04/14/2010 11:00PM

Aqueduct roundup

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WHO'S HOT

Rudy Rodriguez

Mentioned last week after Aegean Breeze ($44.80) gave him his first win as a trainer, R-Rod is right back after winning three more races last week - all with horses he was saddling for the first time.

Chromospere ($3), claimed from his 4-year-old bow March 11, switched back to the grass to handle $16,000 maidens easily on April 8.

Temecula Creek ($27.60) was claimed for $7,500 out of a ninth-place finish March 6, which was the 6-year-old's first start in nearly a year. He paid for himself twice over on April 10, showing some of his back class to win a $28,000 starter allowance and bring home the $16,800 winner's share.

A day later, West Coast Flier ($4.70) returned from a six-week absence to beat $20,000 claiming sprinters in his first start for Rodriguez, a former jockey and exercise rider.

Heading into this week, Rodriguez was 4 for 4 at the spring meet, with a return on investment of $20.02.

Meanwhile, Gary Contessa sent out six winners during the racing week of April 7-11 and entered the second half of the short spring meet with an 8-7 lead in the standings over Steve Asmussen.

Three of Contessa's six winners - Life's Precious ($4.70), Big Gavel ($5.50), and Mighty Ego ($9.30) - came on turf. Life's Precious was making her first start since last July, Big Gavel was third back from a layoff, and Mighty Ego was making his turf debut.

Asmussen was tops in win percentage with a 27-for-66 record (40.9 percent) at the winter meet and has maintained that pace with a 7-for-17 (41.2 percent) start.

Don't waste your time trying to beat Asmussen horses who are coming off wins on the inner track: Bojan ($4.70) won a $60,000 maiden claimer on the inner and came back to take a starter allowance. Dr. W ($3.30) won right back at the same $100,000 claiming level. Cantrushperfection ($15) was coming off a 3-for-3 run on the inner and won an allowance with a new Beyer Speed Figure top. Stungbythestorm ($4.10) had won three of four on the inner and wired a starter-allowance mile after setting a blistering pace. Saints Alive ($3.10), who won a maiden claimer, a nonwinners-of-two claimer, and a starter allowance on the inner, stretched his winning streak to four by taking a first-level allowance.

Mike Hushion also continues on a major roll. After a 21-for-57 (36.8 percent) winter, he started off 4-2-0 with his first 7 starters this spring.

WHAT'S NOT SO HOT

The Comely Stakes

Downsized this year from a Grade 2, $150,000 to a Grade 3, $100,000, the 61st running was won by Touching Beauty, who recorded the lowest wining Beyer (77) since the figures became available in 1990. Her cause also was helped by the fact that She'll Be Doggone, the odds-on favorite, was sawed in half attempting to come through on the rail inside drifting-in pacesetter Anchorage in midstretch.

"If there ever was a time she was going to win going a mile, this was it," said trainer Jimmy Jerkens. "I'm not sure if she's Acorn material; it all depends on who runs."

The historical par heading into this edition of the Comely - which featured an opening half-mile in 47.40 seconds and a last half-mile in 50.50 - was 91.

Money makes the mare go. A lack of money makes the mare go slow.

TRACK TRENDS

It was a fairly eventful week on the main track, with 36 one-turn races and zero, zip, nada at two turns.

Wednesday, April 7: A major speed-favoring day on dirt, where six of seven winners led at the pace call. The lone exception was Star of New York, who was a head off the lead after the first quarter, dropped two lengths off the lead down the backstretch, and re-rallied to overtake a pair of duelers.

Thursday, April 8: What a difference a day makes. There was only one front-running winner in the seven dirt races. Four winners made up anywhere from three to eight lengths.

Friday, April 9: A drying-out surface was sealed for races 1-5 and harrowed thereafter. From start to finish, however, times were considerably slower than par, and the rail was absolutely the deepest part of the racetrack. Even front-end winners such as She's Prime were steered well out into the strip.

Saturday, April 10: The drop-down sprinter William Thomas ($6.60) went wire to wire, benefiting greatly from the gate scratch of rival speed Bailsby. Otherwise, closers reigned supreme, with the seven other dirt winners positioned well off the early pace - four of which were last or next-to-last early.

Sunday, April 11: No apparent trends, with a mix of running styles winning.

Turf roundup: Speed held up surprisingly well in 10 races over the sharp-turned course, with six of the winners either in front throughout or prompting the pace from second position.

COMING ATTRACTIONS

The Beyer par for Saturday's Distaff Handicap is 100, but the triple-digit plateau hasn't been reached since Bank Audit (101) took the 2005 renewal of the seven-furlong Grade 2 for filly and mare sprinters.

The only remaining graded stakes is next Saturday's 131st running of the $150,000 Withers, a Grade 3 at one mile for 3-year-olds, also with a Beyer par of 100.

Among the 29 nominations are: A Little Warm, runner-up in the Louisiana Derby; Castaneda, the "Cappy" winner who is riding a three-race win streak; D' Funnybone, a four-time Grade 2 winner; Eightyfiveinafifty, the Bay Shore winner; Trappe Shot, who won maiden and first-level allowance races by a combined 23 lengths at Gulfstream Park; and Yawanna Twist, second in the Gotham and Illinois Derby.

In the condition book for Sunday is the Packett's Landing, a $60,000 overnight stakes for older New York-breds at 1 1/8 miles. At press time, the only other two-turn dirt routes at the meet have been the Excelsior and the Wood Memorial.

Next Wednesday's potential feature is the Billy Redcoast, another $60,000 overnight stakes for older New York-breds - this one at seven furlongs.

THE SOMEBODY'S-NOT-TRYING AWARD OF THE WEEK

Obviously, these are trying times for racing in the Empire State, and hopefully things will work out for the best.

Be that as it may, it's hard for horseplayers to feel much empathy for the New York Racing Association when they visit nyra.com in search of relevant information, click on "meet statistics," and find (as of Tuesday evening) owner-trainer-jockey standings and post position totals all lumped together from Jan. 1 to April 11.

What a pity. Back in the day, keeping track of such basic things is how I got my foot in the door in New York. Evidently, such things are on auto-pilot now.

HORSES TO WATCH

In Your Dreams

Trainer: Tom Bush

Last race: April 9, 7th

Finish: 1st by 7 3/4

Showed some promise running a close third when unveiled in a sprint on the inner track in midwinter; returned to blow the doors off maidens when stretched out to a mile on the turf.

Jack on the Rocks

Trainer: Gary Gullo

Last race: April 11, 8th

Finish: 2nd by 3/4

Hard-knocking sort had been sidelined better than seven months and finished gamely to run favored Dubai Rainbow to a close decision in an optional claimer with second-level allowance conditions.

Luck

Trainer: Ramon M. Hernandez

Last race: April 9, 5th

Finish: 7th by 13

Returned from a layoff for her 6-year-old debut and faced the double-whammy of trying to overtake a slow pace with a big middle move on a deep and tiring rail.

Natural Speed

Trainer: Steve Asmussen

Last race: April 10, 8th

Finish: 1st by 5

Freshened for five weeks, returned with a trainer change, and drew off to beat basement-claiming sprinters with speed to spare; has back class to handle a modest rise back up the ladder.