Colita Seeks First Stakes Win in Aqueduct 'Cap

Colita looked like a potential star when Team Valor Stables bought into him in 2003, but the son of Grindstone heads into Saturday's $100,000 Aqueduct Handicap (gr. III) still looking for his first stakes victory.

Now 6, the Todd Pletcher-trained Colita faces 2002 champ Evening Attire and six others in the 1 1/6-mile test. Colita is coming off an allowance victory.

Winless in eight stakes starts, Colita appeared to be in top form during the fall and winter of 2004 and 2005. After running second in the Stuyvesant (gr. III) and third in the Queens County (gr. III), the colt was 4-5 to win the marathon Gallant Fox but came up short to longshot Tamburello.

Out of action for the first half of 2005, Colita returned with four disappointing starts. But after he was given a little more time off last fall Colita rebounded for a victory at odds of 8-1 over Mr. Whitestone and Bahama John, earning him a spot in the Aqueduct Handicap.

"The last race was a good improvement for him and definitely put him on the right track," said Pletcher assistant Seth Benzel. "It let us know that something like the Aqueduct Handicap was well within our reach."

Second to Colita on Dec. 16 was Steel Your Face Stables' Mr. Whitestone. Another 6-year-old, Mr. Whitestone had a tough setup in his last start, vying while four wide and yielding to Colita late.

C.C. Lopez, who returns to action after nearly two months off due to a broken thumb and cracked rib suffered in a Nov. 25th spill, has the mount on Mr. Whitestone.

It's been four years since Evening Attire captured the 2002 running of this race. Thirty-six starts later, the 8-year-old gelding is still going strong. He will make his third appearance in the Aqueduct after running second in 2004.

After winning the Stuyvesant Nov. 19, the popular gray, a poor break and slow pace in the Queen's County cost him any chance under Jose Santos.

"At his age, it takes him a couple jumps to get going," said trainer Pat Kelly. "I've taken him to the gate to give him a refresher every week, but he's been doing this so long, he going to do what he wants."

Happy Hunting, owned by the Phipps Stable, will get his first crack at stakes competition in the Aqueduct. The 5-year-old has won his last three starts and four of his last five for trainer Shug McGaughey.

$100,000 Aqueduct Handicap (gr. III), 3 & up, 1 1/16 miles
PP. Horse, Trainer, Jockey, Weight
1. Happy Hunting, Shug McGaughey, Norberto Arroyo Jr., 114
2. Colita , Todd Pletcher, Mike Luzzi, 115
3. Evening Attire, Pat Kelly, Jose Santos, 118
4. Broad Acres, Gary Sciacca, Channing Hill, 110
5. Mr. Whitestone, Richard Dutrow Jr., C.C. Lopez, 113
6. Spite the Devil, H. Allen Jerkens, Pablo Morales, 113
7. Sinister G, John Toscano Jr., Orlando Mojica, 113
8. Knox, Gary Contessa, Ramon Dominguez, 114