Winter is here and the long Aqueduct inner track meet begins today. If you love a steady diet of two-turn dirt racing and interesting claiming races, then this is the meet for you. Today’s card features plenty of interesting races and a number of large fields. I ended up taking a few stabs with some seemingly improbably long shots so hopefully we can catch a price somewhere.
Aqueduct, Race 1: Optional Claiming $25,000/N2X at one mile and 70 yards for NY-breds
I probably spent more time on this race than any other on today’s card. There’s quite a bit going on and many horses to discuss.
I suppose the conversation should start with Socialsaul, who may go favored. His race two back, in which he was never on the rail over a biased Belmont main track and still was able to wear down Ultimate Empire, was excellent. The 87 Beyer figure doesn’t even accurately assess the quality of the performance as it was one of the best in his career. However, he was claimed out of that race by Patrick Reynolds, who waited 50 days before running him back in an ambitious stakes race against some of the best older New York-breds in training. He did not run a step and is now back in for the $25,000 tag. He can certainly win with this with a halfway decent effort, but I cannot rely on him to show up at a short price.
Sound of Drums is pretty logical, but I don’t think he’s nearly as good as Socialsaul and he’ll likely be a similar price. His 88 Beyer three races back looks a little phony to me and I suspect he’s a horse who tops out in the low-80s if he can manage to show up with his best today. Tug of War has plenty of back races for Mike Hushion that would easily win this race, but it’s hard to ignore his recent form. After leaving the Hushion barn, he was in the capable hands of Angel Penna during the summer and fall, but didn’t lift a hoof in those races. He now is dropped in for a $25,000 tag and I don’t trust him either.
I’ve landed on a wacky selection. He appears to have no chance at first glance, but I think Meeker Avenue (#3) is really going to appreciate the stretch out to two turns. This horse was a bit of an enigma for his former connections. They paid a lot of money for him as yearling and were rewarded quickly with two wins in his first couple of starts as a two year-old. Things went awry from there. Poor performance after poor performance landed him in a $20,000 claimer at Saratoga. He rebounded that day to win with a strong finish going seven furlongs, but a step up in class next time proved too much for him to handle. He was again away from the races for three months and returned back in for $20,000 last time. While it was his own doing, the trip he worked out for himself that day was pretty odd. He was up with the leaders chasing a fast quarter mile before dropping out of contention as if he were going to finish last around the far turn. Then, at the top of the stretch he seemed to remember that it was a race and re-rallied to finish pretty well for fourth.
A look into Meeker Avenue’s pedigree reveals that there is a lot of stamina on his dam’s side. All six of his siblings to race were at their best routing. The pace scenario of this race is a little uncertain. C. C. Lopez will probably try for the lead with Tug of War, but he may not have the horse to get there. Sandy’z Slew has plenty of early zip, but he’s been ridden from off the pace lately. If Meeker Avenue can find his way to the front early he could have a chance to finally use his stamina to wire the field at a huge price. These new connections have been on quite a roll out of town so we’ll see if they can wake this horse up in New York.
$10 Win 3
$2 Exacta 1/2/4/5 with 3
Aqueduct, Race 2: Maiden Claiming $35,000 at six furlongs
I had a much easier time with this one. Nail It (#1) has just run better dirt races than anyone else in this field and would be a great bet at his morning line odds of 3-1. I do not trust turf horses like Insighting and Botleofredorwhite, who both have pedigrees that lean more towards grass. Nail It faced some decent horses in his dirt sprints as a two year-old and a slight move forward off his turf return will make him the winner of this race.
$15 Win 1
Aqueduct, Race 3: Optional Claiming $62,500/N2X at 1 1/16 miles for fillies and mares
I’ve been waiting for Mischief Maker (#6) to get another shot around two turns since her two facile wins over this track last season. She showed some signs of life at Saratoga when she hung on gamely for third in the Saratoga Dew Stakes, but she may just be a horse who prefers winter racing. Today she should get a great setup stalking Nuffsaid Nuffsaid and I suspect that she’ll prove better than these at this distance. She’s the fourth choice on the morning line, but odds of 3-1 or better would be more than fair.
I also want to use Magma (#3) at a much larger price. She faced much tougher fillies in her first start in this country over the turf and could not make an impact. Then next time she was shortened up to six furlongs and again came up empty when the real running started. What interests me is her pedigree, which suggests that two turns on the dirt is what she’s really meant to do. Although she’s by European sire Singspiel, her dam’s family contains plenty of dirt two-turn influences. Nick Esler was quoted in the DRF article about this race saying that he didn’t really think she had a shot to get six furlongs last time, but wanted to get her into a race over dirt since she just doesn’t handle the turf as well. She obviously needs a pretty significant step forward to contend in this race, but she’ll be completely ignored on the board and may be placed in the right spot for the first time in her career today. I’ll make a small win bet and will use her to fill out exactas and triples with Mischief Maker.
$15 Win 6 (WINNER; Payout: $48.00)
$6 Win 3
$2 Exacta Box 3/6
Aqueduct, Race 5: Claiming $12,500N2L at one mile and 70 yards
I don’t want to spend too much time on this race. There is a lot of uncertainty involved and I’ve landed on my selection, Mr. G. Zee (#7), because he will likely play out as the lone speed in a race filled with plodding turf horses. He is no world beater, but he’s probably found the right field today. I must caution, however, odds do matter in a race like this. At his morning line of 20-1, Mr. G. Zee is a great horse to take a shot with, but if he’s 7-2 with a few minutes to post I’ll want no part of him. We’ll have to wait and see how they bet this one.
[UPDATE: Mr. G. Zee was scratched.]
Aqueduct, Race 7: Starter Optional Claiming $20,000 at six furlongs
There’s no question that Moments Notiz is the horse to beat. He’s won six of his last eight races and last time stepped up his game for David Jacobson and attained a level of performance that none of these may be able to match. The only uncertainty is whether or not he is going to duplicate that effort today. Horses like Royal Currier, Head Heart Hoof, and Ground Force are supposed to be faster early and Moments Notiz will likely have to take some dirt early from the inside post today. Perhaps he can do that and run another 100+ Beyer, but I’m not too excited about betting him at a very short price.
I know that Non Stop (#4) may just be too cheap to contend with these, but his last two races were seriously good efforts that were at a higher level than what he had accomplished prior. On September 15th, he broke a length behind the field and found himself in a disadvantageous spot far behind a very slow pace up front. What made matters worse is that the rail was still the place to be at Belmont and Abel Lezcano was forced to angle him outside for the stretch drive. Despite the fact that the winner, who went wire-to-wire came home in 23 2/5 seconds, Non Stop flew through the lane to make up four lengths on that horse. I loved him next time despite the fact that he was moving to turf and he took yet another step forward to annihilate a field of $20,000 claimer by seven lengths in a spectacular 1:20 3/5 seconds.
I’m a little concerned that he’s been away from the races for the two months, but I assume he’s doing well for his connections to spot him so ambitiously today. He appears to be equally good on dirt or turf so I’m not overly concerned about the surface switch. The real question is whether he can overcome his antics (he has a history of pre-race issues) and run the same sort of race against tougher competition. At what should be a huge price, I’ll take my chances and back him.
$8 Win 4
$2 Exacta 1/2 with 4
Aqueduct, Race 8: Optional Claiming $14,000/N1X at 1 1/8 miles for NY-breds
I’ve been waiting for the connections of Sinistra (#2) to stretch him out again since his return to the races in October. He improved significantly going two turns as a newly-turned three year-old last winter and the time off over the summer probably did him good. He returned with two seemingly lackluster efforts at seven furlongs, but they were actually pretty good relative to the couple of sprint races he ran at the start of his career. He’s also bred to run much farther since his two siblings both saw their major successes come at a route of ground. There’s plenty of pace to set up his late kick, but he doesn’t have to be quite as far out of it early as fellow closers Alcolite and Saxophone Len. With another move forward as he stretches back out in distance, I believe Sinistra can contend for win honors.
$10 Win 2
[3:57 p.m. update] – Mischief Maker ($6.40) was very game in victory in a thrilling finish to the third race. Unfortunately I didn’t get as lucky later in the day as both halves of a potentially lucrative late double just barely fell through. First Non Stop (19-1) cut the corner at the top of the stretch to boldly loom in the final eighth before flattening out to finish third, beaten less than a length. Then one racer late Sinistra (10-1) got a perfect rail skimming ride before angling out in the stretch. He had dead aim on the leader in the final furlong, but could not make up the margin and fell about a neck short. It’s nice to be mostly right about the outcome of a race, but it’s better when you win.
I’ll be back tomorrow.