Thursday, November 27, 2008


Nick Zito has always taken the time to count his blessings, and he was more than willing to share the appraisal on Thanksgiving morning. The Hall of Fame trainer will send out Stone Farm’s Wanderin Boy at Aqueduct Racetrack on Saturday in the 20th running of the Grade 1, $300,000 Hill ‘n’ Dale Cigar Mile – the feature on a nine-race card that will also include the 95th running of the Grade 2, $200,000 Remsen for two-year-olds at nine furlongs and the 87th running of the Grade 2, $200,000 Demoiselle for two-year-old fillies at nine furlongs.

First race post is 12:25 p.m., and there will be self-service wagering only on Churchill Downs race 1 at 11:30 a.m.

Friday, Zito will be at Churchill Downs to saddle Tracy Farmer’s favored Commentator, a two-time winner of Saratoga’s Grade 1 Whitney, in the Grade 2 Clark Handicap.

The Hall of Fame trainer is out to accomplish a rarity – to win two major graded races in two days with a pair of seven-year-olds.

“It’s Thanksgiving Day, and I have a lot to be thankful for with those two old warriors,” Zito said. “(Winning both races) would be a great way to end the year. What can I say? Wanderin Boy is a treasure. It’s unfortunate that, during his career, he has had to run into Curlin, Bernardini, Invasor and hooks Lawyer Ron, who runs out of his skin to beat him. But he has always answered every challenge. Every Grade 1 race, Wanderin Boy has been right there.

“And of course, Commentator is the ultimate treasure. The difference is that Wanderin Boy is a horse and acts like a professional, older horse. Commentator is a gelding who thinks he’s a four-year-old colt. I’ve always said that Commentator may be the only 7-year-old gelding who will take a bite out of you if he gets a chance.”

Zito’s management of these two veteran horses has been skillful. Commentator has won four of five starts this year and in September, won the Massachusetts Handicap by 14 lengths. Three of his wins in 2008 have been by at least 13 lengths.

. As flashy as Commentator is, Wanderin Boy has proven himself to be a reliable workman, with a 1-1-2 record from four starts this year. His races are well-spaced and he is always a threat. Although Wanderin Boy has raced at several tracks, the Hill ‘n’ Dale Cigar Mile will be his first start at Aqueduct. A son of Seeking the Gold, he has also raced at various distances and has a 1-2-1 record from four starts at a mile.

The new face in the Hill ‘n’ Dale Cigar Mile is A and R Stable’s Monterey Jazz, who shipped in from California on Wednesday to add luster to an already shining group. He will present horseplayers with the following problem: Can a horse who has not raced since April 26 step up to win his first Grade 1?

Admittedly, trainer Craig Dollase offers a biased opinion.

“We’ve wanted to run in the Cigar Mile from the start,” Dollase said. “After the Texas Mile, he injured his hind foot. We gave him some time off on the farm and just let him be a horse again. The rest did him good. He came back here and he hasn’t missed a beat. He’s been training great and he looks terrific.

“The one-turn mile is right up his alley and we’re excited about the race. It is a great race.”

Dollase’s optimism is based on Monterey Jazz’s performance in the Texas Mile, a Grade 3 dirt race at Lone Star Park that he dominated with an eight-length victory in 1:35 1/5. Not only was the margin of victory impressive, but so, too, the fact that it was his first start outside of California, where most of his starts were either on turf or synthetic surfaces.

There is a glut of talent here, with some proven players. Charles Fipke’s Tale of Ekati won the Grade 1 Wood Memorial here in the spring, and then snapped a four-race losing streak by winning the Grade 2 Jerome Handicap in the slop at Belmont Park. Jay Em Ess Stable’s Arson Squad won the Grade 2 Meadowlands Cup, and Stronach Stable’s Harlem Rocker won the Grade 3 Withers here in the spring. Vinery Stable’s Kodiak Kowboy enters Saturday’s race off his victory in the Grade 3 Sport Page Handicap at Belmont Park.

Undefeated in two starts at Aqueduct, Marc Keller’s Bribon (FR) takes a big step up for trainer Bobby Ribaudo. Bribon, a 5-year-old gelded son of Mark of Esteem, has two wins and a pair of seconds in four tries at a mile.

“The distance is right, the surface is right and now is the right time to take a shot in a graded stakes race,” Ribaudo said. “We know we are in a little bit over our head, and that horse from California (Monterey Jazz) will be tough, as will the others. But we have the right situation for us and it’s now or never.”

With Alan Garcia committed to ride Visionaire, Rajiv Maragh will ride Bribon in the Hill `n’ Dale Cigar Mile.

Already a Grade 1 winner thanks to his victory in Saratoga’s King’s Bishop, Team Valor International’s Visionaire put in one of the more memorable Aqueduct finishes of 2008 when he rallied to nip Texas Wildcatter in the Grade 3 Gotham on the inner track. Trained by Michael Matz, he comes out of a disappointing race in which he ran last as the post-time favorite in Belmont Park’s sloppy Grade 2 Jerome Handicap.

“(Jockey Alan Garcia) said he didn’t respond,” Matz said. “I don’t know if something wasn’t to his liking. He had run well in the slop before. I just don’t know.”

The final piece to this particularly intriguing puzzle is Edward P. Evans’ Storm Play, an unbeaten son of Smart Strike who has won at Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga. He will be making his graded stakes debut here for trainer Jimmy Jerkens.

Comments (0)

BallHype: hype it up!

Read more articles in the Aqueduct category.