Justwhistledixie, who is trying to regain the winning touch she had early in her sophomore season, takes on five fillies and mares all seeking their first graded stakes victory April 17 in the $150,000 Distaff Handicap (gr. II) at Aqueduct.
Owned by West Point Thoroughbreds and trained by Bill Mott, 4-year-old Justwhistledixie will be cutting back to seven furlongs for the first time since November, 2008 when she won the Love Affair Stakes at Aqueduct—her first of four straight stakes victories.
An easy winner of the Davona Dale (gr. II) and Bonnie Miss (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park in the winter of 2009, Justwhistledixie closed her 3-year-old campaign with runner-up efforts in the Acorn (gr. I) at Belmont Park and Top Flight Handicap (gr. II) at Aqueduct. The Dixie Union filly has raced twice this year, finishing fourth in both the El Encino (gr. II) over Santa Anita’s synthetic main track Jan. 17 and the Sabin (gr. III) back on conventional dirt at Gulfstream Feb. 27.
“She’s been a bit of a disappointment, but Bill has been happy with the way she has been working recently,” said Terry Finley, president of West Point Thoroughbreds, who owns Justwhistledixie in partnership with Lakland Farm. “We hope the change in scenery—going from Florida to New York—helps.”
Finley is encouraged by Justwhistledixie’s second-place finish behind Sara Louise over this surface in the 2009 Top Flight.
“You try to do everything you can to put them in a spot where they have already proven themselves,” said Finley.
Justwhistledixie, who was bred in Kentucky by Hermitage Farm, will be reunited with jockey Jose Lezcano. Assigned high weight of 119 pounds, the dark bay will break from the outside post.
Hour Glass, a 4-year-old from the Todd Pletcher barn, enters this spot off a smart 1 1/2-length victory in the restricted Wheel Turns Stakes over the inner track March 21. Two starts back she was denied by just a half-length when fourth as part of a six-horse blanket finish in the grade II Barbara Fritchie Handicap at Laurel Park Feb. 15.
“We were compromised by the pace in the Fritchie and by a speed-favoring track,” said Pletcher’s assistant Jonathan Thomas. “They set two track records that day. If they ran that race a few more times, we would have won a time or two.”
Owned by Mill House, Hour Glass has been taking it easy since capturing the Wheel Turns.
“It was by design,” said Thomas of the decision to keep the 4-year-old Petionville filly off the worktab. “She’s certainly a fit filly as she has been racing all winter.”
If needed, Hour Glass can show early zip from post 4 under regular rider David Cohen.
“She could be more tactical if she needs to be,” said Thomas. “We just think she’s best stalking the pace and coming with one run.”
Tar Heel Mom, conditioned by Stanley Hough, could improve her record over the Aqueduct main track to three wins from four starts. A four-length winner of the In Her Glory Stakes in November, the 5-year-old has placed in graded stakes in her last three starts, including a second to Warbling in the Inside Information (gr. II) at Gulfstream March 14. Leading rider Ramon Dominguez has the mount aboard Tar Heel Mom, who was installed as the 2-1 morning-line favorite.
Peachtree Stable’s Matchless Orinda, winner of the What a Summer Stakes at Belmont last June, also ships in from Florida for the Distaff. Trained by Marty Wolfson and ridden by John Velazquez, the 5-year-old cuts back in distance after leading in the stretch and giving way late to finish second in the one-mile Sabin.
$150,000 Distaff Handicap (gr. II, Race 9, 4:50 p.m.), Fillies & Mares 3 & Up, 7 Furlongs (Dirt) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Strut the Canary (KY), M Franklin, 114, T J Tullock, Jr.
2. Thunders Dove (KY), C H Velasquez, 115, N P Zito
3. Tar Heel Mom (KY), R A Dominguez, 117, S M Hough
4. Hour Glass (KY), D Cohen, 116, T A Pletcher
5. Matchless Orinda (KY), J R Velazquez, 116, M D Wolfson
6. Justwhistledixie (KY), J Lezcano, 119, W I Mott