Led by 8-5 morning-line favorite Nicole H, a field of only five filly and mare sprinters will line up for the $150,000 Distaff Handicap (gr. II) April 16 at Aqueduct.
Nicole H enters the seven-furlong event off a pair of stakes wins at Aqueduct, both at six furlongs. The 4-year-old daughter of Mr. Greeley capped off her 2010 campaign with a front-running victory in the Garland of Roses Handicap in December and came from just off the pace to win the Interborough Stakes Jan. 1 as the 2-5 favorite.
Michael Hushion trains Nicole H for Gem Racing. Channing Hill will be the new rider, taking over for the out-of-town Ramon Dominguez. The dark bay/brown filly is 3-1-0 in five starts over conventional dirt since being transferred to Hushion last summer. She began her career racing over an all-weather surface and turf in California.
“We just gave her some time off to build a foundation for more important races this year,” said Hushion. “She certainly does everything like a good one.”
Nicole H was bred in Kentucky by JMJ Racing Stables and is out of the Victory Gallop mare Hot Chipotle.
The second and third morning-line choices are Spacy Tracy and Qualia, who faced each other at Aqueduct in the Top Flight Handicap (gr. II) in November. Spacy Tracy won that race by three-quarters of a length with Qualia two lengths back in third.
A Mercedes Stables homebred, Spacy Tracy capped a three-race win streak in the Top Flight. Her other wins came in allowance company at Parx Racing and the Justakiss Stakes at Delaware Park. Sent to Oaklawn Park for the winter, Spacy Tracy breezed five times prior to finishing last of seven in the Azeri (gr. III) at Oaklawn Park on March 19.
“The Top Flight was at the end of the year, and it was a good time to give her a break,” said Tony Dutrow, who trains the 6-year-old Awesome Againmare. “She got tired in the Azeri, but she has been continuing to train well.
“She performed brilliantly in the Top Flight, and she seems to relish the main track at Aqueduct. She’s ready to run, and we’re feeling great about her chances at seven furlongs.”
Jeremy Rose has the assignment aboard Spacy Tracy.
Marc Keller’s Qualia was second by a head in the Bed o’ Roses Handicap (gr. III) at Belmont Park in July and eighth after her saddle slipped in the Ballerina (gr. I) at Saratoga in August. Following a fourth in the Gallant Bloom Handicap (gr. II) at Belmont in September, Qualia’s connections attempted to run her in the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (gr. I), but she did not draw into the race off the also-eligible list. Instead, Qualia competed in the Top Flight at a distance trainer Bobby Ribaudo admits might have been beyond her range.
“Qualia had a very busy year last year,” said Ribaudo. “By the time we got to the Top Flight, she had been in training for over a year.”
With that in mind, Ribaudo decided to freshen Qualia over the winter, with the 5-year-old daughter of Saarland turning in eight workouts at Gulfstream Park in anticipation of a comeback start in the Distaff.
“Everything has been scheduled with this race in mind,” said Ribaudo. “Coming from the warm weather to the cold weather is often a plus.”
Alex Solis will ride Qualia for the first time.
The Distaff field also includes Kid Kate, who took the Correction Stakes at Aqueduct on Jan. 29 prior to finishing seventh in the Barbara Fritchie Handicap (gr. II) at Laurel Park on Feb. 19, and Wild News, second in the Patty’s Positive overnight stakes at Aqueduct in February.
$150,000 Distaff Handicap (gr. II, Race 9, 5:15 p.m.), Fillies & Mares 3 & Up, 7 Furlongs (Dirt) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer 1. Wild News (KY), C C Lopez, 113, J Parisella
2. Kid Kate (KY), C H Velasquez, 116, C C Brown
3. Qualia (KY), A O Solis, 115, R Ribaudo
4. Spacy Tracy (KY), J Rose, 117, A W Dutrow
5. Nicole H (KY), C Hill, 116, M E Hushion