Road Back Brings Wonder Again to NY 'Cap

(from Belmont Park report)
Wonder Again, once unstoppable in turf events but a winner of only one of her last eight starts in the past 21 months, tries to regain some of her lost glory in Monday's New York Handicap (gr. IIT) for fillies and mares at Belmont Park.

The 5-year-old Silver Hawk mare, trained by Jimmy Toner, began her comeback campaign with a sixth-place finish behind Intercontinental in the Just A Game Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. IIT) June 5.

"I thought she was a little closer than she should have been but she galloped out good and it was a good race to get her going," said Toner, who won the New York in 1999 with eventual Eclipse Award champion Soaring Softly. "I think she'll go forward off of it. She's been training well and working good."

During her 2002 campaign, which concluded with a victory in the Garden City Breeders' Cup in October, she won four straight stakes in a 10-week span – at various distances and over three turf courses.

Toner would like a reason to push Wonder Again toward Saratoga's Diana Handicap (gr. IT) on July 31.

She is one of eight fillies and mares entered in the 10-furlong, $250,000 New York.

Last year, Wonder Again notched her only victory of the season in the Noble Damsel (gr. IIIT) at Belmont Park. Overall, she is 3-1-1 from six starts on the Belmont turf.

Although Wonder Again's 4-year-old campaign did not play out the way it was expected to, she did run well in the majority of her starts, hitting the board in the Beaugay and Just a Game. She was beaten an average of four lengths in her five losses, all while facing the best in her division in major races like the Diana and Galaxy.

"Last year, we started off and things went haywire for us," Toner said. "We skipped the New York and she got dead tired in the Diana. We got back to Belmont and she runs such a huge race in the Noble Damsel. Then, I looked up and the year was over. I took a shot in the Galaxy because the year was winding down, but she hasn't run well in both her starts at Keeneland. If you also throw out the Ballston Spa, she was right there in all her races."

Jockey Edgar Prado, Wonder Again's regular rider, is aboard for the New York.

Spice Island was the beaten favorite in the Sheepshead Bay (gr. IIT) earlier this meet, running second to California-invader Moscow Burning. A one-time maiden claimer, she drew post 5 under Hall of Famer Jerry Bailey.

The daughter of 1994 Belmont Stakes winner Tabasco Cat has steadily ascended up the class ladder with age and won the Long Island Handicap (gr. IIT) at Aqueduct in November.

"We are always looking for potential broodmare prospects and we liked the breeding on the mare," trainer John Pregman Jr. said. "It took us a little while to figure her out, but she has turned into a solid turf horse."

Racing predominantly in Florida, Stay Forever has strung together an impressive record of 9-1-1 from 15 starts. She enters the New York seeking her third consecutive stakes victory after winning Calder's Hollywood Wildcat and Churchill's Mint Julep (gr. IIIT). Like Wonder Again, Stay Forever is making her first start at Belmont at a 1 1/4 mile.

Binya, a graded stakes winner, is eligible to run big as is recent allowance winner Potra Fabulous.

$250 New York Handicap (gr. IIT), fillies & mares 3 & up, 1 1/4 mile on turf
1. Binya, Kiaran McLaughlin, John Velazquez, 117
2. Stay Forever, Martin Wolfson, Eddie Castro, 115
3. Meridiania, Christophe Clement, Javier Castellano, 117
4. Wonder Again, Jimmy Toner, Edgar Prado, 115
5. Spice Island, John Pregman Jr., Jerry Bailey, 118
6. Alchemist, Shug McGaughey, Jose Santos, 112
7. Humaita, Graham Motion, Richard Migliore, 113
8. Potra Fabulous, Bobby Frankel, Jorge Chavez, 114