Cluster of Stars in Empire Showcase Spotlight

Cluster of Stars in Empire Showcase Spotlight
Photo: Coglianese Photos
Cluster of Stars won the 2013 Gallant Bloom.
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Undefeated Cluster of Stars puts her six-race win streak on the line as a formidable 2-5 favorite in the $150,000 Iroquois Stakes for New York-bred fillies and mares Oct. 19 at Belmont Park.

The seven-furlong Iroquois is one of two sprint races for older horses on Empire Showcase Day, Belmont's annual daylong fall event for state-breds. The Iroquois is race 4 on the card with a 1:54 p.m. ET scheduled post, while the six-furlong Hudson Handicap for male sprinters is set for a 4:39 p.m. probable post as the ninth race. The seven-race series worth $1.25 million in purses is headed by the $250,000 Empire Classic Handicap.

Turtle Bird Stable's Cluster of Stars comes off a five-length romp over open company in the 6 1/2-furlong Gallant Bloom Handicap (gr. II) over a good track Sept. 21 at Belmont, soundly defeating grade I winner Dance to Bristol. It was the second grade II win in a row for the front-running daughter of Greeley's Galaxy following a 2 3/4-length score in the Distaff Handicap (gr. II) April 13 at Aqueduct Racetrack.

Trained by Steve Asmussen, the 4-year-old bay filly earned a 106 Beyer figure in the Gallant Bloom. She'll be making her first attempt at seven furlongs with Javier Castellao aboard from post 5 while toting co-high weight of 124 pounds.

Also carrying 124 is Willet, who destroyed last year's Iroquois field by 9 1/4 lengths on a muddy track at odds of 8-1. Willet is in sharp form for her defense as well, having captured the Union Avenue Stakes at Saratoga Race Course and Belmont's Princess Dixie Sept. 27 against state-breds in her two most recent starts.

The 5-year-old Jump Start   mare is trained by James Iselin, who owns her in partnership with Charlotte Assoulin and Eli Gindi. Iselin said beating Cluster of Stars is "improbable."

"We'll just have to try our best and make a run at the end. Willet is a wonderful horse, but now we're running in a 'grade I' edition of the Iroquois," he said. "There's one thing we can say: we are the defending Iroquois winner."

Willet, departing from post 6, is 7-2 on the morning line. Joel Rosario has the call.

Delaware invader Galiana was fifth in the Aug. 19 Union Avenue for trainer/owner Rodolfo Romero. The 3-year-old Stonesider   filly rebounded with a 1 1/4-length tally in  the Tax Free Shopping Distaff Stakes at Delaware Park Sept. 14.

Also in the field is the always-tough Miss Valentine, a nine-time winner of a field-leading $567,500 over a 24-race career. Second by half a length to Willet in the 7 1/2-furlong Princess Dixie last time out, the 5-year-old Afleet Alex   mare is trained by Christophe Clement for Waterville Lake Stable.

Males take the stage in the $150,000 Hudson, in which defending winner Mine Over Matter will face stablemate B Shanny and Chowder's First overnight stakes victor Palace.

Late-running Mine Over Matter, 2-1 on the morning line, has won once in eight starts since last year's Hudson, with his victory coming in the Corma Ray overnight stakes in May at Belmont. Following the Corma Ray, the Chester and Mary Broman homebred was third in the Affirmed Success Handicap and second in the Shy Groom overnight stakes in June at Belmont, then was runner-up in the John Morrissey Aug. 1 over a muddy track at Saratoga.

"He runs great every time he goes over there," said trainer Mike Hushion of the Hudson favorite. "He just needs to be in the right place at the right time. He's certainly not a lot better than his competition, but he's as good as them, so if he gets the perfect trip and the good set up, why not? I've been looking to give him a break along the way, but he just continues to look great and train great. Big and round and shinyjust how we like them."

Mine Over Matter drew post 3 and will be ridden by Jose Lezcano.

In his most recent start, B Shanny captured the Leon Reed Memorial Handicap by 4 1/2 lengths Aug. 17 at Finger Lakes.

"We were hoping (it would) be a soft spot and that he'd handle the track and the shipping, and he took care of business," said Hushion.

B Shanny (5-1) will have the services of Irad Ortiz Jr. from post 5.

Palace, trained by Linda Rice for Antonino Miuccio, defeated another Hushion runner, grade I winner The Lumber Guy  , when winning the Chowder's First by three lengths Aug. 23 at Saratoga. It was the second win in five starts on the year for the 4-year-old son of City Zip  , who also has two seconds this season. Cornelio Velasquez will ride Palace (3-1) from the rail.

Night Maneuver, third in the Chowder's First, cuts back in distance after setting the pace and finishing third in the one-mile Spite The Devil Stakes for state-breds Sept. 19 at Belmont. Trainer Gary Contessa tabs Rajiv Maragh for the return ride from post 2.

$150,000 Iroquois Stakes (Race 4, 1:54 p.m.), Fillies & Mares 3 & Up (Foaled in New York), 7 Furlongs
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Miss Valentine (NY), I Ortiz Jr., 121, C Clement
2. Galiana (NY), A Lezcano, 122, R Romero
3. Shesabronxbomber (NY), J L Ortiz, 117, J Servis
4. Kimmies Lucky Star (NY), M Franco, 115, P Scott
5. Cluster of Stars (NY), J Castellano, 124, S M Asmussen
6. Willet (NY), J Rosario, 124, J H Iselin
7. Here's Zealicious (NY), C H Velasquez, 117, P Kazamias
8. Vicki's Dancer (NY), R Maragh, 119, R R Rodriguez

$150,000 Hudson Handicap (Race 9, 4:39 p.m.), 3 & Up (Foaled in New York), 6 Furlongs
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Palace (NY), C H Velasquez, 119, L Rice
2. Night Maneuver (NY), R Maragh, 118, G C Contessa
3. Mine Over Matter (NY), J Lezcano, 119, M E Hushion
4. B Shanny (NY), I Ortiz Jr., 117, M E Hushion
5. Cay to Pomeroy (NY), A S Arroyo, 113, J F Orseno
6. Moonlight Song (NY), J L Ortiz, 115, C Baker
7. Readytodefer (NY), J R Velazquez, 116, B N Levine
Blinkers On: Readytodefer

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