By Derek Simon
Provided that Saturday’s turf contests at Aqueduct stay on the green, there’s a strong possibility that the sixth and seventh races will be heavily influenced, if not entirely influenced, by what transpires in the early going.
To say that there is a lack of speed in those events is like saying that Rob Lowe is not good at Twitter. The projected early speed ration (ESR) in the sixth race, an $80,000 optional claiming affair, is a +2, while the predicted ESR in the seventh event, the Grade III Red Smith Handicap, is an anemic +4.
Of course, the natural inclination is to look for horses that will be near the front — anywhere near the front — early.
In the sixth race, it’s not hard to find the likely pacesetter. Skill Not Luck showed a tremendous amount of speed on dirt, recording a -10 ESR in an optional claiming event at Parx Racing on Aug. 29 and a blistering -16 ESR in an allowance affair on Nov. 22. In his first turf try, however, the Chad Brown trainee rated off a soft pace against lesser before making a strong bid turning for home.
On Saturday, I would expect him to revert back to familiar tactics — and that makes Skill Not Luck a strong contender to visit the winner’s circle.
The seventh race is not so cut and dried.
First of all, the likely frontrunners are not exactly world beaters. Although he’s Grade I-placed, War Dancer has won just four of 23 lifetime starts and has a tendency to give up ground like the Green Bay Packers’ defense late. In fact, War Dancer’s overall LSRs rank just sixth in the field of 10, which is not encouraging in what figures to be a Quarter horse dash — albeit a very slow one by comparison — down the lane.
Iron Power isn’t much better. He looks quicker than War Dancer early and he has won at 11 furlongs, the distance of the Red Smith, but his efforts against stakes-caliber foes have left much to be desired. Given his generous morning line odds (15-1) and the fact that he is likely to be on the engine Saturday, I think he is a must-use… but I’m not exactly bubbling with confidence over his chances.
In fact, I have a feeling that the Red Smith might be won by the best closer and, on paper, that’s either Mr Speaker or Holiday Star. I’d give the edge to the latter based on his juicier odds (at least on the morning line) and his close-to-the-pace running style.