Though we’re still in the midst of Aqueduct’s inner track meet, this edition of the Grade 3, $200,000 Tom Fool is as intriguing a handicapping puzzle as stakes typically run at Belmont or Saratoga. The race features a healthy mix of runners that have been knocking heads throughout the winter on the inner track as well as horses shipping in from other venues.
There is an abundance of early speed signed on, and the Pace Projector is indeed predicting a fast pace. That should work to the advantage of #9 Salutos Amigos, the defending champion, who returns to New York after a brief stint in Southern California.
Let’s go through the field:
#1, Spartiatis (50/1): He comes out of an oddly run race in which two closers found themselves on the lead and ran one-two all the way around the track. He’s been steadily improving over the course of this meet, but even his very best performances likely won’t be good enough to crack the superfecta here.
#2, Angry Moon (12/1): He benefited from a favorable pace scenario last time, when he was able to sneak away to a clear early lead and never looked back against a softer field. He’s very difficult to pass when he gets to the front, but he may be hard-pressed to outrun some of the speedballs drawn to his outside. Of Chris Englehart’s three entrants in this race, this one seems like the least likely winner.
#3, Always Sunshine (10/1): This four-year-old makes his NYRA debut while coming off a brief freshening. He ended his three-year-old campaign in style, drawing off to an easy allowance win at Parx before beating a decent field of stakes runners at Laurel last time. The 119 speed figure that he earned for that effort puts him in the mix, but his connections picked an awfully tough spot for his return. His ability to stalk the pace should come in handy, but we’d require a double-digit price to consider him seriously.
#4, Alex the Terror (8/1): John Toscano has done a fantastic job with this colt since claiming him for $40,000 last August. He’s been steadily moving up in class while picking up four wins along the way. His most recent outing was perhaps his most impressive yet, since he confirmed that he’s perfectly able to stalk the pace and finish strongly through the lane against top-quality competition. That running style should serve him well here in a race loaded with speed. The 127 speed figure that he earned for that recent win is the highest number in the field, and our race ratings don’t suggest that this is even a slight rise in class. A repeat of that effort would make him awfully tough to beat. The only knock against him is that his two big wins have come over surfaces with some moisture in them, and we’re likely to see a fast track on Saturday.
#5, Dads Caps (4/1):
He’s been the runner-up in this race for two straight years, but this year’s renewal of the Tom Fool drew an unusually deep cast of characters. He returned from an abbreviated 2015 campaign in the Toboggan and ran like a horse that needed the race. While his best speed figures certainly make him a contender, they don’t necessarily give him any edge over a handful of rivals that are likely to go off at higher prices. He’s able to stalk the pace, but he’s always run his best races when he’s been in the hunt from the start. We respect his ability and class, but we believe there are better wagering opportunities to be found elsewhere.
#6, Nubin Ridge (20/1): Chris Englehart has done a fantastic job with this runner since claiming him for just $25,000 last July. He’s in the best form of his career, and the 119 speed figure he earned last time puts him on the precipice of breaking into the trifecta here. He did benefit from a very fast pace that day, but he’s likely to get a similarly favorable setup in this spot. We think a win may be just out of reach, but he’s certainly worth including underneath at a price.
#7, Mewannarose (10/1):
Among his trio of runners, this is Chris Englehart’s best chance to come away with a win in this year’s Tom Fool. After a rocky 2015 campaign, Mewannarose has blossomed in recent months and seems to have gotten back to the form that saw him challenging today’s rival Salutos Amigos in late 2014. Two back, in the Toboggan, he chased a fast pace set by the speedy Green Gratto and put away that foe, but was nailed on the wire by Sassicaia. Then last time, in the aforementioned deep allowance race won by Alex the Terror, Mewannarose ran extremely well to be third. Chris DeCarlo, apparently trying to reuse the aggressive tactics that led to success in the Toboggan, may have sent Mewannarose a little overzealously into the fray down the backstretch. He was forced to race three-wide around the far turn while dueling with the two inside runners through blazing fractions. He won the battle, putting away that pair of rivals to his inside, but succumbed to the late-running duo of Alex the Terror and Nubin Ridge in the final furlong. This time, Chris DeCarlo should be able to take up a more comfortable stalking position just in behind the first flight of runners. Mewannarose’s recent figures, both exceeding 120, make him one of the fastest horses in the race, and we think he would offer value at anything above 6/1.
#8, Stallwalkin’ Dude (5/1): It’s been a long time since Stallwalkin’ Dude last came into a race off a layoff. He was incredibly busy last season, making a remarkable 18 starts during the calendar year. His top efforts put him in the mix, but it’s somewhat disconcerting that he threw in such a clunker in his final start of 2014, which prompted this nearly three-month gap in his races. David Jacobson gets only a 67 trainer rating, a weak number for him, with horses coming off layoffs of this type, so we’re inclined to pass on him on this occasion.
#9, Salutos Amigos (2/1):
Though the wins have come less frequently of late, the defending Tom Fool champion remains the horse to beat in this year’s race. He faced Grade or Group 1 company in five of his nine starts since taking last year’s edition of this race, and, though he’s come away with only a listed stakes win, he’s rarely put in a poor effort. He fell just a half-length short in two graded stakes out in California to kick off his 2016 campaign and now returns to one of his favorite tracks. Race dynamics figure to be in his favor, and regular rider Cornelio Velasquez is back aboard, so all signs point to him delivering his typical strong effort. The only knock against him is a potentially short price, since he’s the obvious horse to beat in a large, competitive field. We won’t be betting him to win at 2/1, but he’s certainly a part of any multi-horse wagers.
#10, Waco (12/1): The Pace Projector is predicting that he will be the fastest of all in the early stages. He’s been brilliant on occasion, but his connections have picked an awfully ambitious spot for him to make his five-year-old debut. He’d need to run the race of his life to even finish in the money.
#11, Loki’s Vengeance (20/1): This stalker was unlucky at the post position draw, getting stuck out in the far outside slot. He was in relatively good form towards the tail end of last year and has apparently been working strongly for his 2016 debut. However, he’s never competed in a graded stakes race, and it’s hard to envision him working out the right trip.
The most likely winners appear to be Alex the Terror, Dads Caps, Mewannarose, and Salutos Amigos. Of that group, we believe that MEWANNAROSE (#7) will offer the best value, so we will key our wagers around him. We’ll also add long shot Nubin Ridge (#6) to that group in larger multi-horse wagers.
Exacta Key Box: 7 with 4,5,6,9