Benefiting from a patient ride, Head Heart Hoof took control leaving the turn and held off a tenacious rally by Johannesburg Smile to win the 120th renewal of the $150,000 Toboggan Handicap (gr. III) at Aqueduct Racetrack Feb. 2 (VIDEO).
A durable campaigner making his 50th career start, Head Heart Hoof was settled comfortably into second by Cornelio Velasquez as 9-1 shot P J's Magical Wink took the six-horse field through the first quarter mile in :22.95. Roused by Velasquez rounding the turn, Head Heart Hoof collared P J's Magical Wink at the quarter pole in :46.44 and opened up a two-length lead in the stretch.
Repole Stable's Johannesburg Smile, making his first start for the Todd Pletcher barn after being claimed for $100,000 in a Jan. 4 victory at Aqueduct, unleashed a strong closing kick under Javier Castellano but the effort came up a half-length short.
The final time for six furlongs was 1:09.86.
Head Heart Hoof returned $6.10,$3.70, and $2.50 as the second choice, with favored Johannesburg Smile worth $3.60 and $2.70. Sinai, 1 1/2 lengths farther back in third, paid $4.30 with David Cohen aboard. The exacta paid $21.80 and the trifecta $73. P J's Magical Wink held fourth, followed by Isn't He Perfect and Mine Over Matter, who leaped at the start and trailed throughout.
The Toboggan marked the first stakes triumph for Head Heart Hoof, a 6-year-old gelded son of Intidab —Trustees Gray (by Flying Chevron). Previously, he had finished second in the Hollie Hughes Stakes for New York-breds and third in the Valley Forge Stakes at Parx Racing at the conclusion of 2012. He also set an Aqueduct track record of 1:03.5 for five furlongs.
Bred in New York by Rhapsody Farm, Alan Alcon, and Dora Alcon, Head Heart Hoof improved to 18-7-3 from 50 starts and increased his bankroll to $470,176. He is trained by Rudy Rodriguez for Michael Dubb, Stuart Grant, and Gary Alsquith after being claimed for $35,000 while finishing second in an allowance/optional claiming race at Aqueduct in January 2012.
"He loves the inner track, so I think that's why he's running this good right now," Rodriguez said. "We're not doing too much to him. He's sound, he's whole, he's game. Right now I think he's peaking, so hopefully he'll keep doing that.
"(Johannesburg Smile) is a very nice horse, but we got lucky. Cornelio did a good job letting Channing (Hill, aboard No. 4 P J's Magical Wink) run his race, and he was able to control the pace on the outside. When (Velasquez) asked (Head Heart Hoof), he gave him what he got. He got the jump on (Johannesburg Smile), and I think that's what got us to the wire."
"(P J's Magical Wink) has a lot of speed, so I stayed close," Velasquez said. "I had a lot of horse. (Johannesburg Smile) is a good horse, but I think with more distance, maybe seven-eighths, he's a better horse. My horse is in the best condition now, and he finished good."
"At the time we claimed him, I thought he'd be a useful two-other-than type of horse, but I had hopes, especially in the wintertime," said co-owner Dubb. "We ran him back, and he ran second in a stake race off the claim, but came back after that and didn't run great. We gave him some time, and had him at Laurel, Delaware, and Monmouth and he wasn't doing what I wanted. I said, 'He's an Aqueduct horse, let's get him home to Aqueduct.' I sent him to Rudy, and he's getting better all the time. I'm just thrilled with him."