There are 10 horses but not much speed in the $125,000 Queens County Stakes at Aqueduct on Saturday.
Adulator has the best early foot in the 1 1/8-mile Queens County. Name Changer and Exulting are tactical enough to stalk. A slow or moderate early tempo would help their chances and put the deep closers Bonus Points, Holiday Bonus, and Monongahela at a disadvantage.
While Adulator has the best early lick, he may not have enough class to stick. A $50,000 claim by Robertino Diodoro over the summer at Aqueduct, he came up short behind Bonus Points in a third-level optional claimer at Laurel Park in November. He eked out a nose win over second-level rivals in Maryland two starts back.
Name Changer has been in good form for trainer Alan Goldberg since returning from an 11-month layoff in May. He knocked off optional-claiming fields at Parx Racing and Delaware Park in his first two comeback races, then was a little flat when third in the Carl Hanford Stakes at Delaware. He rebounded to win the Grade 3 Monmouth Cup two weeks later.
In his most recent start he finished third to Aztec Sense and Zanotti in the Pennsylvania Derby Championship Stakes in September. Aztec Sense came back to win the $196,000 Claiming Crown Jewel in Florida and is a perfect 8 for 8 on the year.
Name Changer will likely settle several lengths off the pace Saturday.
“I think a mile and an eighth where he’s fourth and fifth and can relax is a good trip for him,” Goldberg said. “He used to be a bad-breaking horse. Now, he’s been breaking well and sitting a little closer.”
Exulting started twice within seven days in off-the-turf stakes at Aqueduct in November. He won the $146,000 Artie Schiller and then weakened to fourth after racing on the pace in the $202,000 Red Smith.
He was “given a little break” after those races, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said, and tuned up by working a half-mile in blinkers Dec. 14. McLaughlin will race him in blinkers for the first time Saturday.
“He’s kind of a knucklehead,” McLaughlin said. “He doesn’t like to get hit. He’s kind of funny around other horses. We think now is the time to put blinkers on him. We’d like him to pay attention a little more.”
Exulting, a 5-year-old Tapit gelding, is 4 for 13 and could get first run at Adulator in the Queens County.
Trained by Todd Pletcher, Bal Harbour won the off-the-turf Gio Ponti on the lead in his last start, but that race scratched down to three horses following the surface change. His more typical style is to rally from off the pace.
The late-runners Monongahela and Bonus Points exit good performances.
Monongahela came from 10 lengths back to finish second, beaten three-quarters of a length, in the $100,000 Swatara on Thanksgiving Eve at Penn National for trainer Kelly Rubley.
Bonus Points, who races for Pletcher, dropped about 20 lengths off the pace as the 6-5 favorite in a third-level optional claimer at Laurel last time out. He finished with a sustained bid to win by a length.
This story originally appeared on DRF.com.
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