Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito still hasn’t fully gotten over Morning Line ’s loss in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I) at Churchill Downs Nov. 6.
Morning Line , by Tiznow , turned back his early challengers in a punishing pace battle and then opened up a clear lead in the stretch before Dakota Phone ran him down on the outside to win by a head.
The heartbreaking defeat began a three-race pattern in which Morning Line did all the work up front only to be overtaken by a stretch runner in the final stages. Zito hopes that frustrating streak ends Saturday, April 9, when Morning Line, the 5-2 morning line favorite, takes on 11 others in the $250,000 Carter Handicap (gr. I) at Aqueduct.
The seven-furlong event for 3-year-olds and up is set to go as race 9 at 5:15 p.m. EDT.
“That Breeders’ Cup Mile was insane,” said Zito, who trains Morning Line for Zabeel Racing and Thoroughbred Legends Racing Stable. “That other horse that won (Dakota Phone) ran the best race of his life. I am frustrated. We did all the running.”
After a two-month rest for the Breeders’ Cup Mile, Morning Line returned to the races in the one mile Hal’s Hope (gr. III) at Gulfstream Park and finished third after making the pace. He followed that with a strong runner-up performance in the Donn Handicap (gr. I) in February.
For the Carter, Morning Line worked a half-mile in :47 2/5 March 31 at Gulfstream.
Morning Line’s biggest threat might come from another horse shipping north from Florida. Apriority, by Grand Slam, has been on a tear since transferring into the barn of trainer David Fawkes.
After losing the Sunshine Millions Sprint by a head in January, Apriority returned March 5 in an optional-claiming race and came close to equaling the Gulfstream Park record for 6 1/2-furlongs. He earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 113.
In 11 starts, Apriority, a Donald Dizney Florida homebred, has never faced graded company, and Fawkes considers the Carter his acid test.
“It’s a huge step,” Fawkes said. “If you watch the Sunshine Millions race it looks like he lost his footing on the backside a little bit. It cost him; I know it did.”
Trainer Todd Pletcher entered two for owner Mike Repole, whose champion Uncle Mo will contest the featured Resorts World New York Casino Wood Memorial (gr. I) that day at Aqueduct. Pletcher's entry is led by Calibrachoa, a $40,000 claim last November who has since reeled off consecutive victories in three New York stakes. Calibrachoa won the Gravesend in December, the Toboggan (gr. III) in January, and the Tom Fool (gr. III) March 5.
To ensure a fast pace, Pletcher also has entered the speedster Have You Ever.
“The Carter is obviously a tougher assignment than what he’s been in,” Pletcher said of Calibrachoa, who has rallied strongly from off the pace in his three stakes wins. “A lot of high-quality horses are shipping in. It’s the logical next step based on what he’s been doing.”
Also figuring to receive support is Vincent Scuderi’s Laysh Laysh Laysh, who finished a fast closing second, beaten a neck, in the General George (gr. II) at Laurel in February.
$250,000 Carter Handicap (gr. I, Race 9, 5:15) 3 YO and Up, Seven Furlongs (Dirt)
Post. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer, Odds
1. More Than a Reason E Castro 112 R Persaud 50-1
2. Laysh Laysh Laysh C Velasquez 114 R Dutrow 8-1
3. Kensei E Prado 116 S Asmussen 8-1
4. Be Bullish J Alvarado 115 R Dutrow 15-1
5. Yawanna Twist M Luzzi 115 R Dutrow 12-1
6. Apriority L Saez 116 D Fawkes 7-2
7. Independence War D Cohen 114 R Preciado 30-1
8. Sunrise Smarty C C Lopez 112 M Hushion 15-1
9. Calibrachoa R Dominguez 118 T Pletcher 3-1
10. Morning Line J Velazquez 119 N Zito 5-2
11. Have You Ever V Santiago 112 T Pletcher 3-1
12. Fastus Cactus J Espinoza 113 N Chatterpaul 30-1
Coupled: Calibrachoa and Have You Ever