At age 6, Nicole H will try to become the first mare to post three consecutive victories in the $75,000 Interborough Handicap. She faces seven other fillies and mares in the six-furlong event at Aqueduct Racetrack on New Year's Day.
In 2011, Nicole H celebrated her 4th birthday with a 2 1/2-length Interborough victory over Meese Rocks. She kicked off her 5-year-old campaign this year with a neck victory over Winning Image. Since 1921, only five other horses have won back-to-back runnings of the Interborough, including champions Ta Wee (1969-70) and Affectionately (1963-64), both of whom won at ages 3 and 4.
"I don't think Nicole H has lost a step at all," said trainer Mike Hushion of the Mr. Greeley mare, who heads into the Interborough off a pair of stakes wins at Delaware Park and Penn National. "She's got sturdy legs and the mind to go with it. Her last two races, she was just cruising."
Those victories brought Nicole H's 2012 record to 4-4-0 from 11 starts; overall she is 9-10-2 from 27 career starts including victories in the Distaff Handicap (gr. II) in 2011, the 2012 Correction, and the 2010 Garland of Roses Handicap, all at the Big A.
Owned by Gem Inc., Nicole H has been assigned high weight of 123 pounds, including leading rider Ramon Dominguez, as she leaves from post position 2 as the 4-5 favorite on the morning line.
Among those looking to end Nicole H's Interborough streak is Singlet, who closed out her 3-year-old campaign with a 1 1/4-length upset of Kid Kate in the Dec. 1 Garland of Roses, her third victory in four starts at the Big A.
"She did so well last winter at Aqueduct, we left her up there after the Garland of Roses," said Tony Dutrow, who trains Singlet for Michael Dubb. "She's doing tremendous, and I couldn't be happier with her. She's got a steep hill to climb in that she'll be facing older horses for the first time, so she's got a lot to prove. But she is at the top of her game and she is ready to run her very best race."
At 5-1 on the morning line, Singlet drew post position 8 with Mike Luzzi aboard.
Mildly Offensive, who won a stakes for trainer Carla Gaines at Santa Anita Park earlier in her career, was purchased by WinStar Farm this summer and was transferred to trainer Todd Pletcher. Following the move, she won the restricted Big Bambu in August at Saratoga Race Course, finished last of four in the Valor Lady in October at Belmont Park, and was second in the Nov. 15 Pentelis at Aqueduct.
"She's always trained well, and we're looking to knock down a couple of stakes with her this winter," said Michael McCarthy, assistant to Pletcher.
Carded as race eight with an approximate post time of 3:48 p.m. EST, the Interborough is one of two stakes on the Jan. 1 holiday card, along with the 141st running of the $75,000 Ladies Handicap (Race 3, 1:26 p.m.). The New York Racing Association will also hold its annual calendar promotion, in which racing fans can purchase and redeem $2 coupons for the calendar which features photos of many of the best horses who competed at NYRA's tracks in 2012.
In the Ladies' Handicap, Carolyn Wilson's Arena Elvira will attempt to regain the winning form she maintained from August 2011 through March 2012. During that span, she captured five straight stakes, including a pair graded victories.
After finishing third, beaten 11 lengths, in the Sixty Sails Handicap (gr. III) in April at Hawthorne Race Course, Arena Elvira went to the sidelines for six months. She was sixth in her return, the Turnback the Alarm (gr. III) in October at Belmont, then was fourth in the Nov. 22 Falls City Handicap (gr. II) at Churchill Downs.
"In that first race back off the long layoff, I imagine she needed it," said Neil Poznansky, assistant to Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. "Judging off the way she has been training going into this one, I'm looking forward to a big effort. I get on her myself and I've been getting on her for a long time, and she's as good as I've ever seen her. I'd be surprised if she doesn't run well."
Arena Elvira, the 7-5 morning-line favorite, will depart from post 4 with Junior Alvarado aboard.
Villanesca, a daughter of 2004 Frizette (gr. I) heroine Balletto, will make her first stakes foray when she competes in the Ladies. A Darley homebred, Villanesca broke her maiden in her second start, a six-furlong sprint in September at Belmont, then was fourth in an optional claimer going one mile over the Big Sandy in October. In her most recent outing, she won a 6 1/2-furlong optional claimer by 2 1/2 lengths on Dec. 5 at Aqueduct.
"We think she is this kind of filly," said Art Magnuson, assistant to trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. "The timing is not what we envisioned, but we're going to play what's dealt to us. She's training very well, so we're going to run. To go from 6 1/2 (furlongs) to a mile and an eighth isn't ideal, but we're not going to worry too much about it. She ran a mile one time before, and she was a little speedy, ran into a good one, the timing wasn't all that great, and she didn't run as well as we hoped, but we think longer will be better for her."
The Ladies field also includes dual stakes winner R Gypsy Gold, Silver Prize, Smart Cash, and Dial Direct. Smart Cash and Dial Direct will be coupled in the wagering.
$75,000 Interborough Handicap (Race 8, approximate post 3:48 p.m. EST), fillies & mares 3YOs & Up, six furlongs (dirt)
PP., Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer, odds
1. Ms. Cruisen' (KY), J.C. Caraballo, 120, M C Aro, 12-1
2. Nicole H (KY), R.A. Dominguez, 123, M E Hushion, 4-5
3. Celtic Chant (KY), C.H. Velasquez, 116, C J Englehart, 30-1
4. Hot Roots (KY), J. Alvarado, 116, E Kenneally, 15-1
5. Silent Serenity (KY), I. Ortiz, Jr., 120, D Shivmangal, 15-1
6. Mildly Offensive (KY), R. Maragh, 120, T A Pletcher, 5-2
7. Singlet (FL), M.J. Luzzi, 120, A W Dutrow, 5-1
$75,000 Ladies' Handicap (Race 3, approximate post 1:26 p.m. EST), fillies & mares 3YOs & Up, 1 1/8 miles (dirt)
PP, Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer, Odds
1. Silver Prize (NY), J.L. Ortiz, 112, J M Antonucci, 20-1
2. Villanesca (KY), E. Castro, 114, K P McLaughlin, 5-2
3. R Gypsy Gold (KY), R.A Dominguez, 115, T A Pletcher, 8-5
4. Arena Elvira (KY), J. Alvarado, 120, W I Mott, 7-5
5a. Smart Cash (KY), I. Ortiz Jr., 113, J Corrales, 15-1
6a. Dial Direct (KY), K McManigell, 112, J Corrales, 15-1
a - Coupled Entries: Smart Cash, Dial Direct