Updated on 09/17/2011 1:33PM

Spring cleaning for variants


ELMONT, N.Y. - As Aqueduct fades into the rearview mirror, let's take one last look back and pick up where we left off with pace and final-time variants and day-by-day commentary of noteworthy trends. This segment covers the entire spring meet, March 10 through May 2.

As with the first two installments, which covered the inner track, variants are listed as pace/final. "S1" designates "Slow" by one-fifth of a second, "F2" stands for "Fast" by two-fifths, "P" is par.

The key difference between the Big A's winter and spring meets is that races up to a mile were contested around one turn on the main track, so there were not nearly as many two-turn routes as there were on the inner. Some days there were no two-turn races at all; other days, only a single two-turn race was run; and in the case of Wood Memorial Day, the only other route was at the obscure distance of 1 5/16 miles, hours earlier. Thus, two-turn projections were necessarily par for the course.

Only the one-turn variants, covering the vast majority of races, are listed in the accompanying chart. These were occasionally "split"' during the course of a day, usually because of Aqueduct's wildly changeable winds.

Aqueduct spring meet
Date Variant Comment
Mar 10 S7/S4 Opening day. Dead rail developed
on drying track.
Mar 11 S2/F1 & F1/S1 Wind shift. Variant split, races 1-4
& 5-9.
Mar 12 S6/S5 Stiff headwind far turn.
Mar 13 S5/S6 Stiff headwind backstretch.
Mar 14 F4/S1 Tailwind backstretch.
Mar 17 S2/S2 Snow flurries. Track sealed after
1st race.
Mar 18 S1/S3 Light tailwind backstretch.
Mar 19 ? Canceled due to snow.
Mar 20 F5/S1 Gotham Day. Strong tailwind
Mar 21 S7/S8 Sealed after overnight rain.
Headwind far turn.
Mar 22 S5/S4 Snow make-up card. Headwind far turn.
Mar 24 S1/S2 Tailwind backstretch.
Mar 25 F2/F1 Inside speed did very well.
Mar 26 F4/F5 & S2/F2 Variant split, races 1-6 & 7-9.
Mar 27 S5/S3 Harrowed, drying out good to wet fast.
Mar 28 S1/F1 Light headwind backstretch.
Mar 31 S4/S6 Dull, muddy track.
Apr 1 S4/S4 Sloppy to muddy.
Apr. 2 S8/S7 & S2/P Variant split, track sped up under
late-afternoon rain.
Apr 3 F2/S1 Gold rail muddy track.
Apr 7 F3/F3 Outside paths preferred.
Apr 8 F4/F5 Tailwind backstretch.
Apr 9 F5/P & F2/P Wind shift. Variant split, races 1-3
& 4-9.
Apr 10 F6/F3 Wood Day. One-turn races
inside speed-favoring.
Apr 14 S5/S5 Good to muddy.
Apr 15 S15/S11 Extremely slow times on
drying-out track.
Apr 16 S4/S3 Outside closers? track.
Apr 17 P/F1 No apparent trends.
Apr 18 F1/F1 Tailwind far turn.
Apr 21 S1/S1 Closers? track. Tailwind far turn.
Apr 22 F2/S3 & F3/F4 Variant split, races 1-6 & 8-9
(7th on turf).
Apr 23 S3/S1 Six of seven dirt winners set or
pressed the pace.
Apr 24 S6/S5 Headwind backstretch.
Apr 25 S2/S4 No apparent trends.
Apr 28 S6/S3 Headwind far turn.
Apr 29 S1/S4 Outside pressers and closers did
very well.
Apr 30 F3/S3 Tailwind backstretch.
May 1 S2/S3 & F8/S3 Variant split, races 1,3,4,5 & 8,10
(wind shift).
May 2 S1/S3 No apparent trends on getaway day.

Shake You Down has a problem

Looking ahead to Saturday's stakes doubleheader, I see that Shake You Down, with more than $1.2 million in earnings, has banked more money than his five rivals combined in the Bold Ruler Handicap. But if early trends on Belmont's main track hold up, and if Big Sandy's infamous dead rail remains in play, then Shake You Down could be in for a heap of trouble breaking from the rail.

The first dozen dirt races at the meet seemed to indicate a decided edge to horses positioned away from the innermost running lanes. Take a look, in chronological order, at Wednesday's and Thursday's results (through the sixth race Thursday):

Winner(mutuel)Pos. on the turn
Rize ($5.50)Stalk, two-path
Missed the Call ($6.10)Stalk, three-path
Banker's Heiress ($6.40)Rally, four-path
Taint So ($96.50)Rally, four-path
Cliff Notes ($4)Stalk, rail
Pies Prospect ($10.40)Stalk, three-path
Gygistar ($10)Stalk, four-path
Illusionary Magic ($7.90)Rally, four-path
Cupid's Arrow ($36)Rally, five-path
Winning Expression ($26.40)Stalk, three-path
Bank Audit ($5.60)Rally, four-path
Fleet Indian ($2.80)Stalk, three-path

Four of Wednesday's seven dirt winners broke from the extreme outside post, including Gygistar, and first-time-starting bomb Taint So, who began from post 12. And on Thursday, upsetter Cupid's Arrow broke from the far outside as well. The only winner on the rail around the turn was the venerable Cliff Notes, a leather-tough older claiming sprinter who kicked in once eased outside the pacesetter in the lane.

* Grey Traffic is a very interesting entrant in the seven-furlong Nassau County Breeders' Cup. The 3-year-old filly won her debut by an expanding margin at Santa Anita last month, and was purchased shortly thereafter.

Grey Traffic fits the profile of a very productive trainer angle for Bobby Frankel, who over the past several seasons has been absolutely lethal when he aggressively spots a lightly raced shipper in a stakes race.