From the NYRA Media Team:
West Coast-based Freedom Fighter and Wipe the Slate, top contenders for Saturday’s G3, $300,000 Gotham at Aqueduct Racetrack, arrived in New York from their southern California base at Santa Anita Park on Wednesday and visited the Belmont Park dirt training track Thursday morning.
A loaded Saturday card at Aqueduct features the Gotham, a one-turn mile that provides 50-20-10-5 Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the top four finishers; the Grade 3, $200,000 Tom Fool Handicap, a six-furlong sprint for older horses; the $250,000 Busher Invitational for 3-year-old fillies offering 50-20-10-5 Kentucky Oaks qualifying points; and the $125,000 Heavenly Prize Invitational, a one-turn mile for fillies and mares 4-years-old and up.
Trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, Freedom Fighter, stabled with trainer John Terranova, went out to the training track at 9:30 a.m. with exercise rider Simon Harris aboard while under the watchful eye of Terranova’s wife and assistant, Tonja.
Terranova said fellow Baffert trainee Speed Pass, entered in the Tom Fool on the Gotham undercard, was out for exercise at 7:30 a.m.
“They just cruised around the track,” Tonja Terranova said. “They both looked great. Simon was happy with how they went and both of them ate up real well last night.”
A son of Violence, Freedom Fighter will see some added distance in the one-turn mile Gotham off a close second to stablemate Concert Tour in the Grade 2 San Vicente at seven furlongs at Santa Anita. The runner-up effort, which garnered a 94 Beyer Speed Figure, was his first start off a six-month layoff after a successful debut going gate-to-wire on August 1 at Del Mar.
Freedom Fighter is owned by SF Racing, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables, Golconda Stables, Siena Farm and Robert Masterson and was bought for $120,000 from the 2019 Keeneland September Sale.
Manny Franco will pilot Freedom Fighter from post 7 in a field of eight.
Speed Pass, owned by Mike Pegram, Karl Watson and Paul Weitman, arrives at the Tom Fool – a six-furlong sprint for older horses – off a close third as the lukewarm favorite in an allowance optional claiming race on January 31 at Santa Anita, which was his first start in nearly a full calendar year.
A two-time winner at three-quarters of a mile, the son of Bodemeister was third in the Grade 2 Palos Verdes last January at Santa Anita and seeks his first trip to the winner’s circle since defeating winners at Los Alamitos by seven lengths over a good and sealed track.
Trainer Doug O’Neill, who was nominated to the Hall of Fame this year, shipped Wipe the Slate for the Gotham. The chestnut son of second-crop sire Nyquist went to the training track at 10:00 a.m. for O’Neill’s assistant Daniel Robles.
“Perfect, really good,” Robles said of the morning exercise. “I think we have a pretty good chance.”
Wipe the Slate was last out a distant sixth to Medina Spirit in the Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis on February 6 at Santa Anita going 1 1/16 miles and cuts back to one turn for the Gotham.
“That was a bad day for him, but he’s come along well,” Robles said. “Going back to one turn should be good for him. That day, he was real nervous, but this time he seems much more calm and relaxed.”
Second to highly regarded Life Is Good on debut, Wipe the Slate broke his maiden in his following effort on December 26 at Santa Anita. He will take blinkers off for Saturday’s race and will be ridden from post 4 by Aqueduct leading rider Kendrick Carmouche.
Weyburn returns in G3 Gotham
Chiefswood Stables homebred Weyburn, a 20-1 morning-line assessment for Saturday’s Grade 3 Gotham, breezed three-eighths in 35.42 seconds Thursday on the Belmont dirt training track.
Rob Landry, a Canadian Hall of Fame jockey and general manager for Chiefswood, said the Jimmy Jerkens trainee will be ready to fire fresh off a third-out maiden win in December when sprinting seven furlongs over a sloppy and sealed Big A main track that garnered a 69 Beyer.
“Jimmy said he’s been training well. He went in 35 and change this morning,” said Landry. “We had him entered a few weeks’ back in a stakes at Aqueduct [Jimmy Winkfield on January 31] but he had a foot abscess and had to scratch, so we’re looking to get him started back.”
Voted Canada’s Outstanding Jockey in both 1993 and 1994, Landry was aboard Chiefswood Stables’ Niigon to win a thrilling renewal of the 2004 Queen’s Plate, ahead of a third at Saratoga in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy won by Purge.
Landry enjoyed his best moment in New York when piloting Careless Jewel to victory in the 2009 edition of the Grade 1 Alabama at Saratoga.
“I had some luck at Saratoga and ended up winning one race there, but it was a Grade 1,” said Landry. “I loved riding at Saratoga because of the history.”
The Ontario-bred Weyburn, a son of Pioneerof the Nile, is out of the A.P. Indy mare Sunday Affair, making him a half-brother to the versatile multiple graded stakes winner Yorkton, who now stands at Pope McLean’s Crestwood Farm in Kentucky.
While Yorkton displayed sprint speed through stakes wins on turf and synthetic, Landry said the sizable Weyburn will appreciate a distance of ground.
“I see him having a lot of stamina,” said Landry. “Yorkton is a son of Speightstown and lot of them are very good at a mile. Yorkton was a very quick horse. I think Weyburn is a little different as he has a high cruising speed but he doesn’t have the speed Yorkton had. I see Weyburn flourishing when he goes two turns. He’s built like that and he’s a big horse. He’s lightly raced and I think he’ll get better with age.”
Landry acknowledged the Gotham, a 50-20-10-5 Kentucky Derby qualifying race, is a difficult spot to start Weyburn back in action.
“We didn’t nominate him for the American Triple Crown because of where we were at with him,” said Landry. “Our plan was an allowance race and to go through his conditions but that didn’t pan out and this race is here. We didn’t want to cut him back and I don’t want to keep him sitting in the barn. We’ll see where we’re at, it’s a very difficult race.”
Chiefswood Stables have expanded their U.S. presence in recent years and in addition to a trio of horses with Jerkens [Edge of Fire, Hard Edge], the Ontario-based outfit also have horses in training with Graham Motion and Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey.
Landry said he is hopeful Weyburn can progress towards a start in the second and third leg of the U.S. Triple Crown, although the 162nd running of the $1 million Queen’s Plate, first jewel of the Canadian Triple Crown on August 22 at Woodbine Racetrack remains in play.
“It might be a little late now for the Derby, but if he was ever good enough for the Preakness or the Belmont this is when you’re going to tell,” said Landry. “We’ve sent a lot of horses down to the states and we’re trying to focus on the U.S. races. We’d never take the Plate out of the question, but we’re trying to play the game at the highest level. With Weyburn being a half-brother to Yorkton, a good result in this race would really help Yorkton’s profile as well.”
Needs Supervision back at the Big A for Heavenly Prize
Jeremiah O’Dwyer will send out Howling Pigeon Farms, Gary Barber, Wachtel Stable and Madaket Stables’ Needs Supervision in Saturday’s sixth running of the $125,000 Heavenly Prize Invitational, a one-turn mile for older fillies and mares.
The 5-year-old Paynter mare finished a good second two starts back in the seven-furlong Interborough at Aqueduct and last out finished fourth for the second year in a row in the Grade 3 Barbara Fritchie at Laurel Park.
“Fourth seems to be a bit of a magic number for her. It seems like every Grade 3 we’ve run her in she’s ran fourth,” said O’Dwyer of the filly, who also completed the superfecta in the 2019 Grade 3 Go for Wand at Aqueduct. “We haven’t had the graded-stakes placing just yet that we’d like with her. She’s had a few little issues here and there but she’s going well right now.
“Last out, she went very wide and was hanging on that left rein,” added O’Dwyer. “I think she’s better when she’s got a horse to her inside and her outside. She’s a little quirky.”
A multiple stakes winner, Needs Supervision won the Silverbulletday at Fair Grounds and Imagining Safely Kept at Laurel Park in 2019. Trevor McCarthy has the call Saturday aboard Needs Supervision from post 6 in a field of eight.
“We’re drawn towards the outside so hopefully Trevor can get her in behind a couple horses and sit third or fourth and make a run,” said O’Dwyer. “The seven furlongs to a one-turn mile is ideal for her. She’s not an out and out sprinter but she has enough gears that the mile fits her very well.”
O’Dwyer said the addition of blinkers three starts back was to assist Needs Supervision with focusing on the task at hand.
“Because she’s a little bit quirky, we’re trying to get her to focus on what’s in front of her rather than what’s around her,” said O’Dwyer. “She’s a little keen at times but the blinkers have helped her conserve her energy a bit better.”
O’Dwyer said Shotski, winner of the 2019 Grade 2 Remsen at the Big A, is rounding back into form following a pace-setting third last out in a 1 1/16-mile optional-claiming tilt on February 25 at Laurel Park.
“There was improvement in that run,” said O’Dwyer. “He loves a little more distance. If we were to run it again, I’d like to be a little more aggressive on him and not let horses come up to him. He’s that type of horse that it’s better making the horses around you stretch a little bit more. He didn’t run a bad race at all and he was still running at the line.
“I was pleased with the effort,” added O’Dwyer. “He’s a year older and a hefty horse. I’m sure he will come on hand over first from that last run.”
The Blame colt made just two starts last year in his sophomore campaign finishing second in the Grade 3 Withers at Aqueduct and fourth in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park. O’Dwyer said Shotski is likely to target an allowance event at Laurel at the end of the month.
O’Dwyer will send out Haymarket Farm’s Gracetown in Friday’s seventh race at the Big A, a one-mile optional-claiming tilt for fillies and mares 3-years-old and up.
The experienced 5-year-old Into Mischief mare owns a record of 18-3-5-3 with purse earnings of $175,000. She won an allowance event in November at Laurel in her third start for O’Dwyer and enters Friday’s test from a runner-up effort in a 1 1/16-mile optional-claimer at the same track.
“She ran good the last time out and she’s doing really well,” said O’Dwyer. “The race has come up very tough but we’ll let her take her chance up there and maybe somewhere down the line let her try and get some black type.”
Racing without a tag, Gracetown will exit post 3 under meet-leading rider Kendrick Carmouche.
“She’s a filly that if you take a hold of her she’ll lug in a little bit,” said O’Dwyer. “But if you let her jump out of there and enjoy herself and do her own thing, she’s very straightforward. There’s speed in that race towards the inside so I don’t know if we’ll be on the front end or not, but we won’t be far away.”