02/22/2011 1:45PM

Poppa's Pick back at same level at Aqueduct

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. – In his last venture into the $50,000 optional claiming ranks, Poppa’s Pick had the misfortune of running into the stakes-caliber duo of Driven by Solar and Smokin Hero.

On Thursday, when Poppa’s Pick returns at the same level, he will face another pair of stakes horses, though ones that appear on the decline. That and the apparent abundance of speed in the field figure to make Poppa’s Pick a short price to win the featured sprint at Aqueduct.

Four of the five horses entered in the second-level allowance race at six furlongs are entered for the optional claiming tag of $50,000. That includes the stakes-winning duo of Digger and Jack On the Rocks.

Poppa’s Pick, from the Steve Asmussen stable overseen by assistant trainer Toby Sheets, was beaten just three-quarters of a length by Driven by Solar in a similar spot as this on Jan. 30. In that race, Poppa’s Pick chased the pace from a three-wide position under Eddie Castro before dramatically altering course to the rail turning for home. Poppa’s Pick fought hard from the inside but couldn’t run down Driven by Solar. He finished a half-length in front of Smokin Hero.

Poppa’s Pick does his best running from off the pace, and with Digger and Jack On the Rocks in the field, he should get it.

Jack On the Rocks and Digger finished fourth and fifth, respectively, behind Flat Bold in a $75,000 optional claimer on Jan. 28. That was the first race for Digger off an eight-month layoff, and he dueled three wide for the lead. Jack On the Rocks, who won the Maryland Sprint Handicap last October, faded to fourth after being part of the speed duel.

Breaking from the outside post on Thursday may not force Junior Alvarado to use Jack On the Rocks as much early in this spot.

Dixie Notion, who finished 1 1/4 lengths behind Poppa’s Pick when fifth in that Jan. 30 race, could offer some value for trainer Juan Ortiz. Last November, he finished third to the promising Rule by Night in the swiftly run Groovy Stakes over Aqueduct’s main track.

Devonshire completes the field.

Earlier on the card, the razor-sharp New York-bred Cody Samora looms the lone speed in a first-level optional claiming race going a mile. Since trainer John Morrison added blinkers to Cody Samora’s equipment, the 5-year-old New York-bred mare has won a pair of one-mile races by a combined 19 1/4 lengths.