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Horse racing: Aqueduct serving up a hearty holiday feast

Saturday, November 30, 2013
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Some people think the leftovers are just as tasty as the main Thanksgiving meal.

That seems to be the case at Aqueduct today, which will serve up a terrific post-Breeders’ Cup card featuring a star-studded Grade I Cigar Mile.

Besides two Breeders’ Cup winners — the 5-year-old mare Groupie Doll and Goldencents — the 11-horse Cigar Mile field boasts four other Grade I winners.

Groupie Doll, the two-time winner of the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, was beaten by a mere nose to Stay Thirsty in last year’s Cigar Mile.

The theme for her this time is “stay hungry.” as she was purchased by Mandy Pope for $3.1 million at the Keeneland November breeding stock sale, but has remained in training under the watch of Buff Bradley.

Groupie Doll, the 3-1 morning-line favorite, will run for an enhanced purse of $1 million for winners of a 2013 Breeders’ Cup race.

“Knowing that she has run well at Aqueduct and that she’s ready to go, we knew it could be done,” trainer Buff Bradley told the New York Racing Association. “It’s going to be one of her toughest tasks, but she has been training forwardly at Belmont, and all the signs are she’s going to run a big race.”

Groupie Doll appears to be a lock to win her second straight Eclipse Award, but the Eclipse Award hopes of Goldencents took a big hit on Friday, when Will Take Charge won the Grade I Clark at Churchill Downs.

Despite a poor performance in the Kentucky Derby, the Santa Anita Derby winner had an outside shotat stealing the the 3-year-old male Eclipse, based on his victory in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.

The other Grade I winners in the field are Verrazano (Wood, Haskell), Capo Bastone (King’s Bishop), Flat Out (2012 Jockey Club Gold Cup) and the California-based Private Zone (Vosburgh), who returns to New York after a disappointing 10th in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

Verrazano, seventh in the Travers and fourth to Goldencents in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, is one of five 3-year-olds in the field and one of three horses trained by Todd Pletcher, who also has Amsterdam winner Forty Tales and Capo Bastone.

“We just need him to run to his capabilities,” Pletcher said of Verrazano. “I still think his win in the Haskell was arguably the best race by a 3-year-old this year. We need him to repeat the races he’s capable of running. Putting the Breeders’ Cup behind us, I don’t think he loved the track. It’s hard to gauge because he had such a rough trip going into the first turn. The track was so speed-biased that day that it was impossible to make up ground.”

Pletcher tried Capo Bastone on the turf in the BC Turf Sprint, and called it “an experiment that went wrong” after Capo Bastone finished 13th.

“We felt like he’d handle the turf, but, unfortunately, he didn’t, so we’ve regrouped and gone back to his preferred surface,” he said. “If he can repeat his King’s Bishop performance, it gives him a big chance.”

Forty Tales was second to Clearly Now, who is 5-1 in the Cigar Mile, in the Grade III Bold Ruler.

Clearly Now has never missed the board in 10 career starts, and was second to Declan’s Warrior in the Bay Shore in April in his only start at Aqueduct.

“He seems to be getting better, and has improved with blinkers,” trainer Brian Lynch said.

The 7-year-old Belmont horse-for-the-course Flat Out has never raced at Aqueduct in 28 career starts and also is making a rare start at less than nine furlongs.

“I think he’s able to be effective at a mile,” trainer Bill Mott said. “We were thinking about running in the Cigar Mile before the Breeders’ Cup and had discussed not running in the Breeders’ Cup and waiting for the Cigar Mile, but it turns out, he’s going to run in them both. He looks great, has a nice coat, and has had a couple of nice works.”

Saratoga Snacks, a three-time stakes winner against New York-breds for owner Bill Parcells, will make his graded-stakes debut in the Cigar Mile after scratching out of a listed stakes on Wednesday.

He’ll be cutting back in distance after winning the 11⁄8-mile Empire Classic Handicap on Oct. 19 at Belmont Park.

The Cigar Mile is the main course, but Aqueduct also has the Grade III Comely for 3-year-old fillies and two graded stakes for juv­eniles, the Demoiselle for fillies and the Remsen.

The Shug McGaughey-trained Honor Code, an impressive debut winner at Saratoga Race Course, is 9-5 in the Remsen. Also in the field is Starlight Racing’s Intense Holiday.

The 6-5 Demoiselle favorite is Stopchargingmaria, who broke her maiden and was second in the Spinaway at Saratoga and is coming off a win in the Tempted.

CLARK HANDICAP

Will Take Charge bounced back from his loss in the Breeders’ Cup Classic to win the Clark.

Just 27 days ago, the horse, trained by D. Wayne Lukas, lost by a nose to Mucho Macho Man at Santa Anita. This time, it was jockey Luis Saez and the 3-year-old son of Unbridled’s Song — the second betting choice — who scored the narrow victory, winning by a head over favorite Game on Dude and jockey Mike Smith.

Our Double Play and Francisco Torres took the early lead, with Game on Dude tracking in second. Game on Dude, the Bob Baffert-trainee who was coming off a ninth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, took the lead in mid-stretch and appeared to be in control.

That’s when Will Take Charge moved from his stalking spot mid-pack and powered down the lane to catch the 6-year-old gelding just before the wire.

“When he came into the stretch, my horse had to change leads, so that’s what I tried to [get him] do,” Saez said. “When he changed, he was flying, so I knew I was going to beat him.”

Owned by Willis D. Horton, Will Take Charge increased his record to six wins in 15 starts with earnings of $3,055,148.

The flashy chestnut with the big white blaze blossomed after disappointing efforts on the Triple Crown trail. He was a troubled eighth over the sloppy track in the Kentucky Derby, a lackluster seventh in the Preakness Stakes and a dismal 10th in the Belmont Stakes.

Lukas didn’t give up. He removed the blinkers the colt had worn in his previous nine races, and he appeared rejuvenated as he ran second in the Grade II Jim Dandy in July.

The colt went on to post victories in the Travers and the Pennsylvania Derby.

“I thought maybe it was his best race of the year, even though the Breeders’ Cup was sensational,”

Lukas told The Associated Press. “On this particular surface, going an eighth of a mile shorter, I think he showed his versatility pretty good today.

“He’s a classy horse, and he’s gotten the idea of getting up [in time]. He seems to know where the wire is.”

With the win, Will Take Charge likely clinched the 3-year-old male Eclipse Award.

AROUND THE TRACKS

At 13-1, Royal Lahaina upset the Grade II Go for Wand at Aqueduct on Friday for the first graded stakes win of her career. She was fifth in the Shuvee at Saratoga. . . .

Churchill Downs also has graded stakes for 2-year-olds today — the Goldenrod and Kentucky Jockey Club.

Almost Famous, an impressive six-length winner in an allowance at Churchill earlier this month, is 6-5 in the Kentucky Jockey Club. . . .

Last Gunfighter, a three-time Grade III winner this year trained by Chad Brown, is the 9-5 favorite in the $350,000 Hawthorne Gold Cup in a field that includes Alpha, who won the Woodward at Sar­atoga this season and dead-heated with Golden Ticket in the Travers last year.

Last Gunfighter is coming off fifth-place finishes in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and BC Classic.

HERE AND THERE

The Hollywood film “50 to 1,” a depiction of Mine That Bird’s run to the 2009 Kentucky Derby victory, will open in theaters on March 21.

The movie, shot mostly in New Mexico, was directed and produced by Jim Wilson, Oscar-winning producer of “Dances With Wolves”, and stars Skeet Ulrich.

Hall of Fame jockey Calvin Borel plays himself in the movie.

 
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