Think back if you will to the morning of April the 9th, 2011. Everybody was talking about one horse. His name was Uncle Mo. Unbeaten and already a champion, so called pundits that will remain nameless (me) were still talking about him in glowing terms. “The best juvenile I’ve seen in a long time,” seems to ring a bell. Flash forward to later that afternoon for the stretch run of the Wood Memorial to see Uncle Mo tiring on the rail with Arthur’s Tale poised to pull off a major upset. Who won? Neither. Bursting through like a shot to take the glory was a good looking Florida-bred son of Bellamy Road named Toby’s Corner. The winner instantly became many people’s choice to be draped in roses four weeks later. As it turns out his trainer, Graham Motion did win the Kentucky Derby, but with Animal Kingdom, while an injured Toby’s Corner stayed back in Maryland. We have not seen him race since, but now the long awaited return of Toby’s Corner is almost upon us.
Monday’s Grade 2 General George Handicap at Laurel Park has attracted the Dianne Cotter homebred back for his first race in more than ten months. The winner of four of six starts, (Stay Thirsty and Ruler On Ice won the two races he lost) Toby’s Corner seemed to be on a quick ascent up the star ladder last spring, so if he can return as good, and more mature, then when we last saw him, he could be in store for a big season. The seven furlong General George will be anything but an easy place to return though, a fact not lost on his trainer.
“I am very excited but also a little apprehensive because this is a tough spot for his return,” Motion said. “He is the high weight (carrying 121 pounds-four to six pounds more than the other top contenders) but at the same time he has run well at Laurel and I love the distance. There are pros and cons to coming back in the General George but the pros outweigh the cons.”
The traditional President’s Day race has attracted a compact but select field of seven. Morning line favorite Caixa Eletronica has already run twice to begin his 7-year-old season, winning the Rise Jim Stakes before rallying strongly to finish third in the recent Toboggan at Aqueduct last out. The house horse is Eighttofasttocatch, who has gone 5 for 5 at Laurel Park in the last 12 months including four stakes wins, and an impressive romp in December’s Jennings Handicap, in which he earned a Beyer Speed figure of 104.
Aqueduct’s leading trainer, Rick Dutrow, has entered two for the General George, and both have plenty of back class. Yawanna Twist will make his second start since last spring’s Met Mile. Beaten less than two lengths in the 2010 Preakness, the consistent son of Yonaguska came back on New Year’s Eve to wax an optional claiming field in New York by nearly 7 lengths. This Ones For Phil meanwhile, is a multiple stakes winner who also enters off a sharp win at the Big A.
The field is completed by Fordangshore, who has won three of his last four, for trainer Mike Trombetta, and his coming off a win over the Laurel strip at the same 7 furlong distance, and the local, My Cuz C J, who is coming off a lifetime best victory at Laurel in his most recent start for trainer Kenny Cox.
Toby’s Corner does have a perfect 2 for 2 record at Laurel, but Monday’s race looks like a mere stepping stone to hopefully bigger and better things for the classy colt. A $200,000, grade 2 race full of tough older sprinters, is a bear of a spot to use as a stepping stone, though. If he wins look out, but as long as he finishes strongly, the General George is a race that should set him up nicely to join an already strong group of older horses throughout the nation in 2012.
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