04/07/2010 11:00PM

Aqueduct roundup

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WHO'S HOT

The Chalk

Favorites lost eight straight races opening day on the main track but then went on a 17-for-23 tear, a streak that began with Star Orchid ($4.10) in the March 31 nightcap and went through Cajun Jet ($4.50) in race 4 on Wood Memorial Day.

The post-time choice won 8 of 9 races on April Fool's Day. The only one to be defeated was Taza, who stumbled at the start and settled for second at 55 cents to $1 - the shortest price of the afternoon.

Following losses by Dakota Dunes (2-5) and Dance Floor Maniac (3-4) in the early double, favorites took six of the seven remaining races on the April 2 card, including an all-odds-on late pick four of Simple Cat ($3.40), All Sew Smooth ($3.80), Castaneda ($3.70), and Shrimp Dancer ($2.60). While the $28 payoff wasn't a life-changer, it was nearly twice the $2 win parlay of $15.50.

Four favorites won on Wood Day, though again, the shortest price on the program went down when Obligingly - who attracted $116,000 of a $137,000 show pool - was hard-pressed to take a three-way photo for second at 45 cents to $1. The all-stakes pick four linking the easily exceeded the $500,000 guarantee by handling $681,991, and the $95 payoff for having Eightyfiveinafifty ($3.20), Goldsville ($5.10), Eskendereya ($3), and Warrior's Reward ($9.10) was again nearly twice the parlay ($55.60).

Trifecta payoffs on the stakes were $37, $27.20, $20, and $41.60.

Through a four-day opening week, favorites jumped out to almost as good a start as reigning National League MVP Albert Pujols, batting .500 (19 for 38). Pujols was 4 for 5 in his first game.

This run of good fortune shouldn't surprise anyone, because chalk players annually clean up at Aqueduct's spring meet, which has been shortened considerably in recent years but has remained unerringly formful all the while. Here is the breakdown of the last decade:

2009: 69-167 (41 percent)

2008: 68-176 (39 percent)

2007: 71-157 (45 percent)

2006: 66-199 (33 percent)

2005: 106-281 (38 percent)

2004: 129-345 (37 percent)

2003: 107-285 (38 percent)

2002: 132-336 (39 percent)

2001: 141-344 (41 percent)

2000: 138-354 (39 percent)

10-year total: 1,027-2,644 (38.8 percent)

Through the first four of 19 days at the spring meet, chalk players are shooting fish in a barrel.

Rudy Rodriguez

The Yankees have A-Rod, the Mets have K-Rod, and The Big A has R-Rod, the jockey-turned-trainer who got his first official victory when Aegean Breeze ($44.80) went wire to wire as the longest shot on the tote board in race 2 opening day.

Aegean Breeze, a 6-year-old mare who was making her first start for the 37-year-old Rodriguez, had finished dead last, beaten a combined 102-plus lengths, in three starts on the inner track following a year-long layoff.

Before Aegean Breeze's shocker, Rodriguez had endured an initial run of tough luck: Theartofcompromise had a clear lead in mid-stretch but was beaten by a head Feb. 19; Wicked Climb ran a half-mile in a meet-fastest 44 seconds and crossed the wire first by better than 10 lengths but was disqualified and placed last for bumping a rival into the rail nearing the far turn on Feb. 28; and Sneaky Girl was beaten less than a length by odds-on La Concerto on March 5.

Finally, the dynamic duo of Gary Gullo and Jose Bermudez teamed for wins with Kill the Joker ($11.20) and Sudden Silver ($11.40).

TRACK TRENDS

After the wettest March on record (more than 10.6 inches of rain) saturated the turf course, the first seven scheduled grass races were switched to the main track.

The season's first turf race was off at 6:20 p.m. as the 11th and final race on Wood Day, and trip handicappers haven't the foggiest idea what happened through much of the race, thanks to an ever-thickening fog that crept in off Jamaica Bay starting in mid-afternoon.

Here is a day-by-day breakdown of the 37 races on the main track; all except the Excelsior and Wood were one-turn races.

Wednesday, March 31: All four races at six furlongs were won on the front end. The five winners out of the chute made up early deficits ranging from one to five lengths. The drying-out surface was sealed for the first five races and harrowed thereafter.

Thursday, April 1: On a day with eight winning favorites, you've got to figure they ran pretty much the way they were supposed to on paper.

Friday, April 2: Three front-running winners, along with six others positioned anywhere from one to three lengths off the early lead.

Saturday, April 3: Under clear skies, the temperature was 62 for first post but dipped into the high 40s once the fog began rolling in, courtesy of a backstretch tailwind off the bay. There were no path or running-style biases.

COMING ATTRACTIONS

Hopefully, you enjoy handicapping the fillies, because they are all that awaits you for the next little while.

Since the figures became available, the Beyer Speed Figure par for Saturday's 61st running of the Grade 3 Comely Stakes for 3-year-old fillies is 91, but the range has varied wildly - from Fappaburst's 112 in 1990 to Acey Deucey's 79 in 2005. Since the race was lengthened from seven furlongs to one mile, the only triple-digit figure was recorded by Bella Bellucci (104) in 2002.

There are two $60,000 overnight stakes in the condition book for Sunday - the Super Cook at six furlongs for 3-year-old fillies and the Hilbys Brite Flight for older fillies and mares at one mile.

In the condition book for next Wednesday is the Cliffie, a $60,000 overnight stakes at six furlongs . . . for 3-year-old fillies.

Next Saturday's feature is the 56th running of the $150,000 Distaff Handicap, a Grade 2 for 3-year-old-and-up fillies and mares at seven furlongs. Among the 25 nominations are Hour Glass, an overnight stakes winner on the inner track March 21; Justwhistledixie, a dual Grade 2 winner who was a close second in the Top Flight here last fall; Qualia, 3 for 4 lifetime; the speedy Saarlight; the much-improved Starship Angel; and the hard-knocking Tar Heel Mom, an overnight stakes winner on Aqueduct's main track last fall.

PRONUNCIATION OF THE WEEK

In the days leading up to the Wood, suddenly everyone wanted to know just one true thing: How does one pronounce "Eskendereya?"

One source had it as "es-ken-DARE-e-ya."

Another had it "es-ken-DRA-ya."

Still another had it, "es'KEN-der-A-ya.'

Whatever it is, this is how that name will sound around the quarter pole on the first Saturday in May:

"C'mon with that [fill in saddlecloth number], Johnny V.!"

HORSES TO WATCH

Awesome Act

Trainer: Jeremy Noseda

Last race: April 3, 9th

Finish: 3rd by 9 3/4

Bet to second choice in the Wood Memorial off an impressive Gotham score, he lost a shoe after stumbling at the start and flattened out late after a middle move into a slow pace.

Bojan

Trainer: Steve Asmussen

Last race: April 1, 5th

Finish: 1st by 2 3/4

He improved to 2 for 2 for this barn after overcoming a slow break from the rail to draw clear through the stretch of a starter allowance sprint.

Cantrushperfection

Trainer: Steve Asmussen

Last race: April 3, 3rd

Finish: 1st by 2 1/4

After winning maiden $10,000, a $25,000 N2L, and a starter allowance on the inner track, he improved to 4 for 4 this year and earned a career-best 90 Beyer taking this first-level allowance.

Castaneda

Trainer: Gary Contessa

Last race: April 2, 8th

Finish: 1st by 2 3/4

Entered in the Bay Shore but scratched from that spot to wire older second-level New York-bred allowance rivals through rapid fractions. He is 3 for 3 sprinting in blinkers.

Half Metal Jacket

Trainer: Chip Dutrow

Last race: April 1, 8th

Finish: 1st by 4 1/4

Haltered for $50,000 out of his third win from as many starts on Aqueduct's main track. Through 10 straight starts dating to March 2009, he has been no worse than second.