Spring at Aqueduct

January 7 at Aqueduct felt more like April. It wasn’t just the weather, though I have never  been warmer at the Big A, not on any Wood Memorial day, not ever, than I was there on Saturday; “balmy” would be an understatement.

But it wasn’t just the weather. It was the faces. It was the people. Yep, that was Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Graham Motion in the paddock in the middle of the card; up in the press box and out taking photographs, faces normally seen only for Grade 1 races appeared to cover the first Saturday of racing in New York in 2012.

What brought them all out? Why, the ungraded Count Fleet, of course. Of course.

Last year, when the race was won by Sagamore Farm’s Monzon, it was worth $65,000, $39,000 to the winner. This year? $150,000, $90,000 of which went to Godolphin Racing, owner of Alpha, winner of the 2012 Count Fleet.

The Busanda, the feature for the fillies Saturday, was worth $65,000 last year, when Dance Quietly, owned by the Estate of Edward Evans, won it. Yesterday, its value was boosted to $100,000, with $60,000 going to the pockets of Darley Stable, owner of winner Captivating Lass.

Thanks, Genting.

Or maybe it’s Kiaran McLaughlin that should be thanking Genting, because it was his horses that swept the Busanda/Count Fleet double yesterday, earning nearly double what last year’s winners of the two races did.

McLaughlin was watching the race from his home in Florida; stable business kept him there this weekend while his wife Letty and daughter Erin and assistant Art Magnuson did the honors in Ozone Park.

Alpha and Captivating Lass took similar paths to the Aqueduct winner’s circle. Both started their racing careers relatively late in the year; both won first out; both turned in clunkers in their biggest races to date.

Débuting in Saratoga at the beginning of September, Alpha broke his maiden with a 6-length win before finishing a distant second to Union Rags in the Champagne. A month later, he was 19 lengths behind Hansen and Union Rags in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

Captivating Lass won by two in her first start, at Parx in October, then finished seventh in the Demoiselle at the end of November.

“She’s an improving filly,” said Magnuson. “It was a much tougher race in the Demoiselle, but we were disappointed. We thought she’d run better.”

Characterizing her as a “late bloomer,” Magnuson also noted the filly’s size, nearly 17 hands, as a contributing factor to her late début. Said jockey Mike Luzzi, “She seems like a grinder and it took a while to get her going. She’s a big, rangy thing, by A.P. Indy, and it took the whole stretch to get her going.”

The similarities between Alpha and Captivating Lass don’t end in the paths they took to Saturday’s races.  Since last summer, McLaughlin and Darley/Godolphin have been experimenting with not running first-time starters on Lasix, with mixed results. Alpha and Captivating Lass both won first out without it, but both ran with it on Saturday.

“We scope them all,” said McLaughlin, “and if they need it, we put them on it. We saw a little bit of bleeding, and it’s got to be a preventive situation. We don’t want to risk running them one more time without it and having them bleed.”

At several recent conferences on Lasix, research has been presented to indicate that repeated episodes of bleeding have deleterious effects on equine health, causing thickening of pulmonary vein walls that leads to reduced blood flow, making it difficult for horses to breathe. Last June at the NTRA Lasix summit at Belmont, trainer Graham Motion said that he races all of his 2-year-olds on Lasix in order to prevent such damage.

While Alpha’s racing road for the first part of 2012 appears to be set, next starts for Captivating Lass are up in the air.

“New York has a great program for 3-year-old colts,” said McLaughlin, noting the upcoming Grade 3 Withers, Grade 3 Gotham, and Grade 1 Wood Memorial, worth $200,00, $400,000, and $1 million respectively, and indicating that Alpha would be pointed to either the Withers or the Gotham.

By comparison, the 3-year-old filly program in New York comprises the ungraded Busher ($75,000), Grade 3 Cicada ($150,000), and Grade 3 Comely ($250,000). McLaughlin said that those races are under consideration for Captivating Lass, as are stakes races at Fair Grounds and Gulfstream Park.

The Grade 3 Rachel Alexandra ($200,000) is at Fair Grounds on February 25, followed by the Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks ($500,000) on March 31.

At Gulfstream, the Grade 2 Davona Dale ($250,000) will be run on February 25, the Grade 2 Gulfstream Oaks ($300,000) on March 31.

Regardless of where his horses run next, McLaughlin is certain of one thing.

“Next time,” he said by phone from Florida, “I’ll definitely be there.”

Alpha and Ramon Dominguez after winning the Count Fleet

3 thoughts on “Spring at Aqueduct

  1. I’m sorry I was unable to make it out but did watch these 2 features on Ch 71 and I hope Alpha can move forward off this effort and give us something to hope for come the Spring. It would be so cool to send a horse who spent their winter on the Inner onto the 2012 Derby. Ditto for Captivating Lass and I will keep my eye open for her should she head down to New Orleans as I follow that circuit closely.

    But how many more Winter meets will we have in Ozone Park? Based on reports from Albany today, Genting is ready to take over the entire facility in oder to develop the convention center/hotel complex. Add Port Authority’s lust for that parking lot and you can easily see that the Big A is worth more dead than alive to the law makers and developers. And no matter what is said, Belmont just isn’t something that seems like it can be “winterized”.

    I remember the first time I met you at the track and we were discussing your motivation for this blog. You told me someone needed to keep a history of how racing in NY was in this era we now live in. I hope that means you will not be writing the obit for Aqueduct as a race track any time in the near future.

  2. What this shows is how much the casino money does help, because before this year you’d NEVER see a horse like Alpha run in the Count Fleet, which if it gets a similar field in 2013 will likely become a Grade 3 for 2014. The three year old filly stakes need some work, something that I wrote about extensively in a post I made in November at: http://www.toosmarttofail.com/forums/showthread.php/27322

    In short, the big moves here for 2013 include:

    The Acorn moved to March while remaining at 1 Mile, but with a provision that if more than 10 enter the Acorn, the race is automatically lengthened to 1 1/16 Miles.

    The Mother Goose moved the Wood Memorial card in April and returned to 1 1/8 Miles as the main prep for the Kentucky Oaks.

    The Prioress replacing the Acorn on the Belmont Stakes card and The Comely moved to around July 4 and shortened to seven furlongs.

    The Coaching Club American Oaks moved to late June, increased to $1.25 million and returned to its former 1 1/2 Mile distance, setting the race up to be the final leg of a new national Triple Tiara with the Kentucky Oaks as the first leg and possibly the Cotillion (newly minted Grade 1) at Parx Racing as the middle leg on Memorial Day.

    The Gazelle (Grade 1) is moved from late November at Aqueduct to opening week at Saratoga to replace the CCA Oaks at that point on the calendar and also becomes the middle leg of a revised New York Triple Tiara (with the CCA Oaks as the first leg and Alabama as the last leg).

    As for the issue with Genting want the Aqueduct land to build the Convention Center and hotel, they may have to also pay to either winterize Belmont Park (which may have to happen anyway if Belmont wants to host a Breeders’ Cup) or build an entirely new facility to replace Aqueduct for racing that as I would do it have T-Breds in the winter and early spring and what can be the premier Harness meet in the country in the late summer and fall after The Meadowlands closes for the season following the Hambletonian (plus a spring Harness meet that would allow The Meadowlands to take a break from late April-early June following what is their most successful part of the year in the winter before they have their championship meet in the late spring and summer), basically setting up a two-state Harness circuit between a new track to replace Aqueduct and The Meadowlands (while Yonkers does its own thing since many of the horses who race there need to race on the smaller track), with NYRA allowed to have slother gaming in the new facility that would strictly be dedicated to Harness purses while the Aqueduct facility would fund the T-Breds.

    Even if this does happen, we are looking at a minimum of 2-3 years before anything is done to racing at Aqueduct. What Genting may actually find out between now and then is that it’s actually cheaper to acquire land on the other side of the elevated tracks from Aqueduct that in most cases is either deserted or mainly is used for single family homes that could then be used for most of the convention center along with a significant part of the parking lot between the end of the clubhouse and mile chute, using an enclosed walkway over the elevated tracks that can also be an entrance to the subway lines as a bridge between in this scenario the part of the convention center that is on one side of the tracks and the current facility as well as one as noted past the current clubhouse. That is what I would be seriously exploring between now and then, as the costs to totally set up Belmont for winter racing and building the new facilities at Aqueduct may actually be far more expensive than simply acquiring land next to and on the other side of the facility to build the new convention center and keeping the racetrack in tact. If anything, I would go that route since the track to me can be a major asset in having conventions there, especially if an underground tunnel can be built to access the infield at Aqueduct to do outdoor shows there.

    Just my thoughts on this.

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