Undefeated Cluster of Stars rolled to her seventh consecutive win when she outclassed five New York-bred opponents in frontrunning style by 3 1/4 lengths in the $150,000 Iroquois Stakes Oct. 19 at Belmont Park (VIDEO).
Sent off at 15 cents on the dollar, Cluster of Stars was the third consecutive gate-to-wire stakes winner on Empire Showcase Day at Belmont, following 2-year-olds Miss Narcissist in the Joseph A. Gimma and Wired Bryan in the Bertram F. Bongard.
In the other sprint event on the Empire Showcase Day program, favored Palace overtook Moonlight Song in deep stretch to win the $150,000 Hudson Handicap.
Ridden by Javier Casellano for trainer Steve Asmussen, Cluster of Stars is owned by Turtle Bird Stable. The 4-year-old daughter of Greeley's Galaxy completed seven furlongs in a good time of 1:21.87 on a fast track.
Cluster of Stars sprinted through swift quarter mile of fractions of :22.46 and :45.54 while racing a bit off the rail, leading Vicki's Dancer by 1 1/2 lengths. Willet, advancing from third rounding the bend, appeared poised to challenge at the top of the stretch—but Cluster of Stars, responding to coaxing from Castellano, spurted to a three-length advantage while completing six furlongs in 1:09.36. She coasted home comfortably while geared down in deep stretch.
"In the beginning there's always pressure when you're 1-5 in the race, but she's very special," Castellano said. "When you get on her, you don't worry about anything. You just focus and do your own thing."
"Very professional, as usual," said Toby Sheets, assistant to Asmussen.
Willet and jockey Joel Rosario finished second, and it was 9 3/4 lengths to the show horse, Miss Valentine. Vicki's Dancer, Shesabronxbomber, and Galiana followed. Here's Zealicious, who was expected to contend on the lead, and Kimmies Lucky Star scratched.
Bred by Michael McPoland and Sean Finn out of the Honour and Glory mare Babyurthegreatest, Cluster of Stars was coming off a five-length romp in the Gallant Bloom Handicap (gr. II) Sept. 21 at Belmont, earning a 106 Beyer figure. She captured the Distaff Handicap (gr. II) at Aqueduct Racetrack in April prior to the Gallant Bloom. Ther Iroquois win, her first over state-breds since her second start in January, boosted her career earnings to $549,600.
Carrying co-high weight of 124 pounds, Cluster of Stars paid $2.30, $2.10, and $2.10, and topped a $4.70 exacta. Willet, whose two-race stakes win streak was eneded for trainer James Iselin, returned $5.70 and $3.30. Miss Valentine, ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr., paid $2.30 and rounded out a $7.70 trifecta.
In the Hudson, 2-1 choice Palace was ridden to victory by Cornelio Velasquez for trainer Linda Rice, who won the Gimma earlier with Miss Narcissist. Rice trains Palace, a $20,000 claim one year ago out of a race he won by 11 3/4 lengths, for Antonino Miuccio. The 4-year-old City Zip colt won by 1 1/4 lengths while timed in a sharp 1:08.97 for six furlongs (VIDEO).
"I didn't think a year later we'd be here on Showcase Day, so it's a delight," Rice said. "He trained so well last fall. He really flourished over the winter. I trained his father (City Zip), and he was a special horse. I thought I could see the same things in (Palace)."
Palace, who stalked the pace set by B Shanny and Cay to Pomeroy in fourth near the inside through fractions of :22.41 and :45.62, angled four wide for the drive. Moonlight Song, who was parked three wide just off the pacesetters, took over coming into the stretch while drifting out. Moonlight Song led to the final 70 yards when a determined Palace, herded wide by the continually drifting leader, finally swept by on the outside and shook free.
Palace, carrying 119 pounds, paid $6, $3.60, and $2.90 while keying a $34.80 exacta. Moonlight Song ($5.70, $3.30), ridden by Jose Ortiz, was second by 2 1/4 lengths over B Shanny ($3.90) and Irad Ortiz Jr.Mine Over Matter was fourth, followed by Cay to Pomeroy and Night Maneuver. Readytodefer scratched.
"Jose (on Moonlight Song) had a lot of horse in the stretch, but my horse ran hard the last part of the race," Velasquez said. "I had the best horse in the race. He's a very good horse and I had a lot of confidence."
Bred by The Peter J. Callahan Revocable Trust out of the End Sweep mare Receivership, Palace was coming off a three-length score in his stakes debut in the Chowder's First for New York-breds Aug. 23 at Saratoga Race Course. The bay colt has won seven of 13 starts overall while banking $352,050.