One year ago, Fox Hill Farms' Zonk ran a solid fourth in the 2001 Top Flight and followed with an off-the-pace Affectionately victory under jockey C.C. Lopez. She probably ran a better race in the 2002 Top Flight and has her sights set on a repeat win in Saturday's grade III, $100,000 Affectionately at Aqueduct -- the first graded stakes race in New York this year. Three starts after last year's Affectionately, things started going the wrong way for Zonk. She was turned out following a 34-length defeat in the March 29 Next Move."She got a quarter crack after the (2002) Affectionately," trainer John Servis said. "We had some work done on it, but I just wasn't happy with how things were progressing. We went ahead and ran her in the Next Move, but the crack was still bothering her. I haven't had a whole lot of luck with patching those things up, so we gave her some time to rest."Zonk returned to the racesin an optional claimer at Laurel on Nov. 2. The daughter of Farma Way dueled inside winner Hunka Hunka Lori Z for the entire six- furlong race, coming up a head short. "She ran a lot better in that race than I expected to," Servis said. "That was just supposed to be a tightener for the Top Flight."Sent off at 32-1 in the 2002 Top Flight, Zonk made the lead under Lopez and was very game, surrendering to Sightseek in the late stages."I thought that was the best race of her career," Servis said. "Sightseek is a real nice filly."Zonk's tactical flexibility is one of her strengths. She has run well on the lead and from a stalking position. She could be in a perfect spot behind speeds With Ability and Pocus Hocus Saturday. Another who figures to sit a good trip is White Fox Farm's Shop Till You Drop. The 4-year-old filly nearly lost vision in her right eye last year."She got some dirt kicked back in the eye and suffered a laceration," trainer John Fee said. "She was in the New Bolton clinic (University of Pennsylvania) for two and a half months, so we had to completely stop on her. She made a really good recovery. We don't put a larger cup over that eye, she just wears normal blinkers."Shop Till You Drop was a good third in the grade III Anne Arundel at Laurel in December. Breaking from post nine in a field of 11, she vied for the lead and stayed on well for third, only beaten a length and a half. Earlier last year, she was second in the grade II Black Eyed Susan and third in the grade I Coaching Club American Oaks. "This is going to be a tough spot," Fee admitted. "But she is a nice filly and she's the stalking type."
With Ability will try to avenge a disappointing effort in the Ladies Handicap when she surrendered an uncontested lead with little resistance. She was impressive beating a weaker allowance field Dec. 4. Perhaps the 10-furlong Ladies distance was out of the mare's range or just 17 days between her big win and the Ladies was not enough. Returning from an eight-month layoff, Pocus Hocus was very sharp when she crushed a field of second-level allowance runners Dec. 8. All three of her victories have come when she was on the lead and all were over the inner track.Ms. Rapunzel has won two straight since being switched from turf to dirt by trainer Bruce Levine. She has beaten groups of questionable quality and faces much better in the Affectionately. Wishful Splendor had been facing solid rivals in her allowance tries prior to her fourth-place finish in the Ladies Handicap. She was beaten nearly five lengths by With Ability in that spot.
The field for Saturday's grade III, $100,000 Affectionately Handicap, at 1 1/16 miles:1--Kiss a Miss, 113, Jean-Luc Samyn
2--Pocus Hocus, 112, Richard Migliore
3--Ms. Rapunzel, 112, Mike Luzzi
4--Shop Till You Drop, 114, Harry Vega
5--Persky, 109, Luis Chavez
6--Forest Princess, 112, Shaun Bridgmohan
7--Zonk, 118, C.C. Lopez
8--With Ability, 117, Aaron Gryder
9--Wishful Splendor, 110, Javier Castellano