Less than two weeks after celebrating his 74th birthday, legendary Maryland trainer King T. Leatherbury will be at Aqueduct on Saturday with a realistic chance at winning the $300,000 Carter Handicap (gr. I) at Aqueduct, where he sends out the honest Ah Day.
Leatherbury's 4-year-old homebred gelding, who has won seven stakes races and nearly $600,000, is one of seven older horses entered in the 107th running of the Carter, which is contested at seven furlongs over the main track. Ah Day’s stiffest competition should come from Silver Wagon, Latent Heat, Diabolical and Keyed Entry.
The Carter goes as race nine (5:14 p.m.) on a stacked 11-race program that features four graded stakes, including the 83rd running of the $750,000 Wood Memorial (gr. I) for 3-year-olds – New York’s biggest Kentucky Derby prep race. Those that can’t make it to the Big A Saturday can tune into ESPN for it’s live 60-minute Wood Memorial telecast that begins at 4 p.m. Eastern.
Leatherbury, the lifetime Marylander, saddled his first career winner in 1959, the same season Jimmer won the 40th running of the Carter for a purse of $38,205. In the four-plus decades that have followed, Leatherbury has won more than 6,000 races (a feat only two others trainers accomplished before him,) bred hundreds of Thoroughbreds and has received a lifetime achievement award by the Maryland Athletic Hall of Fame.
“It’s exciting coming there for the Carter, considering the history and prestige of the race,” said Leatherbury Wednesday from Maryland. “The distance and timing of the race fit our horse’s schedule and that’s the main reason we’re coming.”
Up until 2004, Leatherbury owned a Maryland-based farm that housed approximately two dozen of his own broodmares. Although he sold the farm and has significantly downsized his breeding operation in recent years, Leatherbury has kept three mares for breeding. One of them, Endette, produced Ah Day from a mating with Malibu Moon .
“I’ve got a much smaller operation these days,” Leatherbury said. “I hate to compare horses from different eras, but Ah Day is one of the best I’ve bred and trained. He’s facing a good group of horses, but he gets to go seven furlongs. If I had to make a race for him, I’d write it at seven furlongs. It’s his best distance.”
Ah Day raced often and ran well as a three-year-old in 2006, going 7-4-1 from 15 starts. He earned just shy of $500,000.
This season, Ah Day enters the Carter with only two starts under his belt: a win in a minor Laurel stake Jan. 20 and an excellent placing to Silver Wagon in the General George (gr. II) at Laurel.
Ah Day has drawn post 3 with top Maryland rider Mario Pino and was assigned 114 pounds, four less than Silver Wagon and five fewer than the top-weighted Latent Heat.
Champion trainer Todd Pletcher has won the last two editions of the Carter with Forest Danger and Bishop Court Hill, respectively. Saturday, he’ll send out Keyed Entry, recent winner of Gulfstream Park’s 6 1/2-furlong Deputy Minister (gr. III).
A year ago at this time, Keyed Entry was on the Triple Crown trail. He finished third as the odds-on favorite in the Wood Memorial. But after the Wood, Keyed Entry only raced twice in 2006: he finished 20th in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and last of six in Belmont Park’s Dwyer (gr. II).
After going seven months between races, Keyed Entry finally returned in the Feb. 3 Deputy Minister. And he looked like the Keyed Entry of old, winning by five lengths. Since then, Keyed Entry has trained like a bear at Palm Meadows, cranking out one bullet workout after another.
Keyed Entry, a quick speed horse, has drawn the outside post 7 with jockey John Velazquez.
Trainer Bobby Frankel has never won the Carter. That could change Saturday with Latent Heat, an extremely gifted colt who has won six of 10 starts. By Maria’s Mon, Latent Heat enters the Carter in search of his third straight stakes win after taking Santa Anita’s Malibu (gr. I) and San Carlos (gr. II) over the winter. Latent Heat’s seven-furlong record is four wins from five starts.
A top three finish in the Carter would put Silver Wagon into the millionaire club. By Wagon Limit, Silver Wagon easily won Aqueduct’s Sport Page (gr. III) over the track last November. In his last start, Silver Wagon showed a powerful closing kick with a big off-the-pace score over Ah Day in the General George.
Silver Wagon starts for trainer Rick Dutrow Jr. in post 4.
Diabolical, a six-time winner of $420,000, ended a strong 3-year-old campaign in 2006 with a narrow placing to (eventual sprint champion) Thor’s Echo in the DeFrancis Dash (gr. I). Diabolical, a son of 1999 Carter champion Artax, has raced just once this year, a third-place finish in the March 3 Richter Scale Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) at Gulfstream. He was beaten a length for all the money by the undefeated Half Ours.
$300,000 Carter Handicap (gr. I, Race 9, 5:14 p.m.), 3 & Up, 7 Furlongs
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Wild Jam (KY), 114, Michael J. Luzzi
2. Kazoo (FL), 112 Rudy R. Rodriguez
3. Ah Day (MD), 114, Mario G. Pino
4. Silver Wagon (FL), 118, Javier Castellano
5. Diabolical (KY), 117, Cornelio H. Velasquez
6. Latent Heat (KY), 119, David R. Flores
7. Keyed Entry (KY), 116, John R. Velazquez