01/03/2009 1:22PM

First Saturday in January


The first Saturday of 2009 isn't a bad one to get back in the game: There's an interesting opening-day card at Gulfstream, a $118k double-carryover on an Aqueduct card with a pair of odds-on favorites, and the second and third graded stakes of 2009 -- the G3 Hal's Hope at Gulfstream and the G3 Monrovia at Santa Anita.

Gulf09 The Gulfstream opener is a playable nine-race card with two stakes. The Spectacular Bid at six furlongs has a trio of newly-turned 3-year-olds who don't look like classic prospects but have already established themselves as very promising sprinters: You Lucky Mann and Notonthesamepage ran triple-digit Beyers as 2-year-olds, and Silent Valor won the Sapling before failing to stretch out in the Norfolk and BC Juvenile.

The Hal's Hope presents a real dilemma for me because I'm itching to bet Bribon at anything close to his 5-1 morning line. He's just plain faster than this field, is at his best at today's one-turn mile distance, and he comes off a fine closing third in the Cigar Mile. The problem? He ran three of the worst races of his career in his three starts at Gulfstream last winter.Is he a Floridaphobe or just a better horse now? At 3-1 or better, I'll pay to test the latter theory.

The Aqueduct carryover sequence consists of four wide-open races and two where favorites have towering Beyer advantages on the competition. Toulouse Latrec ran a 94 finishing second to the sensational Quality Road in his debut, which gives him a 21-point edge on the figs. And in the featured Count Fleet for nominal classic aspirants, Haynesfield comes off a Beyer 101 winning the Dqamon Runyon and faces four opponents who have yet to muster anything better than a 77.

There are drawbacks to both, however. Toulouse Latrec went short in his debut and stretches from six furlongs to a mile today. Haynesfield won at today's mile-and-70 distance, but through much slower early fractions than some of today's opponents have set. Compare the times, both run over the Aqueduct inner, of Haynesfield's Damon Runyon and Pitched Perfectly's maiden score:

Haynesfield (Dec. 7): 48.03, 1:13.63, 1:42.95

Pitched Perfectly (Dec. 13): 46.80, 1:11.98, 1:43.10

Obviously the track was much quicker Dec. 13 for Pitched Perfectly to get a 77 while Haynesfield received a 101 for running just 0.15 seconds faster, but Haynesfield seems unlikely to get loose here. He's probably so much better that he'll get the job done, and I'll lean on him in the carryover, but it's going to be an interesting run to the first turn.

Greatbarrierreef --Barrier Reef made an impressive return to the races Friday at Aqueduct, winning by 2 3/4 lengths in a visually impressive performance.

Barrier Reef was switched from Darley to Godolphin after winning the Whirlaway last February, where he beat Great Emperor (who later beat Da'Tara in the race before that colt won the Belmont.) Barrier Reef, however, floundered and quickly fell off the Derby trail and delivered three poor efforts last summer.

Back in the Darley colors and reunited with trainer Tom Albertrani, Barrier Reef came off a 4 1/2-month layoff Friday and trounced a decent N2x field, circling and drawing off at will like he might be ready to become a very serious racehorse. His winning time of 1:45.34 for a mile and a sixteenth may not look very quick, but it was 2.59 seconds faster than the only other race at the distance and earned a Beyer of 100.

Update 3:00 pm: Bad news: I'm deader than a doornail after a B-C-C start. Good news: There's a decent shot for a triple carry and a seven-digit pick-six pool at Aqueduct tomorrow as 2-5 Toulouse Latrec just finished third in the third leg following victories by Professional Woman ($13.80) and Banking Holiday ($23.80) in the first two legs.

Toulouse Latrec went to the front and got a fairly soft opening quarter of 24.32, but then second choice Haitian Sensation went up after him through a very quick second quarter (23.14) and the two of them went at it tooth and nail while opening 10 lengths on the field. The two of them staggered home leaning all over each other through a final quarter in over 28 seconds, and 6-1 Tranquil Manner chugged up and went past them both nearing the wire.

Update 4:00 pm: Haynesfield got the job done from off the pace at 1-2, leaving live tickets covering 7 of the 10 runners in the finale. We need a 5, 7 or 9 for a triple carryover; otherwise it pays a minimum of $63,905 and a maximum of a pool-scooping $383,435.

Haynesfield rated kindly enough as Aswaaq and Mike From Queens slugged it out early, moved up on the far turn and looked ready to win at will. Mike From Queens proved resilient, though, making a race of it until the final 100 yards, when Haynesfield finally got clear and Jess Not Jesse got up to nip Mike From Queens for second.

Update 4:40 pm: A horrible beat for those who either needed or got stuck with firster Rightly So, the 2-1 favorite in the finale who rocketed from the gate, looked home free in upper stretch, but got worn down by second choice Gold For The Queen at the wire.

At least Rightly So got beat fair and square. But the six people alive to second-timer Hooked on Money were switched to Rightly So seconds before the race when Hooked on Money was scratched after injuring herself in the gate. It's part of the game but doesn't have to be and maybe someday the industry will gets its technological act together and either offer a designated-substitute option or figure out how to switch people to a horse they don't already have, as they do in Hong Kong. If you were alive to Rightly So and Hooked on Money, you ended up getting Rightly So twice instead of being switched to the second choice.

The four winning tickets were worth $95,858; consos, including the six tickets alive for $63,905 apiece to Hooked on Money, paid $495.