Vekoma growing into Kentucky Derby contender status
by NYRA Press Office
- Forty Under eyes Woodhaven; Turf Triple target possible
- A Thread of Blue to target G2 American Turf before possible Turf Triple campaign
- On the bubble: Hennig still has Derby in mind for Bourbon War
- Toner considering G3 Poker for graded stakes winner Hawkish
- Newspaperofrecord points to G3 Edgewood at Churchill
- Frostie Anne cross-entered; future's bright for Not That Brady
- Gabbay takes Wood Memorial Challenge and seat to 2019 Belmont Stakes Challenge
R. A. Hill Stable and Gatsas Stables' Vekoma launched his career for trainer George Weaver with a first-out sprint score at Belmont Park and has since matured into a top Kentucky Derby contender.
Weaver said the regally-bred Candy Ride chestnut has made great progress following his September unveiling, having captured the Grade 3 Nashua at the Big A and last weekend's Grade 2 Blue Grass at Keeneland.
"He's grown up and developed some. He's a May 22 foal, so he's a later foal. Technically, he's not even three yet," Weaver said. "He's done well in his development. He broke his maiden at Belmont and he won the Nashua at Aqueduct. We gave him a break after that and we'll look forward to getting him back to New York when we're done with the Derby and maybe the Preakness."
Vekoma is currently second on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 110 points, second only to Tacitus [150 points], who captured the Grade 2 Wood Memorial presented by NYRA Bets last Saturday.
The handsome Vekoma, bred in Kentucky by Alpha Delta Stables, was hammered down for $135,000 at the 2017 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. His dam, Mona De Momma, captured the Grade 1 Humana Distaff in 2010, while his third dam, Long Legend, produced multiple graded stakes winner and eventual stallion Mr. Greeley.
Weaver said the colt demonstrated significant ability from the early stages of his development.
"He's always shown a decent amount of talent. He's always acted like he was going to be a nice horse from the beginning," Weaver said. "There's so many things that go into reaching the level he's reached so far. You have to get lucky, they have to stay sound and we're fortunate the way things have gone. On a talent level, he's always acted like he had some."
Vekoma's prominent effort to capture the Blue Grass, drawing off to win by 3 ½ lengths over Win Win Win, drew attention not only for its ease but also for the chestnut's unique, reaching stride.
"It's just the way he goes. He's always moved like that," said Weaver. "I guess you would think it's less than ideal action, but he's always been a real sound horse and he covers a lot of ground. That's just the way he runs.
"You wouldn't know it watching him walk. Perhaps he just moves that way out of his shoulders," continued Weaver. "There has been a lot of talk about it, but I'd rather have a horse that moves like him, and can run like him, than a horse that moves perfectly but can't run."
Weaver said that all is well with Vekoma following the Blue Grass score and he will train the colt into the Derby from his Palm Beach Downs base in Delray Beach, Florida.
"He came out of the Blue Grass in good shape. The horse just shipped back down to Palm Beach Downs. He'll work twice here and then ship back up for the Derby," Weaver said. "That's what won us the Blue Grass and we want to stick with the program. He's acclimated to this track and has done well over this track in South Florida."
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Forty Under eyes Woodhaven; Turf Triple target possible
August Dawn Farm's Forty Under is slated to make his 3-year-old debut in the $100,000 Woodhaven for sophomores at 1 1/16 miles on the turf on Closing Day of the Aqueduct spring meet April 20, trainer Jeremiah Englehart said.
The Uncle Mo colt will be making his first start since running sixth in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf on November 2 at Churchill Downs. After running ninth in a six-furlong dirt sprint in his debut, Forty Under broke his maiden in his first turf start, besting a 10-horse field on firm turf on August 25 at Saratoga Race Course.
Stepping up in class, Forty Under earned a personal-best 83 Beyer Speed Figure for notching a win in the 1 1/16-mile Grade 3 Pilgrim over a yielding Belmont turf course on September 29. That set up his Breeders' Cup appearance at one mile on yielding Churchill turf, where he dueled Somelikeithotbrown entering the final turn before tiring in the stretch.
Following a nearly six-month break, Forty Under will make his first start at Aqueduct after registering six workouts since March at Palm Meadows Training Center in Boynton Beach, Florida.
"He's been training real well down at Palm Meadows and after a nice break, it'll be good to see him get back in a race and see where we stand," Englehart said. "He looks good and everything is on schedule. It'll be great to see him back out there."
Also under consideration for the Woodhaven are Clint Maroon, Empire of War, Five Star General and Tybalt.
Englehart said Forty Under is on target to participate in NYRA's inaugural Turf Triple; a series that will feature the Turf Trinity and Turf Tiara, offering $5.25 million in total purse money for sophomores over three legs at Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course.
The Turf Triple Series will showcase the best 3-year-old turf runners in the country with the first leg of the Turf Trinity, the Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Derby Invitational slated for Saturday, July 6 as part of the Stars & Stripes Festival to be broadcast live nationwide on NBC.
"The Turf Trinity is definitely something we're excited about it and we'll consider it if everything goes well," Englehart said.
For 3-year-old fillies, the Turf Tiara's first leg will also take place on July 6 with the Grade 1, $750,000 Belmont Oaks Invitational.
Forty Under, purchased for $180,000 at the 2017 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Sale, is 2-for-2 at the Woodhaven distance.
Stonesintheroad doesn't have her next spot set, with Englehart waiting to make a decision after already racing her three times to start her 3-year-old campaign.
Owned by Team Penney Racing, Stonesintheroad started her career with three consecutive wins, notching a four-length score in her debut on December 30 before besting optional claimers by 6 ¼ lengths on February 3. In her stakes debut, Stonesintheroad bested fellow New York-breds to win the Franklin Square by 3 ¾ lengths on February 23 at Aqueduct.
Last out, the daughter of Bustin Stones ran third in the Cicada on March 23.
"I'm keeping an open mind," Englehart said. "She's had a tough few races in a short period of time. Most likely, we'd like to give her another couple weeks before I decide to run her."
Party Like Grandma continues to work at Webb Carroll Training Center in Matthews, South Carolina and is slated to return to New York soon, Englehart said. Her conditioner said there's no definitive plans for her next spot yet.
"She doesn't have a target date yet. She's been breezing in South Carolina with Travis Durr and will head this way shorty," he said.
Owned by Englehart, Flower City Racing, Christopher Meyer and Rich Spiesman, the New York-bred Party Like Grandma is 2-0-1 in five career starts, including a win in the Seeking the Ante on August 24 at Saratoga.
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A Thread of Blue to target G2 American Turf before possible Turf Triple campaign
Leonard Green's A Thread of Blue is expected to make his next start in the Grade 2, $400,000 American Turf on Kentucky Derby Day, May 4, at Churchill Downs, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said.
The Hard Spun colt will be competing in the 1 1/16-mile route, marking his first start since winning his graded stakes debut when he posted a three-quarters of a length score in the Grade 3 Palm Beach on March 2 at Gulfstream Park. The American Turf appearance could also set up a potential future start in the Turf Triple Series, held at Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course.
"He's pointing towards the American Turf and he's working at Palm Meadows. From there, we're hoping to go to the New York series," McLaughlin said.
The Turf Trinity, for 3-year-olds, kicks off on July 6 with the Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Derby Invitational, contested at 1 1/4-miles on the Belmont turf.
A Thread of Blue is 3-1-1 in five career turf starts, with wins in his last three starts and four of his last five sandwiched around a third-place finish in the Awad on November 4 at Aqueduct.
"He's won three in a row on the turf and he's been training well, he seems to love the turf, even though he broke his maiden on the dirt," McLaughlin said. "He's a really nice horse. This will be a step up. It'll be a tougher race. Hopefully, he sits tight and performs well there. He's run well [2-for-2 at 1 1/16 miles] so I don't think the distance will be a problem for him."
The Flaxman Holdings Kentucky-bred was purchased for $430,000 as a 2-year-old at the 2018 Ocala Breeders' Sale.
Kentucky Derby-hopeful Haikal remains on schedule for the Run for the Roses following his third-place finish in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial presented by NYRA Bets on April 6 at Aqueduct, McLaughlin said.
The Shadwell Stable homebred has amassed 70 Derby qualifying points, good for ninth-most as of Friday, off his Wood effort [worth 20 points] and his one-length victory over Mind Control in the Grade 3 Gotham at one mile on March 9 at the Big A, netting him 50 points.
Haikal, 3-1-1 in five career starts, including his maiden-breaking win at second asking on December 15 at Aqueduct, is not expected to have a busy worktab heading into the first Saturday in May, his conditioner said.
"He came out of the Wood great. We plan on working him most likely just one time," McLaughlin said.
Haikal would give McLaughlin his ninth career Derby starter. His best finish came with his first starter, as Closing Argument finished second, by a half-length, to Giacomo in 2005. Should Haikal run, it would give McLaughlin a Derby starter for the fourth time in five years, with Frosted [fourth] in 2015, Mohaymen [fourth] in 2016 and Enticed [14th] last year among his recent entrants.
A native of Lexington, Kentucky, the Derby would continue to be a prestigious event for McLaughlin, who said it's been the work of a group to get a horse in position to run for a race that has attracted upwards of 155,000 spectators, with millions more watching on national television.
"It's an honor to be able to get in the race, so we're very excited, especially since the owners have been so good to us," McLaughlin said. "It's a team effort. Joe Lee, my assistant, and my staff have done a great job. It takes a team to get to this point. You hope to get there; you still have four weeks."
McLaughlin said 3-year-old Enjoyitwhilewecan doesn't have her next spot picked out yet, but there's a strong possibility she will try turf after making her first three starts on the dirt, including a maiden-breaking win in her third start last out on March 16 at Aqueduct.
"We think that turf is in her future, but she just needs a little more time," McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin said Enjoyitwhilewecan's pedigree - a Quality Road filly with Dynaformer lineage, has piqued his interest in a surface switch.
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On the bubble: Hennig still has Derby in mind for Bourbon War
With 31 points, ranking 21st on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard, trainer Mark Hennig is on the outside looking in with graded stakes placed Bourbon War for a potential start in the Grade 1 $3 million Kentucky Derby on May 4 at Churchill Downs.
Owned by Bourbon Lane Stable and Lake Star Stable, the regally-bred son of Tapit was fourth last time out in the Grade 1 Florida Derby on March 30 at Gulfstream Park, where he distantly chased a slow pace and began making up ground at the far turn but was unable to catch eventual gate-to-wire winner Maximum Security. His prior start was a late-closing runner-up finish behind Code of Honor in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth on February 22 at the South Florida oval.
Bourbon War fell from 20th to 21st in the standings when Japanese-bred and based Master Fencer - leader on Japan's Road to the Kentucky Derby - accepted an automatic berth in the starting gate for the First Saturday in May.
"He is doing wonderful," Hennig said of Bourbon War. "We're just going to kind of sit back this week and watch what happens in the Arkansas Derby and the Lexington and just see how much further we've dropped in the standings. We'll figure it out after that."
Bourbon War is the first foal out of the Grade 1 winning Artie Schiller broodmare My Conquestadory - a graded stakes winner over turf and all-weather surfaces. His full-sister sold for $1.3 million on Tuesday afternoon at Keeneland's April Two-Year-Olds in Training Sale where she was the sale topper.
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Toner considering G3 Poker for graded stakes winner Hawkish
Following a runner-up effort in his 2019 debut in Gulfstream Park's Grade 3 Appleton on March 29, trainer Jimmy Toner said he is looking ahead to a summer campaign with Hawkish, with the Artie Schiller gelding eyeing the Grade 3 $300,000 Poker on June 16 at Belmont Park.
Owned by Robert LaPenta, A J Suited Racing Stable and Madaket Stable, Hawkish tracked fourth along the rail in the Appleton's early stages and needed racing room coming around the far turn. Once finally in the clear, he made a strong stretch run but finished a half-length behind pacesetter Dr. Edgar.
"I was really happy with his return effort," Toner said. "He came back out of the race well. We're just going to give him a chance to get over the race and lay out a schedule for the summer. We're pointing for the Poker, whether we wait for something in between now and then, we'll see."
The Appleton was Hawkish's 4-year-old debut. A distant seventh in the Grade 1 Belmont Derby Invitational last July, Hawkish was a three-length winner of the Grade 2 Penn Mile which is his only stakes triumph to date.
Hawkish is out of the unraced Unbridled broodmare Bridal Memories, whose dam was multiple Grade 1 winner and producer Memories of Silver.
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Newspaperofrecord points to G3 Edgewood at Churchill
The undefeated Newspaperofrecord, who capped off her sensational 2-year-old campaign with an eye-opening win in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf on November 2 at Churchill Downs, is training forwardly at Palm Meadows.
Trainer Chad Brown stated that the 3-year-old Irish-bred daughter of Lope de Vega will make her sophomore debut on Churchill Downs' Kentucky Oaks undercard in the Grade 3 $250,000 Edgewood on May 2.
Her latest recorded breeze was a five-furlong move over the grass in 1:01.20 at Palm Meadows.
Brown said that the newly designed Turf Tiara series is a good option for the star filly.
"It's something we're considering," said Brown of the Turf Tiara. "She's doing well. She's been in training down at Palm Meadows and we're just working toward a seasonal debut in the Edgewood with her."
Newspaperofrecord was purchased by owner Klaravich Stables for $278,019 from the consignment operation of Goldford Stud at the Tattersalls October Yearling Sale in 2017. She is out of the Group 1-placed Holy Roman Emperor broodmare Sunday Times.
Brown also reported that her stablemate Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Turf winner Bricks and Mortar would also make his next start over the Matt Winn Turf Course at Churchill Downs on May 3 in the Grade 1, $1 million Old Forester Turf Classic. Owned by Klaravich in partnership with William Lawrence, the son of Giant's Causeway earned an automatic berth towards the 1 1/8-mile event at Churchill Downs in his last effort, where he took the Grade 2 Muniz Memorial Handicap on March 23 at Fair Grounds.
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Frostie Anne cross-entered; future's bright for Not That Brady
Frostie Anne, a New York-bred veteran of 37 starts with 15 wins to her credit, is cross-entered in stakes action this weekend at the Big A in Saturday's $200,000 Top Flight at nine furlongs and as a main-track only entrant in Sunday's $100,000 Plenty of Grace at one mile.
Trainer Rudy Rodriguez, who owns the 6-year-old Frost Giant mare with Michael Imperio, said they're taking a wait-and-see approach with rain in the forecast for Sunday.
"She has no conditions, so we try to take advantage of everything," said Rodriguez. "So, if we see a lot of rain, we could scratch and run on Sunday. If we don't see much rain, we'll run tomorrow. She's ready to run so whatever race we decide on, she'll be fine. She has to step up a little bit more, the races aren't getting easier for her."
Frostie Anne, bred in New York by Mr. and Mrs. Grant L. Whitmer, was claimed for $25,000 out of a winning effort on December 14, 2017 and has proven to be a wise investment winning eight of 14 starts for her new connections including stakes scores in the 2018 Saratoga Dew and the Biogio's Rose in February.
"She's been a great claim. We've had her since December of 2017 and she's been a homerun for us," said Rodriguez. "She's a versatile filly. She's won races up to a mile and an eighth. We're just trying to pinpoint the best race for her. If it rains today and rains tomorrow, we'd like to run on Sunday. It would be a smaller field if a couple of the grass horses scratch, but she's still going to have to run because they are stakes horses."
Not That Brady, owned by Rodriguez and Imperio with Lianna Stables and R.A. Hill Stable, came out of his creditable fifth in the Wood Memorial presented by NYRA Bets in good order.
"He came back good. He ran a good race, but those races are tough," said Rodriguez of the Big Brown chestnut's pace-setting effort. "We're happy with how he ran considering how he ran in the Gotham [last of eight]. He came back and ran a good race."
Bred in New York by KatieRich Farms, Not That Brady boasts a record of two wins and two seconds from eight starts, including a win in the Damon Runyon in December.
Rodriguez said the strapping gelding, who has twice contested off-the-turf races, has plenty of options going forward.
"We have the Albany at Saratoga [1 1/8-miles on the main track, Aug. 23] and we maybe will try to see what kind of horses turn up for the Belmont Stakes. He would be nice and fresh," said Rodriguez.
A third attempt at a grass debut is also a possibility.
"Definitely. We have a New York Stallion Series in Saratoga at one-mile [Cab Calloway, July 24], so he has a lot of options. He's still a baby and right now, the sky is the limit," said Rodriguez.
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Gabbay takes Wood Memorial Challenge and seat to 2019 Belmont Stakes Challenge
Last Saturday's Wood Memorial Day card at Aqueduct Racetrack was highlighted by the Wood Memorial Handicapping Challenge, the second NYRA handicapping tournament of the year with 193 contestants of which 123 of those participants competed online via NYRA Bets.
The Wood Memorial Challenge offered $48,250 in prizes, which included one qualifying seat to the 2019 Belmont Stakes Challenge and two seats to the 2020 National Horseplayers Championships in Las Vegas.
Nisan Gabbay, from Solana Beach, California won his first NYRA handicapping challenge. Gabbay ended the day with a bankroll of $5,469.25, collecting $9,608 in prize money. Gabbay selected a seat to the Belmont Stakes Challenge in June.
Sammy Richman of Danville, New Hampshire finished in second place with a bankroll of $4,020 and $4,667 in prize money in addition to an NHC seat. Rounding out the top three was Kenneth Jordan of Farmingdale, New Jersey in third-place with a bankroll of $2,056 and $3,569 in prize money to go along with the lone remaining NHC seat up for grabs.
Of the top ten finishers in the Wood Memorial Challenge, eight competed online via NYRA Bets including the top two finishers and three out of the top four.
The next NYRA Handicapping Challenge is the 2019 Belmont Stakes Challenge, a two-day event taking place Friday, June 7 to Belmont Stakes Day, Saturday, June 8, with a prize pool of more than $160,000.
For a full listing of results and prizes awarded for the Wood Memorial Challenge please visit NYRA.com/challenge.