02/25/2010 12:00AM

Aqueduct roundup

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WHO'S HOT

Gabriel Saez

Though his 12-for-109 record is good for a win rate of 11 percent, consider that Saez isn't exactly steering Cadillacs around the frozen tundra. Six of those 109 mounts were favored. More tellingly, his average mutuel ($21.50) tops all journeyman riders at the winter meet, and it includes wins last week aboard Who Needs to Know ($12.20), Clear Faith ($24.60), and Unbridled Danger ($40.20). Unbridled Danger snapped an 0-for-31 losing streak that dated back to 2008 and helped push Saez's overall return on investment on the inner dirt to $2.22.

Channing Hill

He hardly gets the cream of the crop, either, with nine of his 153 mounts going off favored in 2010, but Hill's average winner has returned $13.20. He posted a double last Friday on Thatsallshewrote ($8.30) and Say Hey Dixie ($11), followed by a three-bagger Saturday aboard I've Got the Fever ($10.80) and Gridiron ($16.60) for John Terranova and Regal Coyote ($6.40) for David Duggan.

And of course, no "Who's Hot" update would be complete without a recap of the exploits of Ramon Dominguez, who swept the first five races on Ash Wednesday before tough trips with Bobs Pinup Girl and Liston ruined a perfect day. Liston was 4-5 for his first start of the year but stumbled at the break and was then bothered by a loose horse through most of the running.

After taking the late double the next day and closing out the week with a three-win Sunday, Dominguez stood at 81 for 265 (30.5 percent) on the inner dirt this winter.

WHO'S AVERAGE

That would be the favorite. Favorites closed out last week at 144-430 (33.4 percent) for the meet, mirroring the universal benchmark percentage.

TRACK TRENDS

The standout day to mark down from the week of Feb. 17-21 was Saturday, Feb. 20, when the rail was a virtual conveyor belt to the winner's circle.

Seven of 10 races on the card were won wire to wire, but five of those seven winners were either favored or second choice, so on paper they figured to be competitive in the first place.

The most important thing was inside position. Late-rallying winners Temore ($14.40) and Almighty Silver ($9.10) received classic inside-out trips. In the nightcap, Midnight Billy ($8.90) and 5-2 second choice Game Token benefited from rail-skimming rides as they scraped paint and overtook a 56-1 no-hoper pacesetter.

One horse who was in the right race at the right time on that rail-biased strip was Life At Ten ($3.80), who grabbed the lead and the fence to wire the Rare Treat.

"Obviously, the inside speed was golden, and she possessed the most natural speed in the race," said winning rider Richard Migliore. "Everything played in her favor. . . . It was basically over within an eighth of a mile. It was like going horseback riding."

Life At Ten kicked off a banner afternoon for Todd Pletcher, who sent out 3-year-olds to win stakes at Gulfstream Park, the Fair Grounds, and Golden Gate Fields later in the day.

By the way, for all the conventional "wisdom" concerning how Pletcher-trained horses are overbet, his record on the inner dirt heading into this week was 28 for 73, with a $2.84 ROI. In stakes races, the numbers are better still: 8 for 22, with a $3.29 ROI.

COMING ATTRACTIONS

Pletcher trains the two fastest horses in the nation this year - Quality Road, who received a 121 Beyer Speed Figure for winning on Jan. 16. Understatement is expected to be the one to catch and beat in Saturday's 55th running of the Stymie Handicap at 1 1/8 miles.

The 14 nominations for Sunday's 31st running of the Broadway, a six-furlong race for New York-bred fillies and mares, included last year's winner, Lights Off Annie, who recently ran third against open allowance sprinters in her return from a 10-month layoff; Meese Rocks, a sharp 5-year-old who has won four of her last five starts; Sapphire Sky, a certified mudlark who won two stakes in the slop last year; and Rightly So, who has been training at Palm Meadows since winning five of six starts as a 3-year-old, including on New York Showcase Day.

Next Saturday, March 6, is the first official "big day" of the season in New York.

Highlighting a stakes tripleheader on the card will be the circuit's first two graded stakes of the year: the Grade 3, $250,000 Gotham for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles, and the Grade 3, $100,000 Toboggan Handicap for sprinters 3 and up at six furlongs.

The undercard will include the $65,000 Fred "Cappy" Capossela for 3-year-olds at six furlongs.

RIDE OF THE WEEK

There's nothing worse than doping out a horse with a pace advantage and watching the good thing get nursed along through slow fractions, the theory being that the horse will have plenty left for the stretch. In reality, what usually happens is the slow fractions let any contender with a solid closing kick attain easy striking position, and the on-paper tactical advantage goes out the window.

The opposing tactic is to make full use of the speed horse's best weapon - speed - and run the pursuers off their feet early. In a vintage performance, that's exactly what Jorge Chavez did in last Friday's sixth race aboard Sea Holly ($12.40), a 4-year-old filly who had lost her first five starts by a combined 139 lengths.

Sea Holly's two best races, however, had come when forwardly placed, and the only time she'd had the early lead previously was in a turf route.

Chavez could have finessed Sea Holly along on a short lead and let everyone else into the race, but instead he gunned her to a daylight advantage and dared the other nine maiden-claiming milers to come and catch her.

Sea Holly was eight lengths in front after an opening quarter-mile in 22.97 seconds; 10 lengths in front after a half-mile in 46.79 seconds; and remained clear by nine lengths after six furlongs in 1:13.17. By then, Sea Holly was running on fumes, and the final quarter took forever (okay, 28.24 seconds). Even so, it was enough to bring home the bacon.

During the dead of winter during New York's darkest hour, beauty is where you find it, and for those who backed Sea Holly, Chavez's ride was a bold work of art.

HORSES TO WATCH

Castaneda

Trainer: Gary Contessa

Last race: Feb. 21, 4th

Finish: 1st by 6 1/4

The turnback to six furlongs was just what the doctor ordered for this 3-year-old by Yonaguska, who posted fractions of 22.68 and 46.09 seconds en route to a wire-to-wire graduation over New York-bred maidens. By way of comparison, open first-level allowance sprinters went in 22.91 and 46.42 later on the same card.

Comical

Trainer: Anthony Dutrow

Last race: Feb. 20, 2nd

Finish: 2nd by 2 3/4

Victimized by one of seven front-running winners on the Feb. 20 program when second best at 2-5. Ghostzapper colt had 10 lengths on the third horse and improved his Beyer Speed Figure six points, from 79 to 85.

Elusive Gift

Trainer: Anthony Dutrow

Last race: Feb. 17, 3rd

Finish: 1st by 6

With Ramon Dominguez as still as a statue through the lane, he rolled through his second-level allowance condition with speed to spare, running six furlongs in 1:09 and change and posting a new Beyer top of 101.

Idaho Joe

Trainer: Gary Contessa

Last race: Feb. 20, 8th

Finish: 2nd by 1 3/4

On a day when the rail was golden, the 6-year-old veteran rallied belatedly while five wide in his local bow. He was claimed while notching a sixth consecutive Beyer in the 70s.

Valid Sum

Trainer:Kiaran McLaughlin

Last race: Feb. 21, 8th

Finish: 1st by 3 1/4

Making his first start since July and first in a sprint since debut more than a year ago, he overcame a stumbling start to rally from off the pace for a first-level allowance win, earning a career-best Beyer of 95.