Finding patterns from Big Aqueduct
December 05, 2017 3:00 AM
by Steve Davidowitz
As explained in last week’s column, this is the time of year when horseplayers must adjust their handicapping to deal with the dramatic changes taking place at tracks in every region of the country. It also is an excellent time to uncover as many positive training patterns as possible to gain faith in betting favorites and to spot potential upset winners.
That is why I urge players to focus on races being run now and during the early weeks at the newly convened race meets – at Santa Anita, Gulfstream Park, and the Fair Grounds in New Orleans. If you do that, patterns will present themselves that will help you predict the way many good horses will perform in 2018.
Given those thoughts, I saw a handful of patterns in a trio of races at Aqueduct this past weekend worth sharing that could impact some of America’s most important stakes.
Specifically, the $750K Cigar Mile at Aqueduct was the forum for highly regarded Sharp Azteca to post a career-best 115 Beyer Speed Figure while defeating a pair of multiple Grade-1 winners – Mind Your Biscuits and Practical Joke. This high powered victory now establishes Sharp Azteca as a probable starter in the world’s richest race, the $16 million Pegasus World Cup, which will be run at Gulfstream on Jan. 27.
“That rich (1-1/8 mile) race might even be his next start,” trainer Jorge Navarro said.
Navarro then pointed out that he relies on a set pattern to help Sharp Azteca win races: “He’s the kind of horse who really appreciates time off between starts,” he said while pointing out that the colt’s best efforts often occur when Navarro just trains him toward a race. “Right now,” Navarro continued, “he’ll get a brief rest and then we’ll see.”
Among other stakes on that same Aqueduct card, I saw several useful patterns in a pair of high profile races for 2-year-olds, each at 1-1/8 miles, the longest stakes race for 2-year-olds in 2017.
The $250K Demoiselle for 2-year-old fillies was won without fanfare by Wonder Gadot, who earned a modest 78 Beyer Figure for her easy score and now will be pointed for the prestigious Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs on May 4. While Wonder Gadot may seem to lack the overall talent to compete at such a high level, trainer Mark Casse’s best winning pattern revolves around developing his best-bred stock into better horses as they mature. With that, Casse believes the Demoiselle winner “deserves the chance to grow up a bit.”
Let me repeat for emphasis: If you really want to win at this intriguing game, horseplayers should take note of the most successful winning patterns that good trainers put to work. In Casse’s case, it would be wise for players to see if Wonder Gadot does improve significantly when she returns in a prep race or two in Florida or New York. If she does, give her a close look; if not, toss her in any G-1 stakes.
Catholic Boy, who won The Remsen stylishly in his first race on dirt after three very good efforts on three different grass courses at three different distances, instantly emerged as a serious horse to watch as we begin moving toward the 2018 Kentucky Derby, May 5.
Quite simply, it is quite rare for any horse to successfully transfer good turf form to similar good form on dirt. It is even rarer to see a proven turf horse become even better when shifting to dirt. In this case, Catholic Boy not only earned a very good 91 Beyer Figure for his 3-1/2 length Remsen victory, this colt demonstrated such an affinity for the dirt and the nine-furlong distance, I instantly listed him among my top prospects for the 1-1/4 mile Derby!
There are two more points that encouraged me to do that. They revolve around the patterns that his little-known trainer Jonathan Thomas has been developing. Thomas, who learned a lot when working for seven time Eclipse Award winning trainer Todd Pletcher, has been winning with 30-plus percent of his starters in his first full year on his own.
Actually, he’s been scoring at a higher rate with horses he’s stretched out in distance! To prove he belongs at the top level of this country’s emerging trainers, Thomas already has won with three of the four horses he’s saddled in Graded stakes.
Bottom line: If we pay attention to genuine winning patterns in the here and now, we just might begin to develop one of personal research that can lead to many winning seasons ahead.
Added Notes: At the Pegasus World Cup, Sharp Azteca will have to face some of the best horses in the world, including probable 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner, along with Bob Baffert’s probable 3-year-old champ West Coast and his Breeders’ Cup Classic runner-up Collected. Otherwise, we will find out soon if Baffert has any legit 2018 Derby threats. His best youngsters are close to making their career debuts.