by Bernard T. Moore
Aqueduct swung back into action last Wednesday after a prolonged break during
Christmas week. Only a handful of racing days remained at the Big A in 2004, and
Todd Pletcher and John Velazquez had already locked up their status as the
leading trainer and jockey in both dollars earned and wins in New York. Batman
and Robin teamed up to form a dynamic duo, and the Pletcher and Velazquez
combination is equally comparable in Thoroughbred racing. Their accomplishments,
not just at NYRA tracks, but also across the country, will almost assuredly land them
The $82,700 Gallant Fox H. at 1 5/8 miles was the feature race on Wednesday
as racing resumed. On paper, the race appeared as though it belonged to Colita
(Grindstone), the prohibitive favorite in the marathon contest with strong
connections in Pletcher and Velazquez, who were hoping to put an exclamation
point on a fine year in the Big Apple. However, those plans went awry on the far
turn as TAMBURELLO (Chi) (Rich Man’s Gold) seized the lead, and Colita was
unable to counter with a satisfactory response. Tamburello eventually drew away
in the stretch, powering his way to decisive 3 3/4-length victory. Colita
snatched the place from Hydrogen (Pleasant Colony) by a nose at the wire, as the
third-place finisher, who set a modest pace, continued on well after being
displaced on the lead in the stretch.
This was Tamburello’s initial victory in North America and his lone success
over a dry track. Purchased privately by owner-trainer Mike Miceli after
starting his career in Chile, the five-year-old was ridden flawlessly by jockey
Norberto Arroyo Jr., responding favorably to rating tactics that were
instrumental in winning this prolonged route contest.
Trainer Gregory Martin has been on a roll since Aqueduct opened and continued
to wield a hot hand in the New Year as BANK AUDIT (Wild Rush) demolished
six rivals en route to a popular victory in the Interborough H. Stalking a
snail-like pace on the front end, the winner, with Arroyo up, spurted away to a
daylight lead in the stretch and proceeded to widen her advantage with every
stride, winning by 5 1/2 lengths. Second-place finisher Mariakel (Lit de
Justice), the early trailer in the field, closed belatedly to finish a head in
front of Belong to Sea (Belong to Me), who was part of the early pace scenario
and held well late. Candybedandy (Holy Bull), the distant second choice in the
wagering, barely lifted a hoof in finishing last.
Since claimed by Martin for $65,000 in July, Bank Audit has
steadily worked her way back up the class ladder. Her affinity for the Aqueduct
inner track has benefited her immensely, and the turn back to sprints has
played a big part in her success as well.
The feature race on Sunday, the Ruthless S. for three-year-old fillies,
produced another formful result when MEGASCAPE (Cape Canaveral) effortlessly
handled three other rivals in a facile three-length victory. The winner quickly
stole away to a daylight lead under jockey Stewart Elliot, and then maintained
that advantage on the far turn. The pair settled into the stretch with an
insurmountable lead, and the New York-bred, trained by Steve Asmussen,
demonstrated that her win in the Valley Stream S. (G3) this past November was no
Megascape was geared down in deep stretch as runner-up Pelham Bay (Smart
Strike) made a last ditch effort to overtake her. Academy Brass (Royal Academy),
who chased the wire-to-wire winner from the outset, weakened gradually in the
stretch to finish third.
The main track played favorably to speed in sprint races virtually the entire
week. The speed bias was not as pronounced in route contests and on Friday and
Sunday, there appeared to be no bias whatsoever around two turns. The inside paths
were preferable to begin the week, but the track seemed to even with each
Richard Dutrow Jr. and Tom Bush are deadlocked for leading trainer honors
with 10 wins apiece. Bush has been on fire of late, especially in allowance
contests, while Scott Lake, who holds down third place in the trainer’s
standings, continues to excel in claiming contests. Five trainers are battling
for the fourth spot with seven winners each.
It’s a new year, but the story remains the same in the jockey’s race as
Rafael Bejarano maintains a comfortable seven-win edge over Arroyo in second.
Aaron T. Gryder, Shaun Bridgmohan and Richard Migliore round out the top five.
Handicappers should pay particular attention to everything Richard Migliore
climbs aboard, as he is hitting at a gaudy 30 percent clip. During the inner
track meet, “The Mig” is very selective as to what he rides, so “Migliore on” or
“Migliore off” could potentially be a worthwhile handicapping angle in the
HORSES TO WATCH
2ND – WILD GEESE’s (Is It True) third-place finish is better than it appears.
Closed with good energy in the stretch vs. the grain of a speed biased track in
a race that quickened late.
5TH – CASSETTE CASE (Mighty Magee) direly needed this return race off the
shelf. Dictated a quick pace and understandably tired in deep stretch. Has the
pedigree to handle a middle-distance event and should have derived beneficial
conditioning from this effort off a layoff.
4TH – GOLD AND ROSES (Gold Token) exhibited vastly improved speed with the
addition of blinkers. Gave ground grudgingly in the stretch, but could not
contain a fresh off the pace closer in a race that finished up well late.
6TH – ACEY DEUCEY (Abaginone) stumbled badly leaving the gate. She was then
forced to race very wide down the backstretch and around the far turn. Continued
widest of all in the stretch while lugging in a bit as well. Should definitely
move forward in second start back and a clean getaway.
3RD – FAST LANER (Mutakddim) toyed with the opposition while making her first
start for trainer Gary Contessa. Should be able to handle a class hike in her
next start if properly spotted.
6TH – MAIDEZ (Preacherman) won the pace battle but lost the war to a fresh
off-the-pace closer. Recaptured her quick turn of foot to dispute fast fractions
on the front end and held determinedly.
1ST – CRYSTAL TIGER (Tiger Ridge) finished a fine third returning off the
shelf. Gave ground grudgingly late after setting a quick and pressured pace.
Eligible for softer New York-bred contests.
4TH – ONE STORMY MAMA (Storm Cat) flashed improved speed to vie for the lead
against a deserving odds-on favorite. Finished well while no match for a
prohibitive daylight winner who demolished the field. Has had the misfortune of
facing two runaway winners in both starts off the bench.
4TH – SIR GREELY (Mr. Greely) was pounded early and late at the mutuel
windows vs. a justifiable favorite. Ran sneaky well disputing a lively pace
while racing a bit wide from a tough outside post. Held well to the stretch when
he understandably tired for his early efforts.