We’re finally back racing at Aqueduct with an interesting card of ten races. Below, I’ll also preview the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn where Strong Mandate will make his three year-old debut.
Aqueduct, Race 2: Maiden Special Weight at six furlongs
The two main players in this race appear to be the Albertrani runners, Cost Affective and Frame. While Cost Affective did have legitimate trouble last time when Irad Ortiz, Jr. tried to send him up the rail into a tight spot, I still prefer his stablemate. Frame (#6) feels like the one horse in this race who may still have room for improvement. He was beaten by Cost Affective in that December 26th maiden race when he was making his first start back from a nearly four-month layoff, but I feel that he took a subtle step forward next time in a race that landed him on my ‘Horses to Watch’ list. I know he received a lower Beyer speed figure, but he set a punishing early pace that eventually collapsed and all things considered actually hung on pretty well to finish third. The blinkers appeared to inject some speed and aggression into him and he can put those traits to good use now that he’s shortening back up to a more appropriate sprint distance.
$15 Win 6
Aqueduct, Race 4: The Hollie Hughes Stakes at six furlongs for NY-breds
I’m making this pick under the assumption that Marriedtothemusic is going to be favored. While Marriedtothemusic can obviously win this race, this is a huge step up in class for him. Yes, he received very fast speed figures for those races, but I still want to see him duplicate that form against tougher foes. In many ways, this situation is not so different from when he was tried in stakes company back at Saratoga in the Claramont Stakes. That day he laid over the field based on his prior speed figure, but as soon as another good horse looked him in the eye, he folded.
Today there are plenty of good horses that should challenge Marriedtothemusic for the lead at multiple points in the race. David Jacobson has entered his own three-horse tag team and even outsider Freudian Dilemma is pretty quick. I’m hoping that the pace heats up enough for things to set up for Mine Over Matter (#4), who is probably the best horse in the race anyway. While his 2013 campaign ended on a bit of a sour note in the Hudson, he still ran some of the best races of his life during the spring and summer. This horse almost always runs well fresh and I expect him to prove very tough to hold off late.
I’ll bet him to win and use him in the exacta with Be Bullish (#1), who probably wouldn’t be in this race if David Jacobson didn’t think he had gotten him back into top form.
$15 Win 4
$4 Exacta Box 1/4
Aqueduct, Race 5: Claiming $16,000N3L at one mile
With the scratch of Market Blaster this is essentially a two-horse affair between Summer Sands and Rift. I’ll stand strongly on the side of my ‘Horse to Watch’ Rift (#4), who ran better than it appears two races back when he sustained a wide trip off the gold rail. Last time was a bit of a disappointment, but the pace didn’t really set up for him. David Jacobson sports very good numbers stretching horses out on the inner track and Rift is actually bred to be at his best going long. Seemingly all of the mounts that Jacobson has given Taylor Rice have been live and I expect this one to be no different.
$15 Win 4
Aqueduct, Race 9: Allowance N1X at 1 1/16 miles
It’s hard to envision the pace of this race being anything but rapid. Cast a Doubt, Tizmas, and Mighty Ian are all drawn right alongside each other and possess early speed. Mighty Ian will probably be favored based on his superior Beyer speed figures, but it’s worth noting that two of those were earned at Parx while his New York races have not been quite as brilliant. He can certainly win, but I think he’ll be an underlay.
I’ve gone with the best proven two-turn closer in the race, Idle American (#7). He never really had a chance last time when he was racing towards the inside on a day when you didn’t want to be on the rail. His prior race behind Zivo and North Ocean was actually quite good and a repeat of that effort would make him a serious player in this spot. C. C. Lopez is the best rider he’s had on his back in quite some time and I expect a solid try out of a horse who is seemingly always a bettable price.
I’ll use Idle American with Start Jumping (#2), who is another Jacobson stretchout with Taylor Rice aboard. Physically, this horse appears as if he should have no problems handling today’s distance and he has consistently run fast enough to have a say in the outcome of this race.
$10 Win 7
$4 Exacta Box 2/7
Aqueduct, Race 10: Claiming $16,000 at one mile
This is my one crazy long shot of the day. I’ve been known for my patience as a horseplayer and accordingly I have arrived at my pick in this race based on an effort that I’ve been waiting to capitalize on for nearly two years. Tancredi (#2) appears to be too cheap and too slow to win this race, but I think he can take a step forward at this one mile distance.
Humor me. Let’s take a trip back in time to the beginning of Tancredi’s career. He won his debut for a $50,000 tag in March of 2012 for former trainer Richard Dutrow, Jr. and was stepped up in class for his next start, which came against ‘N1X’ New York-bred allowance horses over a mile at Belmont. He was facing a pretty tough field that day topped by Modern Child and Quiet Power. (Watch the replay.) Tancredi was sent up to battle for the lead through very contested early fractions and played a significant role in causing the race to fall apart late. He was engaged by Quiet Power on the far turn and those two hooked up, setting things up perfectly for Modern Child to come from off the pace. However, what impressed me was that Tancredi, who appeared as if he was going to get nothing past midstretch, showed quite a bit of stamina and grit to battle back along the rail, turning away Quiet Power and nearly holding on for second. It was undoubtedly the best race of his career, yet he hasn’t been asked to run farther than six and a half furlongs since then.
It’s easy to simply say that the Tancredi we’re getting today is not the same horse that Richard Dutrow, Jr. was conditioning back in 2012, but this Finger Lakes based barn has gotten Tancredi back to some of his better races in recent months. I don’t think that it’s that much of a stretch to say that if he takes a slight step forward at this distance that he could run a Beyer in the low 80s. I know I’m getting pretty creative with this selection, but this horse is going to be a huge price and is far from impossible.
$10 Win 2
Oaklawn, Race 9: The Southwest (G3) at 1 1/16 miles for three year-olds
I’m very high on Strong Mandate (#7) as he embarks on his journey to the Kentucky Derby. Looking back on his two year-old campaign, aside from his baffling non-effort in the Champagne, this horse put together some seriously good races. His Hopeful came up slow, but it was hard to make speed figures on that day and Strong Mandate absolutely dominated. However, even more impressive was his Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, in which he was likely the best horse and probably could have been a two year-old champion had he been able to work out a better trip.
The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile was run at a point in the day when many jockeys were still under the assumption that you had to be on the lead to be successful at Santa Anita. Joel Rosario probably thought he was doing the right thing by sending Strong Mandate to the front from his far outside post position, but what he actually did was cause the race to collapse, thus allowing an inferior horse to win. The fact that Strong Mandate was still able to hang on for third late demonstrates that he’s clearly an extremely talented individual. If you doubt the toll that the pace took on the horses who raced up front in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, simply take a look back at where Conquest Titan finished after battling with Strong Mandate for the lead (13th) and what he’s come back to do since.
Strong Mandate will only continue to get better as the distances stretch out and should easily handle the over-matched field he meets today.