01/21/2010 12:00AM

Aqueduct roundup

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WHO'S HOT

The Bugs

Angel Serpa has had a solid winter meet, with an overall return on investment of $2.79, but he picked up the tempo by riding nine winners for nine trainers in six consecutive racing days, Jan. 13-18. Six of the nine were 9-2 or better, including Sawtooth Mountain ($45.80) and Autumnlady ($31.60).

Meanwhile, seven-pound apprentice Joe Musarro, whose first 30 winners came primarily at Colonial Downs and Penn National, edged closer to five-pound bug status after notching his first two wins on this circuit on back-to-back days: Catchapenny K. ($27.60), who came from off the pace for Bobby Ribaudo on Jan. 17, and Silver Tax ($22.80), who went wire to wire for John Toscano and put the finishing touches on a two-day pick-six carryover exceeding $111,000 on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Jackie Davis, who became a single bug earlier at the meet, saw her winter ROI balloon to $3.42 after wins last week aboard Worth a Shot ($71.50) and Calling My Colors ($13.20).

Oddly enough, Worth a Shot, a 7-year-old mare who improved to 2 wins from 38 career starts, paid the same mutuel for her maiden win in a sloppy off-the-turf route at Saratoga back in 2008.

Gary Contessa

After a 4-for-53 start to the meet in December, the four-time New York training champion began the year on an 11-for-50 run, with the winners averaging 5-1 odds.

TRACK TRENDS

When it comes to running-style biases, so far the big story in 2010 is that there is virtually nothing to report. This is in sharp contrast to last January, when seven of 21 racing days received Racing Flow bias ratings from 161 to 279 (ratings above 150 denote a track favoring come-from-behind runners; ratings below -150 denote speed-favoring conditions).

Through the first 13 racing days between Jan. 1 and Jan. 18, the Racing Flow ratings have fallen in the neutral range of -109 to 91.

Path biases are more difficult to quantify, beyond a general notion that the rail has been very good for the most part - and this is largely an inherent geometric trait, given the inner-dirt's hairpin turns.

Two of last week's most notable performances - Understatement's 115 Beyer in the Evening Attire and the 3-year-old Tempted to Tapit's 100 Beyer against maidens - were by horses who got clear early on the inside, but there were no indications of a speed bias at work: In the case of Understatement, he's just a free-running horse that likes the track (3 for 3), the day's only other route was won by a horse that rallied from next to last, and four sprint winners on the card were positioned in midpack early. If anything, Tempted to Tapit's two-turn mile win might need to be upgraded, because he broke from post 7 on a day that produced four winners from the rail post.

Just getting clear early hasn't been enough. Yes She's a Lady was loose from the break in last Sunday's Affectionately, but favored Tidal Dance was able to easily erase a four-length deficit. The key was a ground-saving trip.

"She was able to kiss the fence the whole way around, and Ramon [Dominguez] inched her out when it was time," winning trainer Mike Hushion said.

COMING ATTRACTIONS

Not much going on in terms of stakes action. Older male sprinters are in the spotlight in Saturday's $65,000 Paumonok; next Saturday, filly and mare sprinters get their chance in the $65,000 Correction.

Among the 18 nominees for the Correction are three from Todd Pletcher (Hour Glass, Life At Ten, and Yes She's a Lady) and three from Steve Klesaris (Casanova Killer, Earle's First Girl, and Super Slash). Super Slash earned a career-top 95 Beyer in pulverizing $60,000 claimers Jan. 15.

In terms of betting action, however, Saturday's card marks the return of the $250,000-guaranteed late pick four. The promotion worked nicely for the NYRA last winter and spring at The Big A, when the bet was offered on 11 Saturdays and attracted an average pool of $331,340.

TRAINER ANGLE OF THE WEEK

The typical value-oriented horseplayer takes pride in cultivating contrarian opinions, which is as it should be. But as a wise racetrack mentor once told me, "Bad chalk wins a lot of races, kiddo."

Indeed, there's nothing particularly clever or sexy about smoking out those "suspicious" dropdowns as the potential class of the field - you just need to evaluate them in the proper context and determine which outfits are "live" when the fire sale takes place.

Submitted for your approval are a handful of recent dropdown winners from the firm of Asmussen Inc., the training conglomerate that won 650 races last year.

To be sure, you don't win that many races - nearly two a day - without taking an edge every so often.

Case study No. 1: Autumnlady

Beaten a combined 25 lengths in two maiden special weights at 39-1 and 80-1, she returned from a 10-month absence and was dumped into a $12,500 maiden claimer at the fall meet. At odds of 3-1, she wired the field.

Case study No. 2: Stungbythestorm

Won a third-level allowance by seven lengths (93 Beyer) last July, but then fell on hard times, losing three in a row by a combined 40 lengths. Relegated to the basement $7,500 ranks here Dec. 6, he won clear at 8-5 and came back to win again for $12,500.

Case study No. 3: Cantrushperfection

He lost his first six starts while sliding from $80,000 to $25,000 maiden company, vanished for 11 weeks, and resurfaced Jan. 14 for $10,000. The result was a six-length maiden win at 3-5.

Case study No. 4: Idealhouse

A maiden winner for $32,000 at Woodbine in late November, she returned from a seven-week absence on Jan. 14 to win a $25,000 claiming sprint first time on dirt.

Notice a pattern here? These are not upwardly mobile horses, but rather, horses the barn would just as soon be rid of. Autumnlady ran back for $10,000 a month later and was claimed. Now the 5-year-old mare is owner-trainer Dennis Lalman's problem. Do you think Asmussen, who has had Curlin and Rachel Alexandra to watch over the last three seasons, could give a hoot?

No handicapping textbook is going to extol the romantic virtues of betting these culls in the win pool, but they make for handy-dandy free bingo squares in multi-race exotics. And if Ramon D. is on board, trying to beat them is counter-productive, and it's best to spread elsewhere.

HORSES TO WATCH

Freudian Storm

Trainer: Gary Contessa

Last race: Jan. 16, 4th

Finish: 1st by 7 1/2

Caught slop and soft turf in two starts last year but was announced as a gelding for his first start as a 4-year-old and wired New York-bred maiden special weight sprinters under mild urging.

Pronto Pronto

Trainer: Pat Kelly

Last race: Jan. 13, 9th

Finish: 3rd by 2 1/4

In the midst of a rally in midstretch, she lacked room along the rail and lost momentum at a key juncture under a seven-pound apprentice. She may rate another try with $15,000 statebred maidens.

Tempted to Tapit

Trainer: Steve Klesaris

Last race: Jan. 18, 2nd

Finish: 1st by 11 1/2

After three in-the-money finishes as a 2-year-old, including one against recent Count Fleet Stakes winner Laus Deo, he improved sharply with the addition of blinkers to win a maiden route over a harrowed muddy track with a 100 Beyer Speed Figure.

Toulouse Lautrec

Trainer: Bruce Levine

Last race: Jan. 16, 8th

Finish: 1st by 4 1/2

Second-best to Quality Road in his debut as a 2-year-old, he turned in a resounding performance to win his 4-year-old bow off a layoff and trainer change, stalking the pace and drawing clear from second-level allowance sprinters with a 96 Beyer.

Understatement

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Last race: Jan. 16, 3rd

Finish: 1st by 4 1/2

To say the 5-year-old will be tough to catch and beat next time out is an understatement after he improved to 3 for 3 on the inner track with a front-running win in the Evening Attire - the Beyer coming back at 115.