West Virginia shipper Researcher puts his three-race win streak on the line Dec. 13 at Aqueduct, as the 4-year-old gelding faces his stiffest test yet while battling three graded stakes winners in the $100,000-added Queens County Handicap (gr. III), a 1 3/16-mile trek on the inner track.
Based out of Charles Town for trainer Jeff Runco, Researcher has responded emphatically since being freshened and switching back to dirt. The son of Two Smart went wire-to-wire in optional claiming company Sept. 10 at Laurel, won his first blacktype event by 14 lengths in the HBPA Governor’s Cup Handicap Oct. 17 at Charles Town, and last out took the Mountaineer Mile by three parts of a length. In those last two, the Virginia-bred posted consecutive 100-plus Beyer Speed numbers.
“I think there are several reasons why he is doing so good,” said Runco, a former jockey. “We had tried him on the turf before, and he did just OK. He had some other issues, so we gave him time off. I think the rest and the return to the dirt have made a real change in him.
“He’s a little older now and he is getting smarter, too. In his last race at Mountaineer, he sat right off the lone speed (Ravalo), who wound up finishing second. It’s like he knows what he has to do.”
Mike Luzzi will get the mount on Researcher, who is owned by Rutledge Farm and is 7-3-2 from 13 starts. He is out of the Apalachee mare Wild Magnolia.
Among Researcher’s toughest rivals will be Carol Nyren’s Dry Martini, a three-time graded stakes winner. One of those wins came last out in the 1 1/8-mile Stuyvesant Handicap (gr. III) Nov. 15 on Aqueduct’s muddy ground, where the 5-year-old Slew Gin Fizz gelding romped to a 3 1/4-length score.
Trained by Billy Turner Jr., Dry Martini’s victory was his first this season after two graded stakes triumphs in 2007. The Florida-bred has earned a race-high $552,172 in his 20-start career and will carry 118 pounds while running under regular rider Channing Hill.
Temporary Saint set the pace in the Stuyvesant before tiring in the final furlong. The 5-year-old Awesome Again gelding was claimed by trainer David Jacobson for Drawing Away Stable in August. He has won twice in five starts since then.
Brilliant Son is winless in three starts this season for Kiaran McLaughlin and has just one victory in more than two years.
The final entrant in a short field of five is Sir Whimsey, who captured the Gulfstream Park Handicap (gr. II) at the same 1 3/16-mile distance back in March. Since then, the 4-year-old Jump Start colt finished third in a pair of graded events, including the Pimlico Special Handicap (gr. I) in May. Trained by Steve Asmussen for Turtle Bird Stable, Sir Whimsey has two victories in nine starts at Aqueduct. Ramon Dominguez will ride.
$100,000 Queen's County Handicap (gr. III, Race 8, 3:44 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 3/16 Miles (Inner Track)
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Researcher (VA), 114, Michael J. Luzzi
2. Sir Whimsey (VA), 118, Ramon A. Dominguez
3. Brilliant Son (KY), 115, Rajiv Maragh
4. Temporary Saint (KY), 115, Eddie Castro
5. Dry Martini (FL), 118, Channing Hill