By Karen M. Johnson
Good news for the 3-year-olds running in the $100,000 Whirlaway Stakes at Aqueduct Feb. 2: Undefeated Giant Moon is not in the field.
Seven were entered in the 1 1/16-mile Whirlaway, which serves as a prep for the March 8 Gotham Stakes (gr.III) at Aqueduct. While multiple stakes winner Giant Moon awaits the Gotham, several of the horses he has beaten will run in the Whirlaway.
Spanky Fischbein, a New York-bred son of Hook and Ladder, could be the horse to benefit the most from Giant Moon’s absence. The ridgling suffered back-to-back losses to Giant Moon, in the Damon Runyon and Count Fleet Stakes, but was game in defeat. Spanky Fischbein, trained by Todd Pletcher and owned by Gold Square, lost the Jan. 5 Count Fleet by a neck. In the Damon Runyon, the margin of Spanky Fischbein’s loss was 1 ¾ lengths.
From seven career starts, Spanky Fischbein has compiled two wins and five runner-up finishes.
Pletcher’s New York-based assistant, Seth Benzel, was asked if he was happy that Giant Moon wasn’t in the Whirlaway field.
“I was asked that earlier this morning,” Benzel said Jan. 31. “The answer is a prohibitive yes. Spanky has battled on gamely a couple times against Giant Moon; it was a close run both times. But we are happy Giant Moon is sitting this one out. We’ve had no setbacks since the Count Fleet, and our horse is training forwardly.”
For the first time, Stewart Elliott will ride Spanky Fischbein who drew post seven.
“We think (Elliott) will fit Spanky because the horse likes to be close to the pace, but doesn’t necessarily need the lead,” Benzel said. “They should make a good team.”
Pletcher also entered Texas Wildcatter, who is not coupled in the wagering with Spanky Fischbein. A son of 2001 Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos , Texas Wildcatter makes his inner-track debut following wins at Arlington Park and Philadelphia Park Casino & Racetrack.
“Texas Wildcatter’s last race was a positive step up — a confidence builder — and should help set him up against better horses,” Benzel said of the colt’s 10 1/2-length win in an allowance race at Philly Park Dec. 28.
Cave’s Valley was undefeated in three starts, including an impressive maiden win at Saratoga, before suffering a loss in the $1-million Delta Jackpot (gr. III) Dec. 7. Cave’s Valley finished seventh in the Delta Jackpot, but certainly could be a factor in the Whirlaway if his earlier form reveals itself. Cave’s Valley, the 122-pound highweight, and Spanky Fischbein are the likely pacesetters.
Roman Emperor, third as the favorite in the Count Fleet, is bred for a distance of ground and might hit his best stride in the spring as the races get longer. He has Belmont Stakes winners on both sides of his pedigree — he is a son of Empire Maker, out of a daughter of Colonial Affair, Lady Melesi.
Apple Special, the winner of the Maryland Juvenile Championship, could be dangerous if the track is wet. Heavy rain was forecast for Feb. 1.
Barrier Reef, fourth in the Count Fleet, was wide on both turns, and ran flatly through the stretch. Sonic Boom, a Philly Park shipper, makes his stakes debut.