A field of only five older horses will go in the 1 1/8-mile Excelsior, which is the first graded race of the season over Aqueduct’s main track. Post time is slated for 5:15 p.m. EDT.
Inherit the Gold was undefeated in four starts over Aqueduct’s inner track this winter and looks to transfer that form to the main track as he steps into graded stakes company for the first time in his career. Most recently, the son of Gold Token drew clear to post a two-length victory over fellow statebreds in the Kings Point at Aqueduct March 12.
Trainer Jim Hooper said after the Kings Point that he hoped to make the Excelsior with Inherit the Gold, but was unsure whether the gelding would be ready to run back just three weeks after earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 100 in the 1 1/8-mile race.
“My number one concern is always what’s best for the horse,” said Hooper, who trains Inherit the Gold for Glas-Tipp Stable and Susanne Hooper. “But he came around and he wants to race right now. He’s one of the most intelligent horses I’ve ever been around, and if you watch him carefully, he pretty much tells you what he wants to do.”
While Inherit the Gold excelled over the inner track this winter, easily winning an overnight stakes and two optional claimers in his three races prior to the Kings Point, Hooper doesn’t believe the surface switch will negatively affect the 5-year-old gelding.
“I’ve always said the main issue is (keeping him around) two turns,” said Hooper. “I think he’ll run on any track.”
Eddie Castro, who guided Inherit the Gold to all of his inner track triumphs this winter, retains the mount.
Paul Pompa’s Understatement raced most recently in a second-level optional claimer over the inner track Jan. 23, losing by a head to Marilyn’s Guy and earning a Beyer of 101 in the process. A 6-year-old son of Distorted Humor, Understatement turned in a pair of sharp efforts during last year’s inner track meet, including a 4 1/2-length romp in the Evening Attire Stakes, for which he was given a Beyer of 115.
“He runs well off a layoff and is training really well,” said Jonathan Thomas, Pletcher’s assistant. “His natural aptitude is to make the lead and kind of run them into the ground, but he is capable of laying off of a horse. Whatever needs to be done, he’s capable of doing. This year he’s run some very good races in defeat; last time he just got nipped by Marilyn’s Guy who was beaten a half-length in a stakes at Laurel over the weekend.
Modern Cowboy, a Tiznow colt campaigned by Green Hills Farm, capitalized on a front-end duel and took command in the stretch to win the one-mile Bald Eagle overnight stakes over the inner track by four lengths Jan. 29, then was briefly sidelined.
“He had a minor foot issue, but timing-wise it kind of knocked us off course,” Thomas said. “He’s had a real good, steady series of works and he’s training well. His work Sunday was textbook for him, he did it well, and it should set him up nicely.”
David Cohen will ride Understatement, the morning line's 5-2 third choice, from the rail, while Ramon Dominguez has the call on Modern Cowboy, second choice on the morning line at 2-1.
Stymie winner Goombada Guska will make his first start for new trainer Steve Asmussen in the Excelsior. He was privately purchased by Turtle Bird Stable after his half-length victory in the 1 1/8-mile race for previous trainer Scott Volk.
Completing the field is veteran More Than a Reason, who will make his 67th career start in the Excelsior. In the Stymie, Goombada Guska narrowly held off the 6-year-old son of More Than Ready, who commenced a four-wide rally into the stretch and was beaten just a half-length at the wire. More Than a Reason most recently visited the winner’s circle last Dec. 11 when he picked up his first graded stakes victory in the Queens County (gr. III).
$100,000 Excelsior (gr. III, Race 9, 5:15 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 1/8 Miles (Dirt) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer 1. Understatement (KY), D Cohen, 117, T A Pletcher
2. Inherit the Gold (NY), E Castro, 117, J Hooper
3. Goombada Guska (NJ), C H Velasquez, 117, S M Asmussen
4. More Than a Reason (KY), C Hill, 119, R Persaud
5. Modern Cowboy (KY), R A Dominguez, 117, T A Pletcher