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Nicole H, Monzon Win at Aqueduct

Monzon, returning to dirt after making three starts on the grass, commenced his sophomore season with a last-to-first victory in the $65,000 Count Fleet on New Year’s Day at Aqueduct Racetrack.

 

Racing with blinkers off, Monzon raced 8 ½ lengths behind the leader through a half-mile in a frenetic 47.52. The gelding began to bridge the deficit on the final turn, shifted to the grandstand side in upper stretch, and reeled in J J’s Lucky Train with a sixteenth left to prevail by a length in the Count Fleet, which was restricted to 3-year-olds and held as the sixth race on the Saturday card.

 

“I rode him last time on the grass and I thought he was a grinder,” said winning jockey and Hall of Famer Edgar Prado. “I was kind of surprised that he was running without the blinkers for the first time on the dirt, but he broke OK, sat in the back of the pack and came with a run. I think that the race set up beautifully – everybody went early and I was happy when I saw that.”

 

Monzon broke his maiden by 12 ½ lengths on dirt at Laurel Park in August and doubled his win tally with a 5 ¼-length success in a starter allowance over the Delaware Park turf in September. The son of Thunder Gulch ended a two-race winless streak in the Count Fleet, having finished fifth in the Grade 3 Bourbon at Keeneland and third in the Gnomes Gold at Belmont Park on Halloween.

 

Off at 6-1, Monzon returned $14.40 for a $2 win wager to his backers in the crowd of 16,129 and covered the one-mile, 70-yard distance in 1:42.42.

 

“We were eventually going to come back to the dirt with him,” said Ignacio Correas, who trains the homebred for Kevin Plank’s Sagamore Farm. “We took the blinkers off to try and relax him. The plan was that if he ran well in the Count Fleet, we’d look ahead to the Whirlaway [Aqueduct, 1 1/16 miles, February 5], which is what we will probably do. He’s still a little green and has things to learn. We don’t know his limit yet.”

 

Monzon, 3-0-1 from six starts, has earned $90,144 to date, including the $39,000 winner’s share of the Count Fleet purse.

 

Pants On Fire finished third, ahead of Arthur’s Tale, Tap Star, and Rush Now. Isn’t He Perfect was scratched.

 

The $65,000 Interborough for fillies and mares, contested as the third race, went heavily-favored Nicole H, who picked up her second consecutive stakes victory on the inner track.

 

Entering today’s race off a triumph in the Garland of Roses Handicap on December 4, Nicole H bided her time behind rivals and took command after finding room under Ramon Dominguez with three-sixteenths left, en route to a 2 ½-length success in the Interborough.

 

“I wasn’t happy being boxed in since two races back when she ran on the inside she didn’t seem to like it,” said Dominguez, NYRA’s leading jockey in 2009 and 2010. “As it turns out, [today] she was very relaxed and very settled. When it was time to go, she just exploded through horses.”

 

Nicole H, the 2-5 top selection, paid $2.80 and was clocked in 1:10.71 for six furlongs. Trained by Michael Hushion for Dr. John K. Waken’s Gem, Inc., Nicole H improved her record to 4-5-2 from 14 starts and earned $39,000 to push her bankroll to $189,344.

 

Meese Rocks, second to Nicole H in the Garland of Roses, filled the back half of the exacta once again, with Purrfect Bluff, Bob’s Dylan, and Quiet Mover completing the order of finish.

 

 

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