The seven-furlong Hutcheson (it was 7 ½-furlongs last year), includes a field of 10 capable colts, each of them looking to take a first step in their three-year-old campaign.
Cool Coal Man and Coal Play are both owned by Robert LaPenta, who also has Bessemer Trust Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) winner and probable two-year-old champion War Pass in his arsenal. Cool Coal Man is the more experienced of the pair, having started five times as a two-year-old. The Kentucky-bred colt has a pair of victories on his résumé but was seventh in his initial stakes effort, the Nov. 24 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II) at Churchill Downs. Interestingly, that event was won by another in Zito’s loaded barn, Anak Nakal.
“I think we brought Cool Coal Man back a little too soon (in the Jockey Club),” Zito said. “He probably needed more than three weeks. He looks like he is talented, though.”
Out of the Rubiano mare Coral Sea, Cool Coal Man was bred by Will Farish, E. J. Hudson Jr., and Irrevocable Trust. He will be ridden by jockey Joe Bravo for the first time and breaks from post three.
Coal Play is out of the Kris S. mare Wiscasset. Bred in Kentucky by Emory Hamilton, he broke his maiden at Belmont in his second start in October, then came back on Dec.1 in the listed What a Pleasure Stakes at Calder Race Course, holding the lead into the stretch but faltering late during the 1 1/16-mile test.
To be ridden by regular jockey Cornelio Velasquez, Coal Play will break from the outside post in the Hutcheson.
Zito said he is optimistic for both colts, similar in running style.
“They both like to lay close, but they both still need to develop,” Zito said. “The main thing with all good two-year-olds is, will they go further that following year or stay the same? You have to have that progression.
“We’ll find out about both of them soon.”
Dale Romans will be looking for that same progression in Halo Najib, the 3-1 morning line favorite for the Hutcheson. Owned by Zayat Stables, Halo Najib is one-for-three in his early career. Unraced until Oct. 11, the son of Halo's Image broke his maiden on the Keeneland Polytrack, then came back Oct. 28 and just missed to Court Vision in the Iroquois Stakes (gr. III) at Churchill.
After dueling through the first six furlongs and leading into the stretch in the Jockey Club less than a month later, Halo Najib weakened to finish fifth, but showed flashes of his talent. Kent Desormeaux will ride the Florida-bred from post four.
Two-time winner Grand Minstrel should also be considered. The Virginia-bred Grand Slam colt is coming off a gate-to-wire, five-length score in the six-furlong Capote Stakes Dec. 12 at Aqueduct. Jimmy Jerkens trains.
Last year’s Hutcheson was claimed by Team Valor’s King of the Roxy, who went on to start in the Preakness Stakes (gr. I).
$150,000 Hutcheson Stakes (gr. II, Race 9, 5 p.m.), Three-Year-Olds, Seven Furlongs
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Tiz It (KY), 116, John Velazquez
2. Grand Minstrel (VA), 116, Eibar Coa
3. Cool Coal Man (KY), 116, Joe Bravo
4. Halo Najib (FL), Kent Desormeaux
5. Smooth Air (FL), 116, Manoel Cruz
6. Silver Edition (KY), 116, Rene Douglas
7. Big Truck (NY), 118, Javier Castellano
8. Notgivinmyloveaway (PA), 116, Edgar Prado
9. Golden Spikes (KY), 116, Eddie Castro
10. Coal Play (KY), 116, Cornelio Velasquez