Trainer Tim J. Kelly has big plans for Daniel J. Ljoka’s Aspiring Nick, starting with Saturday’s $70,000 Spend a Buck Stakes for 3-year-olds, and if they pan out, fans can expect to see the colt reach the big time in August.
“The goal is the Haskell,” Kelly said, referring to the centerpiece of Monmouth’s meeting, the $1 million Haskell Invitational (G1) on August 2. “He has to do well in this race, and then the Long Branch (July 11) to get invited.”
“They’ve battled it out three times, and I mean battled,” Kelly said. “The last two races, there were inquiries. It’s some rivalry.”
Both horses broke their maiden at Monmouth, and then Bunker Hill was a nose the best in the Continental Mile here. In September, Bunker Hill was a head in front of Aspiring Nick in an off-the-turf stakes at Delaware, complete with foul claims and inquiries. Then in the Dover Stakes on Oct. 11, Aspiring Nick outfought Bunker Hill and survived an inquiry to win by a nose.
The only poor race “Nick” has run in his career was his first * a four and a half-furlong maiden event last May when he finished sixth of seven.
“He’s so big, I knew sprinting wasn’t really his game,” Kelly said. “He got off slow, and it was all over. He never had a chance to show anything.
“I waited for the two-turn maiden races, and he broke his maiden going a mile. He can run all day.”
Aspiring Nick has been working steadily toward his 3-year-old debut, most recently with a five-furlong drill in :59.60 on May 24, second best of 34 at the distance, with new rider Chuck C. Lopez aboard.
“Chuck loves him,” Kelly said. “He’s been breezing ‘Nick’ all along, and he’s really high on him.
“Now it’s up to the horse,” Kelly said. “If we want to make the Haskell, he’s got to step up in here. And if he’s the horse we think he is, he’ll do well in this spot.”
JUST PLAYIN AROUND GETS SERIOUS IN WOLF HILL SATURDAY
Family honor will be at stake when Laurence Foggle’s homebred Just Playin Around goes in Saturday’s $60,000 Wolf Hill Stakes at five and a half furlongs on the turf.
The 4-year-old son of Drewman will be trying to emulate his big half-brother Our Friend Harvey, who won the race last year.
“He’ll have to step up his game for this,” trainer Tim Hills said, “but he’s one-for-one at the distance, and it looks like he’s got the family talent.”
Just Playin Around is out of the Out of Place mare Very Laughable, who is out of the stakes-winning Carefree Laughter. Winning on turf goes way back in this family, and Hills knows the history well, since he trained the granddam, her progeny, and now the grandkids.
Our Friend Harvey won the Wolf Hill last year as a 4-year-old, and this year took the Lure Stakes at Belmont on May 17, stretching out to seven furlongs.
Just Playin Around broke his maiden on the Monmouth grass last year, using his speed to wire the field at one mile. This season, the gelding proved fastest in a five-furlong allowance race at Gulfstream, winning in :55 3/5. Last out on April 22, he led for the first five furlongs of a one-mile event before tiring.
“He’s a fast horse,” Hills said. “And sprinting is his game. He always wants to go. His workouts are good (most recently a half in :48.80 here), but if we let him go, he’d really work fast.”
This will be Just Playin Around’s stakes debut, and he’ll have to take on some seasoned performers in Smart Enough, Chitoz and Go Go Shoot. But he’s got family on his side.