- As I mentioned, I may be at Aqueduct physically on these winter days, but mentally I’m usually anywhere but in the sad, decaying plant in Queens. Mostly, I’m following Gulfstream on TV, and except for the fact that you’re hard pressed to find anywhere to hear the audio from Florida, it’s likely not much different from being at Gulfstream itself, unless I’d be lucky enough to snare one of the spare $10 seats there. I spoke to someone who was there on opening day, and he told me that even the apron in front of the building – never the most desirable place to view the racing live, but generally at least a fallback option – is not viable as a viewing point there because the track is elevated too far above ground level to get even a decent view.
Anyway, I digress, for a change. So though I was at the Big A on Saturday, I was completely oblivious to the Count Fleet Stakes, which went off immediately after the Aventura. At that point I was agonizing over the narrow defeat of Itsallboutthechase, and hoping beyond hope that perhaps my eyes had deceived me and that the head bob had gone the other way. Besides, it was the Aventura that was supposed to be the real Derby prep, having produced High Fly last year and, as we all know, no horse has won the Count Fleet and the Kentucky Derby since Smarty Jones in 2004.
I recall hearing Larry Collmus, the Monmouth track announcer who is sitting in for Tom Durkin this winter, exclaim about some kind of impressive victory in the Aqueduct race, but I really learned of Achilles of Troy’s runaway win by reading about it the next day. His final time of 1:39.61 was faster than that of Smarty, and the 14 length win margin prompted Mike Watchmaker to be reminded of Bellamy Road's sensational victory in the Wood Memorial last spring, an effort that secured him the role of favorite in the Kentucky Derby.
Although Achilles of Troy didn't run quite fast enough to earn a Beyer Speed Figure of 120 like the one Bellamy Road earned in the Wood - given how fast Aqueduct's inner track was Saturday, Achilles of Troy would have had to have broken the track record by more than a full second to do that - he did earn a Beyer Figure of 104. [Daily Racing Form]His trainer Jennifer Pederson told the Form that she didn’t want to run the colt back in a two-turn race just nine days after he graduated, but was overruled by owner Ernie Paragallo, who also owned Unbridled’s Song. He’s likely to stay in New York for the Whirlaway on Feb 11.
Achilles of Troy is by the dead Florida stallion Notebook, who, being by the deceased Well Decorated (Raja Baba) descends from a speedy sire line. He’s out of an unraced mare by Relaunch (the broodmare sire of Ghostzapper), who is by In Reality, another sire who is associated with speed. But he has distance influences such as The Axe, Ribot, Majestic Prince, and Tom Fool close up in his pedigree, and a tidy dosage index of 1.67, so we’ll keep an open mind on this one.
- All Derby-minded eyes will be turned to Santa Anita on Saturday for what is an increasingly rare early-season showdown between two main contenders, as Stevie Wonderboy and Brother Derek will square off in the one mile San Rafael. It’s the first two-turn race for Stevie Wonderboy who, according to trainer Doug O’Neill, will spend the rest of his Derby-prepping days in California. Brother Derek worked five furlongs in 1:00 2/5 under regular rider Alex Solis. [Bloodhorse] Neil Drysdale will wisely hold out Your Tent Or Mine. "I'm just letting him grow up." We’ll see if his connections will continue to let him do so if that would mean skipping the first Saturday in May.
- Juvenile Fillies runner-up Wild Fit is working out for her new trainer Patrick Biancone, who said she would likely return in the Grade 1, $250,000 Las Virgenes Stakes on Feb. 11. [Daily Racing Form] That’s a mile race around two turns, and we’ll be giving serious consideration to betting against her, stay tuned.
- Jerry Hollendorfer’s incredible streak of consecutive stakes wins on the Golden Gate/Bay Meadown circuit is up to seven.