Spring is here and we’re back on the turf at Aqueduct. I won’t lie to you and say it’s the most interesting card we’ve seen this year, but I’ve tried to select a few clever plays. I’ll be discussing all three turf races a bit further down.
Aqueduct, Race 1: Maiden Claiming $25,000 at six furlongs for fillies and mares
Bliss is obviously the filly to beat in here and if she runs any of her first three races she’s going to be very tough to beat. That said, it is a little odd that they’re dropping a filly who was bet down to 3-5 favoritism against the promising Calistoga at Gulfstream two races ago into this $25,000 claimer. You have to wonder if they think she’s moving in the wrong direction and just getting rid of some dead weight with horses coming back from Florida for the spring.
I have to bet “Horse to Watch” Queen Nine (#6) in this spot after seeing the trip she had last time. They chose a much tougher spot in which to run her back, but she was much the best in that return race. She was clobbered from both sides at the break and through her head up in resentment as she was completely shut off a few strides out of the gate. She spotted the field by a good five or six lengths early and made a rush up the backstretch to get into a stalking position. I know she wasn’t facing much, but it was an effort that probably would have earned a Beyer in the mid to high-60s with a clean break. That could be good enough to win here.
$10 Win 6
Aqueduct, Race 2: Claiming $20,000N2L at one mile
Adirondack Express and Secret Shifters should dominate the wagering here and perhaps deservedly so since they’ve run faster at this distance than the others in here. However, I think there’s another possibility in here who can jump up and run that kind of figure now that he’s getting to do what he’s bred for. Awesome Weekend (#1A) was regarded highly enough to run three straight state-bred stakes races a two year-old and now Contessa seems to be throwing in the towel after one disappointing comeback race versus much tougher company. I’m interested in him because his pedigree says pretty clearly that he’s supposed to be best routing. Two of his dam’s three wins came routing and he’s a half-brother to Awesome Bull, whose only successes came at a mile or farther. He needs to get back to his maiden win at Saratoga to take this, but I’m hoping Keiber Coa uses his early speed to secure a forward placing and perhaps even wire this field.
$10 Win 1A
Aqueduct, Race 3: Starter Optional Claiming $25,000 at six furlongs for three year-old fillies
When I first was looking at this race, I was getting ready to concede it to Like a Diva (#1) because her last two figures really make her a standout and she could have potentially run even faster last time after running four-wide all the way around the turn. However, after further consideration, I’m picking the slow-looking White Crane (#4). She just appears to be a shrewd claim by Linda Rice off of connections who really misjudged what they had first time out. I realize that White Crane only received a 43 Beyer and that she’ll have to run much faster today, but it’s well worth watching the race because it’s one of the best 43 Beyer winning performances you’ll ever see. After breaking about a length slowly, Irad Ortiz, Jr. wisely allowed her to settle near the back of the pack. She began to advance on the turn, but once she got into the stretch and he asked her to run, she absolutely took off. White Crane made up over seven lengths in the final quarter mile and won well in hand after swallowing up the entire field in the blink of an eye. You really have to wonder what her previous connections were thinking risking her for $16,000 since her dam was a multiple stakes winning sprinter and her sire is getting off to a promising start after standing his first season for a modest $7,500. With the possibility of a speed duel between Perfectly Anna, La Bella Chabella, and Boldchildsrevenge, I’m hoping White Crane can run them down late.
$5 Win 4 (WINNER; Payout: $22.25)
$4 Exacta Box 1/4 (WINNER; Payout: $41.20)
Aqueduct, Race 5: Claiming $16,000B at 1 1/16 miles on the turf
I’m very skeptical of all the favorites in here. Pocket Cowboys did run much better than it looks on paper in his final turf race last season, but you really have to wonder if this seven year-old is going in the wrong direction. David Jacobson really tried to lose him at Laurel a couple starts back and now steps him back up in class while sporting terrible numbers going from dirt to turf. I’m not biting. Tawaared would have been pretty scary if this race were run nine months ago, but where has he been? This distance has always been pushing him to his absolute limit and I could see him being a real underlay here with too many question marks attached for my liking. Finally, Rangey can win if some others don’t show up with their best, but I just don’t believe he’s as good as he looks on paper.
Let’s get the turf season started off with a bomb: I’m picking a real long shot in Kings Village (#2). While I’m loath to bet an inexperienced apprentice like 10-pound bug Dylan Davis, I like enough about this horse to swallow the possibility of a bad ride. [UPDATE: This horse got a hugely positive rider switch to Jose Ortiz.] His one turf race isn’t very good, but it came against much tougher competition. This horse is experiencing a bit of a renaissance for trainer William Younghans after missing an entire two years between 2010 and 2012 and returning at Penn National. In a previous life, he was a decent synthetic horse at Woodbine, placing in a few maiden races with Beyers in the low to mid-70s. It would make sense that he’d handle such a surface since he’s a full sibling to a turf winner. After being acquired by Younghans he was first placed way over his head in an tough optional claimer, but then ran decently in a dirt race at about this claiming level a week ago. With another step forward moving to a surface that he may handle quite well, I could see him competing with these at a huge price.
$10 Win 2
Aqueduct, Race 7: Starter Optional Claiming $16,000 at 1 1/16 miles on the turf
“Horse to Watch” Dynamic Host (#3) ran a lot better than it looks on paper last time when he endured a three-wide trip off the gold rail on March 21st. He’s just a stakes-quality turf/synthetic horse who happens to be eligible for this race against mid-level claiming types. Late Starter will probably be overbet based on dirt races while Julius Geezer and Kingofthebluegrass haven’t quite proven they are of the same class as the favorite. I know this isn’t that clever of me, but I just think Dynamic Host is going to win and anything above about 8-5 would be good value.
$15 Win 3
Aqueduct, Race 9: Maiden Claiming $20,000 at 1 1/16 miles on the turf
I suppose horses like Drivenbychocolate and Hyman Roth have a bit of turf pedigree and can win this race at relatively short prices, but this feels like a spot that’s ripe for a long shot to upset. Sayaprayerforme (#8) made his debut just last Wednesday in a tough NY-bred maiden special weight and really did no running. That feels like purely a prep for this turf race since this is the surface he’s bred to run over. His dam wasn’t a winner in just one start, but is by Dynaformer and is a half-sister to Black Rock Road, a turf stakes winner in Canada. That sibling has already produced a daughter who is stakes-placed on grass, so there’s plenty of reason to think that Sayaprayerforme should move way up on the turf. I’ll also make another small win bet on Hoppy Do (#11). While Touch Gold and Skip Away don’t exactly scream grass pedigree, this colt is out of a dam who won twice on the grass earning an 89 Beyer. Her other two foals are both winners and each of them achieved the majority of their success on the turf. The post positions aren’t great and each of these jockeys really needs to work out a decent trip, but they’ll be prices so I’ll take a chance.
$5 Win 8
$5 Win 11
I’ll also take a slight detour down to Gulfstream to discuss one other “Horse to Watch” who is running in the fourth race there.
Gulfstream, Race 4: Maiden Claiming $35,000-$30,000 at 1 1/8 miles on the turf
“Horse to Watch” After the Bell (#4) is getting an appropriate drop in class here after a couple of decent turf tries versus maiden special weight company. Last time he really didn’t run all that badly after getting away slowly and making a sustained run through traffic to finish fifth. Before that, in his turf debut at Aqueduct, the pace was agonizingly slow and Ruthless Alley was able to wire the field. After the Bell rated back in last early and cut the corner at the top of the stretch, but never had a realistic chance to make a late impact given the race flow. All the layoff lines concern me a bit, but he’s finally making two starts in a row with no break here. He’s bred to be a turf horse since he’s a full bother to Country Star, best known for winning a couple Grade I races on synthetic, but who was really more of a turf type, and is a half-brother to the allowance turf horse Liston.
$10 Win 4
[2:00 p.m. update] – White Crane ($8.90) backed up her visually impressive debut with a much faster performance today as she just got up in the final strides to beat favored Like a Diva. She got the pace that she needed, but, according to Maggie Wolfendale, is still a little immature looking and may still have more improving ahead of her for new trainer Linda Rice. The exacta paid $20.60.