It’s a pretty good card at Aqueduct today and I spot some long shots, especially near the end of the card, that either have big chances to win or will finish nowhere. Especially in the seventh and ninth races, we’re presented with a couple of opportunities that are unique to Aqueduct in the spring in terms of New York racing. That is, young horses who are turf meant, yet have been forced to race on the dirt all winter and now get their first chance on what will likely be their preferred surface. We’ll get to it today with a couple of logical horses to start us out:
Race 2: Maiden Claiming $35,000-$25,000 at six furlongs for fillies and mares
I suppose you could say that the horses who have been running at this level are up against it here since there are two capable class droppers in Turboencabulator and Blue Ballerina. Yet I think that one of the fillies who ran at this level last time showed that she may have lot more to offer. It’s really worth going back and watching Bounty Pink’s (#2) last race (replay). What the past performances don’t tell you is that she actually showed very good speed in the first furlong and was running right alongside Gravitate. Yet, for some reason, probably due to greenness, she lost her action heading into the far turn and gave up about 8 or 9 lengths. Seemingly hopelessly beaten at the top of the stretch, Keiber Coa really got into her and she rebroke in the stretch to come with a very good late run to nearly nail Gravitate for second, making up 10 lengths on that foe in the final quarter mile. She was claimed out of that race by Steve Asmussen and now gets a great rider switch to Castellano. If she actually has her mind on running for the entire race, she should be very tough to beat.
$10 Win 2
Race 5: Starter Optional Claiming $12,500 at one mile
It’s tempting to say that this race is easy because Drink With Pride appears to be the lone speed on paper and will probably appreciate the turnback to a one-turn mile. However, he really did not run well last time. and I’m concerned that he’s going in the wrong direction. March 21st was a day when staying on the rail gave horses a distinct advantage and Drink With Pride rode the rail the entire way and still couldn’t hold off Dynamic Host, who endured a three-wide trip the entire way. Dynamic Host (#4), who I placed on my “Horses to Watch” list based on the merits of that performance, subsequently returned in a turf race where he really was never given a chance. The pace was ridiculously slow and he was rated near the back of the pack. Wearing down foes with his stamina is his game, not a sprint to the finish, so he could make no impact late.
I’ll use Dynamic Host, but only in the exacta since I wonder if a one-turn mile is really what he wants. I will instead turn to another “Horse to Watch,” Sacred Ground (#1), who also happens to be entered here. I know the pace scenario appears to be against him, but he should be the biggest price out of the three main contenders–which includes Dynamic Host and the logical Divine Child–and I think he’s just as good as each of them. Two races back, he was blocked at a critical point in the stretch when trying to mount a rally from far back and last time he was an unlucky loser to a very game Itsagoodtendollars. Irad Ortiz, Jr. has been riding well lately and I’m hoping he can use this horse’s turn of foot to blitz this field in the stretch despite a moderate to slow pace.
$10 Win 1 (WINNER; Payout: $38.50)
$4 Exacta Box 1/5 (WINNER; Payout: $33.60)
[EDIT: Dynamic Host was scratched. I’ve subbed in my third choice, Divine Child (#5) to round out the exacta.]
Race 6: Claiming $12,500N2X at six furlongs for fillies and mares
I’ll admit that at first I was going to pick Gee Linz, since she’s been facing better horses recently and gets a huge rider switch to Rajiv Maragh. However, upon further consideration, I didn’t love her and it’s not like she’s going to be a great price so I started looking elsewhere.
I’ve landed on a pretty ridiculous horse in Goonsquad (#1). Hear me out with this one. In her debut at Monmouth last summer she didn’t run badly. Dismissed at 19-1, she carved out fast fractions and held on late against $20,000 claimers in an effort that wasn’t that much slower than she’d have to run to win a race like this. For her first start against winners she was stepped up to face $40,000 animals and she was predictably buried after flashing brief speed. Next time, despite a drop in class, it was more of the same and she was put away for the rest of the year. She returned at Aqueduct in February now in the barn of Bill Badgett and you’ll immediately notice that her early speed was not on display. However, she had an excuse, as you will see on the head-on replay. She was slammed from both sides at the break and then just could never get into the race after not making the front. As I flip through the PPs for this race, I don’t see a confirmed frontrunner and I’m wondering if Goonsquad can just blast off from the rail and hold sway late. It’s a tall order for a filly who hasn’t put together a competitive race in some time, but the price will be right.
$5 Win 1 [EDIT: Goonsquad was scratched.]
Race 7: Maiden Claiming $35,000-$25,000 at 1 1/16 miles on the turf
Most handicappers would have to agree that there are two main contenders in this race: Catch the Blues and Puget Sound. I understand the thinking behind supporting Catch the Blues since he was mired in traffic in the stretch last time and ran on well late, but I’m picking my “Horse to Watch” Puget Sound (#1). At first glance one might be tempted to dismiss him based on his dull turf effort here last December, but I think he’s a different racehorse now. Rememeber that he had also showed nothing in his first start on the dirt, so perhaps he was just not mentally ready to be a racehorse last year. In his return on March 21st, he had a very difficult trip having to race wide nearly the entire way on a day where there was a strong rail bias. He continued to run on well through the stretch in a performance that would make him very tough in here if he’s able to duplicate it on the grass. There’s pedigree to suggest he may, since, although his dam was a dirt horse, she’s from a female family that has produced plenty of turf winners. I think he’ll be a better price than Catch the Blues and he’s the one I want. (I’m hoping his stablemate does not draw in because that one will certainly drive the price down.)
I also need to make a smaller secondary bet on Spectacular Act (#9), whose dirt form is underwhelming but is out of a dam who earned all four of her wins on the turf. She obviously got some turf pedigree from Spectacular Act’s damsire, Signal Tap, but the female side of her pedigree also contains some turf since her granddam was a multiple stakes winner on turf who placed in graded stakes on both sides of the Atlantic. This horse’s dirt races are decent enough and there’s a chance he could move way up with the surface switch.
$10 Win 1
$5 Win 9
Race 9: Maiden Special Weight at 1 1/16 miles on the turf for NY-breds
I’m selecting another pair of long shots to end the day. Obviously Charity Reins and Knock Quietly made sense, but the former ran against a field of questionable quality in his one turf start and if the latter couldn’t win last time it’s hard to believe he’ll ever find himself in the winner’s circle.
I’ve landed on Funky Cat (#10) as my top selection. He hasn’t shown anything yet in his dirt races, but there is enough turf pedigree on the female side of his pedigree to suggest he may be getting on his preferred surface today. Although his dam, Morning Gallop, was not successful on the turf, she is out of a dam, Good Morning Smile, who placed in multiple turf stakes. Good Morning Smile has produced other turf winners, most notably Morning Gallop’s half-sister by Cure the Blues, Wake Up Kiss. Wake Up Kiss was best on turf and won Saratoga’s Yaddo Stakes. Perhaps her greatest accomplishment, however, was as a broodmare since she produced A Shin Forward, a winner of Japan’s Group I Mile Championship (which helped put him second to Funny Cide on the list of top earning New York-breds). A Shin Forward, like Funky Cat, was by a son of Storm Cat so perhaps the turf preference will manifest itself in this gelding as well.
I also need to put a few bucks on Bob and Jim (#4), who I tried many times this winter on dirt with no success. Yet today he moves to the turf and there is reason to think that he will handle it. His dam is a full-sister to Sitka, who saw all of her success come on the turf and was twice graded stakes placed on that surface. I’m not crazy about today’s rider and I have my doubts about Bob and John as a turf sire, but the price will be large enough that I will give this horse one final chance to redeem himself.
$10 Win 10
$5 Win 4
I also need to make a slight detour through Keeneland in the middle of the day since a “Horse to Watch” that I’ve been waiting to bet back is running there.
Keeneland, Race 6: Maiden Special Weight at seven furlongs for three year-old fillies
Tap Twenty One (#9) showed a bit of promise in her first two starts on dirt last year and subsequently showed that she can handle Keeneland’s synthetic surface in the fall. I’m glad to see her returning around one-turn since I was especially thrilled by her performance at Saratoga going this distance in her second start, in which she received an absolutely impossible trip. Rosie Napravnik was on filly who was full of run at the three-eighths pole, but she proceeded to make wrong decision after wrong decision as she tried to weave her way through the middle of the pace rather than swing outside. She ended up diving to the rail and hitting it at the sixteenth pole, which killed her momentum. Tap Twenty One should have broke her maiden that day so I’m happy to see her now get back in a seven furlong race. I don’t think surface matters for this filly since her dam could run on anything, but I do think one-turn racing is her best game for now.
$10 Win 9 (WINNER; Payout: $37.00)
[3:50 p.m. update] – My “Horses to Watch” are 2-for-2 so far today after Sacred Ground ($7.70) and Tap Twenty One ($7.40) got it done at Aqueduct and Keeneland, respectively. I’ll try to make it three in a row in a few minutes with Puget Sound who is a very generous 6-1 right now.