San Pablo faces graded stakes company for the first time in the Excelsior Stakes at Aqueduct.

San Pablo faces graded stakes company for the first time in the Excelsior Stakes at Aqueduct.

Coglianese Photos

Excelsior Comes Up Small But Competitive

Field of six includes last year's winner Inherit the Gold and Redding Colliery.

Burning Sands Stable’s San Pablo  has been nearly flawless for more than a year, and now he will try to take his game to the next level in the $150,000 Excelsior Stakes (gr. III) March 17 at Aqueduct.

The 4-year-old son of Jump Start  has won six of his past eight starts dating back to February 2011, both of the losses coming by narrow margins. He will now face graded stakes company for the first time in the 1 1/8-mile event. Five challengers are set to go, including two-time graded winner Redding Colliery, Brooklyn Handicap (gr. II) winner Birdrun , and defending Excelsior titleholder Inherit the Gold. It’s the final stakes race on the inner dirt before racing returns to the main track March 21.
Post time for the feature on Aqueduct’s 10-race card is slated for 4:52 p.m. EDT.
Trained by Todd Pletcher, San Pablo has started his last four races at Aqueduct in either optional claiming company or minor stakes. He won the first three, with his lone setback coming by a nose last out in the one-mile As Indicated Stakes on Feb. 18. Marilyn's Guy beat him that day, and he is also back for the Excelsior.
Based at Belmont, San Pablo will be stretching out to nine furlongs for the first time. Cornelio Velasquez will have the mount again on the 2-1 morning-line favorite.
“He’s going to go to the lead, obviously,” said Whit Beckman, assistant to Pletcher. “If he doesn’t have to put up with too much on the lead, he’s perfectly capable of running a big race. Hopefully, he’ll get the kind of scenario he likes.”
Mrs. Fitriani Hay’s Redding Colliery won in his 6-year-old debut Jan. 28 at Aqueduct when scoring by two lengths in the Evening Attire Stakes. The son of Mineshaft  was making just his second start in nearly a year after he missed most of 2011 with an injury.
Trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, Redding Colliery tallied both of his biggest wins in 2010 when he was victorious in the Hawthorne Gold Cup (gr. II) and the Lone Star Park Handicap (gr. III). He was also runner-up in the grade I Clark Handicap that same year. Overall, the gray/roan horse is 7-3-3 from 20 career starts and earnings of $759,385. Alan Garcia will ride and break from post 1.
“He’s acting a little speedy this year,” said Art Magnuson, assistant to McLaughlin. “We gave him a little blowout (March 14), three furlongs in :35 and change, just to stretch his legs. We expect he’ll be forwardly placed; we’ll leave it up to Alan.”
Preston Stables’ Birdrun will carry top weight of 123 pounds thanks to his Brooklyn Handicap win last summer at Belmont. This will be the season debut for the 6-year-old Birdstone  horse. He ended 2011 with a win (placed first through disqualification) in the Greenwood Cup at Parx Racing and a runner-up finish in the Breeders’ Cup Marathon (gr. II) at Churchill Downs.
Birdrun has spent the winter at Payson Park in South Florida for trainer Bill Mott. He had his last work on March 6 before shipping to New York for his second lifetime start at Aqueduct. Junior Alvarado will have the call for the first time.
“He looks fantastic,” said Leana Willaford, Mott’s assistant. “He came in Monday morning and I’ve had him on the track for two days. This race is a good place for him to start off the year.”
Glas-Tipp Stable and Susanne Hooper’s Inherit the Gold romped by more than six lengths in the 2011 Excelsior, which was his first stakes victory in open company. The New York-bred son of Gold Token has raced his entire career in the Empire State, winning nine of 22 starts at varying distances for earnings of $427,685. His last five starts have come at Aqueduct, which netted him two wins and two seconds.          
Most recently, Inherit the Gold finished second as the favorite in a restricted stakes on Feb. 12, having opened 2012 with a 6 1/4-length triumph in the Jan. 22 Haynesfield Stakes.
“I don’t see a lot of difference between him this year and last year,” said trainer Jim Hooper. “He still seems to enjoy what he’s doing, and I’m sure on Saturday he’ll come with his game face on.”
Completing the field is Norman Asbjornson, winner of an optional claimer at Parx Racing on Jan. 28.

$150,000 Excelsior Stakes (gr. III, Race 9, 4:52 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 1/8 Miles (Inner dirt)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer, Odds
1. Redding Colliery (KY), A Garcia, 119, K P McLaughlin, 5-2
2. Birdrun (FL), J Alvarado, 123, W I Mott, 5-1
3. Inherit the Gold (NY), E Castro, 119, J Hooper, 6-1
4. San Pablo (KY), C H Velasquez, 119, T A Pletcher, 2-1
5. Marilyn's Guy (KY), C C Lopez, 119, A W Dutrow, 3-1
6. Norman Asbjornson (PA), J D Acosta, 119, C W Grove, 15-1