Litfin At Large: Handicapping Big Day at Aqueduct

Dave Litfin handicaps four stakes on the Dec. 2 Aqueduct card.

Although it is very late in the year, Dec. 2 definitely has a "big-day feel" for racing fans up and down the East Coast.  

Aqueduct Racetrack runs four graded stakes anchored by the Cigar Mile Handicap Presented By NYRA Bets (G1), which is the last grade 1 race of the season in New York. And it is opening day of the Championship Meet at Gulfstream Park, where more than 160 horses are entered on a wild and woolly Claiming Crown program.

The four stakes to be run over the new main track at the Big A are part of a late pick five, one which also includes a turf sprint for maidens over the new outer turf course. The sequence, which has a mandatory payout, begins with the Go for Wand Handicap (G3) for older fillies and mares, and goes through the Demoiselle (G2) and Remsen (G2) stakes for 2-year-olds as well.

Here is a look at the stakes races in order:

Go for Wand (race 6, 2:06 ET): Along with the Cigar Mile, Demoiselle and Remsen, this one-mile race out of the chute has been moved back from Thanksgiving weekend. Thus, it attracted Highway Star, who finished off the board in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) after being positioned just off a hot pace that incinerated everyone near it. That was only her third loss from 11 starts in one-turn races, and her two previous defeats under those conditions were a photo-finish second in the Ballerina (G1), and a third in the Ogden Phipps (G1) behind Songbird.

Jamyson 'n Ginger (1) was a close second in the Demoiselle last year, three weeks after running a troubled fifth in the 14 Hands Winery Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1), and this will be her first stakes appearance since then. She ran second to subsequent Mother Goose (G2) winner Unchained Melody when brought back for her first start of the year in early June, and was then purchased by Juddmonte Farms and transferred to Chad Brown. She returned with back-to-back wins in allowance/optional claiming company, and like Highway Star, she is undefeated at this distance on dirt.

Verve's Tale (5) cuts back from 1 1/16 miles after leading through most of the stretch in the Turnback the Alarm Handicap (G3). Since that effort, she has recorded two noticeably improved workouts.

A - 1, 2
B - 5

Demoiselle (race 8, 3:12 ET): Wonder Gadot (3) looks something like Jamyson 'n Ginger did last year, as she emerges from a tough-trip sixth in the Juvenile Fillies. The Medaglia d'Oro  filly was making her initial dirt start after showing good positional speed on Woodbine's turf and synthetic surfaces, and found herself near the back of the pack after checking past the stands the first time; she also checked sharply between horses in mid-stretch.

The main obstacles for Wonder Godot look like Daisy (1) and Maurer Power (6), a pair of fillies based at Parx Racing who are each 2 for 2 for trainer John Servis. Daisy has the benefit of a race over the new surface at Aqueduct after stretching out nicely to win the Tempted (G3) at a mile. Maurer Power returned from a layoff in October and rated smoothly behind the leaders before drawing away from allowance foes at 6 1/2 furlongs.

Indy Union (5) is fresh off a maiden win in her first opportunity on a fast track, and it's noteworthy that she showed vastly improved early speed before drawing off by seven lengths.

A - 1, 3
B - 6
C - 5

Remsen (race 9, 3:45 ET:) In addition to Enticed, who overcame trouble to win the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) last Saturday, Godolphin Racing has another very nice prospect here in Avery Island (3), who is the morning-line favorite after shrugging off early pressure to win the Nashua (G2) on opening weekend of Aqueduct's fall meet.

Avery Island turned in bullet workouts before his maiden win and before the Nashua, and served notice he remains sharp a week ago Friday, when his half-mile breeze was the fastest of 91 on the Belmont Park training track that morning.

The only other stakes winner in the lineup is Catholic Boy (5), who took the With Anticipation (G3T) at Saratoga Race Course, and followed with a good effort to finish fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G1T). This will be the first dirt try for the son of More Than Ready , who is out of a Bernardini  mare, and might handle the surface change for Jonathan Thomas, a former assistant to Todd Pletcher who is having a terrific first season on his own.

Triple Dog Dare (2) and Alkhaatam (7) ran second and third in a well-rated maiden race when last seen Oct. 25 for Rudy Rodriguez and Chad Brown respectively. Both colts recorded bullet works earlier this week, and it's worth mentioning Rodriguez has been red hot since then, and Brown sent out Good Magic to win the Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) as a maiden.

A - 3
B - 2, 7
C - 5

Cigar Mile (race 10, 4:16 ET): First run as the NYRA Mile in 1988, and renamed in 1997 for the legendary horse that won 16 races in a row, including the 1994 renewal, the Cigar Mile was run on the Saturday following Thanksgiving from 1994 through last year. By pushing it back a week, it has become a more viable option for horses exiting Breeders' Cup races, and indeed the top three morning-line choices: Sharp Azteca, (6)  Practical Joke  (8) and Mind Your Biscuits (1), last ran in either the Dirt Mile (G1) or TwinSpires Sprint (G1).

Practical Joke wound up fourth in the Dirt Mile, almost five lengths behind runner-up Sharp Azteca, but there are reasons to believe he can turn the tables. Unlike the two-turn Dirt Mile, this race begins out of the chute, and Practical Joke is a perfect 5 for 5 in one-turn races including three grade 1 stakes.

It may also be significant that Sharp Azteca was reportedly a tired horse following a stretch-long battle in the Dirt Mile, and that he is going to face pace pressure from Seymourdini (2) and Americanize (5) in this match-up.

If he is anything close to his 15-1 morning line, the Rudy Rodriguez-trained Summer Revolution (9) rates as a price play. He is favorably drawn outside, and recently returned from an extended absence with a good-looking win over optional claiming sprinters.

A - 6, 8
B - 9
C - 2