Alpha exited a gallant neck loss to undefeated Gemologist in the Wood with a laceration on his left foreleg incurred when he was forced to steady in the first turn. Originally scheduled to leave for Kentucky on April 16 by van, Alpha was sidelined for several days after the cuts became infected and his departure was delayed as a result. Now, Godolphin Racing plans to fly Alpha to Louisville on April 30, with his final serious work for the Derby expected to come at Belmont Park.
McLaughlin did not rule out an earlier work for the son of Bernardini, who won both the Count Fleet and the Grade 3 Withers at Aqueduct this winter en route to the Wood.
“There’s also a chance we could work in the next two days, it’s just a gut feeling, and we’ll see about the weather,” McLaughlin said.
Alpha’s jockey for the Kentucky Derby is also a question mark. Ramon Dominguez, the regular rider of 2011 Juvenile Champion and Grade 3 Gotham winner Hansen, has been aboard Alpha for all three of the colt’s starts this year. With both horses headed to the Derby, Alpha might need a new pilot on May 5.
“Obviously we’re waiting for Ramon,” said McLaughlin. “But I’m not putting any pressure. Each day that goes by is fine with me, no problem.”
McLaughlin added that Godolphin’s star 4-year-old filly It’s Tricky continues to do well after her win in Aqueduct’s Grade 2 Distaff Handicap last weekend. The daughter of Mineshaft is expected to go from the seven-furlong Distaff to the Grade 1, $400,000 Ogden Phipps Handicap, 1 1/16 miles around one turn at Belmont Park on May 28. Also pointing to that race is Robsham Stables’ speedy Awesome Maria, winner of her last six starts.
“It’s Tricky, she’s great,” said McLaughlin. “I think it’s good she went back to seven here and then a one-turn mile and a sixteenth at Belmont – she’ll be close to Awesome Maria.”
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Grade 1 Cigar Mile Handicap winners To Honor and Serve (2011) and Jersey Town (2010) are among those targeting next Saturday’s Grade 3 Westchester, the opening weekend feature at Belmont Park.
Trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, To Honor and Serve will be making his 4-year-old debut in the one-mile Westchester, the traditional prep for the Grade 1, $750,000 Metropolitan Handicap on Memorial Day. The Bernardini colt has not raced at Belmont since breaking his maiden by 8 ¾ lengths on October 2, 2010.
Jersey Town has made one start this year, finishing second as the 3-2 favorite to Travelin Man in the Sir Shackleton at Gulfstream Park on March 31.
Others pointing to the Westchester, according to NYRA stakes coordinator Andrew Byrnes, are Bold Deed, who earned a career-high 102 Beyer Speed Figure for his 7 ½-length optional claimer victory at Aqueduct on March 17; Boys At Tosconova, who will be returning to stakes company after posting three straight allowance wins; Marilyn’s Guy, winner of the Grade 3 Excelsior last time out, and Ponzi Scheme, who has not run since finishing third in the Grade 3 Iselin at Monmouth Park on August 20.
Endorsement, Goombada Guska, and Gourmet Dinner are possible, said Byrnes.
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With opening day of Belmont Park’s spring/summer meet one week away, the backstretch at the historic racetrack is filling up with familiar faces. Among those returning from a winter hiatus in Florida was Hall of Famer Allen Jerkens, who had a successful run at Gulfstream Park with a record of 5-3-6 from 36 starts and earnings of $159,107.
Jerkens, who celebrates his 83rd birthday on Saturday, will have 19 horses stabled at Belmont including Emma’s Encore, who broke her maiden on February 24 and won an optional claimer on March 14. The 3-year-old daughter of Congrats, out of the Wild Again mare French Opera, was never a factor when finishing last behind Grace Hall in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Oaks, but Jerkens has not ruled out bringing her back in a stakes during the 56-day meet.
“In her race before the stakes, she came from last to win it,” he said. “I don’t know why she didn’t run well in the Oaks. Now that we’re back here, I’ll see how she trains.”
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When he was a minor, Joel Einhorn was thrown out of Aqueduct Racetrack three times for being underage. On two of those occasions, he promptly repaid his admission and returned to the track, and the teen soon became a life-long New York racing fan when he saw Kelso, then a 3-year-old who had yet to compete in a stakes, win a Big A allowance by 12 lengths on July 16, 1960.
“Kelso was just the greatest horse, and he made me a racing fan,” said Einhorn.
Decades later, Einhorn, now 68, will attend the Kentucky Derby for the first time and will have the chance to make a life-changing score on the “Run for the Roses.” The Flushing, N.Y. resident was randomly selected as the winner of the Kentucky Derby DreamBet contest, which will provide him the opportunity to make a $100,000 win wager on the race.
Einhorn, who received multiple decorations for his service in the Vietnam War, admits the high stakes have created a lot of stress.
“I haven’t slept well in the past days,” said Einhorn. “I’m going to try to approach this by separating the bet from the experience of attending the Kentucky Derby. To win it will be life-changing, but to dwell on it will take away from the overall experience. [My wife and I] are going to take a lot of pictures, and it’s great that she’s into it. Can we run the race tomorrow?”
Einhorn sees the 2012 Kentucky Derby as a competitive race and said he isn’t ready to make a commitment to a particular horse.
“I had some preconceived ideas about the contenders, but I brushed them aside and I’m reassessing everybody,” said Einhorn. “All I want is to be lucky. You can be so smart, but luck wins the race.”
In January, Einhorn competed in the NTRA/Daily Racing Form National Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas, having qualified by finishing third in Aqueduct’s Fall Handicapping Challenge in November.