Four of the six runners for Saturday’s seven-furlong sprint at Aqueduct Racetrack have combined for 14 stakes victories since the beginning of last year, four in Grade 1 events. The other two runners have reeled off three of the top 10 Beyer Speed Figures recorded this year in races up to a mile. In fact, Carter entrants Calibrachoa, Caleb’s Posse and Emcee have five of the top six Beyers put up this year in races up to a mile.
“I’d rather be watching and betting on it than actually being in it,” Repole said. “If I was going to make the morning line, I’d have all those horses at 5-1.”
The Carter, run as race 10, is the final leg of the $500,000 Guaranteed All Graded Stakes Pick 4, and is the premier co-featured event supporting the Grade 1, $1 million Resorts World Casino New York City Wood Memorial.
For McNeill Stables and Cheyenne Stables’ Caleb’s Posse, the Carter marks an opportunity to prove that he can carry the form from his terrific 3-year-old season against the ranks of older horses. In the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile last November, he crushed a talented field by four lengths in his first try against runners outside his age group. The race also gave him his second Grade 1 victory of 2011, as he defeated Uncle Mo in an electrifying Foxwoods King’s Bishop at seven furlongs August 27 at Saratoga Race Course.
In his most recent start, Caleb’s Posse returned from a four-month layoff and came charging to miss by a neck to Calibrachoa in the Tom Fool. That race, however, was at six furlongs.
“We were ready to run,” said Caleb’s Posse’s trainer Donnie Von Hemel. “The distance was not quite enough for us.”
This year, Von Hemel is looking for a top-class campaign for Caleb’s Posse, with an eye on enhancing his value as a stallion.
“The face that he beat older horses in the Breeders’ Cup was a very good indication he would hold his form and class as a 4-year-old,” Von Hemel said. “I didn’t have any concerns going into this year in that regard.”
The Carter appears to have three distinct types of horses: the front-running and lightly-raced Emcee, stalkers Shackleford, Calibrachoa and Tahitian Warrior, and closers Caleb’s Posse and Jackson Bend.
Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, who sends out Emcee, readily admits the Carter boasts a deeper field than contested the Tom Fool, but there is one crucial difference – his speedy Godolphin Racing 4-year-old will not face a pace war like he did last time against Royal Currier.
Emcee survived that battle only to finish third by a length behind Calibrachoa and Caleb’s Posse. Yet the race was only the third of Emcee’s career, and McLaughlin is showing uncharacteristic aggressiveness throwing him in with the top runners in the country.
“Look at his form, he’s a top horse,” McLaughlin said of the son of Unbridled’s Song. “He ran first and first and then third in a Grade 3. Yes, we have a lot of confidence, and he’s a really nice horse. Hopefully, he can win it and stamp himself as a stallion. Anybody who wins it will.
“It’s a tougher race than last time; it’s probably the most competitive race of the year with Caleb’s Posse, but the pace scenario is definitely a plus.”
Emcee will run as a coupled Godolphin entry with Tahitian Warrior, who comes into the Carter off a close second in a high-level optional claiming sprint February 10 at Gulfstream Park.
One of the most popular horses in the country, Shackleford, makes his second start of the year in the Carter. After returning from a three-month layoff following a second in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, the winner of last year’s Preakness Stakes finished seventh February 11 in the 1 1/8-mile Donn Handicap.
After that defeat, trainer Dale Romans plotted a middle-distance campaign for Shackleford, who ran in seven Grade 1 races last year, winning or placing in four of them. That campaign begins with the Carter.
“He’s a very versatile horse,” Romans said. “He’s grown; he’s bigger and stronger. He’s the same horse and he likes what he does.”
One of the most intriguing threats in the field is Calibrachoa, who broke a long string of in-out performances by pairing up huge scores in the Toboggan and Tom Fool. His effort March 3 in the latter earned him a Beyer Speed Figure of 111, tops this year in races up to a mile.
Three times Calibrachoa has contested Grade 1 races, and he was defeated in each of them, but Repole expresses tremendous optimism this year for the 5-year-old he claimed for $40,000 in November 2010.
“I think this is going to be his breakout year,” Repole said. “Whether this is a Grade 1 he wins or it’s another race down the road, I think this year’s he’s going to have his best year. That pattern got broken up last time, and I think it was bar far the best race of the year. When you get three really good horses on paper and all three of them fire … Caleb’s Posse ran a  Beyer. It was like bowling a 295 and losing.”
Michael McCarthy, assistant to trainer Todd Pletcher, said of Calibrachoa, “We have a lot of respect for Shackleford, and Jackson’s Bend’s reputation speaks for itself. We’re going to go over there thinking our horse is going to fire his best race and let the chips fall where they may.”
Millionaire Jackson Bend has won his past two starts at seven furlongs by open lengths, including the Grade 1 Forego last August at Saratoga Race Course. In his most recent start for Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito, the 5-year-old son of Hear No Evil finished third in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap.