A field of eight will line up in the $200,000 Excelsior (G3) on Saturday, the final graded stake of the spring meeting at Aqueduct, led by even money favorite Wicked Strong.
Wicked Strong won last year’s Wood Memorial (G1) over the Big A main track and was sent off at 6-1 in the Kentucky Derby (G1) where he checked in fourth. The colt stumbled coming out of the gate and made a mild late run, beaten 5 ¾ lengths by the winner California Chrome.
The Jimmy Jerkens trainee skipped the Preakness Stakes (G1) and came back to finish fourth in the Belmont Stakes (G1). He nearly won the Travers (G1) in his next start but was caught late by his stablemate V.E. Day, missing by a nose.
His final start last year came in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) where he clipped heels with Moreno and fell. His jockey Rajiv Maragh broke his arm and missed out riding in the Breeders’ Cup.
His return race in the Gulfstream Park Handicap (G2) was solid, a fourth place finish, beaten a length by the highly regarded Honor Code.
He faces seven foes including four exiting the Stymie which was won by Turco Bravo over a racing strip that was kind to inside speed that day. The Gary Contessa trainee sat close to the pace and won by a half-length, returning $21.60 for the win.
The Todd Pletcher trained Micromanage got the worst of it that day in the Stymie, racing five wide coming into the stretch and may be able to turn the tables today.
My Best Plays Report for Saturday will include my strongest plays from Aqueduct and Gulfstream Park.
Let’s head out to Aqueduct for Saturday’s featured race of the day:
Aqueduct Race 8 The Excelsior G3 (Post time 4:57 ET)
1 Micromanage 6-1
7 Wicked Strong 1-1
4 North Slope 5-1
8 Turco Bravo 10-1
Analysis: Micromanage is one of four in here exiting the Stymie where he stalked the early pace, came the widest turning for home and could not make up much ground late over a racing strip that was playing to inside speed that day. The Todd Pletcher trainee looks as if he may be back on track after coming up short two back in a fourth place finish in the Evening Attire. He came into that race off back to back wins in the Queen’s County and Jazil. The stretch out to 1 1/4 miles will suit, he has a win at the distance and even farther, winning the 1 3/4 mile Birdstone last summer at Saratoga. He may be able to turn the tables here and the 6-1 morning line looks fair enough.
Wicked Strong tracked the early pace and finished evenly in a fourth place finish, beaten a length last out in the Gulfstream Park Handicap (G2) in his first start off a five month layoff. He ran into a really tough group including Honor Code, Private Zone and Valid. The James Jerkens trainee does not have to move forward much off that effort to win here and the extra ground will suit. He missed winning the Travers (G1) at this distance last summer at the Spa when he was run down late by V. E. Day. The colt won the Wood Memorial (G1) over the Big A main track last spring. He looks tough but his price is going to be very much on the light side.
North Slope came with a four wide bid and made a mild late rally to finish third over that speed friendly racing strip. He won the Evening Attire two back in the mud and his last two speed figs are career tops. The Kiaran McLaughlin trainee struggled to get through his second allowance condition and the barn has him at the top of his game now. He won the Bowl Game on turf at 1 1/4 miles last fall at Belmont Park.
WIN: #1 to win at 9-2 or better.
EX: 1,7 / 1,4,7,8
TRI: 1,7 / 1,4,7,8 / 1,4,5,7,8
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