The G1 Wood Memorial
Aqueduct, Race 10
By Robert Finnegan
The long and winding road to the Kentucky Derby makes its way back to Aqueduct today, with 11 three-year-old colts running nine furlongs. 100 Derby points go to the winner, 40 to the second-place finisher, 20 to the third-place finisher, and 10 to the fourth-place finisher. In other words, this race has a distinct do-or-die quality to it for most of these horses.
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The favorite on the morning line, at 2-1, is the much-discussed, hyper-talented Social Inclusion. In two starts, this colt has done nothing wrong and a whole bunch of things right, including both times winning in a walk and both times earning powerful speed figures (107 and 112). This son of the promising sire Pioneerof the Nile has license to be any kind, but our thinking is that his closing odds will be a poor fit for the chances he is indeed something special. And we believe he will need to be something special to win this race in these conditions. After winning both of his starts wire to wire, with breezy ease, he now draws the outside post in a race that begins very close to the first turn.
According to the TimeformUS Pace Projector, he will be in fourth-place early, which would require him to change his running style and very likely cause him to be wide around the first turn (if not both turns). He will be making his first start around two turns. He will be making his first start away from Gulfstream Park, a track known to confer a large home field advantage on certain horses. He will be jumping from allowance company to a Grade 1. Should he decide to make a run for it and try to outrun the Pace Projector's projection, he will be tangling with a talented frontrunner in Schivarelli. Much as we respect Social Inclusion's talent, we are playing him to miss the board in the Wood.
Our top choice in the Wood is a colt who has already earned enough points to qualify for the Kentucky Derby: Samraat. In five career starts, Samraat has recorded speed figures of 85 87 93 108 108. As the distances have increased, his speed figures have increased, which we feel nullifies the apparent disadvantage of his mediocre Pedigree Rating. Moreover, Samraat's victory in the Grade 3 Gotham was very impressive from a visual standpoint. It was the type of push-button effort one sees from horses who have more in the tank and the ability to make their own trips. And given the crazy nature of the Wood, with 11 horses beginning so close to the first turn, Samraat will be obliged to do some work to carve out a good trip today.
As far as the rest of this field is concerned, the horses we see as the biggest threats are Harpoon, who ran an odd, uncooperative race in the Gotham, Uncle Sigh (who figures to have trip problems from his post), and the longshot Schivarelli, who just ran a terrific speed figure of 113 in the mud and may be able to clear off against this field.
Win bet on Samraat.
Exotics using Samraat over and under the horses mentioned.
The G1 Carter Handicap
Aqueduct, Race 11
By Jason Perlmutter
Those watching the races at Aqueduct this Saturday are advised to stay tuned after the three-year-olds strut their stuff in the Wood Memorial. Carded as the 11th race at Aqueduct, the Grade 1 $500k Carter Handicap is not only a prep for the Metropolitan Mile; it's a highly prestigious race in its own right. This year's edition features seven four-legged rockets signed up to battle it out at the extended sprint distance of seven furlongs.
We like the set-up for #2 Clearly Now (5-1 ML). The Pace Projector has him sitting comfortably in third place in the early stages of the race. The horses projected to be in front of him, #4 Dads Caps and #5 Strapping Groom, seem ideally suited for six furlongs, and we think both of them are going to be vulnerable in the final eighth of a mile. Assuming this is the case, Clearly Now should be well positioned to get first run on the other horses coming from well off the pace. Given that this race should favor horses on or near the lead, this gives Clearly Now a clear tactical advantage over the others.
Clearly Now comes into the Carter off a four-month layoff and makes his first start as a four-year-old. Although his trainer is not especially proficient with this sort of move, we view the layoff as a positive, as the colt was raced hard and often as a three-year-old. His last three speed figures (114, 113, 114) represent an ideal launching pad, and we give him a solid shot to post a career-top in this spot.
Clearly Now has never been worse than third in his four starts at seven furlongs, and his third-place finish at that distance was a strong performance against a high-quality G1 field in last year's Woody Stephens on Belmont Day. A perusal of Clearly Now's race record reveals a horse who sometimes finds trouble. With the expected clean trip on Saturday, we think he can find something else instead: the Winner's Circle.
The Play: #2 Clearly Now to win.
The G2 Gazelle Stakes
Aqueduct, Race 9
By Robert Finnegan
The Grade 2 Gazelle has attracted a field of six three-year-old fillies to go nine furlongs on the dirt for a purse of $300,000. According to the TimeformUS Pace Projector, this race will be run at a pace that favors horses who race on or near the early lead, and the early leader will be My Miss Sophia, followed closely by Vero Amore. Then there's a gap back to Bird Maker and Wraith, followed by Sweet Reason and Got Lucky.
Let's go over the field in post position order, with morning line odds in parentheses:
Wraith (30-1): After watching her last race, in which she improved by 20 points without laying a glove on Sweet Reason, we are having a hard time seeing her getting the better of Sweet Reason today. A toss for us.
Got Lucky (3-1): That's some pretty nice breeding here. Pedigree Rating of 91. Pretty nice filly, too. No match for Untapable in the Rachel Alexandra, she circled the field, beat everyone else, and earned a speed figure of 93. Before that, she ran a 97 in the Gulfstream slop--while coming from behind over a surface that was strongly favoring speed. If My Miss Sophia fails to fire, these numbers are very competitive in here. Her closing style figures to be at odds with the pace of this race, but she does have the best Late Pace rating in the field: a 98. Pletcher and all his lofty trainer stats are in her corner. Contender.
Sweet Reason (8-5): An April foal, this Grade 1 winner has not gotten back to her 2YO top of 104 in three tries. At a short price, coming from off the pace against the probable shape of the race, she is an obvious contender but a terrible underlay, as we see it. We will toss her and live with the result.
My Miss Sophia (9-5): As mentioned, the TFUS Pace Projector shows her with a significant pace advantage. She will be making her third start today, and the speed figures she earned in her first two starts (106 and 112) are both faster than any number any of her opponents has ever run. A daughter of Unbridled's Song, she has a strong Pedigree Rating of 87 for this race. And since she's trained by Todd Pletcher, she has a slew of positive trainer ratings on her side, including a 100 (the maximum) for 2nd route and a 92 for 3rd start of career. On the negative side, she has not yet been around two turns, and both of her victories were over the quirky, love-it-or-leave-it Gulfstream Park dirt. But her last victory sure was impressive. She got away rather poorly, made up ground early into solid fractions, and then blew the race apart. If that Gulfstream effort translates to two turns at Aqueduct, she is going to win this race, too.
Vero Amore (12-1): Has no speed figure faster than an 89 and figures to be compromised by the early speed of My Miss Sophia. A toss for us.
Bird Maker (8-1): On our speed figures, she is the slowest horse in the race, having developed little since her two-year-old season. But she escapes from Gulfstream now, is bred to enjoy the added distance, and has a trainer who sometimes doesn't show all his cards early on. She is eligible to make the sort of jump that can get her onto the board at big odds.
My Miss Sophia to win. Got Lucky and Bird Maker underneath in exotics.
The G1 Santa Anita Derby
Santa Anita, Race 8
By Peter Kleinhans
This year's edition of the Santa Anita Derby will answer some early questions about some precocious three-year-olds. Unfortunately, Shared Belief, last year's scintillating two-year-old colt Eclipse Award winner has been sidelined, and without him present, the race definitely loses some of its sizzle.
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In his stead comes local favorite and California-bred speedster California Chrome to claim the mantle of favorite. Does he deserve it? There are a few points for and a few points against this horse as he aims for his fourth consecutive victory. In his favor, most simply, is his powerful speed and his ability, so far, to carry it. Will the 1 1/8 miles be too much of a challenge? The fact is that until his last start, he was facing Cal-bred competition primarily. But his last race, in the San Felipe, was very legit, as he dueled with open stakes company for a half-mile in solid fractions before drawing away late.
Today, there is a very serious possibility that he will receive early pressure from Dublin Up, who has excellent speed. The extra half-furlong will test him to the limit. So he really should be 2-1 or higher to be value here.
Candy Boy looks like the main challenge. After an excellent second-place finish after making a middle move against Shared Belief two starts ago, he came back with a solid win against Midnight Hawk--who came back to finish second to California Chrome. He has enough speed to be close to the pace, but not so much as to put him in danger of getting into a duel. He makes a lot of sense in here, and one hopes he'll be a tick or two higher than CC on the odds board.
Hoppertunity was game in victory in Oaklawn's Rebel Stakes, and the distance doesn't look like a problem. Is he good enough? That race earned a good TimeformUS race rating of 105, but a look at the chart indicates that no one in the field really had earned very good figures before that race. It may be that the group wasn't all that strong. A good horse to use on the ticket, but may be a bit of low win-percentage type here.
Big Tire, Rprettyboyfloyd, and Dublin Up finished noses apart in a very solid maiden race (TFUS race rating 101) and are not desperately outclassed in this G1 event, which is only a couple notches better than a good MSW field.
This year's edition of the SA Derby looks to be a race to think of in terms of probabilities, rather than one on which to take a strong stance on one horse. Midnight Hawk's similar efforts behind California Chrome and Candy Boy show that those two are not all that different in ability. Based on my expectation of Candy Boy's slightly higher price, I'll make him the choice here, with Hoppertunity as the horse to add value.
Candy Boy to win.
Small exacta box of Candy Boy and Hoppertunity.
The G1 Ashland Stakes
Keeneland, Race 9
By Alan Mann
The Grade 1 Ashland Stakes, a prep and a points race (100-40-20-10) for the Kentucky Oaks, drew a full field of 13 3YO fillies, which it probably would not have if the race were being run on dirt, as it will be starting next year. Most of these fillies are grass horses who are giving this a shot given the success that turf runners have enjoyed on the Keeneland Polytrack over the years. We imagine that those bettors who have cried over the years how much they hate the "plastic" will be pleased when the race draws fields half this size in years to come and some speedball wires the field without being challenged. Sure, this final Ashland to be run on Polytrack is absolutely inscrutable. Only five of the 13 have run on a synthetic surface of any kind, and only two on this one. That being the case, it is largely a guessing game. You are, of course, free to pass in favor of races with more established form off which to handicap. But we'll dive in, take a stand against the likely favorite, who has no synthetic form, and have a little fun while we still can.
That morning line favorite is Testa Rossi (3-1). This French-bred has won five of her last six races, with her only defeat coming in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, a second to the Irish invader Chriselliam. That's a running line that is sure to attract ample money in the win pool. Trainer Chad Brown then laid her off for 127 days, and she returned with a vengeance, romping with a wide rally as the even-money choice in the Florida Oaks at Tampa, earning a career-best TimeformUS figure of 98. This barn has a perfect rating of 100 with horses running second time off a layoff. Pace Projector predicts a Fast Pace, which should suit her closing style--she has the best late pace rating in the race. We cannot argue with anyone who would say she is the most likely winner. But we're willing to stand against her and let her beat us, based on price and the fact that she's never raced on any surface other than grass and has never even had an official work on synthetic (as of this writing).
Of the horses who have run on synthetic, the clear standout is Rosalind, listed here at the generous morning line price of 15-1, though we're not buying that we'll actually see that price. This versatile daughter of Broken Vow has run well on all three surfaces, with her most noteworthy effort being a fast-closing third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. Of more relevance to us, however, is her wide rally to a second-place finish in last fall's G1 Alcibiades on this track. While her recent form looks middling on first glance--she was the beaten favorite in her last two races--she was compromised by a very wide trip and a speed bias in her effort two back on synth in the G1 Hollywood Starlet, and ran into a buzzsaw in In Tune (as well as a strong speed bias) in a Gulfstream dirt allowance. Her figures are nothing to write home about, but, as a young filly with just six starts, she is surely eligible to improve in this spot, especially considering her past fine performance over the track. What's more, her sparkling half mile blowout over it on Monday and her closing style (second best late pace figure in the field) give her the edge to be the anchor for our tickets.
Room Service (9-2) has never been out of the money in five starts (all on turf) for trainer Wayne Catalano. The daughter of More Than Ready has made big strides in her speed figures in her two starts at three. She was compromised by a slow pace in her 2014 debut, but then bounced back to take the G3 Herecomesthebride, defeating a couple of these, including Candy Kitty (9-2), in the process. Like Rosalind, she has the style and the finishing kick to take advantage of the expected quick pace. She has a favorable inside post, and she, too, has a nice workout over the surface, in preparation for her first try on synthetic. Her pedigree rating for synth routes is 80, and Catalano has trainer ratings of 93 for horses going turf to synth, 81 for first-time synth, and 100 overall for synthetic routes.
Macaroon (15-1) is on the improve for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. After three poor efforts to start her career, she graduated, on grass, at Belmont last fall, and followed that up with a turf allowance win at Gulfstream in her 3YO debut. She added Lasix in that start, a giant positive move for this barn, and McLaughlin has a rating of 95 with horses running on the medication for the second time. She'll likely need a change of tactics from those front-running wins, but Pace Projector indicates that she doesn't have the speed to be prominent early on.
Just a guess as to whether she can run from off the pace, but we'd be willing to take that chance on an improving young filly at these odds. Her pedigree rating for synth routes is 91. Since those numbers are based only on a horse's first generation and their offspring, it doesn't even factor in the fact that her dam is a half-sister to Midshipman, who won the BC Juvenile (on synth, the horror!) at Santa Anita and the G1 Del Mar Futurity. With a nice inside post, Macaroon is our candidate to blow up the board.
Throw out the one dirt try by Istanford (15-1) and the daughter of Istan looks pretty fine. She showed excellent speed in her one synth try, a stakes at Arlington in only her second career start. She comes off a career-best effort: in which she led the way in the Florida Oaks and finished clearly second best to Testa Rossi. She is projected to have the lead again, and, though a Fast Pace is indicated, she should get a head start from her rail post. Trainer Michael Stidham has a rating of 88 for synth routes.
And we could go on. The aforementioned Candy Kitty has been sharp on slop and turf in her last three, but she's trained by Pletcher, so her odds may not be sufficient for a horse trying synth for the first time. Resistivity (10-1) didn't run too poorly when 5th on this track in her debut, and showed high speed on grass in her last, speed she'll need to overcome the 13 post. Her trainer, Mark Casse, has good ratings for synthetic. Seeking Her Glory (12-1) also has shown good speed on grass, and is the "other Pletcher," breaking from the 12 post. Saturday Bliss (20-1) has running lines on dirt that look like those of the Wood favorite, Social Inclusion, and tries synth for the hot George Weaver barn with a pedigree rating of 81 for these conditions. Miss Besilu (15-1) was way up the track in the Florida Oaks, but had shown nice progression up to that point for Mott, who has good numbers for synth (though only a 58 for first time on the surface). None of these would be a total shock.
But hey, you gotta draw the line somewhere. So how about this: Win bet on Rosalind at 8-1 or more; a small win bet on Macaroon; Rosalind on top in our exotics over Macaroon (and a small reversal with the latter on top), Room Service, Istanford, with a little Testa Rossi and Candy Kitty sprinkled in defensively at the bottom of the trifectas.