Saturday March 1 – Aqueduct
Scheduled post time 4:17pm EST
With only nine weeks remaining until the first Saturday in May, Derby fever comes to the rough and tumble neighborhood of Ozone Park, New York, home of Aqueduct Racetrack. There, 11 three-year-olds will compete in the Grade 3 $500k Gotham, and a promising son of Noble Causeway will put his undefeated record on the line against the best competition he has faced to date.
An important question handicappers need to answer is just how destructive the pace is likely to be to the chances of morning line favorite Samraat. For those who like chalk, Samraat has a number of things going for him. In addition to his perfect four-for-four record, the 108 figure he posted in his Withers triumph four weeks ago is trumped only by that of the horse he ran down in the final yards of that race, Uncle Sigh (who posted a 110). How we feel about the Withers goes a long way in determining how we will go about playing the Gotham. In that race, Samraat and Uncle Sigh distanced themselves from the field almost from the outset, carving out fast fractions on what has been a tiring all-weather surface throughout much of the winter. After dueling much of the way, the two horses covered their final sixteenth of a mile in excess of seven seconds.
Samraat now carries high weight (123 lbs.) and spots most of the field five to seven pounds. Additionally, he may face new pressure near the front end from the likes of undefeated Grade 2 Futurity winner In Trouble and Extrasexyhippzster. The Pace Projector indicates that it won’t be easy for any of these speedy types to stay the trip.
While it’s possible Samraat’s backers could be bailed out by his entry-mate, Noble Cornerstone (an interesting prospect in his own right if you can forgive his recent hiccup), we feel the challenges are sufficient enough to refuse a short price. The horse we feel is most likely to survive the pace war is Uncle Sigh, who despite the loss in their last encounter, has a better late pace rating than Samraat. This time Uncle Sigh may get a nice stalking trip behind In Trouble, who has never been farther than six furlongs and is coming off a layoff. Uncle Sigh was caught last time, but it’s possible the experience tightened him up. He’s been working extremely well and the breeding (90 pedigree rating) indicates he can stay the trip. He’ll need to settle early though.
In terms of the horses coming from off the pace, Harpoon looms the main danger to the aforementioned speed horses. Unfortunately, due to his high-profile trainer, Todd Pletcher, his 10-1 morning line is a pipe dream, but we would gladly purchase a win ticket at half those odds. He is sired by the increasingly dominant sire of Derby prospects, Tapit (90 Pedigree Rating), and he has run well in all five of his career starts. In his most recent race, the Sam F. Davis at Tampa, he had an odd trip, losing key position on the far turn and taking an absurd angle coming into the stretch, tipping out extremely wide as though a Florida retiree were waving a giant carrot at him from the grandstand. From there he leveled off and finished with a flourish. Note the fantastic workout he posted on February 23rd. He will benefit from strong handling by his new jockey, Irad Ortiz, who should help Harpoon negotiate the tight turns of the Big A Inner. If Harpoon is within striking distance turning for home, it will be difficult for the leaders to hold him at bay.
For the minor awards, we turn our attention to Deceived. In six career starts, Deceived has never finished worse than third, which is indicative of a colt always giving his best. He is coming off a fairly competitive 98 figure, earned when crushing a group of allowance horses, and he has posted three workouts since the effort. Deceived was demolished by Samraat two starts back, but today’s race couldn’t have a more different set-up in terms of the pace, and this should benefit Deceived. Note his Pedigree Rating of 100 (the maximum). Deceived has been a dreadful gate horse in his young career, and a reasonably clean break should result in an improved performance. That said, he’s simply not talented enough to be taken seriously as an exacta candidate, and we will make a small investment in the notion that he is the one who can straggle past the pace casualties and collect the show money. He will be our anchor horse in our attempt to crush the trifecta, as seen below.
The Wager: Harpoon to win at 3-1 or greater. Use Harpoon and Uncle Sigh in multi race wagers. Exacta Box of Harpoon and Uncle Sigh. Tri keys Harpoon and Uncle Sigh in the 1/3 holes with all in the middle. Heavy trifecta Harpoon / Uncle Sigh with Harpoon Uncle Sigh with Deceived.