“Naturally, we’re looking for him to win to start off the rest of the year,” Levine said of the Carter Handicap (gr. I) winner. “He is strong and fresh, and will probably show more speed.”
Seven are entered in the six-furlong Vanderbilt, part of the Breeders’ Cup Championships’ “Win and You’re In” series, meaning the victor gains an automatic slot in the Sentient Breeders’ Cup Sprint (gr. I) to be held on Oct. 25 at Santa Anita. The Vanderbilt is carded as race 8 and will be televised on ABC-TV (4:43 p.m. Eastern).
The speedster Bustin Stones, who is teamed once again with Edgar Prado for New York owner/breeder Roddy Valente, was assigned top weight of 118 pounds, the same as fellow grade I winner Thor's Echo, who is preparing for his second start on the comeback trail. Bustin Stones raced with Lasix for the first time in the Carter and will have the anti-bleeding medication once again in the Vanderbilt.
Prado was aboard Bustin Stones for their front-running half-length win in Aqueduct's seven-furlong Carter. That was the sixth consecutive win for the 4-year-old City Zip colt and Levine and Valente were prepared to try the Met Mile at Belmont Park next. But a fever soon after caused lost training time and ended consideration of that plan. Bustin Stones has been working consistently at Belmont and Saratoga since bouncing back, Levine says.
In his attempt to stay undefeated, Bustin Stones catches a field that includes plenty of early zip, including E Z Warrior, who breaks from the far outside in his first start for trainer Bill Mott, comebacker Black Seventeen and maiden winner Sammarco.
“Being undefeated adds pressure, but what are you going to do? You’ve got to run," Levine said. "There looks like there is going to be a lot of speed in the race, so there should be a lot of ding-dong up front. But this horse has never been behind another horse. They’re going to have to worry about him.”
Thor's Echo, who must contend with the rail, could be well positioned to take advantage of the speed duel if jockey Corey Nakatani can negotiate a successful trip.
The 6-year-old Swiss Yodeler gelding returned from an absence of more than 14 months to run a creditable fourth after tiring in the True North Handicap (gr. II) for California trainer Doug O'Neill at Belmont June 7. Thor's Echo, winner of the 2006 Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) and an Eclipse Award as the nation's top sprinter, is looking for a return to form after a sixth-place finish in the Dubai Golden Shaheen (UAE-I) in March 2007.
Sheikh Rashid al Maktoum’s Zabeel Racing International now owns Thor's Echo.
In the True North, he pressed a pace of :22 and :44 4/5 set by Man of Danger and faded to fourth behind division leader Benny the Bull. O’Neill was happy with his horse’s effort.
“I thought he ran dynamite last time coming off that very long lay-off,” said the 40-year-old trainer. “If he improves a little bit off of that, I think he’ll have a good shot. He still has that same competitive spirit.”
O’Neill, explaining the decision to ship Thor’s Echo back to New York, added, “We thought that since he’s proven on dirt we would keep him in dirt preps so he could have some momentum going in to the Breeders’ Cup."
Like Thor's Echo, Black Seventeen makes his second race following a lengthy absence. Winner of the grade II Carry Back at Calder in July 2007 for trainer Brian Koriner, the 4-year-old Is It True colt returned from an ankle problem June 14 to run second in the Oakland Stakes at Golden Gate Fields. Black Seventeen flourished as a sprinter after his eight-place finish in the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) convinced his connections to abandon their Triple Crown hopes.
Abraaj, who ran eighth in last year's Vanderbilt, comes into the race this time off a strong third-place challenge in the True North, beaten by only a half-length. Kiaran McLaughlin trains the 5-year-old Carson City horse for Shadwell.
Bobby Frankel is represented by Juddmonte Farms' First Defence, who tallied his first graded victory in Belmont's Jaipur (gr. III) last time out.
$250,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap (gr. II, Race 8, 4:43 p.m.), 3 & Up, 6 Furlongs
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Thor's Echo (CA), 118, Corey S. Nakatani
2. First Defence (KY), 116, Javier Castellano
3. Black Seventeen (FL), 116, Aaron T. Gryder
4. Sammarco (KY), 112, Channing Hill
5. Abraaj (KY), 115, Alan Garcia
6. Bustin Stones (NY), 118, Edgar S. Prado
7. E Z Warrior (KY), 115, Kent J. Desormeaux