In the Excelsior at the Big A on Saturday, morning line favorite Last Gunfigher ($8.30) was sent off as third choice, which seems like, in retrospect of course, a bit of a gift given that he had won four in a row coming in; the last two stakes. Bettors went instead with Ruler On Ice, coming off his first win since the 2011 Belmont, and Pletcher's improving Mordi's Miracle. Would have been a miracle indeed if the latter hung on after engaging in a punishing pace duel with Colizeo; and he did well to hold for second. Last Gunfighter sat a handy trip behind the proceedings with Ravi Maragh waiting patiently; our favorite chartcaller, in vintage form here even for him, takes it from there: ...was kept to a firm hold by the pilot caught briefly in traffic approaching the quarter pole, altered course towards the inside entering the stretch, but failed to have the opening materialize into optimal racing clearance, had intentions of being taken outward but cancelled those plans after MORDI'S MIRACLE swerved out a bit in midstretch, dove eagerly towards the newly-created rail passageway and drew alongside the second place finisher, went by soon afterwards, and kicked clear, getting geared down in the final seventy yards. Got that? Last Gunfighter is by First Samurai out of a Sir Cat mare; he's inbred 3x3 to Storm Cat.
Black Onyx was much best in the Spiral Stakes, rallying to win despite being wide on both turns.
''He's proven he's a multi-talented horse,'' [trainer Kelly] Breen said. ''He's won on dirt, on turf, and now on Polytrack. The plan was - if he won - that we wouldn't run again until the Derby. His next start will be the Derby.'' [AP]Well, Breen is stating the truth that he's won on all three surfaces. But his dirt win was an off-the-turf maiden race at Belmont in which he earned a Beyer of 71. He was up the track in a two-turn dirt race at Gulfstream before winning there on the grass (in a race that also included Crop Report, who won the Rushaway yesterday). So, to me, he's precisely the kind of horse I referred to in the prior post; getting into the Derby based on a Polytrack win and without proven dirt form despite that maiden win against a field that has produced two subsequent winners, one in a 10K maiden claiming race. He's by Rock Hard Ten out of a Cape Town mare, and a half to Francois, a stakes winner on the Poly at Arlington; and hails from the distaff family of the BC Sprint winner Desert Stormer, and graded turf winners Better Lucky and Casino Host.
Going back to last Thursday, the The Compelling Word overnight stakes is a race worth mentioning if you missed it. Saginaw looked like he was home free midstretch, but Awesome Vision launched an unlikely rally from last to get a piece of the top purse via dead heat. The rally was especially impressive given what Andy Serling and Jason Blewitt were describing the next day as a distinct speed/rail bias. I'm a big bias-skeptic as you may know, but the result charts seem to bear this one out. Having said that however, the short fields at Aqueduct surely lend themselves to those kinds of days. Speed horses are generally considered to have an advantage on most dirt tracks to start with, and the smaller the fields, the less chance that some horse will unexpectedly flash speed, and the less horses there are to come pick up the pieces.
In any event, Awesome Vision is developing into a nice NY-bred colt; now undefeated in three races around two turns. Those have all been on the inner track, but he has a main track win as well. He's a four-year old by Awesome Again out of Blind Canyon, a Valley Crossing mare who started 60 times, with six wins. Could only find a crappy quality video on You Tube; you can watch the race here.