Elisabeth Alexander’s Magna Graduate, winner of last year’s $200,000 Excelsior Handicap (gr. III), will look to break a seven-racing losing streak when he returns to the 1 1/8-mile event at Aqueduct April 5.
The 117-pound highweight in a nine-horse field, Magna Graduate last finished fifth in the March 8 New Orleans Handicap (gr. II), and was third in the Feb. 9 Mineshaft Handicap (gr. III). His closest finish in his past seven starts was a head loss in the Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I) at Churchill Downs last June.
Pletcher put blinkers on the 6-year-old Honor Grades starter in his last outing, but told the Daily Racing Form he’s taking them off for this one. Bred in Kentucky by Nicole Zitani and Ramon Rangel out of the Fast Playmare Peacock Alley, Magna Graduate scored his greatest career victory in the 2005 Clark Handicap (gr. II) and has earnings of $2,369,205.
In addition to Magna Graduate, Pletcher sends out Edward Evans’ Nite Light, a 4-year-old Thunder Gulch colt whose string of four consecutive victories includes a 10-length score in Aqueduct’s Gallant Fox Handicap and in the 1 1/8-mile John B. Campbell Handicap at Laurel on Feb. 16. Bred in Kentucky by Foxfield out of the Majestic Light mare Lite Light, the colt makes his first start in graded company.
Also entering a pair of runners in the Excelsior will be Pat Kelly, who saddles Fox Ridge Farm’s Naughty New Yorker in pursuit of his third straight win, along with the veteran Evening Attire, seeking his first victory of the season at age 10.
Naughty New Yorker, a 6-year-old son of Quiet American out of the Known Fact mare Naughty Natisha, was bred in New York by Dr. William B. Wilmot and Dr. Joan M. Taylor. He last won Aqueduct’s Feb. 18 Master Digby Stakes going a mile and 70 yards over the inner track surface. That score came by an easy 12 ¼ lengths over three other outclassed horses – but Naughty New Yorker also proved himself competitive against tougher company last November, when he was third behind Daaher and Midnight Lute in the Cigar Mile (gr. I).
Evening Attire was fourth behind Malibu Moonshine in the March 1 Stymie Handicap last time out, and Malibu Moonshine will return in the Excelsior. Evening Attire has also been upended by another horse entered in the Excelsior – Kiaran McLaughlin trainee Angliana, a son of Giant's Causeway
who won the Jan. 1 Aqueduct Handicap over the 10-year-old Black Tie Affair gelding and was third to Nite Light in the John Campbell before losing by a nostril in a March 14 optional claimer.
Temporary Saint, Mayan King, and Wafi City round out the field.
$200,000 Excelsior Handicap (gr. III, race 8, approximate post 4:42 p.m. EDT), 1 1/8 miles for older horses, dirt
PP, Horse, Weight, Jockey
1.Malibu Moonshine, 114, Mario Pino
2. Magna Graduate, 117, Garrett Gomez
3. Nite Light, 116, Michael Luzzi
4. Angliana, 114, Alan Garcia
5. Temporary Saint, 113, Charles C. Lopez
6. Naughty New Yorker, 115, Jean-Luc Samyn
7. Evening Attire, 114, Edgar Prado
8. Mayan King, 113, Channing Hill
9. Wafi City, 114, Cornelio Velasquez