Welcome to Noel Michaels’ Weekend Winners, the place to go for weekend best bets and spot plays from veteran handicapper and tournament-play pioneer Noel Michaels. Check back every week for a couple of highlighted selections designed to help you cash a few bets and make some money.
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Often overlooked during the winter season, Aqueduct hosts several good weekend cards throughout the frigid months that feature purses that stack up favorably with just about anyone at this time of year. Inclement weather forced last weekend’s races to be canceled at the Big A, but all systems are “go” this weekend and Aqueduct features a two-stakes program on Saturday including the Jimmy Winkfield Stakes for 3-year-old sprinters and the rescheduled running of the Withers Stakes, a Road to the Kentucky Derby prep race that drew a promising field.
Here’s a closer look at Aqueduct’s two Saturday stakes races, which both may be more bettable than they appear to be at first blush.
Aqueduct, Race 3, $100,000 Jimmy Winkfield Stakes, 1:17 p.m. ET
The Jimmy Winkfield drew a short field of only five 3-year-old sprinters, but that doesn’t mean the race isn’t an interesting puzzle for handicappers and bettors. The field is evenly-matched – no horse is under 2-1 or over 9-2 on the morning line – and a case could be made for pretty much all five runners, especially when you are talking about the exactas. The standout in the field looks like #4 Drew’s Gold, who has started his career 2-for-2, including a Churchill Downs maiden win in a key race where all of the top three finishers came back to win their next races, and then another big easy win last time out in a race for newly minted 3-year-olds at Laurel Park, where he manhandled the field by nearly four lengths. He’s been hampered by bad starts in both outings so far but overcome them. As a horse that won from off the pace both times, this slight stretch out in distance to six furlongs should only help the cause. The value in the race could be in hitting an exacta, and the horse for that is #3 Kool Kathmandu, who served notice in career debut with a live outing for a trainer never known for clicking with first-time starters. He then came back and delivered a maiden win last time out by 5 ½ lengths in wire-to-wire fashion. He should lead once again under leading rider Dylan Davis and could be tough to catch, at least for second.
The Play: Bet #4 Drew’s Gold (2-1) to win and key him in the exacta on top of #3 Kool Kathmandu (7-2).
Aqueduct, Race 9, $250,000 Withers Stakes, 4:27 p.m. ET
The Grade 3 Withers Stakes for 3-year-old going 1 1/8 miles on the main track is a prep race on the Road to the Kentucky Derby that drew a seven-horse field. The distance of this race around two turns seems to be the handicapping key for horseplayers, since most of this field is untested and unproven at a distance around two turns. It seems the two turns could negatively impact the majority of the field, with the exceptions being #1 Arctic Arrogance, #3 Jungfrau, and maybe (or maybe not) #4 Hit Show. This trio forms the focus of this race for horseplayers. Arctic Arrogance is consistent and has never run a bad race or been out of the exacta in five career starts so far, including the $150,000 Jerome Stakes last time out and, more notably, when second two races ago in the 1 1/8-mile, Grade 3 Remsen Stakes on this track. Arctic Arrogance often settles for second, but he has the combination of speed and stamina in his favor, and that makes him dangerous. Hit Show has won two of his three lifetime starts so far for trainer Brad Cox and that alone makes him a contender in this spot. The two wins were at seven furlongs and one mile, while the loss was a fourth-place finish when stretched out around two turns at 1 1/16 miles at Churchill Downs. It’s hard to say definitively if the distance is a problem based only on that race, but we’ll find out much more today. The final contender is unofficially a maiden since Jungfrau’s victory last time out came via disqualification that moved him up from second. In spite of the fact that he’s yet to cross the finish line first, he seems to be a horse that will run all day, and has been pointed to this spot by trainer Bill Mott, who ships the horse up from Gulfstream Park.
The Play: Bet #1 Arctic Arrogance (8-5) to win and play him in trifecta boxes along with #3 Jungfrau (4-1) and #4 Hit Show (9-5).