Trainer Leo Nechamkin says that win or lose, he'll be getting an early Christmas gift when his Gators N Bears competes in Sunday's $100,000-added Gravesend Handicap (gr. III), the final graded stakes race in New York in 2004."It's a thrill every time this horse runs because he always puts in a big effort," Nechamkin said. "He's made a lot of memories for me."Gators N Bears, an earner of more than $650,000, is one of eight entered in the six-furlong Gravesend for older horses. Gators N Bears, a 4-year-old colt by Stormy Atlantic , carries high weight of 121 pounds and will be a deserving favorite.Aqueduct will take an eight-day holiday break following Sunday's program. Racing will resume Dec. 29.Although based in Maryland, Gators N Bears has been a beast all over the East Coast. Over the last couple of seasons, he has put in big efforts at Saratoga, Aqueduct, Suffolk Downs, Monmouth Park and his hometown tracks of Laurel and Pimlico. Overall, Gators N Bears has won six stakes.Gators N Bears is 3-1-2 from seven starts in 2004. He put forth one of his best performances in mid August at Saratoga, finishing third, three lengths behind eventual Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) winner Speightstown in the Alfred G. Vanderbilt (gr. II). In his last start on Nov. 20, Gators N Bears finished 2 ½ lengths behind Wildcat Heir and Midas Eyes in the DeFrancis Memorial (gr. I) at Pimlico. Nechamkin says Gators N Bears may have come up short that afternoon."I missed some time with him over the fall because of a stone bruise and abscess and coming back in a grade 1 race is never easy," Nechamkin said. "We lost more ground than he got beat."Gators N Bears, who was third to Shake You Down in the Gravesend a year ago, drew post 5 under jockey Javier Castellano.
Trainer Ben Feliciano Jr., also based in Maryland, will saddle Ameri Brilliance in the Gravesend. Although he has not faced the kind of firepower he'll be up against Sunday, Ameri Brilliance has had a fine career winning 10 of 30 starts. Feliciano noted the gelding owns the 4 ½-furlong track record at Mountaineer Park (:50) and four-furlong track record at Timonium (43 3/5)."I've always wanted to try him in a inner track stakes because he's so fast," Feliciano said. "I was a little disappointed to hear Don Six is running because he's got a lot of gas, too, but we're just going to let our horse roll and see what happens. He's one of the fastest horses around."Ameri Brilliance will be returning to action on short rest, having finished second to last year's Gravesend winner Shake You Down in a Pimlico allowance Dec. 8. A four-time winner at six furlongs, he drew post 6.
Mr. Whitestone goes out for trainer Richard Dutrow Jr., who won this race three years ago with Here's Zealous. A gelding by Dance Brightly, Mr. Whitestone steps into the Gravesend off a powerful high-priced optional claiming victory over Watchem Smokey Nov. 5. Watchem Smokey was beaten a nose in his subsequent start in the Vernon Underwood Handicap (gr. III) at Hollywood Park.Mr. Whitestone, a closer, breaks from the rail under jockey Julian Pimentel.
$100,000-added Gravesend Handicap (gr. III), 3 & up, 6 furlongs
PP. HORSE, TRAINER, JOCKEY, WGT.
1. Mr. Whitestone, Richard Dutrow Jr., Julian Pimentel, 114
2. Papua, Mike Hushion, Shaun Bridgmohan, 114
3. Don Six, Scott Lake, Mike Luzzi, 112
4. Black Silk, Laurie LaFavers, Pablo Fragoso, 114
5. Gators N Bears, Leo Nechamkin, Javier Castellano, 121
6. Ameri Brilliance, Ben Feliciano Jr., Rafael Bejarano, 114
7. Eavesdropper, Kiaran McLaughlin, Aaron Gryder, 113
8. Uncle Camie, Mike Hushion, Richard Migliore, 113