This weekend, Picks and Ponderings focuses on the three-year-old points races. Paul Mazur flies south to Hot Springs for a look at early-stage Derby dreamers in Oaklawn Park's Smarty Jones Stakes. This piece, on the other hand, focuses on the fillies. Sunday at Aqueduct, five sophomore fillies will line up for their share of a $100,000 purse in the Busanda Stakes. Most of them will leave with Road to the Kentucky Oaks points -- as they are apportioned 10, 4, 2, and 1 to the top four finishers.
This year marks the 44th running of this race. It is named in honour of Busanda, a mare who excelled both on the track and in the breeding shed. A 1947 daughter of Triple Crown winner War Admiral, bred by Ogden Phipps, her female line was just as regal. Busanda was out of the mare Businesslike, who herself was by Hall of Fame inductee Blue Larkspur and out of the heavily influential broodmare La Troienne. On the track, Busanda's crowning racing triumphs came in New York. She won the Alabama Stakes in 1950, and the Diana Handicap in 1952. She prevailed over males in the Suburban Handicap in 1951, and in the Saratoga Cup in both 1951 and 1952. After her racing career, she foaled three stakes winners. Her first foal to race, a 1954 Polynesian son named Bureaucracy, won the Dwyer in 1957. Her 1961 foal, a Double Jay son named Bupers, won the Belmont Futurity in 1963. Her highest-achieving foal, a 1963 son by Tom Fool, was Hall of Fame inductee and five-time Eclipse award winner Buckpasser.
The Busanda Stakes was inaugurated in 1974, and has been run every year since. It was originally seven furlongs, stretched to 1 1/16 miles in 1977, and shortened to its current 1 mile 70 yard distance in 1983. To date, only one winner of the Busanda Stakes has gone on to win the Kentucky Oaks: Princess of Sylmar, who won by an emphatic seven and a half lengths in 2013. Among other winners of this race, the most notable is 1981 Champion Three-Year-Old Filly Wayward Lass (1981), who proceeded to win the Ruthless (GIII), the Mother Goose (GI), and the Coaching Club American Oaks (GI) later that year.
Morning lines were not available at original publish time. Updated January 13 to include morning lines.
Sunday, January 15 - Aqueduct Racetrack
Race 3: Busanda Stakes, three-year-old fillies, one mile and seventy yards on the dirt, post time 1:20pm EST
The race drew a field of just five. None of the five have won anything but a maiden special weight. LIBBY'S TAIL has the class edge on this set, as the only one to start against winners. She has three graded stakes starts at two, including a second-place finish behind Yellow Agate in the Frizette (GI).
However, this space will side with one of the last-out maiden winners in the field: LOCKDOWN, who adds first-time Lasix for the Busanda. As a full sister to multiple Grade I winner Close Hatches, LOCKDOWN stands to like two turns on the dirt as well -- and she graduated going a mile and a sixteenth at Aqueduct. Not only is she the only winner on the Aqueduct inner out of the five horses in this field, but she is also the only one who has even gotten a spin over the course on race day. On pace, she will be forward, but has shown she does not need the lead. A reasonable step forward from her win last out should put LOCKDOWN in the running here. The humans appeal, too. Trainer Bill Mott has been firing at 24% on the meet, and wins at 20% with his last-out maiden winners. He places them well. Mott has been doing well lately with rider Kendrick Carmouche, and Carmouche does his best work with forwardly placed horses.
LIBBY'S TAIL deserves respect on class. She is the only one who has faced winners previously, and has done well in short fields. She broke her maiden rallying from off the pace in a seven-horse field, and finished a close second after setting the pace in the Frizette. LIBBY'S TAIL has been off the track since a fourth-place finish in the Demoiselle (GII) in November, but trainer Rudy Rodriguez typically has his charges ready to run off those layoffs. She also gets a switch back to Irad Ortiz -- rider for both LIBBY'S TAIL's maiden win and her Grade I placing. Ortiz has also been hot with Rodriguez: 31% wins and 63% in the money across 59 starts in the last two months.
NO SWEAT, SAND SHARK, and FRANK'S FOLLY round out the field. Kelly Breen trainee FRANK'S FOLLY comes second off the lay, breaking her maiden last out going two turns at Gulfstream, but that came in the slop. She still has to prove herself on dry going, though admittedly both her dry-track starts happened going short. NO SWEAT and SAND SHARK both hail from the Todd Pletcher barn. SAND SHARK ships up from Gulfstream, and as a daughter of Hard Spun, could well take to two turns here. But, this space prefers her stablemate who has already gone two turns: NO SWEAT. She graduated in November at Parx after a protracted duel, a positive given that there are a few speed horses here. That was a mile-long race as well, so she has the two-turn victory going for her. Though NO SWEAT has not run since then, she has been actively working at Belmont, and Pletcher trainees tend to come off mid-range layoffs ready to run. And, when Cornelio Velazquez shows up at Aqueduct and takes a call, he is worth watching: in 23 starts at the meet, he has six victories.
#5 LOCKDOWN (3/1)
#3 LIBBY'S TAIL (6/5)
#4 NO SWEAT (8/1)
Photo courtesy Nicolle Neulist.