Rutledge Farm’s Researcher won the only graded stakes race of his career in last year’s Queen’s County Handicap (gr. III). But the Two Smart gelding entered that race off three consecutive wins, including his prep, the Mountaineer Mile Handicap.
This time, Researcher comes into the $100,000 Queens County off a losing effort in that same prep, missing by three lengths in the Nov. 7 Mountaineer Mile. But trainer Jeff Runco is still confident his charge is the one to beat.
“He had bad luck in the Mountaineer Mile drawing the outside post,” said Runco, who is based at Charles Town. “It really hurt him a lot, but he still ran a great race. I think he is just as good as he was last year at this time and the cooler weather definitely helps him. He’s coming up to the race great. He’s been training super all week.”
Runco can also take comfort in knowing that Researcher, who was bred in Virginia by Virginia Tech Foundation and is out of the Apalachee mare Wild Magnolia, romped by more than 14 lengths in the race before the Mountaineer Mile, the HBPA Governor’s Cup Handicap at Charles Town Races & Slots Oct. 16. In addition, the bay turned in a bullet four-furlong work in :48-flat at Charles Town Nov. 28.
Listed as the 5-2 morning-line favorite in a field of eight going 1 3/16 miles on the Aqueduct inner track, Researcher will be ridden by John Velazquez for the first time. They drew post 2.
Another Virginia-bred, Edward Evans’ Storm Play, was installed as the 3-1 second choice. Trained by Todd Pletcher, Storm Play is a lightly-raced 4-year-old son of Smart Strike who will be making just his second start of 2009. He was fourth in an optional claimer on Sept. 18 at Belmont after a nearly 10-month layoff. Storm Play won the Best of Luck Stakes at Aqueduct as a sophomore before finishing sixth in the Cigar Mile (gr. I). Jose Lezcano has the call.
One horse who seems to be sitting on a big race is Honour Devil, winner of a pair of graded stakes in Dubai, including the Noboodah UAE Derby (UAE-II) in 2008. The son of Honour and Glory has raced three times since being sent to the U.S., hitting the board in all of them. Previously in the barn of renown trainer Mike de Kock, Honour Devil has been racing in New York since the fall. His last race was a winning nine-furlong optional claiming effort at Aqueduct Nov. 19.
“He came to us earlier in the year to have an entrapment repaired and he’s doing very, very well right now,” said Artie Magnuson, who will saddle Honour Devil for Kiaran McLaughlin, who is in the midst of a suspension.
An earner of more than $1.5 million and on the board in all 10 of his career starts, Argentine-bred Honour Devil will be ridden by Alan Garcia.
Another interesting entrant of note is Ben Mondello’s Lord Kipling, who returns quickly after a Dec. 3 allowance optional claiming score at Laurel Park for trainer Scott Lake. Lord Kipling has won three of five starts for Lake since being claimed from Gary Contessa this summer and has run some of his best races in longer routes. Before being claimed on Aug. 12 at Saratoga, the 6-year-old gelding won a two-mile contest by 7 1/2 lengths. Channing Hill will be in the irons.
$100,000 Queens County Handicap (gr. III, Race 8, 3:44 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 3/16 Miles (Inner Dirt) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer, Odds
1. Stud Muffin (NY), C H Velasquez, 115, D P Duggan, 8/1
2. Researcher (VA), J R Velazquez, 119, J C Runco, 5/2
3. Naughty New Yorker (NY), J Samyn, 114, P J Kelly, 15/1
4. Honour Devil (ARG), A Garcia, 119, A Magnuson, 5/1
5. More Than a Reason (KY), A R Napravnik, 113, R Persaud, 12/1
6. Rodman (KY), J Castellano, 114, M E Hushion, 4/1
7. Lord Kipling (AR), C Hill, 114, S A Lake, 15/1
8. Storm Play (VA), J Lezcano, 115, T A Pletcher, 3/1