Handicapping Insights: Winners all around in re-scheduled Aqueduct stakes
by DICK POWELL
The decision by the New York Racing Association to push back their Thanksgiving weekend stakes races to this past Saturday turned out to be a good one. By providing an extra week's rest after the Breeders' Cup, the quartet of graded stakes races attracted horses that never would have run with only three weeks rest.
The weather cooperated and a decent crowd, by today's standards, showed up at Aqueduct. Betting was strong with increases in on-track and out-of-state wagering.
On-track, the star of the day was SHARP AZTECA, who sat off dueling leaders to easily win the $750,000 Cigar Mile (G1). He wound up on the inside in the two-turn Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (G1) and had to use his speed to repel challenges but going one turn, he was able to relax better than ever and finish full of run.
Sharp Azteca was so sharp that his connections are now considering the Pegasus World Cup (G1) at the end of January at Gulfstream Park. Nine furlongs might be a stretch but he has never been better and a $16 million purse tends to make you try new things.
MIND YOUR BISCUITS rallied for second and he has been on a nice roll this year with the exception of the Forego (G1) at Saratoga, where he could not make up any ground on a speed-favoring main track. Now he is under consideration to stay in training and the Pegasus could be a possibility or a return trip to Dubai where he would defend his title in the six-furlong Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1).
The Remsen (G2) has not been on the radar of Kentucky Derby (G1) winners recently, but it is still a lucrative race for juvenile dirt horses going long. This year's winner, CATHOLIC BOY, romped home the easiest of winners for trainer Jonathan Thomas. It was his first start on the dirt and he handled it very easily while coming from off the pace.
His sire, More Than Ready, is known mostly for middle-distance types on the turf, but his dam is by Bernardini and his second dam is by Seeking the Gold, so there is plenty of dirt stamina on his dam side. Whether he turns out to be a classic contender or not, he is now a graded stakes winner on dirt and turf in only four career starts.
The Demoiselle (G2) for juvenile fillies went to WONDER GADOT who, like Catholic Boy, seemed to be a turf horse. She just missed in a Grade 1 turf stakes at Woodbine second time out then she came back on the Tapeta there and romped by six lengths in a Grade 3 race.
With a strong dirt pedigree, trainer Mark Casse decided to try her on the dirt for the first time in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) and she was beaten about six lengths in a nightmare trip from post 11. Given another chance to try dirt in the Demoiselle, she stalked a slow pace under Johnny Velazquez and took over to win by nearly four lengths.
What intrigued me about the two juvenile stakes races was they both went to horses whose connections decided to start their careers on turf. Some main tracks enable turf horses to get over them very well and, anecdotally, the newly-resurfaced Aqueduct main track might be one of them.
Finally, a great pedigree might be a curse in the sense that it is very hard to live up to. Godolphin's INDULGENT has been graded stakes-placed before but could never break through with a graded stakes win despite being a half-sister to multiple Grade 1 winner Frosted.
In the Go For Wand (G3), Luis Saez was not taking any chances and raced her up near the lead. She battled throughout the one-turn mile dirt race and held sway by a length for a well-deserved graded stakes win.
(Viola Jasko/Adam Coglianese Photography)