“I was really, really pleased,” said Todd Pletcher, who trains the homebred son of Tiznow for WinStar Farm, by telephone. “He was going well, in hand, throughout.”
“We came in with high hopes this winter, as he was undefeated as a 2-year-old with two wins at Churchill Downs,” said Pletcher. “Because his return was delayed, he might have been a little under the radar for some, but certainly not for us. From a conditioning standpoint, I thought he got exactly what he needed [out of the comeback race]. Hopefully, he continues moving forwardly.”
Pletcher said Gemologist was scheduled to be flown from Florida to New York on Wednesday for the 1 1/8-mile Wood, the centerpiece of Saturday's 11-race card at Aqueduct Racetrack.
Also turning in his final preparations for the Wood this morning was Magnolia Racing Stable and Hidden Brook Farm’s Street Life. Under Junior Alvarado, the Street Sense colt breezed a half-mile in 48.10 over Belmont Park's training track – the second-fastest of 43 at the distance – and galloped out in 1:00.71.
“He did it easy, in hand, no problem,” said Cherie DeVaux, assistant to trainer Chad Brown. “He breezes faster than he runs; he’s got it figured out. He knows what he's doing. And, he came back well.”
Unraced at 2, Street Life finished eighth in his debut at Gulfstream Park in January before joining Brown’s New York string. He then made a pair of starts around two turns on the inner track, coming from far back to earn his diploma on February 11 and closing from midpack to take the Broad Brush overnight stakes on March 17. He is owned by Magnolia Racing Stable and Hidden Brook Farm, with the former having bought into the colt following his maiden win.
Barry Schwartz’s The Lumber Guy, who will be making his third career start in the Wood Memorial, turned in a 1:01.83 five-furlong breeze on Sunday over Belmont’s training track.
“He went in 1:01 and change and did most of it the last three-eighths of a mile, and the gallop out was good,” said trainer Michael Hushion. “He went out in 1:16. I thought it was fine. I’m happy with it. I think we’re going to give [the Wood] a try.”
The Lumber Guy is unbeaten and untested so far in his brief career, having debuted a 9 ¼-length winner at Aqueduct on January 28 and taking Laurel Park’s Miracle Wood Stakes by 4 ¼ lengths on February 25. The Wood Memorial will be his first start beyond seven furlongs, but Hushion is willing to take a shot based off what he has seen from his protégé.
“He’s just a man, kind of at the level where you’d like them to be: strong, a little bit of a bully, and he eats real good,” said Hushion. “That’s the way you want a horse like that to be, but he’s not over the top either. He’s a nice horse to train.”
* * *
Three of the headliners for the Grade 1, $400,000 Carter Handicap on April 7 put in their final works this weekend, with Shackleford and Jackson Bend training in Florida, and Calibrachoa gearing up at Belmont Park.
Last year’s Preakness champion Shackleford fired a bullet at Gulfstream Park on Sunday morning, going four furlongs in 47.20.
The Carter will be Shackleford’s second start of the year, following a seventh-place finish in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap on February 11 at Gulfstream Park.
Shackleford closed out his ambitious 2011 campaign with a second-place finish in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Churchill Downs. He hasn’t run in a seven-furlong race since breaking his maiden at Churchill Downs on November 27, 2010.
Just up the road from Gulfstream, Jackson Bend put in a bullet of his own on Saturday at the Palm Meadows Training Center, breezing four furlongs in 48.33.
“It was a terrific work,” said Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito, by telephone. “I was happy with him. He went very nice, very even. He’s such a professional, such a tough little guy. I think everyone roots for him.”
Jackson Bend boasts a Grade 1 win at the seven-furlong Carter distance, earned last summer in Saratoga’s Grade 1 Forego, which he won by 3 ¼ lengths
With Shackleford, Emcee, and Tahitian Warrior all expected for the Carter, it appears that the late running duo of Jackson Bend and Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Caleb’s Posse will have plenty of pace to chase this coming Saturday
Mike Repole’s Calibrachoa, a six-time stakes winner at Aqueduct, is set for the Carter after posting a 50.52 four-furlong breeze on the Belmont Park training track on Sunday.
[Calibrachoa] went in 50 and a fifth, out in 1:02 and four,” said Michael McCarthy, assistant to trainer Todd Pletcher. “Pretty routine for him. He worked in company with Dan and Sheila. [It’s] up in the air as to where [Dan and Sheila] will start next. Both horses worked well.”
For the second straight year, Calibrachoa swept Aqueduct’s graded inner-track stakes for sprinters, taking the Grade 3 Toboggan on February 4 and Grade 3 Tom Fool Handicap on March 3. In three Grade 1 starts, he was third in the Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap at Saratoga Race Course, fifth in the Vosburgh Invitational at Belmont, and third in the Cigar Mile Handicap.
* * *
Hardened Wildcat and Beggarthyneighbor breezed in company Sunday morning over the Belmont Park training track, covering five furlongs in 1:01.45. Both horses are expected to start next in Saturday’s Grade 3, $250,000 Bay Shore Stakes at seven furlongs.
“They breezed really well,” said Cherie DeVaux, assistant to trainer Chad Brown. “Chad didn’t want them to do too much, just work within themselves, and they did. They came out of it well, and they’ve been cooling out fine.”
Hardened Wildcat and Beggarthyneighbor finished 1-2, respectively in the six-furlong Fred “Cappy” Capossela over the inner track at Aqueduct on March 10. That win was the third consecutively for New Farm’s Hardened Wildcat, earning the gelded son of Hard Spun a career high Beyer Speed Figure of 98.
Beggarthyneighbor, a Half Ours colt who is campaigned by Klaravich Stables and William H. Lawrence, has never finished outside the trifecta in five lifetime starts, with a record of 2-1-2 including a stakes win at Laurel Park on January 28.
How Do I Win, a likely Bay Shore contender from the barn of Todd Pletcher, turned in his final work for the race on Friday, breezing a half-mile over the training track in 48.67.
How Do I Win was third in the Fred “Cappy” Capossela, having been turned back in distance after a pair of fourth-place finishes behind expected Wood starter Alpha in the Count Fleet (one mile, 70 yards) and the Grade 3 Withers (1 1/16 miles).
“We sort of had some lofty goals for him,” said Mike McCarthy, Pletcher’s assistant. “He showed a fair bit in Saratoga before he ever started, and he’s training well.”
In his lone start over Aqueduct’s main track last fall, the Repole Stable color-bearer galloped home a three-length allowance victor going six furlongs.
* * *
At Palm Meadows, Pletcher sent Broadway’s Alibi out for an easy half-mile breeze in 49.60 in preparation for Saturday’s Grade 3, $250,000 Comely on the Wood undercard.
“She’s training very well and is on schedule for the Comely,” said Pletcher of the 3-year-old Vindication filly, who will ship to New York Wednesday with Gemologist.
Broadway’s Alibi will be making her New York debut in the Comely, having broken her maiden at Delaware Park at second asking last September and wrapping up her juvenile campaign with a five-length triumph in an optional claimer at Gulfstream Park. In her only start this year, she was a runaway winner of the Grade 2 Forward Gal at Gulfstream on January 29, going wire-to-wire to win by 16 ¾ lengths.
* * *
Apprentice jockey Omar Hernandez, a 16-year-old from Panama, began his North American riding career in strong fashion on Saturday at Aqueduct Racetrack, winning with his first two mounts.
In race 4, an optional claimer for filly and mare sprinters, Hernandez stalked the pacesetters aboard Verse Choir ($12.80), took the lead at the top of the stretch, and held off Superior Sarah to win by a half-length. Cornelio Velasquez, who rode the runner-up, is Hernandez’s godfather.
Hernandez added a second victory in race 7, a maiden special weight on turf for New York-breds. Aboard Cientifico ($17.60), Hernandez made a three-wide rally to take over at the head of the stretch and had enough left to stave off Imaspeedyguy to prevail by three-quarters of a length.
With his final mount of the day, Hernandez finished 10th aboard Western Gal in the nightcap.
Prior to his arrival in the United States, Hernandez won 44 races in Panama, according to his agent, Mike Kelly, who carries the book of Alex Solis, another Panamanian.
Kelly said Hernandez, a nephew of retired jockey Reuben Hernandez, plans to ride in New York full time