Normally, the Whirlaway Stakes over Aqueduct's inner track receives very little fanfare, as only a moderate group of winter residents and Maryland shippers bother showing up. But this year, the winter residents appear much stronger than usual, as do the Maryland shippers. Add a pair of invaders from England who have already won a couple of races each on the dirt, and Saturday's Whirlaway takes on a whole different look.
Heading the 1 1/16-mile race is the Shug McGaughey-trained D'Coach, a son of Dehere who has been thrilling Aqueduct fans with his explosive stretch runs. In his last start, he closed from 13 lengths on a speed-favoring track to finish second, beaten 2 3/4 lengths by Iron Deputy in the Count Fleet Stakes.
"I thought D'Coach's last race was awfully good," said assistant trainer Buzz Tenney. "The inner track usually favors speed and he doesn't have any of that. He can get more momentum into the straightaway on tracks with wider turns. He's going to have to run his kind of race. I hope the speed horses will entertain each other during the race and he can pick them up through the stretch."
There appears to be plenty of classy speed horses in the nine-horse field, most notably Maryland shipper Saratoga Blues, who is undefeated in two career starts, and Smoked Em, winner of his last two for Todd Pletcher. Pletcher is particularly high on Smoked Em.
"On the face of it, he looked like a sprinter being by Smoke Glacken," said Pletcher, who saddled Smoke Glacken's daughter Smok'n Frolic to win the Demoiselle at a mile and an eighth last fall. "He's a big strong colt who has an efficient way of moving. His sprint was respectable, but he ran much better going long. He pressed for the lead in his allowance win and was clear at the finish. I liked what I saw in that race."
With Javier Castellano choosing to ride D'Coach, Richard Migliore gets the mount on Smoked Em.
Saratoga Blues blew away his field in his career debut at Laurel, winning by 11 3/4 lengths, then came up to Aqueduct and drew off to a 2 1/4-length victory over Robins Beauty, who was coming off a solid fourth-place finish in the Remsen Stakes.
"We're hoping he'll stick around for a while and we want to keep him fresh for the spring," trainer Tony Dutrow said. "When you've got a big horse with early speed, a lot of good can happen. We'll see how he matches up with these horses on Saturday."
Also from Maryland comes last-out allowance winners The Sewickley Kid and Flo's Bo, trained by Graham Motion and Fracis Campitelli, respectively. Coming off a maiden score at Aqueduct is the D. Wayne Lukas-trained Storm Commander, winner of one of nine career starts.
The most intriguing aspect of the Whirlaway is the the presence of the English invaders Goshin's Lad and More Specific. Goshin's Lad, who was trained by Gerard Butler and turned over to Rich Schosberg, won two dirt races this winter over the all-weather track at Lingfield, the last coming at one mile. In his most recent start, he had a troubled trip right from the start and closed well to finish fourth. More Specific, who will be saddled by Leah Gyarmati, is coming off back-to-back victories over the dirt at Southwell, both at a mile. In his last start, he carried 129 pounds, conceding 15 and 18 pounds to the second- and third-place finishers. He drops 11 pounds on Saturday and gets Lasix for the first time.
Rounding out the field is the Pat Kelly-trained Dr. Rockett, a maiden winner in 10 career starts.