03/17/2010 11:00PM

Aqueduct roundup

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WHO'S HOT

Mike Hushion

With a stable of horses who roared like lions coming into March, Hushion, 61, is arguably having his best winter meet since he won the inner-dirt title in 1992-93.

During a stretch of 10 racing days from Feb. 28 through Mar. 14, 13 Hushion-trained runners went on a 7-3-0 tear, a streak that began when Lights Off Annie ($15.60) wired the for the second straight year.

On Gotham Day, Goldsville ($6.20) and Tapped Out Bruno ($9.50) made their first starts for Hushion and scored off layoffs of eight and seven weeks.

A day later, Ironman Jon, an unbeaten 4-year-old by Mineshaft, won a first-level allowance with a Beyer Speed Figure of 95 and did it so effortlessly that his connections were talking about the upcoming Excelsior - a Grade 3, $200,000 event on the Wood Memorial undercard Apr. 3 - as a possibility for what would be just his third career start. Don't bet against the Barry K. Schwartz homebred: Hushion is 5-1-0 in 6 stakes this winter.

The barn's surge continued last week with wins by Magical Solution ($10.20), Bea Bet ($11.60), and Shine Upon ($4.90). Shine Upon was up in class and distance after beating New York-bred fillies in maiden and first-level allowance conditions and gamely turned back prolonged challenges from two more experienced rivals in the $60,000 Dreamy Mimi overnight stakes. She improved to 3 for 3.

Overall, Hushion entered this week 19-10-2 from 51 meet starters (37.3 percent), with a $2.58 return on investment.

The Trainers' Race

With nine days remaining at the meet, Gary Contessa - in quest of a fifth consecutive inner-track title and eighth overall since 1999-2000 - clung to a 34-32 lead over Todd Pletcher.

Meanwhile, Pletcher's .351 winning percentage included a 9-for-28 mark in stakes and an ROI of $2.52.

The one to catch for highest hit rate remained Steve Asmussen's local division, overseen by Toby Sheets, which was 24-for-59 (40.6 percent) at press time, with a $2.20 ROI.

Roaring Fever

A son of Storm Cat who stands in New York for a $4,000 stud fee, Roaring Fever won at distances ranging from six furlongs to 1 1/16 miles in a 19-race career. His progeny have recently shown some of that versatility and an affinity for off going, winning five maiden races and a first-level allowance on the inner dirt from Feb. 28 thru Mar. 14.

Chronologically, the streak included Maid to Win, a 12-length debut winner in the mud Feb. 28; Spa City Princess ($41) and seven-length debut winner Stormin Bolt ($19.20) on Gotham Day; Roaring Ghost, who was bet to 7-5 favoritism and romped by better than five lengths first out in six months; Victorious Song ($63.50), on a "good" track as the longest shot on the tote in the first leg of last Friday's early pick four; and Mustang Fever ($7.20), who ran down a 2-5 favorite in the slop last Sunday to improve to 3-1-1 from 5 starts on wet tracks.

TRACK TRENDS

The week began Wednesday, March 10, with a closer-favoring track: Ampart Ridge ($4.40) was the lone winner to make every pole a winning one. Three of four sprints were won by horses positioned in the rear half of the field at the first call. In routes, Royal Vessel ($6.50) and Crafty Gem ($6.40) overcame early deficits of five lengths to win decisively.

After unremarkable conditions the following day, a rainy program Friday, March 10, was run over a track that grew progressively wetter throughout the day; it was harrowed for the first three races and sealed thereafter.

Heavy rain and wind last Saturday forced the seventh cancellation of the meet.

Last Sunday's sloppy track played honestly, with perhaps an edge to early speed in the four sprints, three of which were won wire to wire. Only 51 horses - an average of 5.6 per race - ran through the muck and mire. Odds-on favorites went 0 for 4, and another post-time choice went down to defeat at even money. This is why many longtime students of form cut their action significantly when the track is anything other than fast.

On a brighter note, Saturday is the first day of spring. All that recent rain, combined with sunshine and midweek temperatures around 60, have the turf course saying, "Grow, baby, grow!"

The grass-racing season kicked off Apr. 8 last year, but assuming March goes out like a lamb, you can make book turf racing comes earlier this year. How does Wood Day sound?

COMING ATTRACTIONS

The rained-out 18th running of the Cicada, a $100,000 Grade 3 for 3-year-old fillies, was rescheduled as part of a stakes doubleheader with Saturday's 30th running of the Kings Point Stakes, a 1 1/8-mile route for New York-breds 3 and up.

The extra week only figures to help Bickersons, who was the Cicada's 7-5 morning-line choice - and would have been running back in two weeks - had the six-furlong dash gone off as scheduled. She was up against an intense anti-speed bias when dueled into submission at 13-10 in the Davona Dale.

The favorite in the Kings Point will probably be Icabad Crane, even though he hasn't won in nearly two years, since taking the 2008 running of the Federico Tesio. He has never been out of the money on the inner dirt, though, and comes off a new top Beyer Figure (104) when he was a sharp second to 1-4 chalk Well Positioned in an open second-level allowance/optional claimer.

In the condition book for Sunday is a $60,000 overnight stakes called The Wheel Turns, a six-furlong dash for older fillies and mares who have not won a graded stakes since Aug. 1.

The final week of racing on the inner dirt may begin with the Yourmissinthepoint, a $60,000 marathon at 1 5/8 miles for older males.

Next Saturday, the final scheduled day of racing on the inner track, the Ladies Stakes returns from a one-year hiatus for its 139th running. Among the 20 nominees are Don't Forget Gil, who is lengths better at Tampa Bay Downs than anywhere else; Hour Glass, beaten a half-length in the Barbara Fritchie; Life At Ten, who capitalized on a golden rail to wire a paceless renewal of the Rare Treat; Pamona Ball, beaten a head in the Fritchie and a nine-length winner of a second-level allowance here two back; and Tidal Dance, who has trained forwardly since a dominating win in the Jan. 17 Affectionately for Mike Hushion.

INSIGHT OF THE WEEK

By far the most insightful take on Rachel Alexandra's pratfall at 1-20 last Saturday, and almost immediate defection from a $5 million Apple Blossom, came from Jennie Rees in the Louisville Courier Journal (courier-journal.com). An excerpt:

"Last year, [Jess] Jackson famously waited until late to dramatically announce where Rachel would run. . . . He repeatedly said he and trainer Steve Asmussen needed to see how she was after she went back to the track, and after a work - or several works. Now, less than 24 hours after her defeat and with the Apple Blossom 27 days away, he's declaring her out and suggesting he might not know her next major goal for a couple of months."

The handwriting is on the wall, isn't it?

HORSES TO WATCH

Cast Call

Trainer: Kiaran McLaughlin

Last race: Mar. 10, 4th

Finish: 1st by 3/4

Okay, she didn't bust any stopwatches (63 Beyer Figure) winning her maiden first time going long, but that still represented a significant improvement from two dirt sprints to start things off last fall. A $1 million daughter of A.P. Indy, out of the Grade 1 winner Shadow Cast, she figures to improve off that slow-paced race.

Full Tilt Noogie

Trainer: Edward Barker

Last race: Mar. 10, 7th

Finish: 1st by 1 1/2

Heads-up private purchase was running in low-level maiden claimers at Tampa Bay Downs, came to The Big A, and beat $50,000 statebreds with a decisive wide move on the turn. Turf may be in his future - he has a half-sister who was recently an improved second first time on the grass.

Gold Cup Kid

Trainer: Nick Zito

Last race: Mar. 10, 9th

Finish: 1st by 8 1/2

After beginning his career with four sprints at six furlongs, this 3-year-old by Johannesburg stretched out to a mile and 70 yards to win a $16,000 maiden claimer with authority. The barn may be relieved no one reached in for this $100,000 ridgling, who posted a new Beyer top (72) and looked good doing it.

Shine Upon

Trainer: Mike Hushion

Last race: Mar. 11, 8th

Finish: 1st by a nose

This 3-year-old daughter of Congaree had little trouble beating New York-bred sprinters in maiden and first-level allowance races in her first two starts. She then answered a lot of questions by handling a stretch to two turns to gamely win an overnight stake against more experienced rivals.