(Edited press release)
Of the seven fillies and mares entered in the 53rd running of the March 24 Distaff Breeders’ Cup Handicap (gr. II) at six furlongs, three have made the cross-country trip from California. The Distaff is one of two stakes on Aqueduct's card that also includes the Cicada (gr. III), which was re-scheduled after a late winter storm cancelled last Saturday’s card.
Victorina is one of the California fillies looking to head home with the winner’s share of the $150,000 purse. While she has never before raced in New York, her connections should be familiar to local racing fans. The 4-year-old filly is owned by Harry Aleo, trained by Greg Gilchrist, and ridden by Russell Baze, the same connections that teamed up with the late Lost in the Fog, who won the Bay Shore Stakes (gr. III), Riva Ridge Breeders' Cup Stakes (gr. II), and King’s Bishop Stakes (gr. I) at New York Racing Association tracks during his sprint championship run in 2005.
With plenty of early speed signed on for the Distaff, Victorina’s stalking style should turn out to be a positive March 24. The daughter of Delaware Townshiphas been awfully consistent, winning seven of 12 starts and never finishing out of the money. Almost as impressive is the fact she has raced throughout the country over that 12-race span and has never disliked a particular track surface.
“I’ve never run a horse over the inner track,” Gilchrist said. “But she’s not the kind of filly that needs to take her track with her. She’s no stranger to mile racetracks that are speed-favoring.”
In her last start, Victorina won a minor stakes at Turf Paradise in Arizona. The highlight of her 2006 campaign was winning the Azalea Breeders’ Cup (gr. III) at Calder Race Course.
“She’s worth something right now after she’s done racing with a grade III win,” Gilchrist said. “If she could win or place in a grade II, then that would add to her breeding value. There aren’t many options out there as graded sprints for fillies and mares, so we’ve had this race picked out for about a month.”
Victorina will break from post five in the field of seven and will carry 116 pounds.
Coming in from Southern California for a rematch are Hello Lucky and Maryfield. The mares ran against each other last in the Las Flores (gr. III) at Santa Anita, with Hello Lucky pulling off a 33-1 upset to win, while Maryfield faded to seventh at odds of 4-1.
Southern Equine Stable’s Hello Lucky is trained by Eric Guillot, who will be making his first trip to Aqueduct.
Hello Lucky is here for much of the same reasons as Victorina: a lack of a graded stakes sprint for females. She was competitive in allowance and stakes races in California last year and even tried the grass a couple times.
“If you look back on her form last summer and know the horses in California, you’ll realize she ran second to some real freaks out there,” Guillot said.
Michael Baze, Russell Baze’s second cousin, will have the mount on Hello Lucky.
“She’s got a real sensitive mount and Michael’s got a great pair of hands,” said Guillot.
Trainer Doug O’Neill thinks Maryfield’s last race is strictly a throwout. In her poorest effort in years, Maryfield contested the early pace in the Las Flores before tiring to be beaten 8 1/4 lengths.
O’Neill said he has been pleased with the signs Maryfield has shown since her last race.
“I took her to the gate last week at Hollywood Park, and she broke out of there like a rocket,” the trainer said. “That’s the Maryfield we’ve grown to love.”
The two local horses that figure to be the biggest threats to the California invaders in the Distaff are Magnolia Jackson and Orpah Winney.
Ted Taylor’s Magnolia Jackson is a win machine, capturing 10 of 16 lifetime starts. She comes off a victory in the Feb. 11 Correction Handicap at Aqueduct, and her speed/stalk style could come in very handy, not to mention her multiple wins over Aqueduct’s inner track. Ramon Dominguez will be back aboard Magnolia Jackson for trainer Gary Contessa, the 120-pound highweight will break from post three.
The speedy Oprah Winney has now won three straight races, the last of which was the Barbara Fritchie (gr. II) at Laurel Park. Mike Smith will ride her from post six.
Candy Box and May Day Vow, two other New York-based horses, will try for an upset in the Distaff.
The field for Saturday’s Grade 2, $150,000 Distaff Breeders’ Cup (gr. II), fillies and mares, 1 1/8 miles
PP. Horse, Trainer, Jockey, Weight
1. Maryfield, Doug O’Neill, Jorge Chavez , 117
2. May Day Vow, Mike Hushion, Norberto Arroyo Jr., 115
3. Magnolia Jackson, Gary Contessa, Ramon Dominguez, 120
4. Hello Lucky, Eric Guillot , Michael Baze, 116
5. Victorina, Greg Gilchrist, Russell Baze , 116
6. Oprah Winney, Richard Dutrow, Mike Smith , 118
7. Candy Box, Bruce Levine, Mike Luzzi, 115