Eight sophomores, all of whom officially become four years old on January 1, were entered in the 1 1/8th mile race, and all but two will be seeking their first victory in a graded stakes.
“It’s the last big three-year-old race around here and we’d like to run him in it,” said Barclay Tagg, who trains the New York-bred son of Hook and Ladder. “He’s been doing real well and let’s say we’re cautiously optimistic.”
While Big Truck and Ready Set, trained by Michael Matz, have knocked heads with some of the higher-profile three-year-olds – Big Truck went on to run in the Kentucky Derby, finishing 18th behind Big Brown, and Ready Set will be making his fifth straight graded stakes start – their rivals will be looking to step it up in a big way Saturday.
Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin is hoping Gilman Hallenbeck’s Lieutenant Ron will fulfill the promise he’s been showing and establish himself as an older horse to be reckoned with next year. Winner of his first two starts, one last fall and the next in April, the son of Graeme Hall then came off a five-month layoff after injuring his foot to finish third as the prohibitive favorite in an allowance at Belmont on September 14. Three weeks later, he ran off to an 8 ¾-length win in the slop on October 5 going seven furlongs.
“He might be one of the most talented horses I’ve ever trained,” said McLaughlin of the West Point Thoroughbreds’ color-bearer, who will be making his first start around two turns. “We think he wants to go longer.”
Likewise, owner-trainer John Kimmel is anticipating a breakthrough for Premium Gold, a huge (17 hands tall) chestnut son of Mineshaft who scored an eye-catching four-length victory at Saratoga on September 1, then ran a disappointing fifth behind Atoned and Ready Set in the Grade 3 Pegasus at the Meadowlands on October 24.
“I’m hoping we discover a nice horse for the future,” said Kimmel. “He’s what you would expect out of a Mineshaft – he’ll be better as a four-year-old than he is as a three-year-old, and he’s right at the cusp of showing me that. In his last race, the jockey was unfamiliar with him and he didn’t get his energy out in a nice, progressive fashion.
“ Mig [jockey Richard Migliore] has been working him the last six weeks and he’s been impressive in his morning trials,” added Kimmel. “He has a lot of confidence in him and I am expecting he will take it up a notch.”
Another New York-bred, That’srightofficer, will be making his first graded stakes start after three straight runner-up finishes in the Albany, an overnight stakes, and the Empire Classic, in which he closed from 10th to finish a length and a half behind Stud Muffin.
“Two things have to go right for him – pace, and staying out of traffic,” said Richard Schosberg, who trains the son of Officer for Clear Stars Stable. “The distance suits him properly, but it’s a quality field, probably the best he’s faced all year. He’s always running late, which is a good thing.”
Wishful Tomcat, a state-bred who has won three of his four starts this year for Winter Park Partners and trainer Gary Contessa; the Mark Hennig-trained Coach Shaw, second to Premium Gold in a maiden race at Monmouth in July and a winner of two of his last four starts for Willmott Stables, and Richard Brand’s Web Gem, seeking his first win of the year for Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito, round out the field.
The field for the Grade 3, $100,000-added Discovery Handicap:
PP Horse Wgt. Jockey Trainer
1 Wishful Tomcat 114 Ramon A. Dominguez Gary Contessa
2 Web Gem 114 Rajiv Maragh Nick Zito
3 That'srightofficer 115 Edgar S. Prado Rick Schosberg
4 Ready Set 118 Jose Lezcano Michael Matz
5 Big Truck 116 Eibar Coa Barclay Tagg
6 Coach Shaw 113 Joe Bravo Mark Hennig
7 Premium Gold 114 Richard Migliore John Kimmel
8 Lieutenant Ron 116 Alan Garcia Kiaran McLaughlin