Toboggan Top Two Head Heart Hoof, Johannesburg Smile Take on Eight Others in Tom Fool
By Jon Forbes | 02/27/2013 04:24 PM ET
Head Heart Hoof
In his 50th career start, Head Heart Hoof became a graded stakes winner when he won the Grade 3 Toboggan on February 2 at Aqueduct Racetrack. On Saturday, the 7-year-old gelding will attempt to double his graded stakes tally when he faces Toboggan runner-up Johannesburg Smile and a contentious group of new shooters in the 38th edition of the Big A’s Grade 3, $200,000 Tom Fool Handicap.
The Tom Fool, a six-furlong sprint for 3-year-olds and up, was carded as the ninth race on the 11-race card and has a scheduled post time of 4:34 p.m.
Head Heart Hoof, who has raced for a plethora of trainers during his lengthy career, was transferred to Rudy Rodriguez in the fall and in his first start for his new trainer finished second in a conditioned $30,000 claiming race in October at Belmont Park. After winning a starter handicap in November at Aqueduct, he made three straight stakes appearances, fading to third in the Valley Forge in December at Parx Racing before rattling off victories over Aqueduct’s inner track in the True and Blue overnight stakes in January and the Toboggan.
In the Toboggan, Head Heart Hoof contested the pace in second from the outside post, opened a two-length lead in the stretch after dispatching the other front-runner and staved off Johannesburg Smile’s late bid to win by a diminishing half length.
Head Heart Hoof drew an outside post once again in the Tom Fool as he will be leaving from post 9 in the field of 10.
“The [outside] post helped him last time,” said Rodriguez, who trains the gelding for a partnership headed by Michael Dubb. “He likes the inner track, which is why he’s running his best races now. We’re lucky to have him around.”
Cornelio Velasquez will ride Head Heart Hoof, 5-1 co-third choice on the morning line.
Johannesburg Smile, a two-time restricted stakes winner, seeks his first graded stakes score after just missing in the Toboggan. The versatile New York-bred was claimed by trainer Todd Pletcher and owner Mike Repole for $100,000 out of a route victory in January at Aqueduct. In the Toboggan, his first start for his new connections, he left from the rail post, tracked the pace inside, split horses with a furlong to travel, and just failed to overtake Head Heart Hoof.
“I think it’s easy to say if you flip-flop post positions that maybe he would have run better, but I think he ran as well as he could first time back off the claim,” said Michael McCarthy, assistant to trainer Todd Pletcher. “The horse came to us in great shape and he’s been in great shape. We’re looking for a better draw and a better result. He’s healthy, he’s happy, and he had a good work the other day. We’ll play the hand we’re dealt. [He can run] from three-quarters to a mile and a sixteenth, and he’s a horse who, like Caixa [Eletronica], will let us pick some spots and have some fun.”
Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez takes over aboard Johannesburg Smile, also 5-1 on the morning line. The 6-year-old drew post 4.
The Pletcher stable will also be represented by Heart Butte, who has won a pair of stakes around two turns. The Tom Fool will be his first start since he was third in the John B. Campbell Handicap a year ago at Laurel Park. Chris DeCarlo will ride Heart Butte, 20-1, from post 5.
One of the newcomers is Sherry Parbhoo’s Off the Jak, who took the Sunshine Millions Sprint for Florida-breds by three-quarters of a length in January at Gulfstream Park. He enters the Tom Fool off a fourth in his turf debut, the Gulfstream Park Turf Sprint on February 2. After breaking slowly, Off the Jak made a mild rally to finish 5 ¼ lengths behind the winner.
“Off the Jak has been doing great since the Sunshine Millions, and last time I put him on the turf because I have another good sprinter, Trinniberg,” said trainer Shivananda Parbhoo. “I’m trying to run the two of them in difference places. They’re both front runners; if one of them was a closer, it would be OK [to run them against each other]. [Off the Jak] didn’t run badly on the turf, but because this race in New York was available I decided to run him there. I’d like to run in New York, and I’d like to think he has it in him to run in New York. I actually want to keep him on the turf, but it’s too long until the next big race on the turf.”
Willie Martinez will come in from Florida to ride Off the Jak, 6-1. They’ll depart from post 8.
Godolpin Racing homebred Consortium, who was briefly on the Triple Crown trail in 2012, comes into the Tom Fool off three straight optional claiming starts at Aqueduct. Third in his comeback race in November and beaten six lengths when second to Big Business in December, he cleared the first allowance condition on January 9 when he stalked the pace and drew off to a 2 ¼-length victory.
“The time before his last start was his second race off a long layoff, and he hooked a nice horse in that allowance race,” said trainer Kiaran McLaughlin of the December optional claimer. “Those horses haven proven they’re tough horses. We ran well, but David Jacobson’s horse [Big Business] just beat us. We didn’t think any less of [Consortium] after that race. He came back and ran a big race. This race is a step up, but we’ve always felt he’s this type of horse.”
McLaughlin added that he hopes the Tom Fool serves as a springboard to the Grade 1, $400,000 Carter Handicap on April 6.
Consortium, 10-1, will leave from post 6 with Eddie Castro aboard.
The Tom Fool attracted a pair of shippers from California in Comma to the Top and Smash, who were respectively installed as the top two choices on the morning line.
Gary Barber, Roger Birnbaum, and Kevin Tsujihara’s Comma to the Top, a Grade 1 winner going long as a 2-year-old, now races predominantly in sprints and will be making a quick turnaround in the Tom Fool. He won an off-the-turf renewal of the Grade 3 Daytona in December at Santa Anita, then was fourth in that venue’s Grade 2 Palos Verdes in January and third in last Saturday’s Grade 2 San Carlos.
“I can’t remember ever [running a horse in a pair of graded stakes within a week],” said trainer Peter Miller. “It’s unorthodox, but he’s a unique horse. The owner asked me how [the horse] was doing [after the San Carlos], and he was eating well and his energy level was good. [The owner] then asked if there was any reason for us to not go [to the Tom Fool], and I said there wasn’t. He’s not your average horse, and there aren’t a lot of big races for sprinters.”
Joel Rosario has the call aboard Comma to the Top, 3-1, from post 2.
Smash, second in the 2011 Carry Back at Calder, returned from an 11-month absence to finish fifth in the Grade 3 Vernon Underwood on December 2 at Betfair Hollywood Park. Trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert for Kaleem Shah, the 5-year-old will be making his second start off the layoff in the Tom Fool.
“He just gets a little jarred up,” said Baffert of Smash. “He’s a very small horse. We’ve freshened him up. Hopefully, he’ll run well and like it there. He always runs well off the bench. We’ve got to get these horses separated a little bit.”
Irad Ortiz will ride Smash, 7-2, from post 10.
Be Bullish, Saturday’s Charm, and St Liams Halo complete the field.
The field for the Grade 3, $200,000 Tom Fool Handicap: