming $35,000 at one mile for fillies and mares
I thought this race looked ripe for taking a shot against the favorites. The entry of High Inflation and Currency Union looks a little vulnerable to me and they are likely to go off as short-priced favorites. High Inflation was absolutely terrible last time when she had everything her own way and was still passed late by Chartier. Currency Union is a bit harder to dismiss, but I’m not sure just how strong her two races at Parx from last season are and she’s likely to really weigh down the price of this duo. Chartier is one that I could bet if she drifts up to the 5-2 or 3-1 range because I think she’s a very likely winner of this race, but I have on other idea.
Nothin But a Dream (#4) has faced tougher fields in each of her first three races and now drops to this easier maiden $35,000 level. In particular I thought her last race, won by Single Forever, was a very strong heat for that level and in watching the replay it’s clear the Junior Alvarado did not persevere with his mount after he realized she was beaten. She has speed the speed to get to the front early and has enough pedigree to handle the distance since her dam won twice routing on the dirt.
[EDIT: I won’t remove my pick, but the scratch of both halves of the entry makes this race much less appealing.]
$10 Win 4
Aqueduct, Race 3: Starter Optional Claiming $60,000 at one mile for three year-olds
I recognize that Kentucky Pie (#2) and Chapman (#3) are the two most likely winners of this race. I’m not a fan of Huletts, who really didn’t beat much last time and faces a much tougher task here, or Make Your Move, who got a perfect pace setup when he broke his maiden last time. Kentucky Pie has shown an affinity for this distance and has gotten along well recently with Irad Ortiz, Jr. Chapman has run faster races but is a bit of question mark at the distance. Nevertheless, he’s shown a good deal of ability in each of his three races and he is surely the horse to beat here.
I was impressed with “Horse to Watch” Run Run Forrest’s (#6) debut, in which he broke slowly, was very green, and still got up to win under a light hand ride from Cornelio Velasquez. He wasn’t quite ready to handle this starter optional claiming level last time, but I think the stretch out in distance may move him up. His dam, Best Vow, earned all of her winnings routing on the dirt and I remember Maggie Wolfendale pointing out prior to Run Run Forrest’s debut that he physically looked like a routing type. I’ll tentatively use him to win and with the two aforementioned top contenders in the exacta.
$5 Win 6
$2 Exacta 2/3 with 6
Aqueduct, Race 4: Maiden Claiming $50,000 at six furlongs for NY-bred three year-olds
Much like in the case of Run Run Forrest, I’m picking “Horse to Watch” Stone Rocks (#6) here based largely on his debut run. He was badly left at the start in that race and spotted the field a good five lengths early. Dr. Figawi went on to dominate that race on the front end, but Stone Rocks put in huge late rally in the stretch to miss finishing second by just over two lengths. He didn’t really fire in his next two starts, but last time the pace really held together and he didn’t have much of a chance to make a late impact. Today likely favorite Horatio should hook up with Shock Me Kaz at the start and will likely create a bit of pace for my selection to run at. I’m hoping the addition of blinkers and a return to the main track, which he ran so well over in his debut, will result in a win here.
$10 Win 6
Aqueduct, Race 6: Maiden Special Weight at six and one-half furlongs
I think you have to start with probable favorite Sandy’z Slew. His race at Saratoga last summer is good enough to win this and if he’s improved at all since then I think you can safely say everyone else is running for second. However, his subsequent race at Belmont was startlingly bad and you have to think something went very wrong in there for him to be gone for six months. The good news is that he’s not dropping in class and the works look solid enough, but I’m still going to take a shot against him.
That March 9th race that M P Joe, Thnxtomyuncle, and Private Irving A are coming out of really bears watching. M P Joe was in trouble just about every step of the way and finished up like a wild horse. He surely would have been best by open lengths in there with a clean trip, but assessing his chances today isn’t quite as simple as saying he’ll repeat that performance and win. That trip last time was caused by an inexperienced jockey who probably has no business riding on this circuit and that same rider is named again here. Another problem I have with M P Joe is that he has a history of not just breaking slowly, but giving his fields a two or three length head start out of the gate. Last time he got away pretty well, but that may have been a fluke and I’m not totally convinced he’s over his gate antics. His trainer is 0-for-? and this horse has had his chances.
Thnxtomyuncle (#4) didn’t run nearly as well as M P Joe last time, but based on his entire body of work, he’s the one that I want out of that March 9th race. He was behind M P Joe early, made a quick move to reach contention on the turn and then seemed to duck in and gawk for a bit early in the stretch before regaining focus when M P Joe ranged up outside of him at the eighth pole. It’s worth noting that Thnxtomyuncle really dug in during the final sixteenth and actually galloped out ahead of M P Joe. I’d also go back and watch Thnxtomyuncle’s debut because that’s the race that leads me to believe he has some ability if he ever puts it all together. After getting left at the break he put in a sustained run to be a good second to Chapman (see today’s third race), who has come back to validate the strength of that effort. Furthermore, the first, third, and fourth place finishers all won right back and improved their speed figures. Thnxtomyuncle feels like a deep closing sprinter who just didn’t get along with the tight turns of the inner track and I’m thinking the move to the outer and the extra sixteenth are really going to help him.
Bob and Jim (#6) is the other horse that I’d want to use on the win end. He clearly didn’t handle two turns the last couple of times, but his race three back is decent and he gets a switch to apprentice Pierre Tomas, who you can usually count on to work out a good, ground-saving trip. I think this horse is a bit better than he looks on paper and he’ll be a big price.
$10 Win 4
$5 Win 6
Aqueduct, Race 7: Optional Claiming $25,000/N1X at one mile for fillies and mares
A lot is going to depend on who, if anyone, decides to take it to Natalie Victoria early. Since stretching out in distance, her speed has been her best weapon and if she can shake loose she’ll be very hard to run down. That 10-length romp two back feels a little flukey since I don’t think she’s actually 15 lengths better than Belle Gallantey, but she was able to achieve that decisive victory by being aggressive early so I have to think the same tactics will be employed here. Silent Fright looks like the co-favorite on paper but I’m a little skeptical of her. We’d have to bet on her based on three races she ran over a year ago and we’d still be guessing if she can get a mile. That was not a very tough spot that she returned in at Gulfstream and she was just empty every step of the way. Her pedigree doesn’t give too many clues as to whether or not she’ll stretch out since her one notable sibling is Grand Adventure, who was competitive in graded stakes at distances ranging from 5 to 9 furlongs. I’ll be hoping to beat her.
Thisizsparta (#4) is perhaps the most intriguing horse in here. She ran two dirt route races as a young three year-old last season that would put her squarely in the mix, but she’s been plagued with problems since then. Her last feels like a prep since there was a low-profile rider named and she basically just ran around the track at a distance that’s too short for her. That recent seven furlong work is right out of James Jerkens’ father’s playbook and I’m guessing he means business today. I expect a major step forward here and, while I don’t know if she’s still the same filly we saw early last year, she’ll be a big enough price for me to bet her.
$10 Win 4 (WINNER; Payout: $158.00)
Aqueduct, Race 8: Optional Claiming $14,000/N1X at six and one-half furlongs
I think it’s pretty clear that the three main players are drawn right alongside each other in posts 3 through 5. Won Great Classic is an obvious contender based on his races two and three back and it should be noted that he drops down an allowance condition for today’s race. Master Cip has to also be recognized as a contender, but is a tougher call for me. His maiden win was certainly fast, but he wasn’t beating much and I feel like he was exposed a bit next time. I know he may not want two turns, but the horses who finished first and third there are nothing special. I’m also taking it as a negative sign that Rudy’s brother has named the inexperienced bug rider. He’s the main speed, but he’s going to have to last for six and a half furlongs.
I remember being very skeptical of Dehere of the Cat (#4) last summer right up through that second place finish to Saxophone Len. He always seemed to get bet and I thought he had received favorable setups in a few of his races. I didn’t like him at all stretching out to 9 furlongs last July, but he ran very well that day and it felt like he was finally putting things together. Given his pedigree, it’s hard to believe he really wants two turns, so I couldn’t wait to bet him turning back in that seven furlong race, but he just didn’t show up. I’m guessing something went wrong because he disappeared after that. Trombetta has good numbers bringing horses back from layoffs like this and Dehere of the Cat feels like a horse who was really coming around last year and may just be better than this group now. He should also be a bigger price than the two I discussed above.
[EDIT: The scratch of Won Great Classic won’t change my pick, but will severely hurt his price.]
$15 Win 4