Aqueduct Race Report: Coyote Catches Fox

Published in the Jan. 4 issue of The Blood-Horse
As Roddy Valente's Coyote Lakes captured his third straight edition of the 1 5/8-mile Gallant Fox Handicap (gr. III) at Aqueduct Dec. 28 as an 8-year-old, the celebration began. It was not the simple glee and good humor of notching another graded stakes victory. Instead, it was a joyous outpouring in tribute to the gelding's workman-like consistency, and growing tradition of succeeding in this event.

Prior to the race, a nervous Valente paced the paddock alone, staying clear of a large contingent of friends and family. "He's like family, actually," said Valente of his runner. "To think that he could run this consistently for that amount of time is really rewarding."

Jockey Mike Luzzi was first out of the gate with the Bruce Levine-trained Coyote Lakes, then settled the gelding into fifth position in the early stages of the marathon event. Up front, Fisher Pond and Pleasant Breeze shared the lead through honest fractions, several lengths ahead of their pursuers. As the field raced along the backstretch for the second time, Luzzi was on the move with Coyote Lakes, racing in between horses. By the final bend of the three-turn event, the pair found themselves tucked neatly away along the fence, behind the still embattled leaders.

Luzzi tipped his runner to the outside at the top of the lane, knowing full well what to expect from him. "He gives me a feeling I can't explain. There's never a doubt," said the rider. "He's sitting, just waiting for me to call on him. I get him free and he just kicks."

Coyote Lakes felt but three taps from his rider's left-handed whip, two in upper-stretch as his rally commenced, and one as he collared his rivals at the eighth pole. In the final sixteenth, the Arizona-bred pulled clear to a 1 3/4-length victory in 2:43.54 over a moisture-laden track labeled "good" due to seven inches of Christmas snow.

Pleasant Breeze nosed-out Fisher Pond for the runner-up spot. It was 6 1/4 lengths back to the rest, who never really made an impact on the running.

"It's once in a lifetime to have a horse like this," said Levine, who claimed Coyote Lakes in California for $50,000. "It's hard to do (keep winning), but it's a lot of fun."

Opposing trainers offered Levine their congratulations. Luzzi, who couldn't wait to phone his wife about the victory, was treated to a rousing welcome by the riding colony when he returned to the jockeys' room.

Coyote Lakes has made five appearances in the Gallant Fox, earning $225,700 in the event. His three consecutive wins are accompanied by a second-place finish in 1998, and an off-the-board effort in 1999 in which he clipped heels. Levine plans to point his star toward the 2003 running as a 9-year-old.

Jimmy Jerkens saddled Peter Blum's Multiple Choice to victory in the six-furlong Gravesend (gr. III) on Dec. 29. The then 4-year-old gelded son of Mt. Livermore rallied strongly through the final furlong beneath Victor Carrero to run down a freewheeling Sing Me Back Home by three-quarters of a length over a speed-favoring racetrack.

"I always did like him," said Jerkens about the winner. "He's really starting to turn into something."

However, Jerkens did suffer some pains through the running when Multiple Choice shut off Wrangler, the trainer's other entry in the race. "When he (Multiple Choice) swung out, he shut him down in between horses. That was the end of Wrangler," noted Jerkens. "It's the chance you take running entries."

Multiple Choice stopped the timer in 1:09.26, running his lifetime record to seven wins from 24 starts. It was the gelding's second straight graded stakes victory, after dominating the Sport Page Handicap (gr. III) by 7 1/4 lengths at Aqueduct on Oct. 26.

Taking Note
On Dec. 29, Michael Dubb's Tom's Thunder wired the field in the Alex M. Robb Handicap at 1 1/16 miles for New York-breds. A $75,000 claim by trainer Patrick Reynolds just one race prior, the then 4-year-old gelding by Thunder Puddles earned back $51,300 of his purchase price. "If you're looking to claim a horse, anything that runs the same number nine or 10 times in a row, and comes back in one piece is probably worth it," said Reynolds of his charge's last nine months on the racetrack.

(Chart, Equibase)