Shadwell Stable’s Lucky Island, who reeled off four consecutive victories in the first half of 2008 before faltering, looks to start his season on a winning note when taking on eight sprinters in the $100,000 Toboggan Handicap (gr. III) March 7 on Aqueduct’s inner track.
The six-furlong Toboggan is the first of two graded stakes on the 10-race card. The 116th running of the race immediately precedes the $250,000 Gotham Stakes (gr. III) for 3-year-olds on the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) trail.
Bred in Argentina by Arroyo de Luna, Lucky Island won a pair of allowance races to start his 2008 campaign, and then rolled to convincing wins in the May 10 Bold Ruler (gr. III) and June 4 Tom Fool (gr. II) handicaps at Belmont Park. They were his first two graded stakes scores.
But things took a turn for the worse for Lucky Island after that. The son of Lucky Roberto stumbled and was bumped at the start of the Aug. 30 Forgeo (gr. I) at Saratoga, where he went off as the favorite. The poor break caused him to finish sixth. After that, Lucky Island finished off the board in the Vosburgh (gr. I) and Gravesend Handicap (gr. III) to close out his 4-year-old season.
“He developed an abscess in his hind foot, but I really can’t say that it did or didn’t start in the Forego,” said trainer McLaughlin, who will ship up from Florida on Saturday. “All I know is that things went downhill real fast after that. We thought we had (the foot) corrected and thought he would run a big race in the Gravesend, but that race came up like a grade I, with Fabulous Strike and True Quality in there.
“I really don’t know what to expect. He’s been training great, but we’re not sure which Lucky Island will show up. We’re hoping it’s the right one.”
Regular rider Alan Garcia will get the mount on Lucky Island, who has earned $235,428. They will break from post 5.
Repole Stable’s Driven by Success has also been training well for trainer Bruce Levine, but the 4-year-old Precise End gelding takes a big step up, despite winning his last three in a row. He will make his first stakes appearance.
“I got him last year, and he always showed a lot of speed,” Levine said. “I think the first time they ran him, he had trouble at the start and then ran green all the way around. He is certainly not a one-dimensional horse. I think he’s been able to get an easy lead in his last few starts, but he has not problem being taken back.
“Having said that, this is a tough race with horses that have some strong credentials. And it will be a big step up for him going from a `two other than’ for New York-breds to a grade three.”
With leading jockey Ramon Dominguez in California on Saturday to ride Court Vision in the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I), Levine has named Rajiv Maragh to ride Driven by Success.
A pair of Maryland invaders also appear to be impact players in the Toboggan.
Aqueduct’s leading trainer, Gary Contessa, is also taking a major step forward with Winning Move Stable’s West Coast Flier. The 5-year-old West Acre gelding, who has been claimed three times since November, has won four straight between time with Contessa, Richard Dutow Jr., and “Chip” Dutrow.
Owner/trainer King T. Leatherbury shipped up from Maryland two years ago with Ah Day and ran third in the grade I Carter Handicap behind Silver Wagon and Diabolical, beaten two lengths for it all. Now 6, Ah Day will be making his first start since Aug. 3, when he finished sixth at Monmouth Park
Joey P., entered for trainer Ben Perkins Jr., had two wins and four seconds in six starts last year and makes his 2009 bow in the Toboggan. Grand Champion, unraced since fourth to Fabulous Strike in the Fall Highweight Handicap back in November, also returns.
Saint Daimon completes the field for trainer Steve Jerkens. The 6-year-old Saint Ballado gelding has a record of 5-1-2 from a dozen starts at the Toboggan distance.