Shake You Down, who boasts six career stakes wins, hopes to add to his $1.3 million in earnings as he takes on five rivals in Saturday's Toboggan Handicap (gr. III) at Aqueduct. First held in 1890, the Toboggan will be the last graded stakes run over Aqueduct's inner dirt track this meeting. Because the inner track is still in use, the Toboggan and the same day Broadway Handicap for New York-bred fillies and mares will be run at six furlongs instead of the originally scheduled seven furlongs. The main track opens March 16.
The top contenders in the Toboggan figure to be close together from the start. Shake You Down and Primary Suspect both possess good early speed and figure to be the ones to catch. Robert Cole Jr.'s Shake You Down will be making his 46th trip to the starting gate Saturday. While he may never return to his 2003 form when he won four graded stakes and finished third in the Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I), the 7-year-old gelding is still a tough customer on the right day.
Sandwiched in between a pair of recent victories for Shake You Down are two off-the-board finishes in warm-weather climates. After vying for the lead as the favorite in the Mr. Prospector Handicap (gr. III) at Gulfstream Park, Shake You Down faltered to finish seventh. Three weeks later, he was shipped across country to Santa Anita where he never factored in the Sunshine Millions Sprint.
"When he got to Gulfstream, he stopped sweating," said trainer Scott Lake. "The same thing happened at Santa Anita. Some horses just stop sweating when they go from cool to warm climates and that's not a good thing. We sent him back to New York and after two days, he was back to himself. My exercise rider, Karl Keegan, really gets along well with him and I think that helped, too."
Shake You Down was much better when he returned to the races at Aqueduct, easily handling a small field en route to a gate-to-wire victory on Feb. 20.
"I was real happy to see him do everything the way he was supposed to last time," said Lake, who claimed the gelding for $65,000 and has made more than $1 million with him since. "It wasn't the toughest spot in the world, but he did it the right way and that should build his confidence."
Mike Luzzi, Shake You Down's usual rider, will have the mount Saturday aboard the 122-pound highweight.
Lee Lewis' Primary Suspect could be the main danger to Shake You Down. The 4-year-old colt showed signs of being a stakes-caliber horse last year in allowance races, but could not find the winner's circle in a pair of stakes attempts. After finishing sixth over a sloppy track in the Fall Highweight here last November, Primary Suspect was given a breather before returning to the races at Gulfstream.
On Jan. 20, Primary Suspect scored in allowance/optional claimer in his 2005 debut. Three weeks later, he ran into a tough Forest Danger and was beaten 9 1/2 lengths after chasing that speedy sprinter.
"He really ran into a bear last time," said Seth Gregory, assistant to trainer Mark Hennig. "He's been in New York for about a week and he's been training well."
Gregory is hoping the signs of brilliance Primary Suspect displayed in spots last year will become more consistent this season. "He's been late to mature," he said. "He made his first start in July of his 3-year-old year and progressed fairly rapidly from that point."
Edwin Wachtel and partners' Houston's Prayer could be a serious Toboggan factor if he is able to run back to one of two inner track sprints earlier this winter.
The 5-year-old gelding was beaten by a head Dec. 8 after a prolonged stretch duel with winner Way to the Top. He returned a month later to romp in the mud, defeating a solid group of allowance optional claimers.
Trainer Mike Hushion will send out a pair of runners for the Toboggan. Papua, a three-time winner of the restricted Hollie Hughes Handicap, will be trying for his first open stakes win while Jets Fan is making his first start since May.
Since Wachtel owns part of Houston's Prayer and Jets Fan, Houston's Prayer must be linked with Jets Fan and Papua in a three-horse entry. Being that there are only four betting interests in the Toboggan, it will go as race No. 3. Super Fuse is the remaining contestant.
The field for Saturday's Toboggan:
Post Horse Trainer Jockey Weight
1a Papua Mike Hushion Richard Migliore 116
2 Shake You Down Scott Lake Mike Luzzi 122
3a Jets Fan Mike Hushion Shaun Bridgmohan 115
4 Primary Suspect Mark Hennig Pablo Fragoso 115
5 Super Fuse Kathleen O'Connell Norberto Arroyo Jr. 117
6a Houston's Prayer Allen Iwinski Alan Garcia 115