A field of seven sophomores was entered for the $150,000 Count Fleet Stakes Jan. 7 at Aqueduct, the first of a trio of 3-year-old races leading up to the $1 million Wood Memorial (gr. I) on April 7.
On Feb. 4 Aqueduct will offer the $200,000 Withers (gr. III) at 1 1/16 miles, followed by the $400,000 Gotham (gr. III), also at 1 1/16 miles, on March 3. Though the one mile and 70-yard Count Fleet is ungraded, it includes some promising horses that could make an impact on the Triple Crown trail.
“I think a $150,000 race puts you on the map, and this is a race that can be a stepping stone,” said Art Magnuson, assistant to trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, whose Alpha is the 4-5 morning-line favorite in the Count Fleet. “We do think about the future with Alpha, and hope he’s a Derby-type horse.”
A six-length winner of his debut going seven furlongs at Saratoga on Sept. 3, the son of Bernardini next finished second to Union Rags in the Champagne (gr. I), but was never a factor when finishing 11th behind Hansen and Union Rags in the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) at Churchill Downs.
Sent to Florida following the Breeders’ Cup, Alpha returned to the work tab at Palm Meadows in December, and most recently zipped four furlongs in a bullet :47 4/5 Jan. 2 over Belmont Park’s training track.
“We sent him to New York last Wednesday, and he worked very well this morning,” said McLaughlin of the Godolphin Stable color-bearer, who will run on Lasix for the first time Saturday. “We have several 3-year-olds we think highly of, including Alpha and Consortium and some others who haven’t started yet, and we’re trying to split them up. We have had great success in New York with our runners during the winter. At the Breeders’ Cup, he lost it in the gate, and we’re hoping he will step up off that effort. He’s a nice horse.”
Ramon Dominguez, who won his third consecutive NYRA riding title in 2011 and led the nation in earnings for the second straight year, has the mount on Alpha from post 5.
Trainer Graham Motion, who took last year’s Wood Memorial with Toby’s Corner, is represented by Stephanoatsee, who was seventh, beaten 4 1/4 lengths, by O’Prado Again in Aqueduct’s Remsen (gr. II) on Nov. 26.
“He wasn’t beaten very far and the race was a big step up for him,” said Motion. “He ran well, and I thought it was an oddly run race. They went slow early and he had to made to make up ground in the stretch. I thought it was not that bad of a race from him. He’s a lovely horse, a great big horse, and he’s still coming into his own.”
The son of A.P. Indy, a half-brother to Preakness winner Shackleford owned by My Meadowview Farms, will leave from post 4 with Junior Alvarado aboard.
Like Alpha, Shkspeare Shaliya had a disappointing outing in the Breeders’ Cup, making a belated run to finish ninth, beaten 6 1/2 lengths in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (gr. IT). Prior to that the son of Shakespeare, out of the Clever Trick mare Tricky Mistress, took the Pilgrim (gr. IIIT) at Belmont Park on Oct. 2 on the heels of his maiden victory, also on turf, on Sept. 18.
“I have been wanting to try this horse on dirt,” said trainer Doodnauth Shivmangal. “I’m an Aqueduct person and I am a New Yorker; on top of that, he has a good turn of foot, and has Clever Trick in his breeding, which is why I chose this spot. The distance is a little short for him, but my whole dream is to give him a shot and see what he can do on dirt.”
Shkspeare Shaliya is the highweight at 122 pounds.
Repole Stable’s How Do I Win will be going for his third straight victory as he makes his stakes debut in the Count Fleet. A 17 1/2-length maiden winner on Oct. 19 in his fourth start, the gray son of Corinthian next won a starter handicap by three lengths at Aqueduct on Nov. 18, both at six furlongs.
“He’s done well in his races at six furlongs, but I don’t think a mile (and 70 yards) will be any problem for him,” said Whit Beckman, assistant to trainer Todd Pletcher. “He’s still developing; you could see in his last race he was a little green, but he’s improving mentally.”
Cornelio Velasquez will ride How Do I Win from post 2.
$150,000 Count Fleet (Race 8, 3:37 p.m.), 3YO, 1 Mile, 70 Yards (Dirt) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer, Odds 1. Il Villano (KY), J L Flores, 120, S L Crowell, 4-1
2. How Do I Win (KY), C H Velasquez, 116, T A Pletcher, 12-1
3. Whistleblower (FL), A Smith, 116, K G McPeek, 20-1
4. Stephanoatsee (KY), J Alvarado, 116, H G Motion, 6-1
5. Alpha (KY), R A Dominguez, 116, K P McLaughlin, 4-5
6. Speightscity (KY), D Cohen, 118, G C Contessa, 8-1
7. Shkspeare Shaliyah (FL), J Valdivia Jr., 122, D Shivmangal, 10-1