Unbeaten Cluster of Stars Heads Distaff

Unbeaten Cluster of Stars Heads Distaff
Photo: Coglianese Photos/Joe Labozztta
Cluster of Stars (inside) won the Correction Stakes by a head on Feb. 2.
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Turtle Bird Stable’s Cluster of Stars will put her four-race unbeaten record on the line when she makes her graded stakes debut April 13 in the $200,000 Distaff Handicap (gr. II). The six-furlong race for fillies and mares serves as the final graded stakes of the 2012-13 Aqueduct Racetrack meet.

Cluster of Stars, trained by Steve Asmussen, has raced exclusively at six furlongs on Aqueduct’s inner track. The Distaff will be her first start on the main track.

The daughter of Greeley's Galaxy made her debut Feb. 12, 2012, airing by 5 1/2 lengths. She returned 11 months later, winning a New York-bred allowance/optional claimer by 6 1/4 lengths in January and then out-finishing eight-time stakes winner Nicole H to take the Correction Stakes by a head Feb. 2.

The 4-year-old found a cozy spot last time out, running away to a 9 1/4-length score under a hand ride in an allowance/optional claimer March 14.

Junior Alvarado will ride Cluster of Stars for the first time against six rivals in the Distaff while toting 117 pounds. She’ll depart from post position 4 as the even-money favorite on the morning line.

After winning the Carter Handicap (gr. I) April 6 on with Swagger Jack, trainer Marty Wolfson will attempt to add another Aqueduct stakes win when he sends out 119-pound highweight Spectacular Sky and Nakano in the Distaff.

Farnsworth Stables’ Spectacular Sky picked up her third stakes triumph when she set the pace and held on to take the Manatee Stakes by a neck in February at Tampa Bay Downs. Her attempt to win her first graded stakes fell three lengths short when she was runner-up in the Inside Information Stakes (gr. II)  March 17 at Gulfstream Park.

“Last time she had the No. 1 post, and it’s almost impossible to win from that post when you’re going seven-eighths at Gulfstream Park,” said Wolfson. “(Jockey Joel) Rosario broke her sharply and she was able to get to the lead before Aubby K collared her near the quarter pole. Aubby K is a nice filly who had a little better trip than we did that day.”

Thoroughbred Futures Racing’s Nakano, who also seeks her first graded stakes score, rallied from ninth to finish fourth, beaten 5 1/4 lengths, in the Inside Information.

“She’s been closing very well, and we’re hoping she gets a realistic pace to run into,” said Wolfson. “She also runs a little better when she’s on the outside.”

Both Wolfson runners drew inside posts in the Distaff, with Spectacular Sky, 5-2, to leave from post 2 under Luis Saez and Nakano, 6-1, to depart from post 3 under Alex Solis.

Darley homebred Villanesca will take a big step up in class as she enters the Distaff off a 1 3/4-length victory in a six-furlong allowance/optional claimer March 1. She is 3-0-0 in six starts, with all three of her wins coming at 6 or 6 1/2 furlongs. A last-of-four finish in the 1 1/8-mile Ladies Handicap on New Year’s Day preceded her most recent score.

“She has a history of running well, then average, and then well,” said Arthur Magnuson, assistant to trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. “She has a little time between (the March 1 race and the Distaff), and we’re concentrating more on one-turn races. It’d be great if the race was a little longer, but we’re trying to not be too smart. We’ve thought for sure she wanted to stretch out, but we’ve been wrong a couple of times. She wants to run a little shorter as a come-from-behind sprinter. We tried freshening her and cutting her back in distance, and it worked.”

Irad Ortiz, Jr. will ride Villanesca, 8-1, from post 7.

$200,000 Distaff Handicap (gr. III, race 8, 4:22 p.m.), 3-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, 6 furlongs

PP, Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer, Odds
1, Hearts of Red, C. Velasquez, 115, R.Nicks, 20-1
2, Spectacular Sky, L. Saez, 119, M. Wolfson, 5-2
3, Nakano, A. Solis, 116, M.Wolfson, 6-1
4, Cluster of Stars, J. Alvarado, 117, S. Asmussen, Even
5, Los Ojitos, R. Maragh, 114, N. Canani, 12-1
6, Miss d’Oro, J.Lezcano, 114, J. Servis, 15-1
7, Villanesca, I.Ortiz Jr. , 114, K. McLaughlin, 8-1

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