Previewing Holiday Festival that comes a week later at Aqueduct
By Dick Powell
Am I the only one that will miss the seasonal move to the Aqueduct inner dirt track? Usually, this time of year, the action would have switched to the inner dirt track until sometime in March when the action switched back to the main track. Four solid months of six-furlong sprints and two-turn action on a specialized surface that was designed to withstand the rigors of winter.
What made the inner dirt track a fascinating handicapping challenge was the very thing that most are saying they are happy to get rid of. Lots of six-furlong sprints without any longer one-turn races created large samples that are much more reliable to analyze.
Yes, now we will have seven-furlong and one-turn mile races all winter. But count me in the minority as someone that will miss the unique racing surface and limited distances that were run over it. Adding an extra turf course has paid dividends the past month at Aqueduct and will do so again in April or any other months down the road when construction is taking place at Belmont Park.
So, for whatever reason, this year’s Holiday Festival, which used to be run on Thanksgiving weekend is now run this Saturday. The $200,000 Go For Wand Handicap (G3) will kick off the stakes action in race six for fillies and mares going a one-turn mile.
If you told me Chester and Mary Broman were going to win the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1), I would have said HOLIDAY STAR (Girolamo). Instead, 66 to 1 stablemate BAR OF GOLD (Medaglia d’Oro) got up by a nose at the wire and she wound up 11th in a rough trip. Holiday Star returns on four-weeks rest for Rodrigo Ubilo but has to tote highweight of 123 pounds.
A better choice might be JAMYSON ‘N GINGER (Bernardini). She was second in the Demoiselle Stakes (G2) last year on this track going nine furlongs and was privately purchased after her 2017 debut by Juddmonte Farms as a potential mate for their superstar ARROGATE (Unbridled’s Song).
Switched to Chad Brown’s barn, she won two straight allowance races going this distance and now takes on Grade 3 stakes company. It’s not like they desperately need a graded stakes win since her foals by Arrogate will never be sold at auction, but this is a good spot for a 3YO filly going her favorite distance on a track she likes.
Race eight is the Demoiselle Stakes (G2) for 2yo fillies going 1 1/8 miles on the main track. Rick Porter’s Fox Hill Farms sends out the exciting DAISY (Blame), who broke her maiden in the slop by eight lengths at Parx Racing in her well-bet career debut and then came back here to win the Tempted Stakes (G3) going a one-turn mile by over four lengths. She draws the rail with Kendrick Carmouche and possesses more than enough natural speed to seize command going into the first turn.
WONDER GADOT (Medaglia d’Oro) made her dirt debut in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Filly (G1) and could not overcome post 11 and a rough trip. She showed speed on the other surfaces so look for her to race closer to the pace in here with new rider Johnny Velazquez. Value might come from INDY UNION (Union Rags), who finally raced over a dry main track last out and broke her maiden by seven lengths in fast time.
2yos are up next in race nine for the Remsen Stakes (G2). Forget all the chatter about how much of a classic barometer this race has been the last 20 years, just handicap the race where 2yos are going longer on the dirt than they ever have in a stakes race. This is a very well-balanced field of 10 and probably the best betting race on the card.
The danger here is Joe Bravo can send AVERY ISLAND (Street Sense) to the front and never look back. He has a win over the track in the Nashua Stakes (G3) going a one-turn mile and has more than enough pedigree to carry his speed two turns.
Chad Brown won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) with a maiden and will try to do it again with ALKHAATAM (Tapit). He rallied from way back to just miss here going a one-turn mile and has worked brilliantly since then. Jose Ortiz rides back.
The horse I like is VOUCH (Yes It’s True). He broke his maiden by over eight lengths as the 11 to 10 favorite going two turns at Laurel and has trained well since then. When you see horses showing workouts on the training track at Fair Hill training center, that means that they are working on the Tapeta and this colt got ready for his maiden on it and continues to train on it. His BRIS Speed rating in the maiden victory was strong and the pace was slow so even though he went gate to wire, he showed that he can rate early.
Vouch is a full-brother to Grade 3 winner CALAMITY KATE (Yes It’s True), runner-up in the 2014 Demoiselle Stakes (G2) and the dam is a half-sister to OFFICER (Bertrando), who was a great 2yo colt.
Finally, at 4:16 p.m. (ET) as the sun sets, the Cigar Mile (G1) will be run at its customary one-turn mile. Ten horses line up but the field goes through SHARP AZTECA (Freud). He is brilliantly fast but has learned to rate a bit. In the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1), he battled every step on the inside before wearing down at the wire on a track that was anti-speed and anti-inside for most of the day. It was a winning performance without the win but was it gut-wrenching to set him back four weeks later?
At a short price, Sharp Azteca can beat me and is definitely a play against. So who will win? How about SEYMOURDINI (Bernardini)? He was a $900,000 2yo-in-training purchase two years ago and broke his maiden here by nine lengths going a one-turn mile here.
He came back at age 3 and after beating allowance foes here in fast time, he was outrun in the Woody Stephens Stakes (G2) going seven furlongs then came back six months later with a third going two turns at Parx Racing.
This year, despite training at Belmont for Linda Rice, he showed up at Laurel and won by 12 lengths in very fast time going a one-turn mile. He beat a better group of allowance foes by 13 lengths on a muddy track and came back to New York to beat state-breds by 10 lengths in blazing time on another muddy track.
Off for almost four months, Seymourdini returned in the Bold Ruler Handicap (G3) going seven furlongs and made up some ground after breaking poorly. Now, he is back to a distance that he four for four and his BRIS Speed ratings are as good as anyone in here. Two for two at Aqueduct, Seymourdini can finally fulfill some enormous expectations with a Grade 1 victory.