Strapping Groom, a winner of two straight on the inner track, will take
on out-of-state invaders Sahara Sky, Golden Ticket, Central Banker, and
Clearly Now on Saturday at Aqueduct Racetrack in the 114th running of
the Grade 1, $500,000 Carter Handicap for 3-year-olds and up.
The seven-furlong Carter also attracted Dads Caps and Saturday's Charm
and was carded as the 11th race on the 12-race TwinSpires.com Wood
Strapping Groom has won five stakes, topped by a victory in the Grade 1
Forego, since being claimed for $35,000 in May 2013 by trainer David
Jacobson, who owns the son of Johannesburg in partnership with Drawing
After holding on to win the Forego by a half-length in the slop in
August at Saratoga Race Course, Strapping Groom made a pair of starts at
Belmont, finishing third in the Grade 1 Vosburgh Invitational in
September and fourth in the Grade 3 Bold Ruler Handicap in October. He
was second in the Grade 3 Fall Highweight on Aqueduct's main track in
November before he returned to winning form on the inner track by taking
the Gravesend Handicap by 6 ½ lengths in December and in the Grade 3
Tom Fool Handicap by one length on March 1. The Forego and the Bold
Ruler were contested at the Carter's seven-furlong distance, while the
Vosburgh, Fall Highweight, Gravesend, and Tom Fool were six furlongs.
Jacobson admitted before the race that Strapping Groom wasn't
completely fit coming into the Tom Fool, but the 7-year-old still
managed to track the pace, tip outside, and wear down Dads Caps in the
stretch. He's entering the Carter in top shape, Jacobson said.
"We're excited coming into [the Carter]," said Jacobson. "He's 100
percent. His last couple of races have been very good, and the Forego
was the toughest race, as far as I'm concerned. The waters are deep
here. We're concerned about them, but I'm sure they're concerned about
Strapping Groom, the 4-1 third choice on the morning line, will leave from post 5 with Irad Ortiz, Jr. aboard.
California-based Sahara Sky, who is trained by Hall of Famer Jerry
Hollendorfer, is returning to Aqueduct for the first time since
finishing second by three-quarters of a length in the 2013 edition of
the Carter. He rallied from last to win the Grade 1 Metropolitan
Handicap by a nose in May at Belmont in his final start of the year. In
two starts at Santa Anita in 2014, he was last of five in the Grade 2,
six-furlong Palos Verdes in February and won by a half-length in the
Grade 2, seven-furlong San Carlos on March 8.
In the San Carlos, Sahara Sky was caught in traffic in eighth place on
the turn and didn't find a seam until the eighth pole. Once presented
with a hole, the 6-year-old employed a burst of speed and overhauled the
leaders in the final 30 yards.
"He ran well in the Carter last year, and the timing of this race works
well for us and it carries a nice purse," said Hollendorfer, who owns
Sahara Sky along with Sweetwater Stable. "I didn't have him fit enough
in the Palos Verdes, so I'll blame myself for that one. He still ran a
pretty good race that day, and the Santa Anita track can be
speed-biased. Last time, he got a little lucky as we were able to get
him off the rail, and he came with a strong run."
Corey Nakatani, aboard Sahara Sky in his fifth-place finish in the
Palos Verdes, has the assignment aboard the 2-1 morning-line favorite in
Another Carter contender who made his most recent start at Santa Anita
is Klaravich Stables and William H. Lawrence's Central Banker, second by
a half-length in the Grade 1, seven-furlong Malibu on December 26.
Central Banker won the Smirnoff Sorbet Quick Call on the turf at
Saratoga in July and is seeking his first stakes win on the dirt, having
finished third in Saratoga's Grade 1 Foxwoods King's Bishop and second
in the Fair Grounds' Thanksgiving Handicap. He has been training at the
Fair Grounds since the Malibu.
"There wasn't anything at the Fair Grounds, and we know seven eighths
is a distance he really likes," said trainer Al Stall, Jr. "We decided
to target the Carter right after the Malibu. We gave him a breather, but
recently he's been getting a steady dose of the inside rail."
Central Banker has earned bullets for his final three workouts coming
into the Carter: a 1:00 3/5 five-furlong breeze on March 14, a 1:00
five-furlong breeze on March 21, and a 48-second four-furlong breeze on
"He's lazy," said Stall. "We've been working him in company recently,
and he's been going faster. We had no idea [at the beginning of his
career] that he could become a Grade 1 horse. He only went through the
motions in the morning, but he showed up in the afternoon. He'll show up
in the Carter, guaranteed."
Central Banker, 5-1, drew post 1. Hall of Famer John Velazquez has the call.
Also returning from a layoff is Up Hill Stable's Clearly Now, a
4-year-old who is unraced since finishing a troubled fifth in Aqueduct's
Grade 1 Cigar Mile Handicap on November 30.
Clearly Now, who won the 2013 Grade 3 Swale and was second by a head in
the Grade 3 Bay Shore on last year's Wood Memorial undercard, took a
step forward this fall when outfitted with blinkers. Since the equipment
change, he has won Belmont's Grade 3 Bold Ruler by 1 ½ lengths and was
threatening in the Cigar Mile before he clipped the leader's heels while
racing in third turning for home.
"He clipped heels and almost went down, which was unfortunate because
he was full of run," said trainer Brian Lynch. "He had a laceration at
the bottom of his sesamoids which required 14 stitches. The vet did an
excellent job. We kept him in the barn for a while before we started
building him up slowly, with the [Grade 1] Met Mile [on June 7] being
Jose Ortiz will ride Clearly Now, 5-1, from post 2.
The 3-1 second choice on the morning line is Golden Ticket, who won the
2012 Grade 1 Travers via dead heat. Since taking the Prairie Meadows
Handicap by eight lengths in July, the Magic City Thoroughbred Partners
representative has finished fourth in the Grade 1 Awesome Again in
September, second in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile in November,
eighth in the Grade 1 Clark Handicap in November, and second by a head
in his most recent start, the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap on March
8. The Gulfstream Park Handicap winner, Palace Malice, returned to take
the Grade 2 New Orleans Handicap on Saturday.
Golden Ticket, trained by Ken McPeek, drew post 3. Javier Castellano will ride.