It isn’t often that 2-year-old Thoroughbreds are asked to negotiate 1 1/8 miles. The testing distance is considered to be the upper limit for young runners in North America, which is why Saturday’s $150,000 Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct serves as a unique stop on the Road to the 2021 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve.
As the longest Derby prep race open to 2-year-olds, the Grade 2 Remsen is a stiff test of talent, quality, and — most importantly — stamina. While the race hasn’t produced a Kentucky Derby winner since 1995, it has nevertheless churned out a steady stream of future Grade 1 winners in recent years, including Bluegrass Cat (2005), Nobiz Like Shobiz (2006), Court Vision (2007), To Honor and Serve (2010), Overanalyze (2012), Honor Code (2013), Mo Town (2016), and Catholic Boy (2017).
Five horses are slated to contest the 2020 Remsen, including proven graded stakes winner #1 Pickin’ Time. A son of Stay Thirsty, who won the 2012 Grade 1 Cigar Mile at Aqueduct, Pickin’ Time has compiled a promising 3-for-5 record under the care of trainer Kelly Breen. The dark bay colt has been particularly sharp this fall, rallying to victory in the Smoke Glacken Stakes at Monmouth Park before posting a 2 1/4-length triumph in the Grade 3 Nashua Stakes racing a mile at Aqueduct.
Pickin’ Time’s Nashua effort was eye-catching on several levels. He was relentless through the stretch, reeling in #5 Ten for Ten before edging clear to win with a 93 BrisNet speed rating, the highest figure in the Remsen field. Notably, Ten for Ten pulled 10 1/4 lengths clear of the third-place runner, an indication of just how well the top two performed.
Pickin’ Time has trained forwardly since the Remsen, wrapping up his preparations with a fast half-mile workout in :47.01 on the training track at Belmont Park. But can he maintain his edge while stretching out to 1 1/8 miles? Pickin’ Time has never run farther than a mile, and the Remsen will mark only his second start around two turns, following a troubled runner-up effort in the Sapling Stakes at Monmouth during the summer.
Some bettors will bank on Nashua runner-up Ten for Ten to turn the tables in the Remsen. A speedy son of Grade 1 winner Frosted, who finished second in the 2014 Remsen, Ten for Ten showed significant talent when breaking his maiden on a sloppy track at Belmont Park. Leading all the way under jockey Jose Ortiz, Ten for Ten drew away down the stretch to win by eight lengths with a 92 BrisNet speed rating.
Although Ten for Ten was beaten in the Nashua, he didn’t run a bad race by any means. Carving out fast quarter-mile fractions of :22.86 and :46.10 under jockey Eric Cancel may have left Ten for Ten a bit leg-weary for the homestretch drive, so the fact he held on to finish second — while pulling 10 1/4 lengths clear of the rest — is an encouraging sign of talent.
Ten for Ten will reunite with Jose Ortiz for the Remsen, and since there isn’t much pace in Saturday’s field, there’s a chance he’ll shake loose on an uncontested lead and successfully stretch his speed over 1 1/8 miles. But truthfully, the biggest threat to upset Pickin’ Time might be the up-and-coming #2 Known Agenda.
From a pedigree perspective, Known Agenda is bred to be a two-turn star. His sire is Curlin, winner of the Grade 1 Preakness Stakes and a two-time Horse of the Year. His dam is Byrama, winner of the Grade 1 Vanity Handicap racing 1 1/8 miles.
With such a stamina-oriented pedigree in his corner, it was a bit surprising to see Known Agenda contend for the victory in his debut sprinting at Belmont Park. Despite racing over a distance shorter than his best, Known Agenda rallied gamely from off the pace to finish second behind Highly Motivated, who came right back to win Keeneland’s Nyquist Stakes in track-record time.
Having gotten a sprint sharpener under his belt, Known Agenda stretched out for a 1 1/8-mile maiden race at Aqueduct and promptly delivered an impressive victory. Rallying tenaciously from fourth place in a slow-paced race, Known Agenda took command in the stretch and refused to yield when challenged by Greatest Honour, prevailing by a head while pulling 21 lengths clear of the rest.
This effort produced an encouraging 92 BrisNet speed rating plus a strong 104 BrisNet late pace rating. The fact Known Agenda is already proven at the track and distance of the Remsen is a big positive, so although he’s stepping up in class for the Remsen, he looms as a serious contender for hot trainer Todd Pletcher and Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez.
Bettors playing on a small budget can feel confident playing Known Agenda over Pickin’ Time and Ten for Ten in the exacta. Bolder bettors with bigger budgets can go a step further and add a trifecta using #4 Erawan for third place.
Wagering Strategy on a $10 Budget
$5 exacta: 2 with 1,5 ($10)
What to say at the betting window: Aqueduct, 4th race, $5 exacta: 2 with 1,5
Wagering Strategy on a $30 Budget
$7 exacta: 2 with 1,5 ($14)
What to say at the betting window: Aqueduct, 4th race, $7 exacta: 2 with 1,5
$4 trifecta: 2 with 1,5 with 1,4,5 ($16)
What to say at the betting window: Aqueduct, 4th race, $4 trifecta: 2 with 1,5 with 1,4,5
Good luck, and enjoy the race!