Little Thunder, a winner of five races since being claimed for $16,000 by Dale Capuano last October at Laurel, brings his superb form to Belmont Park for the track's opening day $100,000 Westchester Handicap (gr. III) Wednesday.
Seven older horses were entered in the one-mile Westchester. One of them, a tough 7-year-old gelding named Gygistar, has a chance to make history.
Gygistar joined Thorson, R. Thomas, and Rubiano last May when he won his second consecutive Westchester Handicap. But no horse owns a Westchester three-peat, which is pretty significant when you consider the race originated in 1918.
Little Thunder, a 4-year-old Florida-bred colt, has already beaten Gygistar and fellow Westchester rival Blazing Purrsuit, when he ran away in Gulfstream Park's Artax on April 1. The Artax brought Little Thunder's 2006 record to three wins from four starts and gave Capuano reason to point for the Westchester.
"Looking at his numbers after he won that fifty claimer (on March 3), I knew he was fast enough to try the Artax," Capuano said. "He just ran out of his skin. He's a big, long-striding colt who seems to be getting better and better.
"The day we claimed him, we were hoping he'd be a horse who could run through his conditions. I looked at him in the paddock, and he looked great so we took a shot. I never could imagine he'd develop into the horse he is today."
Little Thunder, a colt by Sword Dance with a pressing style, has four wins and a second from five starts at a mile. Although some players might consider him a horse-for-course at Gulfstream Park, it's worth noting he won three straight races at Laurel before heading to Florida for the winter.
He'll break from post 3 beneath jockey Jeremy Rose.
Love of Money was the beaten favorite in the 2004 Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) at Belmont -- losing to a horse named Funny Cide -- and only raced three times in 2005. In fact, the 5-year-old Love of Money has not started since running last of six to Ghostzapper in last May's Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I).
"He just wasn't right for the Met Mile," trained Rick Dutrow Jr. said. "He had a few issues coming out of that race, and I didn't want to rush him back last year. He's a really nice horse when he puts things together."
Gygistar, a grade I winner back in 2002, has gone on to win 11 races and more than $1.1 million for owner/breeder Ned Evans and trainer Mark Hennig.
Although Gygistar proved no match for Little Thunder in last month's Artax, it's worth noting that he had not been out in more than four months. He's always done his best stuff at Belmont Park, too, going 5-1-0 from nine starts over "Big Sandy."
Gygistar drew post 4 with jockey Javier Castellano.
Sir Greeley enters the Westchester off a pair of narrow losses in the Richter Scale (gr. II) and Carter (gr. I). Although he fell a neck short of catching the loose-on-the-lead Bishop Court Hill in the Carter, Sir Greeley put in a huge late run over an extremely sloppy, tiring racetrack.
Sir Greeley worked six furlongs over Belmont's main track in 1:12 2/5 last Wednesday for trainer James Jerkens. $100,000 Westchester Handicap (gr. III, Race 8, 4:40 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 Mile
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Blazing Purrsuit (KY), 114, Cornelio H. Velasquez
2. Sir Greeley (KY), 117, Eibar Coa
3. Little Thunder (FL), 116, Jeremy Rose
4. Gygistar (KY), 116, Javier Castellano
5. Kennel Up (FL), 114, Mike E. Smith
6. Happy Hunting (KY), 116, Norberto Arroyo, Jr.
7. Love of Money (MD), 117, Edgar S. Prado