Aqueduct Winter Inner Track Update - Soldat's Next Step


By Noel Michaels

As the long cold winter marches on in the New York area, so does racing on Aqueduct's inner track.  But as the monotony of winter racing presses on amid colder-than-usual temperatures and more cancellations than normal, signs of change slowly have begun to creep brighten up afternoons at the Big A.  For starters, post times return to their customary 1:00 p.m. time slot beginning on Wednesday, March 2, and as the calendar page flips over into March, we now move into the home stretch of the long winter inner track season at Aqueduct.  There is now less than a month to go until Aqueduct racing switches back to the main track on March 30, and officially less than two months until New York racing shifts to the friendlier confines of Belmont Park starting on April 29.

I'm doing very well daily at Aqueduct, along with Gulfstream and other tracks. You can join my Winter Angles Daily Racing Service here online and receive my best bets and exotics every racing day.

For racing fans, the officially un-official start of spring arrives this year on Saturday, April 9 with Wood Memorial / Carter Handicap Day at the Big A.  Before Wood Day arrives, however, it is first time for this coming weekend's Gotham Stakes ' the primary local prep race for the Wood Memorial.  Top hopefuls for the G3, 1 1/16-mile Gotham include Todd Pletcher's scintillating Gulfstream maiden-breaker Cal Nation, Kiaran McLaughlin's blazingly fast sprinter, Crossbow, Chad Brown's up-and-coming GP allowance-winner Free Entry, Kelly Breen's rejuvenated Nacho Saint, Rick Violette's undefeated The Fed Eased, and the first three finishers in Aqueduct's local prep, the Whirlaway, Toby's Corner, J.J.'s Lucky Train, and Preachintothedevil.  There is even still a chance that the race could attract California's highly-regarded speed burning maiden winner, the aptly-named Runflatout.

Beyond the stakes races, which are simply a sideshow in New York at this time of year, racing at Aqueduct has been solid this winter in spite of the frequent cancellations. Field sizes haven't been bad, favorites are winning at a reasonable percentage ' as are price horses ' and many good performances have been noted by horses and horsemen, alike.


Aqueduct is the wintertime home of the nation's top jockey and current Eclipse Award holder Ramon Dominguez.  Betting the Big A is an exercise of knowing when to bet on the dominating rider who rules the roost ' and the tote board ' at Aqueduct, and when to seek value elsewhere by betting against him.  Behind Dominguez, the clear second fiddle here for the third straight year has been David Cohen, who, it should be noted, is riding extremely hot lately and has been a good as anybody anywhere since mid-February.

Behind the top two, the top wintertime New York jockeys this year have been the hot-and-cold Cornelio Velazquez, the up-and-coming Junior Alvarado, and the New Jersey transplant duo of Eddie Castro and CC Lopez.  Velazquez is most dangerous when he is riding logically spotted horses for trainers Rudy Rodriguez, Chris Englehart, and Linda Rice, while Alvarado is using this meet to make a local name for himself and his obvious riding skills.  Castro is teaming up with the high-percentage barn of trainer Kiaran McLaughlin to boost his winning percentage, while CC Lopez is ably taking the reigns for just about any conditioner on the grounds who needs strong handling of an early speed horse.

The meet's top apprentice has been Brian Pedrosa, while other apprentices have struggled, including Charlie Amaro (2-for-76) and Jamie Rodriguez (6-for 45).  Other struggling jockeys have included journeymen Channing Hill (just 14-for-132, 11% despite teaming up frequently with 27% trainer Mike Hushion), and Jorge Chavez, who has been hit-or-miss now for the better part of 3-5 years, this being no exception with a 10-for-95, 11% win record.  Veteran Jean-Luc Samyn, who could always be counted on for a limited amount of wins from only a few low-profile mounts, is out three months after losing two fingers last week in a snow-blower accident at his home.  Remember, it's Samyn on the green ' not on the white.


Plenty of Aqueduct trainers have been having solid and successful seasons this winter, and many have won at high percentages and posted strong ROIs, but there is still nobody around here, even at this time of year, who has the firepower in his or her stable to compete with leading trainer Todd Pletcher, who tops the trainers standings with 29 wins.  Pletcher is not just winning a lot of races, either, he's winning a high-percentage too ' currently 30%.  Even though his first string of horses is in Florida right now and there's no turf racing in New York, Pletcher is still the top dog and his runners always must be respected accordingly when they turn up in the entries.

On the tote board, the story has often revolved around trainers Rudy Rodriguez, Chris Englehart, and Linda Rice, whose runners all see heavy action pretty much whenever they are entered ' especially with Dominguez or Cohen aboard.  As of the end of February, Rodriguez is sitting at No. 2 in the trainers standings with 19 wins, Englehart is tied for third with 17 wins, and Rice is sixth with 16 wins, however, just because those trainers are racking up the Ws doesn't necessarily mean they are the ones you should be betting.  In fact, each of those trainers ' particularly Rodriguez and Rice ' are hitting at negative ROIs (return on investment).

Rodriguez's 14% win percentage and Rice's 17% win percentage have not been enough to boost them up into positive ROI territory for handicappers, and even Englehart has been burning a ton of money over the course of the last 6 weeks since getting off to a blazingly fast start here after arriving downstate in December and early January.  Other guys burning a lot of money include Gary Contessa (16 wins but only a 12% win percentage), and Bruce Levine, who has a low ROI in spite of 17% wins. Bet Levine with first-time Lasix (the Bruce Juice), but lay off him at other times.

Also steer clear of guys like Frank Martin (1-for-60), Bobby Barbara (0-for-21), and Daniel Conway (1 for his first 22).

Instead of betting low ROI trainers such as Rodriguez, Rice, and Englehart, Aqueduct horseplayers would be better off putting their money on high-percentage trainers and/or others who perhaps don't attract quite so much attention on the tote board.  This group of higher-ROI trainers for handicappers to keep tabs on includes Kiaran McLauglin (35% winners with his New York winter second-string), Steve Asmussen (31% wins with his NY string), Rick Violette, who has 17 wins for a 30% win percentage, and Mike Hushion, who has cooled down a bit lately but still owns 8 wins from 30 starters and a 27% win percentage.

Low-profile trainers to keep on your radar include H. James Bond, who quietly has amassed 7 wins and a 27% win percentage at the meet, Diane Balsamo, who has won 4-of-14 starts for 29%, James Hooper, who is winning 50% now with 3 wins from 6 starters, and Joseph Lostrito, who won with 5 of his first 21 starters despite often being overlooked in the wagering.


The Aqueduct inner track is known often for its track biases and this year has been no exception, except for the fact that perhaps this year's biases have been more muted than the usual ample doses of speed and rail-biased days.  The inside speed paved highway has not been the surest path to victory at the Big A, except for a few prime days when the track most closely resembled its own self this winter.

Here is my list of Aqueduct inner track biases so far this year:

Aqueduct Inner Track Biases
Feb. 19 ' Speed bias (cancel after 3 races)
Feb. 18 ' Rail was best part of the track
Feb. 16 ' Front-end bias, had to be on or close to pace
Feb. 10 ' All winners on or close
Feb. 9 ' Strong inside speed bias
Feb. 6 ' Outside good, slow rail
Feb. 5 ' Good rail (sealed)
Jan. 30 ' Outside bias, speed horses died down on the rail
Jan. 29 ' Outside bias, speed horses died down on the rail
Jan. 22 ' Speed bias w/ 7 wire-to-wire winners; inside good
Jan. 20 ' Difficult to close from too far off the pace
Jan. 17 ' Difficult to close from too far off the pace
Jan. 16 ' Speed good, pace horses won 8 of 9
Jan. 13 ' Outside preferred
Jan. 7 ' Speed bias
Jan. 5 ' Outside bias
Jan. 2 ' Inside bias, all winners on or close

As far as post positions are concerned, the inside posts have been beneficial for the most part, but still not as dominant as in many years past, especially in two-turn route races and miles where the three inside posts often dominated.

In the current 2010-11 Aqueduct inner track meet, the inside four posts 1-4 are still the best, but posts 5-6 haven't been bad either, and horses as far out as post 8 have even managed to win at a high percentage (post 8 was 14-for-81 for 17%), which makes it one of the best posts this winter in Aqueduct inner track routes.  What this means more than anything is that you just can't dismiss an outside horses chances just because of its post position like you could in the old days of the Big A inner track.

Interestingly, the inside posts have been slightly more beneficial in sprints than in routes so far this season on the inner track. All Aqueduct inner track sprints are run at 5 ½ and mostly 6 furlongs, and in these races it has been the inside two posts 1-2 that have been the best places to break from with win percentages of 16% and 18%, respectively.  Nevertheless, outside of the inside posts 1-2, all other posts have been fair all the way on outward to post 12, with little difference observed in a horse's chances of winning given any post from 3 through 12.  Therefore, if you notice an inside slant on the tote board toward horses closer to the rail, then alert handicapper should be looking for value odds horses on the outside half of the starting gate.

There's still another month to go in the Aqueduct inner track and another month at Aqueduct on the main track after that. Contrary to the beliefs of some, Aqueduct is an excellent place to watch and wager during these winter months, and should not be overlooked in the shadow of the higher-profile race meets at this time of year in Florida and California.

Good luck and good racing at Aqueduct!


Florida Derby next for Soldat; Gourmet Dinner eyeing Santa Anita

SOLDAT (War Front) was 'happy and in great shape,' trainer Kiaran McLaughlin reported Sunday, following his dominant two-length victory in the $400,000 Fountain of Youth (G2) at Gulfstream Park. The three-year-old colt led virtually every step of the way Saturday as the 7-5 betting favorite to finish ahead of GOURMET DINNER (Trippi) and TO HONOR AND SERVE (Bernardini).

The Fountain of Youth was Soldat's first victory over a fast main track, an outcome that pleased McLaughlin but didn't surprise him in the least.

'Going into the race, I wasn't concerned about that at all,' McLaughlin said. 'He's always trained extremely well over a fast track, but it is nice to finally get it in print that he likes it fast.'

While Soldat has won his last two races from the front end, McLaughlin says he has no concerns about his colt's ability to rate in the future.

'He absolutely could rate,' McLaughlin remarked. 'We have no worries about that.'

The conditioner added that the April 3 Florida Derby (G1) back at Gulfstream has been penciled in for Soldat's next race, but there are no definitive plans for CROSSBOW (Bernardini), who was scratched after drawing the rail in Saturday's Hutcheson (G2).

'We were originally thinking of running him in the (March 5) Gotham (G3) at Aqueduct,' McLaughlin explained. 'But now it looks like we'll look at all options.'
Gourmet Dinner (outside) and To Honor and Serve (middle) could not keep pace with Soldat (Adam Coglianese Photography)

Fountain of Youth runner-up Gourmet Dinner came out of the race 'very well' according to trainer Steve Standridge, who will chose between the Florida Derby (G1) and April 9 Santa Anita Derby (G1) for the colt's next start.

'I'm very happy with the way he ran,' Standridge said. 'He switched leads down the stretch when Ramon (Dominguez) hit him right handed, then he changed back after a few strides, but you lose a little momentum.'

Gourmet Dinner continues to prove himself as an 'iron horse,' having placed first, second or third in seven of eight career starts, having shipped back-and-forth to the West Coast twice, and having run at four different tracks.

'He's a warrior,' Standridge said. 'We're going to play it by ear as far as his next start. We're looking at the Florida Derby and Santa Anita Derby, but we're leaning a little toward Santa Anita. I know it will be easier in California than it is here, and it gives us another week.'

No matter where Gourmet Dinner runs next, the colt has plenty of graded earnings to make it to the starting gate of the May 7 Kentucky Derby (G1) just off his victory November 20 in the $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot (G3).

On the Florida worktab

It was a busy Sunday morning at Palm Meadows for trainer Todd Pletcher's juggernaut stable with a dozen stakes runners hitting the work tab, led by Repole Stable's undefeated Eclipse champion UNCLE MO (Indian Charlie). The bay colt clocked a bullet five furlongs in 1:00 3/5 over the fast main track in company with stablemate STAY THIRSTY (Bernardini) as both three-year-olds get close to their season debuts.

Uncle Mo, a 4 1/4-length winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) on November 6 at Churchill Downs in his last start, is expected to launch his march to the Kentucky Derby (G1) in the $100,000 Timely Writer overnight stakes to be run at one mile on March 12 at Gulfstream Park. Stay Thirsty is still seeking his first stakes win after running second in the Hopeful S. (G1) at Saratoga in September and finishing fifth behind his stablemate in the Juvenile. The dark bay is expected to make his seasonal bow before Uncle Mo when lining up for Saturday's Gotham S. (G3) at Aqueduct.

Other notable Pletcher-trained stars on the Sunday morning tab at Palm Meadows included the undefeated sophomore BRETHREN (Distorted Humor), who drilled a half-mile in :49 2/5. A half-brother to last year's Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Super Saver, the bay colt easily captured his stakes bow in the Sam Davis S. (G3) by four lengths and is expected to next contest the March 12 Tampa Bay Derby (G2).

WinStar homebred CAL NATION (Distorted Humor), who romped by 7 3/4 lengths at Gulfstream Park on February 5 in his career debut, worked five-eighths in 1:02 2/5. Pletcher indicated the bay would make his next start in an allowance sometime in March.

Multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire LIFE AT TEN (Malibu Moon), last seen listless on the way to being eased in the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic (G1), covered four furlongs in :48 2/5. The April 2 Rampart S. (G3) is being tossed around as one of the possible races in which the Pletcher trainee could make her return.

Dual Grade 3 winner RULE (Roman Ruler), placed in the Donn H. (G1) and Hal's Hope S. (G3) thus far since returning from a 10-month layoff, turned five-eighths in 1:01 3/5. He could make his third start of the year in the March 12 Gulfstream Park H. (G2).

Vagrancy H. (G2) heroine HOUR GLASS (Petionville), fifth in the Endine S. (G3) last out, covered a half-mile in :48 2/5.

Northern Dancer S. (G3) winner COLIZEO (Distorted Humor), third in the Ack Ack H. (G3) to close out his three-year-old season, toured five furlongs in 1:01 3/5.

Multiple Grade 1-placed AIKENITE (Yes It's True), unraced since his eighth in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (G1), reeled off five-eighths in 1:01 2/5.

Multiple stakes scorer and Grade 2-placed IBBOYEE (Medallist), idle since his subpar ninth in the Empire Classic S., toured a half-mile in :51.

Multiple Canadian stakes victor SENSATIONAL SLAM (Grand Slam), the penultimate finisher in the With Anticipation S. (G3) when last seen in September, negotiated four furlongs in :51. He could return in Saturday's Fred 'Cappy' Capossela S. at Aqueduct.

Jersey Derby star HUDSON STEELE (Johannesburg) logged four furlongs in :49 3/5.

Pletcher also sent out the turf workers on the day, highlighted by allowance winner QUEEN'SPLATEKITTEN (Kitten's Joy). The Ontario-bred logged four furlongs in :51 on Palm Meadows' firm turf in advance of his stakes debut in the March 12 Palm Beach S. (G3).

Grade 2 scorer BLUES STREET (Street Cry [Ire]), runner-up by a nose in the Ft. Lauderdale S. (G3) last out, strolled four furlongs in :54 4/5 on the turf.

Multiple stakes vixen ROSE CATHERINE (Speightstown), last seen running a close seventh against the boys in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint (G2), traveled a half in :51 3/5 over the weeds.

Sweetest Chant S. runner-up EXCITED (Giant's Causeway) motored in :51 for a half-mile on the green.

Dual stakes winner and recent Holy Bull S. (G3) runner-up SWEET DUCKY (Pulpit), who will train up to the April 3 Florida Derby (G1), topped the rest of the Palm Meadows main track workers when breezing three-quarters in 1:13 1/5 for trainer Kelly Breen.

Grade 1 hero ICE BOX (Pulpit), unraced since a fifth-placing in the Monmouth Cup S. (G2) in October, posted three panels in :37 2/5.

Lake Placid S. (G3) star IT'S TEA TIME (Dynaformer), fourth in the Suwannee River S. (G3), finished five panels in 1:02 4/5.

Reigning Pan American S. (G3) victor BEARPATH (Dynaformer), second in the Sword Dancer Invitational S. (G1) two back, negotiated four furlongs in :50.

Stakes winner TRAPPE SHOT (Tapit), last seen running ninth in the Travers S. (G1) following a runner-up effort in the Haskell Invitational S. (G1), went three-eighths in :38 3/5.

Grade 3 runner-up LA CLOCHE (Ghostzapper), unplaced when last seen in the Mrs. Revere S. (G2), traveled four panels in :49 4/5.

Pasco S. third-placer DEPECHE CHAT (Wildcat Heir) went four panels in :49 2/5.

Multiple Grade 1 king WINCHESTER (Theatrical [Ire]), 11th when last seen in the Hong Kong Vase (HK-G1), breezed three furlongs in :39 3/5 on Payson Park Training Center's fast dirt.

Multiple stakes victress IMPOSSIBLE TIME (Not Impossible [Ire]), runner-up in the Maple Leaf S. to close out her five-year-old campaign, covered four furlongs in :49 3/5.

Sophomore lass ROYAL DELTA (Empire Maker), who romped by 12 lengths in her maiden debut in late October at Belmont Park, clocked five-eighths in 1:03 1/5.

Over the firm turf at Gulfstream Park, four-time Grade 1 hero and $2.6 million-earner COURT VISION (Gulch) clocked 1:01 1/5 for five furlongs. The Rick Dutrow Jr. trainee finished fourth in the Citation H. (G2) in his 2010 finale.

Grade 3 scorer STRADIVINSKY (Stravinsky), hero of the Gulfstream Park Turf Sprint S. to start the year, blazed five-eighths in :59 3/5 on the green. Dutrow has mentioned the turf dash on Dubai World Cup night, the March 26 Al Quoz Sprint (UAE-G2), as an objective.

Grade 2 victor ELDAAFER (A.P. Indy), who closed out 2010 with a win in the Breeders' Cup Marathon (G3), sauntered five panels on the green in 1:03. The six-year-old opened the year with an unplaced run in the Donn.

Multiple Grade 3 heroine ASKBUT I WON'TTELL (Horse Chestnut [SAf]), second in the Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Turf most recently, toured five grassy panels in 1:01 3/5.

Grade 1-placed stakes winner NEVER RETREAT (Smart Strike), second in the Suwannee River S. (G3) last out, breezed a half-mile on the turf in :50.

NINA FEVER (Borrego), a dead-heat third in the Sweetest Chant S. last out, blitzed five furlongs on the sod in a bullet :59 3/5.

Grade 3-placed stakes winner THIRD CHANCE (Kafwain), fifth in the Forward Gal S. (G2), covered five grassy furlongs in 1:01.

Grade 1 winner FURTHEST LAND (Smart Strike), most recently a neck scorer against optional claiming company, breezed a half-mile in :50 1/5 on Gulfstream's fast main track.

Stakes scorer MS VANENZZA (Successful Appeal), placed in both the Hurricane Bertie S. (G3) and Sugar Swirl S. (G3) so far this season, posted four panels in :48 1/5.

Multiple New York-bred stakes veteran BANROCK (Go for Gin), unplaced in his two optional claiming starts so far this season, negotiated five furlongs in 1:03 2/5.

Red Smith H. (G2) runner-up RESCUE SQUAD (Dynaformer) traveled a half in :49 1/5.

Multiple stakes queen D'WILD RIDE (D'wildcat), fifth in the Sugar Swirl to start the year, blazed four furlongs in :47.

Dual Grade 3 runner-up SCHOOLYARD DREAMS (Stephen Got Even), winner of an allowance/optional claimer last out, turned four furlongs in :47 1/5 on the fast main track at Tampa Bay Downs.

Grade 3-placed multiple stakes victress KISS MINE (Mineshaft), fifth in the Endeavour S. (G3) last out, breezed a bullet five furlongs in 1:00 2/5.

Stakes vixen IT'S ME MOM (Put It Back), fourth in the Old Hat S. (G3) last out, logged a half-mile in :48.

At Calder, six-time Grade 3-placed DREAM MAESTRO (Concerto), third in the Sunshine Millions Classic most recently, breezed four furlongs in :51 4/5 on the fast dirt.



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