04/13/2013 4:25PM

Aqueduct: Cluster of Stars stays perfect in Grade 2 Distaff

Courtney Heeney
Cluster of Stars improved her career record to 5 for 5 and got her first graded stakes victory in the Grade 2 Distaff Handicap at Aqueduct on Saturday.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. – Cluster of Stars kept her perfect record intact while capturing her first graded stakes Saturday, taking a scratched-reduced renewal of the Grade 2, $200,000 Distaff Handicap by 2 3/4 lengths at Aqueduct.

Under the hot-riding Junior Alvarado, Cluster of Stars broke on top and was passed along the inside by Los Ojitos at the three-furlong marker before regaining command of the race in midstretch and drawing clear as the 1-5 favorite.

Miss d’Oro rallied to get second by 1 1/4 lengths over Los Ojitos. Nakano finished last.

The race lost three starters as Spectacular Sky (fever), the 5-2 morning-line second choice, Villanesca (cast in stall), and Hearts of Red (colic) were scratched.

“I didn’t like that it scratched down to four; those are usually the worst kind of races,” said Toby Sheets, who oversees trainer Steve Asmussen’s New York string. “You never know how it changes everything when you have some obvious speed horses and then you don’t have any.”

Cluster of Stars, owned by Harvey Weinstein’s Turtle Bird Stable, was cruising on the lead through a quarter in 22.52 seconds while Alvarado left her two or three paths off the rail.

Midway around the turn, Rajiv Maragh shot Los Ojitos through along the rail and opened up a one-length lead turning into the stretch. Maragh floated Cluster of Stars out a few paths in the stretch, but Cluster of Stars easily regained the lead inside the eighth pole and won handily. She covered six furlongs in 1:10.14 and returned $2.40.

Alvarado said he wasn’t worried when Los Ojitos made the lead because he knew he had plenty of horse.

“I knew he had to use his horse to get in there and to pass me; he couldn’t just go by easy,” said Alvarado, who won three races at Aqueduct for the second consecutive day. “I wasn’t worried. I knew she was going to kick.”

Cluster of Stars, a New York-bred daughter of Greeley’s Galaxy, is now 5 for 5, including a victory in the Correction Stakes.

Sheets did not say where Cluster of Stars would run next. The next graded race in New York for filly and mare sprinters is the Grade 2, $200,000 Vagrancy Stakes at 6 1/2 furlongs May 18 at Belmont Park.

Jockey Alex Solis, scheduled to ride Nakano, was not permitted to ride Saturday due to high blood pressure, according to his agent, Mike Kelly.

Solis was replaced on Nakano by Irad Ortiz Jr., who was scheduled to ride Villanesca. Ortiz, who is serving an eight-day suspension due to a riding infraction at Laurel Park in February, was riding under a rule that allows a jockey to ride a designated race while under suspension provided he serves an additional day.