12/10/2009 12:00AM

Aqueduct roundup

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WHO'S HOT

The Ladies

Jacqueline Davis became a five-pound apprentice on the eve of the inner-track meet and wasted little time with her remaining year as an apprentice by bringing in three winners opening week at an average payoff of $47.50. Davis doubled opening day with Northern Warrior ($71.50) for Rodrigo Ubillo and Mitchell Park ($56.50) for Assaf Ronen. She also took last Saturday's nightcap with Suttle Rich ($14.60) for David Henriques.

Not to be outdone, Rosie Napravnik rode a three-bagger last Saturday, all at double-digit mutuels: Fourth Chapter ($29) for James Iselin, Morning Run ($11.20) for Bruce Levine, and Awesome Ashley ($12.80) in the Garland of Roses for Todd Pletcher.

Maylan Studart also found the winner's circle opening week, bringing in Missile Motor ($9.30) for trainer Naipaul Chatterpaul.

If you noticed, a lot of the aforementioned trainers aren't exactly household names.

Todd Pletcher

Speaking of household names, the four-time Eclipse winner is fresh off training titles at Belmont and Aqueduct during the fall, and he opened the winter by going 6-3-1 with his first 10 starters, including wins by Awesome Ashley and Ibboyee ($6.90) in the Damon Runyon.

Pletcher's biggest winner last week, though, was Rule in the rich Delta Jackpot at Delta Downs. Can you say "automatic berth in the Run for the Roses?"

Also meriting mention in the "hot" category, though they're not quite as hot as The Ladies, are Steve Klesaris and David Jacobson.

Klesaris saddled three wire-to-wire sprint winners among his first five starters, including a double Dec. 3 with Graceful Ginger ($10.60) in a $25,000 claimer and Big Push ($10.60) in the Chan Balum overnight stakes. The latter was coming off a 68-day layoff, after dueling against the grain of a strong closer's bias in the Kentucky Cup Sprint at Turfway Park.

Come to think of it, I guess back-to-back winners at $10.60 is pretty hot stuff.

TRACK TRENDS

Mother Nature's not so hot. She sure didn't cooperate quite nearly as much as she did last December, when the NYRA was able to get in five turf races opening week before shutting the course down for the year. The only turf race was the Dec. 2 nightcap, which fittingly enough was won by Bon Marie ($5.10), a Tony Dutrow-trained gelding who closed out his 8-year-old campaign with five consecutive victories.

On the inner track, the two days to mark down from opening week were Thursday, Dec. 3, and Saturday, Dec. 5. Hey, on Saturday it rained - what else is new?

It seemed as though there was a slight edge to early speed horses Dec. 3, when seven of the nine first-place finishers had the lead at the pace call, and the only two exceptions - Bohemia Street ($3.90) and Base Commander ($5.60) - were favorites.

The track was downgraded from good to muddy to sloppy through a rainy Dec. 5 card, and closers had the advantage no matter the designation. Five winners made up deficits ranging from five to seven lengths, and the only horse to lead throughout was the aforementioned Morning Run, a first-time Lasix user who reinforced Levine's strong pattern of eliciting tremendous improvement with second-time starters.

Front-running types from Dec. 5 who may rate an upgrade when they race back include Call the General, Cole T, Elusive Fantasies, Hold That Prospect, Idle Gossip, Marina Market, and McGlamery Road.

COMING ATTRACTIONS

By Tuesday night, the racing office was hoping to round up five suspects for Saturday's Grade 3, $100,000 Queens County, headed by last year's winner, Researcher, a Charles Town-based gelding who ran a 105 Beyer Speed Figure to take it by a half-length in 2008.

This year, Researcher has been a tiger at Charles Town but a pussycat elsewhere, winning his three starts at the bullring by an average of nearly 13 lengths with Beyers of 106, 107, and 108, and losing five other starts with a Beyer line of 87-96-88-69-88.

Also expected for the final graded stakes of the year in New York were Honour Devil, who got away with murder wiring a high-end optional claimer through a snail's pace Nov. 19; Rodman, coming off a lifetime 102 Beyer top to finally get through the first-level allowance ranks; and Stud Muffin, who hasn't been out since tearing off a chunk of his foot (while racing in bar shoes) in the Funny Cide overnight stakes at Saratoga in late August.

Listed in the condition book for Sunday was the New Deal, an overnight stakes at 1 1/8 miles for 3-year-olds.

After this weekend, Aqueduct will be dark for 12 consecutive days through Christmas, and only four days of racing remain in New York for 2009.

For those planning their holiday handicapping time, double entries will be taken Tuesday, Dec. 22, for the cards of Saturday, Dec. 26, and Sunday, Dec. 27. Double entries also will be taken Sunday, Dec. 27, for the cards of Wednesday, Dec. 30, and Thursday, Dec. 31.

After a 12-days-of-Christmas break, racing resumes Dec. 26 with a card highlighted by the 51st running of the Gravesend, a six-furlong dash with a Beyer par of 101 since 1991. The strength of the field can fluctuate wildly, however, as evidenced by City Attraction's victory in the 2007 with a figure of 87 and Fabulous Strike's victory last year with a 109.

The Dec. 27 program will feature the 31st running of the Alex M. Robb, for 3-year-old and up New York-breds at 1 1/16 miles.

SEASON'S GREETINGS OF THE WEEK

As the date of the next weekend column will be Boxing Day, Dec. 26, I'd like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a happy, healthy, and safe holiday season.

If you're looking for gifts for that special horse racing fan who can actually read, the two must-have books of the season are "Betting Thoroughbreds for the 21st Century" (Steve Davidowitz) and "The Training Game" (Karen M. Johnson), both of which are available from DRF Press, along with (ahem) the updated and revised edition of "Dave Litfin's Expert Handicapping."

They also might enjoy "Headless Horsemen," by Jim Squires, and subtitled, "A Tale of Chemical Colts, Subprime Sales Agents, and the Last Kentucky Derby on Steroids."

My, isn't that a mouthful.

HORSES TO WATCH

Afleet Express

Trainer: Jimmy Jerkens

Last race: Dec. 5, 2nd

Finish: 1st by 1 1/2

A $245,000 buy as a yearling, this 2-year-old colt by Afleet Alex was taken up at the start to spot the field several lengths and recovered to win his sprint debut with a sustained rally through the final stages. A half-brother to Reporting for Duty, winner of the Maxxam Gold Cup Handicap and the Zia Park Derby, he will winter at Palm Meadows in Florida for Jimmy Jerkens, who believes he will stretch out successfully.

Opus A

Trainer: Rick Violette Jr.

Last race: Dec. 6, 8th

Finish: 1st by 4 1/2

Making her first start in blinkers, the 2-year-old New York-bred filly broke slowly and appeared rank while extremely wide on both turns, but she settled suddenly in the upper stretch and finished with a flourish to win the East View Stakes going away. Her only defeat came in the Grade 1 Spinaway, after which she underwent surgery for an entrapped epiglottis.

Song of Solomon

Trainer: Tony Dutrow

Last race: Dec. 3, 8th

Finish: 1st by 6 3/4

Three-year-old full sister to Nashua and Remsen winner Rockport Harbor sold for $525,000 as a yearling. She is lightly raced, and now 3 for 3 in two-turn route races after winning her second-level allowance condition with something in reserve.

Well Positioned

Trainer: Juan Rodriguez

Last race: Dec. 6, 3rd

Finish: 1st by 7

Sidelined for over eight months after two very disappointing allowance races at Gulfstream last winter, the 3-year-old by Awesome Again returned with a runner-up finish out of the chute on the main track for Rick Dutrow and followed that with a lengthy first-level triumph at 1 1/16 miles, recording a new Beyer top of 105.