Noel’s Weekend Winners: Doubling Down Saturday at Aqueduct

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.

Noel’s selections have been featured just about everywhere horse racing picks can be found, including in print in the Daily Racing Form, The HorsePlayer Magazine and American Turf Monthly, online at, and, from the paddock on-track at Arlington International Racecourse, and on the air on HRTV, TVG, NYC OTB Extra, NYRA’s Talking Horses, and on broadcast TV on WAVE-3 Louisville, ABC KOLO-8 in Reno, Nevada, and channel 72 Long Island Cablevision.

Saturday, Dec. 10

It’s a quiet Saturday this week in Thoroughbred racing, but the Aqueduct winter meet is already in full swing and will be hosting a very playable nine-race card headlined by the featured $120,000 Garland of Roses Stakes at for fillies and mares going three-quarters of a mile. The feature kicks off a late double at Aqueduct that offers bettors a good opportunity to make it a big day at The Big A.

Aqueduct, Race 8, $120,000 Garland of Roses Stakes, 3:40 p.m. ET

The Garland of Roses has drawn a field of seven including several horses with stakes credentials in their past performances and a few 3-year-olds that have been up and coming in the second half of 2022. The most notable among those is #7 Beguine, who was a neck away from being a graded stakes winner earlier this year when second in the Grade 3 Fantasy Stakes at Oaklawn Park until things went wrong. Something clearly was not right with Beguine when 12th of 13 in the Grade 2 George E. Mitchell Black-Eyed Susan Stakes, which led to a four-month layoff, but following a return prep race at Keeneland this filly returned to what appears to be her best form last time when running a 101 Beyer Speed Figure in a second-place finish right here at Aqueduct. That was actually a very unfortunate defeat since her effort would have been good enough to win 95% of the races at that level and she lost by a half-length to a lone speed winner while 12 ½ lengths clear of the third-place finisher. If she repeats that effort, there should be no stopping her today. There are several other fascinating fillies in this field, perhaps the best of which is #5 Smash Ticket, who shipped to Keeneland last time and set the pace in the Grade 2 Lexus Raven Run Stakes util giving way in the stretch at seven furlongs. She’s probably better at this six-furlong trip, and you have to like the ambitious placement last time by trainer Rob Atras when the filly was coming off back-to-back-to-back wins this year, including a victory at Saratoga and a win in Pimlico’s Weather Vane Stakes. The Weather Vane, which she won by six lengths at this six-furlong trip, turned out to be a key race with both the second- and third-place finishers out of that field coming back to win their next starts.

The Play: Bet #7 Beguine (3-1) to win, and box her in the exactas with #5 Smash Ticket (2-1). Start the late daily double with both Beguine and Smash Ticket in Race 8 and complete the doubles by using #5 Little Luca and #9 Four Eyes in the Race 9 finale.

Aqueduct, Race 9, maiden special weight, 4:08 p.m. ET

The Aqueduct nightcap on Saturday is a state-bred maiden special weight race going 6 ½ furlongs that drew a field of 10. There are several first-time starters in the race that don’t hail from win-early connections, so it seems OK to focus on the horses in this field who’ve already run. Among those, by far the most interesting is #9 Four Eyes, who finished fifth in a nine-horse field last time out in his career debut at Finger Lakes. Four Eyes lost by four lengths, which was pretty good considering the gelding lost about eight lengths of ground in the mid-part of the race before coming again in the five-furlong race to gain 11 lengths and close the gap considerably. That bodes well for this runner today in the second career start, going a bit farther, and with the experience of the career debut in his back pocket. Since the first start, Four Eyes has two morning drills on the workout tab and both were dynamite, including a bullet at Finger Lakes and a 1:00.60 breeze going five furlongs on the Belmont training track last week. The speed figure from last time stacks up well vs. these, so it looks like graduation day. For the exactas, the other horse in the field with the best chance to improve is #5 Little Luca, who showed speed to lead at five furlongs before running out of gas last time in his career debut for win-early trainer Kelly Breen. He returns as a new gelding today and projects to go faster and farther in the second lifetime outing for Breen, who wins 18% with his maiden second-time starters.

The Play:  Box the exacta with #5 Little Luca (7-2) and #9 Four Eyes (5-1). If you are not still alive in the daily doubles, go ahead and also play #9 Four Eyes to win.