(Undefeated Instagrand schooled in the Aqueduct paddock on Thursday in prep for Saturday’s Gotham Stakes / Photo by Francesca Leone & Courtesy of Aqueduct)

From the NYRA Media Team:

OXO Equine’s undefeated Instagrand arrived at Aqueduct Racetrack just after 5 p.m. on Wednesday, along with fellow Jerry Hollendorfer trainee Shivermetimbers to take part in Saturday’s stakes-laden Gotham card.

As part of New York’s “Road to the Kentucky Derby” series, the Grade 3, $300,000 Gotham offers 50-20-10-5 qualifying points to the first four finishers on a lucrative card that also includes the Grade 3, $200,000 Tom Fool Handicap; the $150,000 Stymie; and the $250,000 Busher Invitational for sophomore fillies offering 50-20-10-5 qualifying points to the Kentucky Oaks.

All the action will be shown live on FOX Sports Saturday At The Races, airing 4-7 p.m. EST on FS2.

A $1.2 million purchase at Fasig-Tipton’s 2018 The Gulfstream Sale, Instagrand will stretch out to a mile for the first time in the Gotham. The flashy Into Mischief colt posted a pair of daylight victories as a juvenile including a 10 ¼-length score on August 11 in the Grade 2 Best Pal, a six-furlong sprint at Del Mar.

Assistant trainer Dan Ward said Instagrand has settled in well at the Big A after gate schooling and then enjoying a light jog on the main track Thursday morning.

“He looks happy and he’s feeling good,” said Ward. “We stood him in the gate and then jogged him. He worked on Tuesday at Santa Anita and then walked on Wednesday.

“He’ll gallop tomorrow,” continued Ward. “But, we won’t need to go back to the gate tomorrow. He looked perfect in there today.”

Instagrand, who will be piloted by Hall of Famer Javier Castellano, paddock schooled Thursday morning and will do so again on Friday during Aqueduct’s eight-race card, which kicks off at 12:50 p.m.

The stakes-placed Shivermetimbers, a 4-year-old son of Shanghai Bobby, has won three of 14 starts and will be in search of his first stakes score in the Stymie, a one-turn mile for 4-year-olds and upward.

The dark bay, owned by West Point Thoroughbreds and Mark DeDomenico, galloped over the Big A main on Thursday morning and will gate school on Friday.

Ward said the improving colt may benefit from a change of venue.

“All the races are tough once you run through your conditions, but he deserves a shot in here,” said Ward. “He’s won all three of his races at Del Mar and he’s winless at Santa Anita, though he has placed a few times. We’re hoping he’ll like this track here.”


Not That Brady training well into Gotham

Popular New York-bred Not That Brady, co-owned by Michael Imperio, Lianna Stables [Vinny Vivolo] and his trainer Rudy Rodriguez, enters Saturday’s Gotham from a gusty runner-up effort in the Grade 3 Withers.

The Big Brown chestnut, bred in New York by KatieRich Farms, suffered a minor setback after coming out of his February 17 breeze at Aqueduct with a quarter crack.

“He had a little bit of a quarter crack, but it was not that bad,” said Rodriguez. “We took our time with him. We missed three days of training but not really as I was able to tack walk the horse.”

Not That Brady returned to the work tab on March 3 and covered five furlongs in 1:02.98.

“We had a chance to breeze him and he looks good,” said Rodriguez.

Not That Brady graduated by 11 ¼-lengths on December 8 at the Gotham’s one-mile distance and followed that effort up by notching his first stakes win in the one-mile Damon Runyon.

The handsome chestnut missed by a head in the nine-furlong Withers, and Rodriguez said he is cautiously optimistic about the return to the one-turn mile.

“I’m not sure if the turn back is going to help him. He’s going to have to step up a little bit more. The competition is getting steeper now,” said Rodriguez. “He’s won two races going a mile and a good second. I’m hoping he’ll show up the way he’s been training and put in a good performance.”

Not That Brady galloped over the Big A main track on Thursday morning with his conditioner in the irons. The chestnut later paddock schooled and will gallop again on Friday morning here.

Not That Brady will race on Saturday, in part, for the benefit of the Belmont Child Care Association, with the owners donating 10 percent of their Gotham purse earnings to the organization which provides a safe, supportive and academically inspiring environment for the children of parents working in the thoroughbred racing backstretch area at all three NYRA tracks

“Everybody is donating so hopefully the horse wins and we can donate even more. Hopefully we can go to the Kentucky Derby and keep on donating,” said Rodriguez. “The owners are very good people and to be involved with them and this horse is a plus for us.”

Apprentice rider Reylu Gutierrez, who retains the mount, and his agent, Jimmy Riccio, have also committed 25 percent of their Gotham earnings to the deserving cause.

Rodriguez said he is pleased to have NYRA’s leading apprentice rider back in the irons on Saturday.

“He’s a very strong rider and he knows the horse well,” said Rodriguez. “He knows the horse needs to break good and to chase him out of there.”


Ujjayi looking to turn the tables on a familiar foe

Pennsylvania-bred Ujjayi, trained by Erin McClellan for owner-breeder T.L. Wise, earned her first stakes score in her January 27 Aqueduct debut with a 1 ¾-length win in the Ruthless.

Ujjayi returned to Aqueduct on Sunday afternoon from her home base at Penn National to prepare for the Busher Invitational, a qualifying race offering 50-20-10-5 points towards the “Lilies for the Fillies” slated for May 3 at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky.

The Smarty Jones filly boasts a record of two wins and two seconds from four starts with both runner-up efforts coming in stakes company against undefeated Busher rival Please Flatter Me.

McClellan said her horse is in good order ahead of Saturday’s rematch with her familiar foe.

“She’s definitely more ready than when we’ve faced her in the past. Please Flatter Me is going to be a very tough horse to beat, but I like that there’s some other speed in there which maybe helps us out a little bit,” said McClellan. “It’s going to be a test because it’s not just Please Flatter Me, there are other salty horses in there and this will be the toughest race we’ve run in with her. It will be a true test to overcome the one-hole while racing against a tougher set of horses.”

The Busher, which will go as the eleventh and final race on an action-packed Gotham card, drew a talented field of 12 that includes Oxy Lady, a five-length winner of the Grade 3 Tempted here on November 2; recent Busanda winner Always Shopping; and Orra Moor, who ships in from Gulfstream with a perfect record from two starts.

McClellan said that Ujjayi, listed at 10-1 on the morning line, enjoyed a strong training session at Aqueduct on Wednesday.

“I’m glad we came here early. The track is really deep and it’s nice to have the opportunity to let her train over it,” said McClellan. “On Wednesday we had a nice happy gallop down the lane and she went three-eighths in 41 and change. It was a strong two-minute lick and she got something out of it.”

Ujjayi will gallop again on Friday morning and McClellan said she is hopeful her improving filly can successfully step up in class.

“I think the mile will suit her, the question will be if the company suits her. She’s definitely capable of going this distance, and now it’s a matter of if she’s this good. We’ll find out on Saturday,” said McClellan.


Casse barn looking forward to Curlin’s Honor return to dirt in Stymie

Owned by John Oxley and Breeze Easy LLC, graded stakes placed 4-year-old Curlin’s Honor is set to make his first start on the dirt since being on the Kentucky Derby trail early last year, drawing the rail in Saturday’s Stymie.

Purchased by his owners for $1.5 million as a 2-year-old at the 2017 Fasig-Tipton Mid-Atlantic Sale, the chestnut colt, sired by two-time Horse of the Year Curlin, won his debut as a juvenile in October of 2017. After returning to win an optional-claiming race in his 3-year-old debut at Fair Grounds, he finished tenth in the Grade 2 Rebel at Oaklawn.

Curlin’s Honor then shipped north to Woodbine Racetrack, where he won the six-furlong Woodstock on the all-weather Tapeta surface. Switching to turf in his next start at Belmont Park he ran second in the Paradise Creek and fourth on the grass in the Mystic Lake at Canterbury Park.

Following a fifth-place finish in the Caesars at Indiana Grand, Curlin’s Honor ran second in the Grade 3 Ontario Derby on October 13 at Woodbine.

“He’s been doing very well,” said Jamie Begg, assistant to trainer Mark Casse. “He recently arrived to us here in New York after being at our training center in Ocala where he’s been working towards this race. He hasn’t been back on the dirt since he was on the [Kentucky] Derby trail and we’re looking forward to how it will go.”

Curlin’s Honor, listed at 15-1 on the morning line, will be ridden by Junior Alvarado.

A Thread of Blue eyeing Turf Triple Series

Leonard Green’s A Thread of Blue came out of his three-quarter length win in the Grade 3 Palm Beach on March 2 at Gulfstream Park in good order and could be a fixture at NYRA tracks as the weather heats up, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said.

The 3-year-old Hard Spun colt has already amassed earnings nearing a quarter-million dollars [$241,590] with a 4-1-1 record through seven starts. He is also a possibility to compete in NYRA’s new Turf Trinity, part of the Turf Triple Series, showcasing the best 3-year-old turf runners in the country.

“He’s doing really well and we’re very happy with him,” McLaughlin said.

The Turf Trinity series’ first leg will be in the Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Derby on July 6 as part of Stars & Stripes Day, broadcast live nationwide on NBC and contested at a distance of 1 1/4 miles. The second leg, the first running of the $1 million Saratoga Derby at a distance of 1 3/16 miles, will be held Sunday, August 4, and the third leg will be back at Belmont with the $1 million Jockey Club Derby on Saturday, September 7 at 1 1/2 miles.

“Absolutely, we’re looking at that for sure, and it’s an exciting opportunity,” McLaughlin said.

A Thread of Blue broke his maiden at third asking on October 7 at Belmont and followed by running third in his stakes debut in the Awad on November 4 at Aqueduct Racetrack. The Kentucky-bred has been training at Palm Meadows in Boynton Beach, Florida for the winter and has taken to the Sunshine State, winning all three of his starts at Gulfstream Park; posting a 2 ¾-length win against allowance company on December 22 to cap his juvenile campaign. He won the Dania Beach in his sophomore debut on February 3 and outkicked Casa Creed to win the Palm Beach last month.