10/28/2009 11:00PM

Aqueduct roundup

Email

WHO'S HOT

Ramon Dominguez

Things looked a bit uncertain heading into the final week at Belmont, but Ramon Dominguez rode like a man possessed to secure his fifth straight meet title in New York this year.

The highlight was probably his sweep of the $350,000-guaranteed late pick four on New York Showcase Day, with Fenway Faithful ($21.40) taking the Sleepy Hollow, Rightly So ($12.20) the Iroquois, Driven by Success ($3.70) the Hudson, and Haynesfield ($11) the Empire Classic for a $2 payoff of $1,461 (the bet missed the guarantee once again, handling just more than $332,000).

But the most memorable ride came in the rescheduled Athenia aboard Belle Allure ($2.90), who was all dressed up with no place to go in upper stretch, before a seam finally materialized.

"I was panicking a little bit when we turned for home because there was really no racing room," said Dominguez, who set a modern-day record with 98 wins at Belmont's spring-summer meet and is on pace to become the second rider to reach the 350-win plateau on the circuit (no one is likely to threaten Steve Cauthen's record of 433 victories in 1977). "Eventually, I was able to get my filly out, and she responded pretty well."

Cornelio Velasquez

The Saratoga titlist two years ago, he tied for fourth-place in the standings with an average mutuel ($14.50) that was better than twice that of Dominguez.

Todd Pletcher

His meet-leading 20 wins at Belmont's fall meet - 15 by 2-year-olds - included 31 percent winners on dirt and 32 percent on turf.

"Our 2-year-olds ran very well," said Pletcher, who won the Belmont fall title for a seventh time. "Any time you have 28 second-place finishes, as we did at Saratoga, you hope they turn into wins at the next meet. It doesn't always work out that way, but everything came together."

Kitten's Joy juveniles

In addition to Lisa's Kitten and Kera's Kitten, who are Breeders' Cup-bound after sweeping the La Senorita and El Joven Stakes at Retama Park last weekend, Dean's Kitten ($10) won the Vision overnight stakes on closing day at Belmont for Ken and Sarah Ramsey and trainer Mike Maker.

TRACK TRENDS

The last week at Belmont began with a super-fast main track Oct. 21, with Super Shape equaling the track record for 6 1/2 furlongs in a $35,000 claimer and Birdrun lowering the 1 1/16-mile mark to 1:39.38 in a first-level allowance.

Stalkers dominated the four dirt races on the Oct. 22 card.

There were only three races run on the main track Oct. 23, with nothing exceptional taking place except for race 2, a maiden special at seven furlongs for 2-year-old fillies, where they appeared to be running uphill through the stretch. That would've helped to justify the fractions: 22.19 seconds, 45.17, 1:12.09, and 1:26.41, which translated to a third quarter in 26.92 and a final furlong in 14.32.

As Mother Nature would have it, Saturday's New York Showcase Day program (Oct. 24) was compromised by rain. So was Travers Day, Jockey Club Gold Cup Day, and the penultimate weekend of the meet, from which the Athenia and Knickerbocker had to be postponed.

The sloppy main track played several ticks slower than par, but there were no discernible path or running-style biases; it was simply a case of who handled the muck and mire.

The closing-day program (Oct. 25) featured seven - count 'em, seven - races for 2-year-olds, along with the Ticonderoga and Mohawk, which were pushed back from their traditional Saturday spots because of the rain. All five winners on the main track set or forced the pace, but we can't just chalk it up to a speed-biased surface, since three favorites and two second choices made up the quintet.

On the grass through closing week, the standout trend continued to occur in the six-furlong sprints on the inner course, where tactical speed was a necessity as was the case the entire 33-day session.

At Aqueduct, keep an eye out for horses that closed ground in the six-furlong races on the inner turf, particularly those who are moving back to conditions they've handled well in the past. Rest assured, there will be plenty of them, because there are no turf sprints of any kind at The Big A.

COMING ATTRACTIONS

Todd Pletcher has the one to beat in Saturday's Grade 3 Turnback The Alarm with Unbridled Belle, a $1.8 million earner with natural speed who gave Music Note a scare in the recent Beldame. Keep in mind that routes at Aqueduct go back to two turns, so the run to the clubhouse bend is crucial in races like the Turnback The Alarm, run at 1 1/8 miles, and the speed of Unbridled Belle is a potent weapon.

Saturday's co-feature is the Grade 3, $150,000 Bold Ruler at seven furlongs that came up pretty light. Consider that Mr. Nickerson won this race in 1990 with a Beyer Speed Figure of 113, and since then the Beyer par has been just more than 110. Do you see anyone in this renewal that seems capable of getting anywhere near that number?

On Sunday, the $150,000 Long Island is the last opportunity for fillies and mares to run in a graded stakes in New York this season. Criticism, last year's winner, is pointing to a defense of her title for Tom Albertrani.

BET OF THE WEEK

As if on cue from Dick Jerardi, whose column "Risk $10K to try and make $500 - why?" had just appeared in that day's Daily Racing Form, along came Bon Jovi Girl to lure the bridge-jumpers in the Real Prize overnight stakes Oct. 23. She was 3-5 against four other 3-year-old fillies and had $55,505 of the $66,864 show pool. Midway around the turn, it was apparent things weren't going well, and Bon Jovi Girl straggled home dead last by 24 1/2 lengths behind Unrivaled Belle, who galloped to her third straight win as the 5-2 second choice. Even better than the $7 win price, however, was her $9 show payoff, thanks to those who think betting suitcases of money to win a few bucks sounds like a good idea.

By the way, the next day at Penn National, a 1-20 shot named Star Hawk pulled up lame, setting up show prices of $71.80, $110.60, and $205.20 on the top three finishers.

When will "they" ever learn?

HORSES TO WATCH

Birdrun

Trainer: Bill Mott

Last race: Oct. 21, 3rd

Finish: 1st by 8 1/4

Yes, the track was fast when this late-developing Birdstone colt set a track record of 1:39.38 for 1 1/16 miles, but that was still one heck of a performance to press a half-mile in 44.59 seconds, take command around the turn after six furlongs in 1:08.29, and draw off with every stride through the lane. The timing looks right for a start in the Grade 3 Discovery (Nov. 21).

Fly Down

Trainer: Nick Zito

Last race: Oct. 25, 2nd

Finish: 3rd by 3 1/2

First-time starter checked a bit at the break, was nearly 10 lengths behind the eventual front-running winner after a half-mile, and made up six lengths thereafter to wind up third, nearly a dozen lengths ahead of the fourth horse. A 2-year-old by Mineshaft, he only figures to improve with more seasoning as the distances stretch out.

Imaging

Trainer: Shug McGaughey

Last race: Oct. 25, 6th

Finish: 2nd by neck

Stuart Janney III homebred finished third from post 12 when unveiled at seven furlongs on Belmont's Widener turf and was a maiden against winners when he ran out of ground and fell a neck short to Dean's Kitten in the Vision, a $65,000 overnight stakes at 1 1/16 miles on closing day. The son of Dynaformer raced a bit greenly through the lane but handled the soft going nicely and appears to have a bright future.

Super Shape

Trainer: Bruce Levine

Last race: Oct. 21, 1st

Finish: 1st by 2 3/4

Making his first start for Bruce Levine, he returned from a 75-day layoff to equal a track record in a $35,000 claiming sprint, and his connections probably breathed a huge collective sigh of relief that no one reached in for the 5-year-old gelding, who was making just the 15th start of his career. He won his only start over Aqueduct's main track by better than five lengths last spring as the second of three straight victories, so he can be expected to maintain good form.