G3 Gazelle runner-up Gambling Girl en route to Churchill Downs for G1 Kentucky Oaks; Expressman to target G3 Westchester
Apr 16, 2023
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G3 Gazelle runner-up Gambling Girl en route to Churchill Downs for G1 Kentucky Oaks; Expressman to target G3 Westchester

by NYRA Press Office

  • G3 Gazelle runner-up Gambling Girl en route to Churchill Downs for G1 Kentucky Oaks; Expressman to target G3 Westchester
  • Big Everest earns career-best 98 BSF for Danger’s Hour score
  • Weyburn likely for G3 Westchester
  • MGSW millionaire Drafted looking for out-of-town stakes success
  • Law Professor on target for G3 Pimlico Special
  • Barrera, III holds runaway lead in Division A of Under 20’s Challenge; Division B a three-way battle

Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher, who will saddle Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable’s formidable multiple Grade 1-winner Forte in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby on May 6, will also bring a strong contender for Repole Stable to the May 5 Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks in the New York-bred Gambling Girl. 

The entries of Gambling Girl in the Oaks and the trio of the reigning Champion 2-Year-Old Colt Forte, Grade 1 Blue Grass-winner Tapit Trice, and Grade 2 Louisiana Derby-winner Kingsbarns in the Run for the Roses will give Pletcher a chance to become the first trainer since Ben Jones [1952] to saddle both the Derby and Oaks winner in the same year. 

Bred by Gallagher’s Stud, the multiple graded stakes-placed Gambling Girl finished second in the nine-furlong Grade 3 Gazelle on April 8 at Aqueduct Racetrack, awarding her 40 points towards the Kentucky Oaks and guaranteeing her a spot in the starting gate. 

She added to the 21 points she earned for on-the-board efforts here in the Grade 2 Demoiselle and Busanda and a fourth in the Grade 3 Honeybee at Oaklawn Park. Jockey Jose Ortiz engineered a rallying trip in the Gazelle, guiding the Dialed In bay from 4 1/2 lengths off the pace to show a strong turn-of-foot and finish a half-length back of the victorious longshot Promiseher America. 

Pletcher said Gambling Girl will head to Churchill Downs to make her final preparations for the Oaks. 

“She’s shipping to Louisville today and we’re pointing to the Oaks,” said Pletcher. “She always tries hard and I thought we had dead aim at the winner, but we just couldn’t quite get there. It was another good effort from her.”

Later on the April 8 card, Pletcher sent out maidens Dreamlike and Crupi, as well as two-time winner Classic Catch, in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial presented by Resorts World Casino. Dreamlike, who has finished on-the-board in all three of his career starts, finished a gutsy third in a three-way photo finish after stalking the pace and holding a slim lead at the top of the stretch. Classic Catch closed from 11th-of-12 to finish a game fifth, while Crupi raced in last down the backstretch and made a mild bid around the turn to finish ninth. 

Pletcher said all three horses emerged from their efforts in good order. 

“Everyone came back well,” said Pletcher. “I thought Dreamlike, for being a maiden and a lightly-raced horse, ran great. It got pretty rough in the last part and I’m not sure how much that compromised him, but I thought it was a good effort. Classic Catch I thought closed the best of any horse in the race – unfortunately, he just had a little too much to do turning for home. We’ll regroup with Crupi and hopefully we’ll see him get to his best this summer and fall.” 

Pletcher added that St. Elias Stable’s Expressman, who finished a close third in the Grade 1 Carter Handicap presented by NYRA Bets, could aim for the Grade 3, $175,000 Westchester traveling a one-turn mile on May 5 at Belmont. 

The son of Liam’s Map had a bumpy trip in the Carter and steadied at the half-mile pole before finishing 1 1/4 lengths behind the victorious Doppelganger. 

“He’s possible for the Westchester and he gave a good, solid effort in the Carter,” said Pletcher. 

Pletcher’s Belmont barn recently welcomed back Grade 2 Suburban-winner Dynamic One, who has worked twice over the synthetic at Fair Hill in March and has not raced since an even sixth-place finish in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup in September at Saratoga Race Course. Pletcher said the son of Union Rags has settled back in to New York well and will be pointed towards a summer campaign at Saratoga. 

“He’s doing fine and hopefully we’ll have him ready for Saratoga,” said Pletcher. “We don’t have a spot in mind yet. He’s been breezing three-eighths, so we’ve got a bit of work to do.” 


Big Everest earns career-best 98 BSF for Danger’s Hour score

Reeves Thoroughbred Racing, Steven Rocco and William Branch’s multiple stakes-winner Big Everest earned a career-high 98 Beyer Speed Figure for his narrow nose victory in Saturday’s $100,000 Danger’s Hour traveling one-mile over the Aqueduct Racetrack inner turf. 

Trained by Christophe Clement and ridden to victory by Manny Franco, the 5-year-old son of The Gurkha was challenged early for the lead by the Kendrick Carmouche-piloted Eleven Central into the first turn, but established a one-length advantage entering the backstretch. Big Everest led the field of three at each point of call and was challenged late in the stretch by Anaconda, who angled out from the inside to make a strong run for the lead at the sixteenth pole but could not reel in a game Big Everest. 

Christophe Lorieul, Clement’s Belmont Park-based assistant, said Big Everest, who made his first start off a five-month respite, came out of the race in good order and should gain fitness from the effort. 

“The horse came back good,” said Lorieul. “We weren’t sure if he would be a little short [in fitness] coming into the race, but I told Manny he didn’t have to have the lead and to just see what Kendrick would do. He ran well.”  

Big Invasion doubled up on stakes scores in the Danger’s Hour on the heels of a half-length victory in the one-mile Artie Schiller on November 13 here. The talented gelding has won five of his last six starts and boasts a career record of 11-6-1-1 with total purse earnings of $384,840. He was bred in Great Britain by Newsells Park Stud. 


Weyburn likely for G3 Westchester

Chiefswood Stables’ Ontario homebred Weyburn is aiming towards a return to graded stakes action in the Grade 3, $175,000 Westchester going a one-turn mile on May 5 over the main track Belmont Park. 

Weyburn, a 5-year-old son of Pioneerof the Nile, sprung a 46-1 upset in the Grade 3 Gotham in 2021 at the Big A going the Westchester distance for trainer Jimmy Jerkens. He went winless the rest of his sophomore season before being transferred to trainer Brendan Walsh, capturing last year’s seven-furlong Sir Shackleton at Gulfstream Park. 

After making one start for trainer Rachel Halden when sixth in the Grade 2 King Edward over turf at Woodbine, he returned to Jerkens’ barn at Palm Meadows for the winter. In his first start off a seven-month layoff, he finished second to Grade 1-winner White Abarrio in a March 4 allowance event going seven furlongs at Gulfstream before securing a repeat triumph in the Sir Shackleton last out on April 1. 

“He really picked our heads up, that’s for sure,” Jerkens said of the last-out stakes conquest. 

Jerkens spoke of his desire to keep Weyburn going one turn this season. At two turns while under Jerkens’ care in 2021, Weyburn was a close second to Grade 1 Kentucky Derby winner Mandaloun in the Pegasus at Monmouth Park and was fourth beaten three lengths in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial. 

“That’s the spot we’re looking at,” Jerkens said of the Westchester, which he won in 2006 with Sir Greeley. “He seems to be better around one turn. Two-turn races seem to confuse him a little bit. He ran really well against Mandaloun at Monmouth, but since then he never really got it together going two turns. He runs spotty and he just never figured it out. He ran well in the Wood, the track was just really tiring that day.”

Weyburn breezed a half-mile in 48.11 seconds Thursday over the Belmont training track. The move was the second fastest of 62 recorded works at the distance. 

“He worked well. He went a little faster than I wanted,” Jerkens said. “You usually see that when they come back from Florida. They perk up a little bit. He did it easily enough.”

Jerkens said he was impressed by Weyburn’s optional-claiming effort when 4 1/2 lengths back of White Abarrio, earning the place position by a neck over Collaborate, who exited that event to earn a 95 Beyer in a Gulfstream allowance win.

“He usually runs very well fresh and he did that day,” Jerkens said. “White Abarrio is a really good horse and he caught up to him, but the pace wasn’t all that fast and White Abarrio had plenty left. I love the way he hung on for second. When a horse spurts away like White Abarrio did, they kind of lose heart a little bit. But he kept going for second. It was a really good race and then he came back and won. He needed that little break after the race in Canada. You still never know how they’re going to be after being stopped and started again, but he did pretty well right well right when he got to Florida from the farm.”

Weyburn is out of the A.P. Indy mare Sunday Affair, who also produced graded stakes winner Yorkton. His third dam is Grade 1-winner Maplejinsky who produced Hall of Famer Sky Beauty. He sports a record of 15-4-3-0 and earnings of $528,994. 


MGSW millionaire Drafted looking for out-of-town stakes success

Dublin Fjord Stables, Racepoint Stables, Kevin D. Hilbert and Thomas O’Keefe’s multiple graded-stakes winning millionaire Drafted breezed a half-mile in 49.49 Saturday over the Belmont Park dirt training track.

Trainer David Duggan said the 9-year-old Field Commission gelding, who boasts a record of 35-10-3-5 for purse earnings in excess of $1.1 million, will bypass a title defense in the six-furlong Grade 3, $175,000 Runhappy on May 13 at Belmont Park in favor of an allowance tilt at Laurel as he looks to secure his first win of the year.

The veteran gelding opened his campaign with a third-place finish in the Grade 3 Toboggan here in January ahead of a troubled sixth last out in the Grade 3 Tom Fool Handicap on March 4.

Drafted posted a record of 9-4-1-1 last year led by NYRA circuit wins in the seven-furlong Grade 3 Toboggan and six-furlong Gravesend at the Big A, and the six-furlong Grade 3 Runhappy at Belmont Park. He also notched a rallying score in the six-furlong Mr. Prospector at Monmouth Park ahead of a runner-up effort in the Alapocas Run at Delaware Park.

“He's 9-years-old and doesn’t need to be taking on these young guns,” Duggan said. “It's a salty group of sprinters here at the moment, so our plan is to go for an open allowance race at Laurel at the end of this month and try to win [stakes] back at Monmouth and Delaware. The Grade 3 here is going to look like a Grade 2 or a Grade 1.”

Duggan said he’s content to pick his spots with the evergreen gelding.

“If we have to run him for a tag, then we won't run him anymore. He's made his million. He's been an iron horse,” Duggan said. “I'd like to run him at Saratoga if there's something available. We'll see how it plays out.”

Duggan saddled Clear Stars Stable, Mitre Box Stable and Big Toe Stables' Rough Draft to a game three-quarter length score in Saturday's opening race here, a six-furlong state-bred turf allowance for 3-year-olds and up.

Rough Draft broke outward but saved ground under Trevor McCarthy before tipping out and collaring Sandrone with enough in the tank to stave off the onrushing Conman. He stopped the clock in 1:07.92 and earned an 84 Beyer Speed Figure.

“That was quite impressive. I know it was a fast track yesterday, but you have to like what you saw. Any time they step up like that you're quite happy,” Duggan said.

The 4-year-old Editorial gelding, bred in the Empire State by Climax Stallions, was purchased privately out of a head score on debut in November at the Big A traveling six furlongs over the turf in a state-bred maiden special weight for his former trainer and co-owner Linda Rice.

Duggan said the bay trained forwardly into his seasonal debut.

"He'd been working well enough, but he was a turf horse working on the dirt. It was a bit of a class test, but he won nicely," Duggan said. "They bought him privately out of his last race and it was a good buy. You couldn't help but like him the way he won first time out and the price was right. Once we ticked all the boxes, we were quite happy to get him."

Duggan said Rough Draft will likely aim for another local turf sprint before trying to stretch out in distance.

"We'll stick to what works right now,” Duggan said. “He'll go back in a 2-other-than and if he passes that, we can test the waters going a route of ground. He doesn't act like a one-dimensional sprinter.”


Law Professor on target for G3 Pimlico Special

Twin Creeks Racing Stables Kentucky homebred Law Professor, last out winner of the Excelsior here on April 1, breezed a half-mile in 49.36 this morning over the Belmont dirt training track in preparation for the 1 3/16-mile Grade 3 Pimlico Special on May 19 at Pimlico Race Course.

“He came out of the race really good, I was really happy with him. He worked an easy half-mile today,” trainer Rob Atras said.

The 5-year-old Constitution gelding equaled a career-best 98 Beyer Speed Figure in the nine-furlong Excelsior. With Manny Franco up from post 2, Law Professor raced to the inside of Miles D and eventual pacesetter Keystone Field into the first turn before getting off the rail to stalk from second position. He took command at the five-sixteenths and drew clear to a comfortable 4 1/4-length score in a final time of 1:50.34.

“There were a couple anxious moments last race into the first turn where we thought we'd have the lead and two horses wanted to go after him,” Atras said. “Manny had to tap the breaks a little and then he got him outside and he was a little bit rank, but he did a good job to get him to settle down and into a rhythm.”

The Excelsior score came on the heels of a distant third-place finish under Jose Ortiz in the Grade 3 Razorback Handicap in February at Oaklawn Park that the victorious Last Samurai exited to win the Grade 3 Essex at the Hot Springs, Arkansas oval and runner-up West Will Power returned to capture the Grade 2 New Orleans Classic at Fair Grounds.

Atras said Law Professor, who shipped to Oaklawn six days before the race, never truly settled in at the busy facility and this time will arrive at Pimlico on top of the race.

“Oaklawn wasn't Jose's fault. The horse was too worked up and he couldn’t get him to relax, I don't know if anybody could that day,” Atras said. “He likes to run out of his stall and I know he'll have to ship a little bit, but it's not like we have to change his whole routine. He'll just ship for the race and come right back.”

Franco, who is expected to retain the mount for the Pimlico Special, is a perfect 2-for-2 aboard Law Professor, including a win in the nine-furlong Queens County here in January.

Law Professor spent his first 10 starts in the care of trainer Michael McCarthy, taking the off-the-turf 2021 Grade 2 Santa Anita Mathis Mile. He made a winning debut for Atras in September at Kentucky Downs, scoring a half-length victory in the restricted Tapit over turf ahead of a game second to multiple Grade 1-winner Life Is Good in the Grade 1 Woodward on October 1 at Belmont at the Big A. He closed out his 2022 campaign with a fifth-place finish in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile in November at Keeneland.

Twin Creeks Racing Stables' Kentucky homebred Harrodsburg registered an 87 Beyer in a sparkling debut here on March 26, taking the 6 1/2-furlong maiden special weight for 3-year-olds and up by 2 1/4-lengths. 

The 3-year-old Constitution gelding touted his ability with a half-mile breeze from the gate in 47 flat on March 18, best of 123 works at the distance on the day.

“You never expect to win, but we were expecting a good race out of him,” Atras said. “He'd shown pretty good ability in the morning, but it's nice to see that transfer from the morning into the race.”

Harrodsburg breezed a half-mile in 48.11 Sunday over the Belmont dirt training track and is pointing to an allowance race early in the 40-day Belmont Park spring/summer meet which will open on Thursday, May 4 and continue through Sunday, July 9, featuring 54 stakes races worth $15.57 million in total purses.

“He worked good today. There's still room for improvement with him, too,” Atras said. “Hopefully he'll run at Belmont here in early May. The first option would be to run a first-level allowance and then go from there.”

Harrodsburg, a half-brother to stakes-winner Rome, is out of the graded-stakes placed Exchange Rate mare Gracer.

Robert Derr's Rossa Veloce, a 5-year-old New York-bred daughter of Girolamo, has won 2-of-3 starts this year, including a 5 1/4-length romp in the six-furlong Correction in March over a sloppy and sealed Big A main track. 

Last out, the pacey filly stumbled at the start of the Grade 3 Distaff and was rushed up to third down the backside before fading to fourth when stretched out to seven furlongs for just the second time in 26 career starts.

“The race was maybe farther than she wanted to go and she got totally taken out of her game. It was definitely frustrating,” Atras said. “She took a little stumble step and as she tried to recover she stumbled again and bumped with a horse. She almost went down.”

Atras said Rossa Veloce will target a pair of sprints at Belmont, including the 6 1/2-furlong Grade 3, $175,000 Vagrancy on May 14 and the longer-term goal of the state-bred $125,000 Dancin Renee going six furlongs on June 25 at Belmont.

“We don't have a New York-bred stake for her until late June, so we'll have to look at the Vagrancy and go from there,” Atras said.

Madaket Stables' Balpool, a sophomore Uncaptured filly, romped to a 9 1/2-length score here last Friday in a one-turn mile optional-claimer under current meet-leading rider Manny Franco. The frontrunning effort garnered an 83 Beyer as the filly made her third straight start traveling a one-turn mile.

Balpool finished fourth on debut in December here under Junior Alvarado in a six-furlong maiden special weight before graduating at second asking under Franco when stretched out to a one-turn mile over the Big A main track on February 5. She shipped to Laurel and ran a troubled fourth in a one-mile optional-claimer on March 10 ahead of her last-out coup.

"The first time I ran her, I thought she was going to want to go further. She's a big filly. Junior got off her and said, 'this filly is nice,'" Atras said. "We had a couple minor setbacks with her and then got her a maiden going a mile and she ran great. When she ran at Laurel, I didn't know what to make of the effort. She didn't get the greatest trip and ended up getting bounced off the rail.” 

Atras said Balpool will be nominated to the nine-furlong Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan on May 19 at Pimlico.

“We were scratching our heads a little bit at what quality she was, but I was definitely happy to see her run the way she did last time,” Atras said. “She's a big, good-looking filly and obviously the mile or a little further is no problem for her."

Sanford Goldfarb, Madaket Stables, Jorge Casal and the Estate of Ira Davis' stakes-placed Mr Phil, last seen finishing third in the restricted Tale of the Cat at Saratoga, returns in Race 3 at Aqueduct on Thursday in a six-furlong optional-claiming sprint.

"He'd run hard all winter and wasn't running the same numbers. He just didn't seem to be the same horse. There were a few issues there, so we gave him some time off," Atras said.

The 6-year-old Mr Speaker gelding, claimed for $32,000 last February, registered a career-best 101 Beyer in an optional-claiming score in May at Belmont ahead of a fifth-place finish in the Grade 2 True North in June over Big Sandy.

He has breezed consistently over the Belmont dirt training track including a half-mile effort in 49.66 Saturday. Manny Franco has the call from the inside post.


Barrera, III holds runaway lead in Division A of Under 20’s Challenge; Division B a three-way battle

Trainer Oscar Barrera, III, the defending winner of Aqueduct Racetrack’s Under 20’s Challenge, appears poised to make a successful title defense as he maintains a strong lead in Division A of the annual challenge. 

Barrera, III has scored 161 points as of March 31, 46 points ahead of second-place Randi Persaud. Division B of the challenge is currently a three-way battle between leader Antonio Arriaga [69 points], Patrick Quick [65.5 points], and John Toscano, Jr. [62 points]. 

Barrera, III has scored 11 victories with a record of 63-11-7-8 through March 31, led by January optional-claiming scores with No Burn and Know It All Audrey. Arriaga has won five races with a record of 27-5-3-3, while Quick is in pursuit of the lead with 21-3-6-3 record. 

Established in 2018, the Under 20’s Challenge is open to trainers with 20 or fewer horses nationwide. Stables of no more than 20 horses compete in Division A while stables of no more than 10 horses compete in Division B. 

Points in dirt races are awarded in overnight races at Aqueduct from January 1 through the end of the Big A spring meet on April 30 on a 6-5-4-3-2 scale for first through fifth-place, respectively. Turf race points awarded on a 5-4-3-2-1 scale. Stakes races will not count for the purpose of this contest. Points will be tallied and records verified on May 30, and awards will be granted thereafter.

The top-six trainers in Division A will share a prize pool of $60,000 with the winner receiving $16,000. The top-five trainers in Division B will share a prize pool of $50,000 with the winner also receiving $16,000. Stall allotments for the 2023 Aqueduct winter/spring meets were used to determine eligible trainers.

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