There is no disputing the fact that Eightyfiveinafifty is fast, but the colt will get a chance to show how far he can carry his speed when he faces five 3-year-olds in the $100,000 Whirlaway Stakes Feb. 6 at Aqueduct.
Having sprinted to a 17 1/4-length victory at Aqueduct Jan. 9, Eightyfiveinafifty stretches out from six furlongs to 1 1/16 miles around two turns of the Big A’s inner track as his connections look for an answer to the burning question: Is he a Kentucky Derby (gr. I) horse?
“If it weren’t for thinking about the Kentucky Derby, this is probably not the road I would have taken with him,” said Gary Contessa, who trains the son of Forest Camp out of the Unbridled's Song mare Lifeinthefastlane for a group led by Harold Lerner. “Going from a maiden win to facing stakes horses around two turns is a lot to ask. But the Derby is three months away, and with a horse this fast, this is the direction we’ve had to choose.”
Eightyfiveinafifty, whose name was picked by Contessa on the basis of the then-unraced colt’s training, earned a 105 Beyer Speed Figure in his maiden score, his second start after having finished third to next-out grade I winner Dublin in his debut at Saratoga in August. The 105 Beyer is the highest of any 3-year-old this year.
Contessa, New York’s leading trainer the past four years, had planned to take Eightyfiveinafifty to Florida for the winter, but the colt suffered an injury and remained at Aqueduct, where he will try to take the New York road to Louisville via the Gotham Stakes (gr. III) March 6 and the Wood Memorial April 3 (gr. I).
“No doubt he’s the most talented horse I’ve ever trained,” said Contessa. “In the morning, he gives me every indication he’s a two-turn horse. But you just never know. I’ve read all the blogs, all the handicappers, all the geniuses, and half of them think he can do it, and half say, 'No way.' "
With just the one victory, Eightyfiveinafifty will carry 116 pounds, including Jorge Chavez, as he breaks from post 2 as the 2-5 morning-line favorite against his more seasoned rivals.
Among those are Priscilla Graham’s Turf Melody, a stakes-winning bay son of Maria's Mon who will be making the ninth start of his career—at the ninth different track—in the Whirlaway. Trained by Graham Motion, Turf Melody closed out his juvenile campaign with a come-from-behind victory in the Springboard Mile Stakes at Remington Park, then finished a disappointing sixth in the LeComte at Fair Grounds (gr. III) Jan. 23.
“He’s coming back fairly quickly, but I don’t feel as if he got to run his race at the Fair Grounds,” said Motion. “Turning for home, he was flat. Maybe at the end of the day he’s not good enough, but he’s got to answer the question of whether he belongs with these kind of horses.”
Carrying 122 pounds, Turf Melody drew the rail and will be ridden by Rosie Napravnik.
Another stakes winner in the field is Phillip Messina’s Peppi Knows, who followed his victory in the Finger Lakes Juvenile with a solid second to the highly-regarded Buddy’s Saint in the Remsen (gr. II) at 1 1/8 miles Nov. 28 at Aqueduct. The gelding by Stephen Got Even drew post 3 and will carry 120 pounds, including Richard Migliore.
Starlight Partners’ Three Day Rush, a Todd Pletcher trainee, comes into the Whirlaway off a hard-fought allowance victory going six furlongs at Gulfstream Park Jan. 9. The son of Harlan's Holiday took the NATC Futurity at Monmouth Park last summer, and then tired to finish fifth in the one mile Iroquois (gr. III) at Churchill Downs in his next start. David Cohen rides the colt.
Wachtel Stable’s Papa's Nice Cat makes his first start in open company in the Whirlaway. Trained by Chris Englehart and ridden by Mike Luzzi, the son of One Nice Cat finished a solid second around two turns at Aqueduct in his final start of 2009.
Supplemented to the race is Cash is King Stable’s Afleet Again. Trained by Robert Reid, the son of Afleet Alex launched his 3-year-old campaign with a fifth-place finish in the Count Fleet Stakes Jan. 2, then came back to win an allowance at Philadelphia Park at the Count Fleet two weeks later.
The Whirlaway will go as race 3 and is scheduled for a 1:26 p.m. EST post.
$100,000 Whirlaway (Race 3, 1:26 p.m.), 3YO, 1 1/16 Miles (Inner Track) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer 1. Turf Melody (KY), A R Napravnik, 122, H G Motion
2. Eightyfiveinafifty (KY), J F Chavez, 116, G C Contessa
3. Peppi Knows (KY), R Migliore, 120, T C Kreiser
4. Afleet Again (KY), A Serpa, 118, R E Reid, Jr.
5. Three Day Rush (KY), D Cohen, 120, T A Pletcher
6. Papa's Nice Cat (NY), M J Luzzi, 116, C J Englehart