Todd Pletcher and Derek Ryan-trained colts Eskendereya and Schoolyard Dreams will draw most of the headlines when they do battle in the Wood Memorial (gr. I) April 3, but the trainers will also square off in another major grade I race earlier on the Aqueduct card, this one for sprinters in the $250,000 Carter Handicap (gr. I).
Pletcher will saddle three-time grade II winner Munnings in the seven-furlong Carter, while Ryan will send out Musket Man, a two-time graded stakes winner and third in last year’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and Preakness Stakes (gr. I). A rock-solid cast of six is scheduled to go to post in the Carter, which is one of four graded stakes on the Aqueduct program.
Susan Mangier, Michael Tabor, and Derrick Smith’s Munnings is the one to beat, especially considering all three of his grade II wins have come at the seven-furlong Carter distance. The 4-year-old son of Speightstown won the Woody Stephens Stakes and Tom Fool Handicap (both gr. II) last season, and opened his 2010 campaign with a one-length victory in the Gulfstream Park Sprint Championship Stakes (gr. II) Feb. 13.
Munnings, bred in Kentucky by Dan Tayloe and Glencrest Farm, has hit the board in all but one of his 11 starts, four of them wins. An earner of $707,240, he will look for that elusive grade I win after placing five times that company. John Velazquez will ride and they will break from post 6. The probable favorite will carry top weight of 119 pounds.
Eric Fein’s Musket Man scored the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. III) and Illinois Derby (gr. II) a year ago on his way to solid Kentucky Derby and Preakness showings. The Yonaguska colt was shut down for the season after the Preakness and returned Feb. 6 at Tampa Bay Downs when winning the Super Stakes in his 4-year-old debut.
“He did what they said he couldn’t do – twice,” said Ryan of Musket Man's two classic efforts. “I think a mile is his best distance, but he’s such a classy horse you can train him to go long and he’ll do it if he has to.”
Musket Man has produced a 6-0-3 record from nine starts and earnings of $923,600. In his only other start in New York, the dark bay colt broke his maiden by 3 1/2 lengths at Belmont Park. Ramon Dominguez will ride for the first time.
Darley Stable’s Elusive Warning won the Muhtathir Burj Nahaar Stakes (UAE-III) at Nad al Sheba in 2008. He missed the entire 2009 season and returned in the Gulfstream Park Turf Sprint when finishing fourth Jan. 9. Most recently, Elusive Warning was a well-beaten fourth to Wall Street Wonder in the Toboggan (gr. III) March 6 at Aqueduct.
A. Stevens Miles Jr.’s Warrior’s Reward had his biggest payday when taking runner-up in the Jim Dandy (gr. II) at Saratoga last year. He enters the race off an optional claiming victory at Gulfstream last month.
“He’s ready, and I think he’ll be a great seven-eighths to a mile horse,” trainer Ian Wilkes said. “I think we’ll have a lot of fun with him this year.”
Maryland-bred Digger was runner-up in the General George Handicap (gr. II) at Laurel Park Feb. 15 for trainer Bruce Brown. The hard-knocking 6-year-old has won 13 of 33 career starts including five stakes. He won the Gravesend Handicap on the Aqueduct inner track in December.
$250,000 Carter Handicap (gr. I, Race 10, 5:45 p.m.), 3YO and Up, 7 Furlongs (Dirt) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Warrior's Reward (KY), J R Leparoux, 116, I R Wilkes
2. Digger (MD), M J Luzzi, 114, B R Brown
3. Elusive Warning (KY), R Migliore, 114, K P McLaughlin
4. Musket Man (KY), R A Dominguez, 118, D S Ryan
5. Driven by Success (NY), D Cohen, 114, T A Pletcher
6. Munnings (KY), J R Velazquez, 119, T A Pletcher