Aqueduct, Race 1: Maiden Claiming $50,000 at six furlongs
Based on his overall body of work, I suppose that you can make a pretty strong argument that Tony D is the best horse in this race, but that alone is not going to guarantee him a win here. Tony D is a plodder who needs some pace in front of him to make a late impact. He’s not likely to get much pace today since only one horse possesses the speed to go to the front. Also whether he can run as well at six furlong as he has been at a mile or farther remains to be seen. He’s a horse that I could never bet as the favorite.
I will instead take a shot with the horse that should be well out in front of the field early, Green Gratto (#4). This horse really woke up in his first start for the Eduardo Jones barn after being sent out in five consecutive very tough maiden special weight races by the low percentage Peter Chin. Green Gratto did not even break that well last time, but was rushed up to the front by Samuel Camacho, Jr. and continued to lead the field until midstretch, at which point he was passed by Shore Runner. Shore Runner came back to run an identical speed figure next time out in a tough starter allowance race, so the figure assigned to Green Gratto’s race appears to be legitimate. The scratch of Team Lazarus leaves this horse with a huge pace advantage and I don’t see how he can lose this race if he’s ridden aggressively.
$20 Win 4 (WINNER; Payout: $45.00)
Aqueduct, Race 2: Allowance N1X at six furlongs for NY-bred three year-olds
This is a competitive, evenly matched field. I see four horses that can win, but one of them figures to be a generous price and I don’t think he’s any less likely to wind up in the winner’s circle than the other three. That horse, Native Hero (#3), has steadily improved in each of his four starts and is a bit better than he may look on paper. He’s yet to register a 70 Beyer as Sidearm, Loki’s Vengeance, and Sol the Freud have all done on multiple occasions, but a repeat of Native Hero’s last race might be good enough to beat all of them. [Replay of Native Hero’s last race]
Native Hero was bumped at the start leaving him back in last place behind a pace that was fairly slow to develop. Jose Ortiz did the right thing by allowing him to settle at the back of the pack for the run up the backstretch, but things started to go awry on the far turn. Native Hero was clearly full of run, but rather than saving his late burst for the stretch run, Ortiz allowed Native Hero to make a five-wide premature move on the far turn. Native Hero reached the front at the top of the stretch, but had already used up most of his energy making that wide move. He stayed on gamely until the final sixteenth at which point he backed out to finish fourth. If Native Hero had waited and made the last move—as today’s rival Sidearm did—or even gotten out of the gate cleanly, there is no doubt in my mind that he would have won.
$10 Win 3
Aqueduct, Race 3: Optional Claiming $25,000/N2X at six furlongs for NY-breds
I recently got a chance to watch some replays from earlier in January and felt compelled to add So Scott (#3) to my ‘Horses to Watch’ list based on his January 5th effort. [Replay of So Scott’s last race]
So Scott was going first off the claim for trainer David Cannizzo and was clearly ready to win, but had to deal with an impossible pace scenario. There was a bit of speed on paper, but as is so often the case, none of it materialized as the opening quarter and half went in ridiculously slow fractions of 24 1/5 and 48 4/5 seconds. Eventual winner Be Bullish was right up on this pace with eventual second place finisher Bellamy tracking him. So Scott, meanwhile, assumed his usual position back in last, about three lengths behind the next-to-last horse. So Scott swung out coming into the stretch to make his late run, but the leaders had plenty left and sped home through a final quarter mile in 23 2/5 seconds. It’s almost impossible for even a very good closer to make a dent through such a fast final fraction, but So Scott still rallied nicely to get up for third.
Today there should be plenty of pace up front as Do I Amuse You and I’m Stoked both need the lead to win while Taxplayer should be in close pursuit. Do I Amuse You and I’m Stoked are nice horses, but if So Scott runs as well as he did last time I don’t think he can lose this race.
$20 Win 3
Aqueduct, Race 6: Allowance N1X at one mile and 70 yards for fillies and mares
I’m pretty surprised that it’s taken this long for Linda Rice to stretch Kara’s Match Point (#3) out in distance. I’ve been saying ever since her debut win last spring that her pedigree indicates she’ll probably prefer two turns. The progeny of her sire, Curlin, have shown a liking for route distances, and her dam, Home Court, was stakes-placed in her only try around two turns. Many of Home Court’s progeny have succeeded at distances of a mile or farther, most notable of which is the undefeated Coup de Grace, who many consider to be a potential Derby candidate for Chad Brown. Home Court herself was bred to get today’s distance since she’s out of Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Jewel Princess.
Kara’s Match Point is not a horse with a quick burst of speed and rather tends to grind away at her competition, so her style is suited to getting the route of ground. She is also a bit better than she appears since—as her place on my ‘Horses to Watch’ list would suggest—she’s had less than ideal trips in each of her last two starts. My only concern would be that she sometimes shows a tendency to break slowly and get rank on her rider. With a clean break, Kara’s Match Point is probably fast enough to get to the front here, but I’d be content to see her stalking the leaders early before wearing them down late.
$15 Win 3
Aqueduct, Race 8: The Jimmy Winkfield at six furlongs for three year-olds
After having watched replays of all the horses in this race, I can say that I was far more impressed by the maiden win of Hot Heir Skier (#6) than the races of any of his rivals. Hot Heir Skier showed an impressive turn of foot last time as he opened up a five-length lead in a matter of strides at the top of the stretch. Trevor McCarthy geared him down through the late stages so the margin of victory was cut into slightly, but it was dominant performance nonetheless. Interestingly, Hot Heir Skier ran a time that was four-fifths of a second faster than the time Pax Orbis registered just two races later on the same card, yet his Beyer is only 3 points higher. It seems to me that the Beyer folks chose to make a split variant for that day at Laurel. I don’t necessarily disagree with that decision based on the charts I looked at, but it’s worth noting.
I believe that Hot Heir Skier is fast enough to clear all the horses to his inside and can then use his turn of foot to blast away at the top of the stretch en route a wire-to-wire victory. His morning line price of 5-2 seems like fair value to me.