When Fox Hill Farms’ Rick Porter acquired promising Argentine-bred Solar Flare last winter and sent him to trainer Larry Jones at Fair Grounds, there were high expectations. But as talented as the 4-year-old was, the son of Salt Lake arrived with issues to be worked out.
“It took a while to get him acclimated to the Northern Hemisphere,” recalled Jones. “There was a period of adjustment for us to get used to him and for him to get used to us. But there is no doubt he was a nice colt. He is really big-boned. You don’t see Northern Hemisphere colts like him too often; he’s got a lot of substance to him.”
After scoring in optional claiming company in his North American debut and missing by only a half-length in the Suburban Handicap (gr. I) at Belmont June 28, Porter and Jones were expecting Solar Flare to have a big second half of 2008. So far, it hasn’t worked out that way, but the connections are hoping a victory in the $100,000-added Stuyvesant Handicap (gr. III) at Aqueduct Nov. 15 will be the launching point for a big 5-year-old campaign.
Solar Flare will take on seven rivals in the Stuyvesant, a nine-furlong main track event for 3-year-olds and up. The day’s feature will go to post as race 8 on the Aqueduct program.
Solar Flare’s problems began in the July 26 Whitney (gr. I), as he wrenched an ankle while finishing seventh as the betting favorite. Jones thinks he may have brought the chestnut back too soon for his next start, a distant third-place finish in the Owners Day Handicap at Delaware Park Sept. 6. After a period of rest, Solar Flare came back to win by 2 1/2 lengths in optional claiming company at Meadowlands Oct. 27.
“It was a good prep for him,” Jones said. “It’s exactly what you would want; not a gut-wrenching race, just a good tightening.
“I think he is getting back to where we had him before. We’ll take him back to Fair Grounds this winter, and if all goes well, get him back in graded stakes action--possibly the New Orleans Handicap or Razorback (at Oaklawn)."
Terry Thompson will get the mount in the Stuyvesant and will break from post five.
Solar Flare’s biggest challenge could come from Stud Muffin, who enters off a 1 1/2-length victory in the nine-furlong Empire Classic Oct. 18 at Belmont. It was one of two New York-bred restricted stakes wins in 2008 for the 4-year-old son of Raffie's Majesty.
Trained by David Duggan, who claimed him for Luis Zito and partners for $35,000 in March, Stud Muffin will be trying graded stakes ranks for the first time. He is 6-3-4 from 24 lifetime starts, including two wins in three tries at Aqueduct.
“He had run some very good races when we claimed him, and we really thought we were getting a turf horse, because he has a tremendous stride on him,” Duggan said. “He was a bit of an unlucky horse in his two races at Saratoga: he steadied in one and was stuck down inside in another. But he always kept running at the end. He definitely is not out of place in this race.”
Alan Garcia, aboard for the Empire Classic win, gets the return call. They drew post 2.
Drawing Away Stable’s Temporary Saint is the only entrant with a graded stakes win this season. The 5-year-old Awesome Again gelding won the Excelsior Handicap (gr. III) at Aqueduct April 5 while running for trainer Tom Amoss. Temporary Saint has won two of four starts, both in claiming company, since being plucked for $75,000 in August. David Jacobson trains.