Looking for Messi to score the goal in Red Smith

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

November 12th, 2016

The co-features at Aqueduct on Saturday, the $200,000 Red Smith H. (G3) and $150,000 Discovery (G3), are not only interesting and competitive affairs but, for those so inclined, conveniently linked with a Double wager.

Wake Forest is the 8-5 morning line favorite for the Red Smith over 1 3/8 miles on the turf, but I've admittedly become a little soured on the German import since his Man o' War (G1) victory in May. The pace scenario perhaps didn't work in his favor in his most recent losses at Woodbine, but having watched a lot of long-distance Aqueduct turf stakes in November over the years (i.e. the Red Smith and Long Island), I don't expect the fractions to be particularly fast in this affair either.

I'm looking for the Graham Motion-trained Messi (#7, 5-1) to turn things around after a disappointing trip to California for the John Henry Turf Championship (G2). Today he's reunited with Edgar Prado, who I still consider one of the best judges of pace in lengthy turf races. He proved as much when guiding Messi to a comfortable score in the Sky Classic (G2) at Woodbine two back, getting the six-year-old gelding to show more speed than usual in that 1 1/4-mile test while keeping plenty in reserve for the stretch. Winner last year of the Knickerbocker (G3), Messi also has plenty of back class to be a major player.

The Discovery, for three-year-olds over 1 1/8 miles, could be the domain of 3-1 morning line favorite Gift Box with his usual effort, but it's the kind of race potentially ripe for an upset, minor or otherwise.

Governor Malibu is an interesting prospect, with his price likely to inflated after his disappointing second in the Empire Classic versus New York-breds, but offering more value on the morning line is Wild About Deb (#9, 15-1). A maiden winner in the slop on Santa Anita Derby Day, he next ran a solid third to the more experienced Unified and Governor Malibu in the Peter Pan (G2).

Switched to the Parx barn of Ramon Preciado after a dull try in the Ohio Derby, Wild About Deb was a distant second to loose-on-the-lead Awesome Slew in the Smarty Jones (G3) over his new home track, then outran expectations when finishing third in the Pennsylvania Derby (G2) at odds of 61-1. Ahead of him were Cigar Mile (G1)-bound Connect and Gun Runner, second best in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (G1) last week. Behind him, of course, were this year's Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness (G1) winners.

Wild About Deb has recorded strong works in the last three weeks or so, including two bullets, and gets the services of Jose Ortiz in the Discovery, a race that could prove to be his breakout performance.

(Michael Burns/WEG Photography)