“That was really special,” said Magnuson of Redding Colliery, who was making only his second start in 14 months. “I say this all the time, but we’re lucky to have this kind up here, we really are. It looks like the March 17 Excelsior [Grade 3, $150,000] is the next logical step, so we’re going to head that way for now.”
The 1 1/16-mile Withers is the next step in The New York Racing Association’s (NYRA) series for Classic-minded 3-year-olds, and is followed by the Grade 2, $400,000 Gotham on March 3 and the Grade 1, $1 million Resorts World New York City Casino Wood Memorial on April 7.
“The thought is [to run in] all of them,” said Magnuson. “We could skip one if we want, but the thought is to just do all four. The Kentucky Derby is very important, but this series is very important. These aren’t preps, these are important races, so we’re treating them that way. We take the Withers very seriously, and the Gotham. We’ve won a stake and that’s nice, and this is graded, that’s important, everything’s very important. Apha needs to show up, needs to run, but we couldn’t be happier with him now.”
At age 2, the son of Bernardini was a six-length maiden winner at Saratoga Race Course, finished second to Union Rags in the Grade 1 Champagne at Belmont Park and concluded 2011 with an 11th-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile after acting up in the gate.
“He stood in the gate today, between two horses, very well,” said Magnuson of the Godolphin Stable color-bearer. “It’s something we will continue to do.”
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Among those pointing to Saturday’s Withers is Repole Stable’s How Do I Win, who breezed a half-mile in 49.04 Sunday morning over Belmont Park’s training track. Most recently fourth behind Alpha in the Count Fleet on January 7, the gray son of Corinthian is 2-0-1 from six starts, having close out his 2-year-old campaign with a victory in a maiden claiming race and a starter allowance.
“He’s been kind of inconsistent in the afternoons, as you can tell from the past performances, but when he puts everything together I think he’ll live up to expectations,” said trainer Todd Pletcher via telephone. “In his last race, the jockey took too much hold of him, and he’s more of a free-running horse.”
Pletcher will be going for his second training victory in the 1 1/16-mile Withers, having won the 2008 edition with another gray, Harlem Rocker.
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Joseph Dirico’s Dr Disco breezed four furlongs over the Belmont Park training track Sunday morning under exercise rider Jimmy Pantina, completing his final work for next Saturday’s Grade 3, $150,000 Toboggan in 50.06.
“It was good,” said trainer Bruce Brown. “He breezed today, so he’ll work tomorrow and then gallop into the race. I might, at some point, stand him in the gate, but he’s pretty good.”
A New York-bred son of Disco Rico, the 4-year-old exits a six-furlong, inner-track optional claiming victory on January 2 and will make his graded stakes debut in the Toboggan. After coming up a length short to General Maximus in the Posse Hudson on New York Showcase Day at Belmont, Dr Disco came back to win the six-furlong Vodka overnight stakes on the inner track December 4. Five of the colt’s six career victories have come over the inner track.
“He’s really surprised me all along,” admitted Brown. “He never, ever has shown me much in the morning. I was surprised when he ran good early on, and even now, breezing, he does just enough. He never does too much in the morning. This has all been a surprise. He’s really kind of moved forward as he’s gotten older and he’s just turned four now.”
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Nicole H was another completing her preparations for next weekend’s stakes races, breezing an easy half-mile over the training track in 50.17 as she points for the $100,000, six-furlong Correction.
“I liked what I saw,” said Mike Hushion, who trains the mare for Gem, Inc. “She’s on track for next weekend.”
A 5-year-old daughter of Mr. Greeley, Nicole H exits a repeat victory in the Interborough Stakes over the inner track on January 1. Last winter, Nicole H strung together three victories at the Big A, starting with the Garland of Roses in December 2010, followed by the Interborough and the 2011 running of the Grade 2 Distaff Handicap on the main track April 16.
Nicole H has won four of her last five, with her sole defeat being a nose loss to It’s Me Mom in the Robert O’Malley in October at Suffolk Downs. Since the O’Malley, It’s Me Mom has added three victories, including a 6 ¾-length runaway score in yesterday’s Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Sprint at Gulfstream Park.
“We thought we were going to Suffolk for a soft spot,” said Hushion. “Think again.”