The early pace served as a fitting tribute to the race‘s namesake.
The final outcome, however, did not.
Saturday’s Aqueduct feature was named for Evening Attire, the popular New York based gelding, who captured this race in 2002, back when it was known as the Aqueduct Handicap. As was his custom, Evening Attire spotted the field many lengths in the early going that day, before making his customary late run. He struck the front inside the eighth pole, and drew away to a two and three-quarter length victory.
Saturday’s five horse field paid homage to the great grey gelding by crawling through the early going. Heads were shaking in the paddock as the fractions were posted. 26:2 for the quarter. 51:3 for the half. Evening Attire himself could’ve made the lead against this laid-back bunch.
Heart Butte was charged with setting these tepid fractions. The Todd Pletcher trainee received extremely mild pressure to his outside from stablemate Alma D’Oro, who briefly poked a head in front just shy of the half-mile pole. But Heart Butte’s rider, David Cohen, astutely got the four year-old son of Empire Maker back to the front, with the idea of stealing the race on the front end.
And steal it he did, in a manner atypical of Evening Attire’s conquests. To the dismay of the connections of the others - most notably the classy eight year-old veteran Arson Squad, who rated a few lengths behind in third - there’d be no off the pace winner in this one. Heart Butte edged clear at the top of the lane, and maintained his one length advantage all the way to the wire. Alma D’Oro held second by a nose over Arson Squad, who just couldn’t close into the soft pace.
Though he allowed that the race dynamics did play in Heart Butte’s favor, Cohen pointed to the horse’s guts as the deciding factor.
“Even though there was a leisurely pace and they went just as slow as I did, there was a sprint home and they were coming at him,” the winning jock noted. “He just gave it to me every step of the way and I don’t think he should be overlooked just because of the slow pace. He still had to put forth a great effort.”
Heart Butte has now won three straight for the Pletcher barn. Jonathan Thomas, who oversees Pletcher’s Aqueduct string, was non-committal as to Heart Butte’s next assignment. The Stymie, on February 26th at Aqueduct, would seem a logical spot.
Heart Butte’s winning time of 1:46.08 was this race’s slowest since Reef Searcher’s 1:48.60 back in 1982.
Evening Attire? The final time of his 2002 triumph was 1:42.69.
The old pro is missed.
One of the great joys of winter racing is trying to identify the next great Kentucky Derby prospect. It is the way in which the race fan looks to cure his or her case of cabin fever. Particularly in a place like New York where the cold and the snow can be overwhelming, there is no better way to escape the winter doldrums than to dream of the first Saturday in May.
Flashpoint, who scored impressively in a maiden special weight event in Saturday’s third race, allowed the New York race fan to entertain such dreams this week. Trained by Rick Dutrow, Flashpoint didn’t exactly land in the softest spot for his career debut. Simba’s Story, whose lone career start was a solid third to impressive maiden-winner Rift, loomed an imposing foe.
But Flashpoint, beneath Cornelio Velasquez, made quick work of Simba’s Story and the rest of the field. He led at every call, on his way to a 6¼ length score. He stopped the clock in 1:09.68 for six furlongs, a time that compared favorably with the 1:10.29 that Pete’s Parley posted two races later in winning a state-bred allowance race.
Despite the promising bow, the horse’s connections are, as yet, not succumbing to the temptation to take Flashpoint down the triple crown trail. A son of grade 1 winning sprinter Pomeroy, Flashpoint will be pointed for sprints going forward. John Fort - president of Peachtree Stable, the barn that owns Flashpoint - sees no shame in staying away from the classics.
“At this point we’re not thinking about the Kentucky Derby because we don’t think he’s that type of horse. I think he is a fast horse, and there’s nothing wrong with winning one of those sprint races in Saratoga. We’ll pick our spots.”
Fort mentioned the Grade 2 Hutcheson at Gulfstream as a possible target for Flashpoint. If Fort is to be believed, the Florida Derby will not follow.
Time will tell.
Finally, I’d like to take a moment here to thank you for reading and commenting on last week’s piece, my first in this space. The tenor of the comments last week, by and large, was enthusiastic. Several commented that it was welcoming news to hear that people are making their way back to the Big A. I echo that sentiment, and share your excitement for this meet. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to chronicle it for you here on this wonderful, rapidly-growing site.
The plan, though subject to change, is for me to post at least twice a week. Every Monday and Friday, check back here for brand new content. You can also friend Horse Racing Nation on Facebook, or follow @HR_Nation on twitter to receive links to new Big A Confidential posts.
As the season progresses, we will look to do more with this page. I hope to do some live-blogging for big race days later in the meet. Of course, we will do a full-court press on the Gotham, and, especially, the Wood, where champion two year-old Uncle Mo is expected to make his final pre-Derby start.
Most importantly, I want to encourage you to continue to leave comments. I am looking for your feedback not only about this piece, but also, going forward, about ideas you have for this page. What are the stories you’d like to read about? Who are some of the people or horses you’d like to see profiled? I sometimes feel as though the gap between race fan and media is a bit wider than it ought to be. The primary endeavor of this page will be to bridge that gap, and bring you closer to the stories you care about.
Horse Racing Nation was designed to serve you, the fan. The content here at Big A Confidential will always prove to be in concert with this site’s noble purpose.