While the best three-year-olds in the country are running in the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, several up-and-comers in the one-mile Withers Stakes (gr. III) at Aqueduct could join the Visa Triple Crown trail later down the road.
Trainer Mark Hennig said he is not thinking about future Triple Crown races for the Edward Evans homebred Halo Homewrecker, just the $150,000 Withers. Halo Homewrecker is a perfect 3-for-3 this year, winning the Bay Shore (gr. III) by a length three weeks ago.
Hennig admits that Halo Homewrecker has more maturing to do and does not think the one-mile Withers will pose a problem, even though the Southern Halo colt has never raced beyond seven furlongs.
"It looked like he galloped out strong in the Bay Shore," Hennig said. "So, I don't see another furlong being a problem. From a mental standpoint, he has a little ways to go yet. He's been shipped around a lot and he's tried new things. When he gets to do something for the second time, it's going to be big."
After breaking his maiden by a neck going seven furlongs at Gulfstream in February, he returned to romp by nearly seven lengths over the same track and distance a month later, proving Hennig's point.
Patricia Generazio's Don Six has just one blemish on his record, a runner-up finish to Halo Homewrecker in the Bay Shore. Bet hard at 4-1, the Wild Escapade colt surrendered a one-length lead in the stretch. Don Six wintered in New York, but left for his summer home of Delaware Park following the Bay Shore.
"He's been nice and relaxed since he came to Delaware," assistant trainer Stacy Generazio said of the speedy colt. "There's about half as many horses on the track here in the morning as there are in New York. For him to get the mile, he has to be relaxed. Hopefully, he runs the way he's been training."
Paraneck Stable's New York Hero, winner of the Lane's End (gr. II) in March, will try to rebound off a disappointing fourth in the Wood Memorial (gr. I) where he willingly surrendered a clear lead. Following the race, it was discovered the Partner's Hero colt suffered a quarter crack in his left front.
"It was somewhat of a relief to know there was a reason why he ran how he did in the Wood," trainer Jen Pedersen said. "Everything looks okay now. We only missed four days of training with him."
Pedersen said she is not thrilled about turning New York Hero back to a one-turn mile after three races around two turns.
"A one-turn mile plays more like a sprint, but we've got to start somewhere," Pedersen said. "We've had to change a couple things."
One change is New York Hero's rider. Javier Castellano will replace Norberto Arroyo Jr. Castellano worked the colt six furlongs in 1:11 1/5 Tuesday morning.
"If he runs well Saturday, we'll point to the Preakness," Pedersen said.
Judson Streicher's Atfirst Blush exits a key allowance race held over the inner track in March. In his first start with blinkers, he defeated future Illinois Derby runner-up Fund of Funds and next-out winner Awesome Time, who he will face again Saturday.
"The freshening really seems to have helped," trainer Sal Russo said. "I wanted to keep him against three-year-olds and not have to go up against older horses in an allowance."
Atfirst Blush did not enjoy his trip to Florida this winter, according to Russo, but has done everything right since returning north.
"He was still green in his last start at Gulfstream," Russo said. "Blinkers have seemed to help."
Awesome Time returned on the Wood Memorial undercard and wired an entry-level allowance field in his first start with blinkers. Both his victories have been at a mile and an eighth over the main track.
Seymour Cohn's Stanislavsky improves with each start and was in a tough spot for the Bay Shore, a race he ran a credible third in.
Breaking from the rail, Stanislavsky came out of the gate last and continually picked off foes to be a rallying third, 6 ¼ lengths behind Halo Homewrecker.
Gotham winner Alysweep will try to find the winner's circle again following his 23-length defeat in the Illinois Derby. Alysweep does his best racing on or near the lead, but will have to contend with Halo Homewrecker and Don Six early on.
Spite The Devil, third in the Gotham, is trained by Hall of Famer H. Allen Jerkens, whose runner are winning at a 35 percent clip at this meet.
PP Horse , Wt. , ML Odds
1 New York Hero(L), 123, Castellano, Javier, 7-2
2 Halo Homewrecker, 123, Velazquez, John R, 3-1
3 Alysweep(L), 123, Migliore, Richard, 4-1
4 Atfirst Blush(L), 118, Castillo Jr, Heberto, 12-1
5 Spite the Devil, 116, Chavez, Luis, 12-1
6 Don Six(L), 116, Gryder, Aaron, 4-1
7 Awesome Time(L), 116, Arroyo Jr, Norberto, 10-1
8 Stanislavsky(L), 116, Samyn, Jean-Luc, 8-1