One of the things that we do when handicapping horse races from across the country is take a look at the weather. The going is everything, and knowing whether a track will be fast or sloppy is crucial part of the handicapping process. It also helps us dodge turf races at tracks where rain is expected, as rain results in races being moved from grass to dirt, and that results in a rash of scratches.
Well, on Thursday morning, the national radar looked like a Rorschach test: just about everywhere east of the Mississippi River will have rain or snow today. Rather than fight the weather, which is utterly useless, we will put on our Handicapping in the Slop hat -- it's an ancient fedora that smells like stale cigar smoke -- and remember the rainy days we spent at the track. All of these races are on dirt, and we expect sloppy conditions in all of them. Let's go.
Aqueduct, Race 1, 1:20 pm ET
Maiden Special Weight, 1 mile, dirt, New York-bred Fillies & Mares 4 & Up
It didn't take us long to find a wet-track play: in the first race at the Big A, the first horse on the entry list, 1-Amos, is a strong pick. She ran on an off track once before, back in June at Belmont Park, and she finished a very good second, less than a length behind the winner. She has done less well since -- she's still a maiden after seven career starts -- but we move her way up on a racing surface that figures to be a sloppy mess. as she's by Twirling Candy, a superior off-track sire. An added bonus is that morning line favorite 5-Alphadora, who is 6/5 due primarily to her superior early speed, does not like the slop: she's run on wet tracks twice, and finished far back in both of them. Alphadora's presence, however, should get us a better price on our pick. We'll take Amos all day long, and will bet her to win at 2-1. The bet: Aqueduct, Race 1, $35 to win on 1-Amos.
Laurel Park, Race 5, 2:18 pm ET
$5,000 Claiming, 5 1/2 furlongs, dirt, 4 & Up
Ten are entered for this lower-level claimer, but we have eyes for only one of them: 6-Bucked Tooth is in good form, has the most early speed in the field, loves a sloppy track, and gets a coveted outside post position. That makes him a slam dunk: we will bet him to win at 5/2. The bet: Laurel Park, Race 5, $35 to win on 6-Bucked Tooth.
Aqueduct, Race 5, 3:25 pm ET
$50,000 Claiming, 1 mile, dirt, 4 & Up
Eight older horses drew into this hard-knocking midweek claiming race. We like a horse at an enormous price here: 4-American Rule has the most early speed, competitive speed figures, and good off-track form, having run in the slop four times, with two wins and a second place finish to show for them. The reason he's 30-1 is distance: he's a sprinter who has never run a mile before. But we think he will be in front, we know that he should be able to handle the track, and at boxcar odds, we are willing to gamble that he'll be able to hang on late, especially at Aqueduct, where the mile races are run around one turn, and are therefore frequently more like sprints than they are at tracks where mile races are run around two turns. Because of the odds, we will bet him across the board. The bets: Aqueduct, Race 5, $10 win/place/show on 4-American Rule.
Aqueduct, Race 7, 4:25 pm ET
Allowance, 1 mile, dirt, 4 & Up
This is a fascinating race to handicap, because on paper it looks like a two-horse race: 1-Legit and 3-Grumps Little Tots have speed figures that make them tower over the rest of the field. The odds reflect this, as Grumps Little Tots is even money, and Legit is 7/5.
Grumps Little Tots has much more early speed than Legit, and this would normally cause us to give the edge to Grumps, but we're going to make an exception here, for two reasons: the smaller one is that Grumps Little Tots has never run on an off track before, but the bigger reason is that there is another horse in the field, 4-Seethisquick, who is just as fast, and maybe even a little bit faster, than Grumps. The fact that they will break right next to each other makes us think they will both go too fast, and that will set the table for Legit, who is a strong — dare we say legit? — stretch-runner, and who won his last start coming off the pace on a sloppy track (that last start was nearly two years ago, but the layoff doesn't bother us). We will root for a pace meltdown, and we will bet Legit to win. The bet: Aqueduct, Race 7, $40 to win on 1-Legit.
That's all for today. Stay dry, and, as always, good luck at the windows.