Yesterday was pretty frustrating as I came close to nice scores with both Non Stop and Sinistra, but fell less than a length shot in each race. Today’s card doesn’t feature the large fields we saw yesterday, but still contains plenty of interesting races that merit discussion:
Aqueduct, Race 1: Starter Optional Claiming $20,000 at one mile and 70 yards for fillies and mares
I had originally spent quite a while looking at this race in search of the best dirt horse. Oddly enough, I ultimately came to the conclusion that the best dirt horse is actually the horse most will perceive as the best turf horse: Bozique (#4). Yes, Bozique’s speed figures improved when she was switched to the turf, but you can make a pretty convincing argument that she just improved overall and isn’t actually a horse with a surface preference. Her initial turf start back in April certainly wouldn’t have you led you to believe that she prefers the grass as she got back on dirt and actually ran better races on that surface in her next couple of starts.
Her win on the dirt on June 30th was every bit as fast as her subsequent turf tries and more notably, her second place finish in her most recent dirt race on September 22nd, is a better performance than it appears. That was another day at Belmont when the rail was golden, especially early in the day, and Bozique had to endure a three-wide stalking trip. She actually ran quite well to finish second in a performance that was much better than the paltry 58 Beyer figure suggests. She’s coming into this race in great form and it’s nice to see her connections protecting her in a starter race. The two turns shouldn’t be an issue and if she shows up with her usual sort of performance I think she’ll win.
$15 Win 4
Aqueduct, Race 2: Maiden Claiming $25,000 at one mile and 70 yards for two year-old fillies
I don’t trust the two likely favorites in this race, Rock Me Mama and Golden Annie. Rock Me Mama is not bred for turf and her pedigree would lead you to believe that dirt has to be her preferred surface. So then why did a trainer as astute as Todd Pletcher race on the turf for her first three starts? By his own admission that usually is his way of handling horses who show nothing on the dirt in the morning. Rock Me Mama may just not have much ability and I don’t want to take her at short price.
Golden Annie did run well stretching out last time as her pedigree suggested she might, but she did not run fast enough to warrant her being a short price in this race. As I tweeted this morning, Eddie Kenneally has spent the past three winters at the Aqueduct inner track meet and, while he has won at a respectable 19% clip, he shows an ROI of just $1.06. That tells me that his horses are routinely over-bet and under-perform. Golden Annie can certainly win, but has the look of a short-priced trap.
I went with Stephanie’s Secret (#5) on top. She didn’t do much running in her lone start on turf, but I’m wondering if George Weaver merely put her on the turf to get a route race into her. Although her best sibling may be turf sprinter Double the Energy, this dam has produced many other foals who all preferred the dirt. This filly, by Dunkirk, figures to follow suit and I expect her to improve with this surface switch and drop in class.
I’ll also throw a few dollars on Miss Red Cloud (#7) if she’s a big price. She lost all chance at the start last time and probably wants no part of a sprint anyway. Her siblings all were at their best going long on the dirt with the best being multiple stakes winner and $450,000 earner Black Hills.
$10 Win 5
$6 Win 7
Aqueduct, Race 3: The Fickle Fanny Stakes at six furlongs for fillies and mares
Indian Splendor, Lady Gracenote, and Uno Duo should all vie for favoritism in this race, but of that group there is only one that I can make a serious case for. Lady Gracenote (#3) really came to hand for Jason Servis at this meet last year winning a pair of optional claiming races before a respectable showing in the Top Flight Handicap at a distance that is probably too far for her. It appears that such an effort knocked her out and she was given a well-deserved rest over the spring and summer.
She returned in October at Belmont in a turf sprint, which was not that odd of a spot considering that she had shown good turf form earlier in her career. It should be noted that the half-mile fraction of that race was incorrectly posted. It’s hard to believe that they ran the penultimate furlong in 12 4/5 seconds before speeding up to run the final furlong in 11 3/5 seconds and Trakus confirms this suspicion. The Trakus fractions for the race are: 22.59, 46.00, 57.46, 1:09.06. Clearly the posted half-mile fraction is incorrect and the pace was actually quite slow for the distance. Revenue was able to use her quick turn of foot after a perfect trip to close them down late, but the other closers struggled to make an impact through a quick final quarter mile. Lady Gracenote also may have just needed the race and this turf-to-dirt move has worked quite well for Jason Servis.
I’m hoping that Carameaway engages Indian Splendor early with Uno Duo in pursuit from the outside. Irad Ortiz, Jr. should be able to let this situation play out in front of him before asking Lady Gracenote to come and get them in the stretch. If the Lady Gracenote of last winter shows up today, I don’t think she’ll lose.
$20 Win 3
Aqueduct, Race 4: Maiden Claiming $35,000 at six furlongs for NY-bred two year-old fillies
I rarely pick first time starters because there’s often too much uncertainty involved for my liking, but I be convinced otherwise if the price is right. Henry’s Gal (#3) goes out for Nick Esler, who won a couple of maiden claiming races with first time starting long shots last winter. He seems to consistently spot his horses realistically and has a good gauge on his young horses even prior to the start of their careers. Henry’s Gal has a pedigree that suggests she’ll be quick since she’s by Disco Rico and is full-sister to Disco’s Son, who won 5 of 17 sprint races and earned a top Beyer of 107.
This homebred probably isn’t a world beater if she’s in for $35,000, but she has likely found the right spot. I don’t have any interest in backing the decidedly mediocre Talk to Me or See Me Sometime, who interestingly is only the second first time start Cristophe Clement has sent out over the inner track during the past five years. If Henry’s Gal is indeed worth today’s price tag, she’ll probably win.
$10 Win 3 (WINNER; Payout: $30.00)
Aqueduct, Race 5: Claiming $35,000-$25,000 at one mile and 70 yards
I suppose that Spirited Touch can win at a short price, but he’s been allowed to contest slow paces in his two New York races and figures to receive pressure from Bernie the Jet and Mr. Woolman today. I will instead try Stephen A (#2), who showed some promise as a two year-old before being put on the shelf for over a year. He returned last time in a race that he badly needed and was not helped by a slow pace in a race dominated up front. He stretches out in distance today, which shouldn’t be a problem given that he’s a son of Stephen Got Even. This is also a very productive stat for Nick Zito, who over the past five years has won with 9 of 38 horses (24%) going from a sprint into a route on dirt second time back from a layoff.
$10 Win 2
Aqueduct, Race 7: Starter Optional Claiming $20,000 at one mile and 70 yards
Here’s my wacky pick of the day.
There is supposed to be quite a bit of pace in this race. Itsagoodtendollars, Photon, Writingonthewall, and Most Happy Fella all posses early speed and should ensure honest fractions up front. Of that quartet, Writingonthewall is the fastest early and if he either gets loose on the lead or shows up with his most recent effort he will probably win. However, that most recent effort came almost two months ago and you have to wonder where he’s been since. Moments Notiz yesterday was a prime example of how you cannot always trust David Jacobson’s horses to run their best races from one week to the next so I’m not interested in taking Writingonthewall at a very short price today.
Itsagoodtendollars can win this best effort, but I’m wondering if he’s starting to feel the effects of a long campaign as his two most recent races were subpar efforts. The logical closer in the race is Dawly, who appears to have finally figured out how to win races once again as he comes into this off two consecutive victories. However, while Dawly is certainly bred to get two turns, his connections have kept him around one turn for his entire career and his ability to negotiate today’s trip remains a question. His resume of conisistenly high speed figures should make him the second choice or even co-favorite, but it’s not usually a good idea to take a horse at a short price trying to accomplish something he’s never done successfully before.
I’ve ended up going with the outsider in the race, Burned Bridges (#8). He certainly is not the most likely winner, but he’s going to be completely ignored on the tote board and I’m not convinced that his best races don’t give him a shot in here. This well-bred three-quarter brother to Jump Start has never really been given a chance to develop in his 20-race career. After breaking his maiden here last winter, he was placed in some very ambitious spots against better horses like Last Gunfighter and Mordi’s Miracle. On occasion he did not even run that badly despite poor riders on his back and unfavorable pace setups in front of him. However, after a while it appeared that he was just burnt out and Randi Persaud dropped him in for a tag. He was claimed by Funky Munky Stable and Gary Gullo, who wheeled him back six weeks later, but he well was dry.
Now he’s had a long time off and has spent a couple of months in the barn of David Donk, who is adept at bringing horses back from long layoffs. I like that they’re stretching him back out in distance, since he seems to prefer two turns and that they’re running him in this ambitious protected starter race. If the good Burned Bridges shows up and has improved in the capable hands of David Donk I don’t see why he wouldn’t be a major factor in this race. He’s the other closer in a race with plenty of pace and should be an enticing price.
$10 Win 8
Aqueduct, Race 9: Claiming $16,000B at one mile
I had originally liked Tizmas quite a bit, but with him out I’m left with my second choice, Giant Indian (#8), who will be a much more inviting price. This race is filled with turf horses and very cheap dirt horses. Giant Indian falls into neither of those categories as he’s consistently kept better company and prefers two turns on the dirt. After a string of poor performances against tough rivals like Caixa Eletronica, Point Taken, and Raging Daoust, his connections are finally placing him in a more realistic spot today. This drop is not a negative one and I expect him to relish the softer competition and show up with one of his good efforts. A Beyer in the mid-70s will probably win and he’s certainly capable of that.
$10 Win 8