• 2012 Hudson winner Mine Over Matter to be joined by stablemate B Shanny in title defense attempt
• Kimmel hoping fortunes change for Lady's Lunar Luck in Ticonderoga
Empire Showcase Day features seven stakes races, all for New York-breds. Palace will represent Rice and owner Antonino Miuccio in the $150,000 Hudson, a six-furlong race for 3-year-olds and up.
Since being claimed out of an 11 ¾-length maiden victory last October at Belmont, Palace has won five of eight starts for his new connections, including a three-length victory in his most recent start, the Chowder's First overnight stakes for New York-breds on August 23 at Saratoga Race Course. The 4-year-old son of City Zip entered the Chowder's First off a pair of starts against open company in optional claiming turf sprints, winning in July at Belmont and finishing fourth in August at Saratoga.
"He had been so good last winter, and then he bled through Lasix and I turned him out for a few months," said Rice. "He's still a stallion and he kind of gained a lot of weight. I left him as a colt, but I was questioning my judgment because he had become a little heavy and I wasn't getting him back to his best form as quickly as I thought I would. We finally got him going the right direction recently. We put him in a few turf races just because I didn't have a better option, but I think he's slightly better on the dirt. He also seems to sit off horses and make a run at the end of it, and in the [Chowder's First] at Saratoga it obviously set up that way."
Another horse who is entering Showcase Day in good form for Rice is Hear the Footsteps, who is on target for the $200,000 Mohawk, a 1 1/16-mile turf race for 3-year-olds and up. Owned by Everything's Cricket Racing, Hear the Footsteps was second in the 1 1/16-mile West Point presented by Trustco Bank in August at Saratoga and third, beaten a half-length, in the 1 1/8-mile Ashley T. Cole on September 15 at Belmont. Previously, he had won three straight starts in turf sprint optional claimers.
"As a 6-year-old he's having his best year, as often grass horses will as they get older," said Rice. "He has gotten better every year, but this has certainly been his best year. He came out winning three in a row. I have felt his best distance is six furlongs to a mile. I had reservations running him at Saratoga, but 5 ½ [furlongs] was too short for him. I was very impressed he put forward good efforts in his last two races, even though I don't think it's his best distance."
In the seven furlong, $150,000 Joseph A. Gimma for 2-year-old fillies, Rice will saddle Miss Narcissist, who broke her maiden by 2 ½ lengths in her second start, a 5 ½-furlong dash on August 28 at Saratoga. In her debut, she was fifth earlier that month at the Spa.
"She was very rank the first time we ran her at Saratoga," said Rice, who owns Miss Narcissist in partnership with Acqua Nova Stable and Winter Park Partners. "She was green, high-strung, kind of a hotwire to be around. In her second race she put it together. What we had seen in her morning workouts she showed up with in the afternoon. Now we've had about 60 days between races. We put her in the [Grade 2] Matron [on September 29], but I felt it was too much, too soon. We took her out of there and prepped her for this race. It's not ideal to go from 5 ½ to seven eighths with a horse who is a little rank and unratable, but we have been giving her nice, slow workouts, and I think she's going to put in a good race."
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Trainer Michael Hushion will bring a powerful 1-2 combination into the Hudson as he will send out 2012 winner Mine Over Matter along with B Shanny.
Last year, Mine Over Matter, a Chester and Mary Broman homebred, rallied from seventh to win the Hudson by one length. He has posted a record of 1-3-2 in eight starts since last year's Hudson, with his victory coming in the Corma Ray overnight stakes in May at Belmont. Following the Corma Ray, he was third in the Affirmed Success Handicap and second in the Shy Groom overnight stakes in June at Belmont, then was runner-up in the John Morrissey on August 1 at Saratoga.
"He runs great every time he goes over there," said Hushion. "He just needs to be in the right place at the right time. He's certainly not a lot better than his competition, but he's as good as them, so if he gets the perfect trip and the good set up, why not? I've been looking to give him a break along the way, but he just continues to look great and train great. Big and round and shiny - just how we like them."
Mine Over Matter will be joined by B Shanny, who earned his first stakes victory by 4 ¼ lengths as the odds-on favorite in the Leon Reed Memorial Handicap on August 17 at Finger Lakes Racetrack. Unlike Mine Over Matter, B Shanny races on or close to the lead.
"We were hoping [the Leon Reed would] be a soft spot and that he'd handle the track and the shipping, and he took care of business," said Hushion.
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Coming off two sharp optional claiming victories at Saratoga Race Course, Lady's Lunar Luck had every reason to inspire confidence in her connections going into the John Hettinger on September 15 at Belmont. Sent off at 5-1, the 5-year-old Freud mare never threatened, however, and ran evenly to finish seventh, beaten 2 ¾ lengths, in the 1 1/8-mile race.
"I liked her going into the Hettinger, but she kind of ran flat that day," said trainer John Kimmel of Lady's Lunar Luck, who had earned a career-high 85 Beyer Speed Figure winning at 1 1/16 miles on August 29 at the Spa. "She had been training well, but she'd had a pretty hard race 17 days before and didn't have the kind of kick she'd shown in her two starts at Saratoga."
Now, with two solid half-mile works since the Hettinger, Kimmel is hoping Lady's Lunar Luck will turn things around in Saturday's $200,000 Ticonderoga for New York-bred fillies and mares on Empire Showcase Day presented by The Fund. The 1 1/16-mile Ticonderoga will be the mare's third stakes start, having finished fifth in the Mount Vernon in June in addition to the Hettinger.
"Hopefully the month she's gotten in between races will recharge her batteries and she'll come out and run the race I think she's capable of," said Kimmel. "I wasn't thinking the distance [1 1/8 miles] was an issue last time out because she's been so consistent. My take on her last race was she was coming back too quickly off a very strong performance."
Owned by CFC Stables, Lady's Lunar Luck is 6-3-3 from 25 lifetime starts with earnings of $258,323.