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Breeders' Cup 2017

Cluster of Stars Faces Big Test in Distaff

Cluster of Stars will put her unbeaten record on the line when she makes her graded stakes debut in Saturday’s Grade 2, $200,000 Distaff Handicap, a six-furlong race for fillies and mares that serves as the final graded stakes of the 2012-13 Aqueduct Racetrack meet.

 

Trained by Steve Asmussen for Harvey Weinstein’s Turtle Bird Stable, Cluster of Stars has raced exclusively at six furlongs on Aqueduct’s inner track. The Distaff will be her first start on the Big A’s main track.

 

The daughter of Greeley’s Galaxy made her first start in February 2012, airing by 5 ½ lengths. She returned 11 months later, winning a New York-bred optional claimer by 6 ¼ lengths in January and then out-finishing eight-time stakes winner Nicole H to take the Correction by a head in February.

 

The 4-year-old found a cozy spot for her fourth and most recent start, running away to a 9 ¼-length score under a hand ride in an optional claimer on March 14.

 

Junior Alvarado will ride Cluster of Stars for the first time in the Distaff Handicap. She’ll depart from post position 4 as the even-money favorite on the morning line.

 

After winning the Grade 1 Carter Handicap on Saturday with Swagger Jack, trainer Marty Wolfson will attempt to add another Aqueduct stakes win when he sends out Spectacular Sky and Nakano in the Distaff.

 

Farnsworth Stables’ Spectacular Sky picked up her third stakes triumph when she set the pace and held on to take the Manatee by a neck in February at Tampa Bay Downs. Her attempt to win her first graded stakes fell three lengths short when she was runner-up in the Grade 2 Inside Information on March 17 at Gulfstream Park.

 

“Last time she had the No. 1 post, and it’s almost impossible to win from that post when you’re going seven-eighths at Gulfstream Park,” said Wolfson. “[Jockey Joel] Rosario broke her sharply and she was able to get to the lead before Aubby K collared her near the quarter pole. Aubby K is a nice filly who had a little better trip than we did that day.”

 

Thoroughbred Futures Racing’s Nakano, who also seeks her first graded stakes score, rallied from ninth to finish fourth, beaten 5 ¼ lengths, in the Inside Information. 

 

“She’s been closing very well, and we’re hoping she gets a realistic pace to run into,” said Wolfson. “She also runs a little better when she’s on the outside.”

 

Both Wolfson runners drew inside posts in the Distaff, with Spectacular Sky, 5-2, to leave from post 2 under Luis Saez and Nakano, 6-1, to depart from post 3 under Alex Solis.

 

Villanesca, a Darley homebred, will take a big step up in class on Saturday as she enters the Distaff off a 1 ¾-length victory in a six-furlong optional claimer on March 1. She is 3-0-0 in six starts, with all three of her wins coming at six or 6 ½ furlongs. A last-of-four finish in the 1 1/8-mile Ladies Handicap on New Year’s Day preceded her most recent score.

 

“She has a history of running well, then average, and then well,” said Arthur Magnuson, assistant to trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. “She has a little time between [the March 1 race and the Distaff], and we’re concentrating more on one-turn races. It’d be great if the race was a little longer, but we’re trying to not be too smart. We’ve thought for sure she wanted to stretch out, but we’ve been wrong a couple of times. She wants to run a little shorter as a come-from-behind sprinter. We tried freshening her and cutting her back in distance, and it worked.”

 

Irad Ortiz, Jr. will ride Villanesca, 8-1, from post 7.

 

The field also includes Hearts of Red, unraced since finishing third in the Grade 3 Sugar Swirl in December, Langhorne Stakes runner-up Los Ojitos, and recent optional claiming winner Miss d’Oro.

 

 

 

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