Todd Pletcher’s name has been a common sight atop the
trainer standings over the years at Belmont Park
and Saratoga Race Course, but it’s a bit unusual to find him ahead of perennial
leader Gary Contessa in the heart of Aqueduct Racetrack’s inner track meet.
Through Wednesday, Pletcher had saddled 17 winners over the
inner track, seven more than Contessa. More tellingly, Pletcher-trained horses
have been major factors in some of the Big A’s higher-profile stakes races,
with Tiger’s Rock and Nite Light finishing 1-2 in the Gallant Fox on New Year’s
Eve, Distorted Passion and Awesome Ashley taking down the top two spots in the
Interborough on New Year’s Day and Ibboyee winning the Damon Runyon and Awesome
Ashley victorious in the Garland of Roses last month.
Pletcher himself headed to Florida on December 20, leaving his New York string in the capable hands of
assistant Jonathan Thomas, 29, a native of Virginia.
“We didn’t target this meet so much as it happened to work
out that way,” said Thomas. “Thanks to everyone’s hard work, we’ve had the
right horses at the right time, in the right spots.”
The outfit is hoping that success will continue Saturday
when the Pletcher-trained Understatement and Storm Play face four others in the
91st running of the $65,000 Evening Attire Stakes for 3-year-olds
and up going 1 1/16th miles. Formerly known as the Aqueduct
Handicap, it was renamed for the popular gelding who won the race in 2002 and
retired in 2008 at the age of 10.
The Evening Attire, which will be run as the third race
Saturday, kicks off a trio of holiday weekend stakes races, with the
Affectionately for fillies and mares scheduled for Sunday and the Jimmy
Winkfield for 3-year-old sprinters on Monday, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
Understatement and the Rick Dutrow-trained Well Positioned
will be the 3-5 favorites as an entry; both are owned by Paul
Understatement, a 5-year-old son of Distorted Humor,
finished 2009 with a record of 2-2-0 from seven starts, most recently coming
off a four-month layoff to finish second by a neck to Ah Day in an optional
claimer at Laurel Park on December 18. Both his victories came over the Big A’s
inner track last winter. David Cohen rides from the rail.
“We were pretty happy with his effort in that race, coming
off the layoff,” said Thomas. “We’re looking forward to running him, especially
considering he did some of his best running over the inner track last year.”
Edward P. Evans’ Storm Play, a 5-year-old son of Smart
Strike, began his career with three straight wins in 2008 for trainer Jimmy
Jerkens, then finished sixth in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile. Off for 10 months, he
was transferred to Pletcher’s barn and has finished fourth in both starts
since, most recently the Grade 3 Queens County
on December 12.
“He’s had a series of recent good breezes, so we would be
looking for an improvement,” said Thomas of Storm Play, who turned in a bullet
move of 47 4/5 on December 28 and has breezed twice since. “His last few works
have been encouraging.”
Rosie Napravnik has the mount on Storm Play, 7-2 on the
morning line from post No. 5.
Well Positioned, a lightly-raced son of Awesome Again, won
one race in four starts at ages 2 and 3 for trainer Pat Reynolds, and then was
transferred to Rick Dutrow, Jr. Off for eight months, he returned on November
11 to finish second to Rodman, who came back to win the Queens County, and then
was a seven-length winner of a 1 1/16th mile allowance over the
inner track on December 6.
Ramon Dominguez, Aqueduct’s leading rider, rides from post
C.P. Racing’s More Than a Reason will be making his 28th
start for trainer Randi Persaud since being claimed for $15,000 on November 8,
2008. The 5-year-old son of More Than Ready has proven to be a remarkably
consistent performer since then, hitting the board 24 times for earnings of
more than $175,000. He comes into the Evening Attire off a string of four
straight third-place finishes and two second-place finishes dating back to his
last win on October 12 at Belmont.
King T. Leatherbury’s Ah Day, fifth in the Grade 3 Fall
Highweight in November in his most recent appearance in New York,
is 1-for-1 over the inner track. Last March, the 7-year-old gelded son of
Malibu Moon rallied from last to first to upset in the six-furlong Toboggan.
the field is Flying Dutchman Thoroughbreds’ Bunker
Hill, making his first start since finishing fourth in
the Grade 3 Pegasus at the Meadowlands on November 6. Prior to that, the
4-year-old son of Trippi was third as the beaten favorite in the Proud Truth
Stakes on October 28 in his only start at the Big A.