by Najja Thompson
A competitive group of six juveniles will battle to earn top honors in the $100,000 Damon Runyon for New York-breds going one mile on a special New Year's Eve card on Monday at Aqueduct Racetrack.
Not That Brady will look to return in top form in the one-turn mile off an impressive maiden breaking win for trainer Rudy Rodriguez, who co-owns with Michael Imperio and Lianna Stables.
Purchased for $135,000 as a yearling at the Fasig-Tipton New York-bred sale, the Big Brown colt was claimed by his current connections for $50,000 out of a good fourth on debut on August 23 at Saratoga Race Course.
Following a tenth-place effort in his second start, a pacesetting Not That Brady finished second going a mile over an off track on November 23 at Aqueduct, getting caught just before the wire. The chestnut gelding then broke his maiden at the Damon Runyon distance in his fourth start on December 8 at the Big A when wiring the field while registering a field-high 91 Beyer Speed Figure.
"He's doing good, but I think we're taking a chance here," said Rodriguez. "We may be shooting for the moon, but he's training well. He looks like he's gotten himself together at the distance, so hopefully it works out. We'll take our shot."
Not That Brady will leave from post 2 with Reylu Gutierrez aboard.
Trainer Todd Pletcher enters a pair of talented runners with La Fuerza for owner Barry K. Schwartz and Southern King for Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Gary Barber.
A chestnut son of Flatter, La Fuerza is the most accomplished entrant in the field with four wins from seven starts.
After breaking his maiden while sprinting in his debut, La Fuerza has gone on to win the Rockville Centre, Aspirant and most recently the Notebook on November 25 at the Big A, all going six furlongs. In his only prior attempt at a mile, La Fuerza finished tenth in the Sleepy Hollow on October 20 at Belmont.
Southern King graduated at second asking for trainer Joseph Taylor while traveling a mile on November 15 at Aqueduct. Transferred to the Pletcher barn following that race, Southern King has made one start for his new conditioner finishing third in an optional-claimer at a mile on December 9 at Aqueduct.
La Fuerza will leave from post 6 with Manny Franco aboard; Southern King will be piloted from post 3 with Eric Cancel in the irons.
Schwartz will also be represented by Beachside, for trainer Linda Rice, in a competitive renewal of the Damon Runyon.
The Giant's Causeway colt made his first three starts sprinting before stretching out to a mile where he bested fellow New York-breds to break his maiden on November 10 at the Big A. The well-bred bay, out of graded stakes winner Lovely Lil, followed up with a rallying fourth-place finish in an optional-claiming race on December 9.
Rice said she is hoping the juvenile is finding his stride at the mile distance.
"We found out he wanted a mile, and in his last start he was running late through the stretch," said Rice. "We know he likes the distance, and he seems to be improving with experience, so we'll hope he moves forward again."
Beachside will leave from post 5 with Junior Alvarado up.
Rounding out the field are Invaluable Will and Pipes.
Invaluable Will enters off a fourth-place finish in the Great White Way New York Stallion Series Stakes on December 9 at Aqueduct for trainer Debra Breed who also owns. Harry Hernandez will ride from post 4.
Pipes, trained by Gary Contessa for Dogwood Stable and Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, arrives at the Damon Runyon from a good second in an optional claiming event at Aqueduct on November 11. Pipes will leave from the inside post under David Cohen.
The Damon Runyon is slated as Race 7 on Monday's 8-race card. First post time is 12:50 p.m.