03/14/2012 4:33PM

Aqueduct: Dominguez gets strong start for three-peat bid

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Barbara D. Livingtston
Ramon Dominguez leads all jockeys in wins and purse money won this year.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. – Based on the way he has started 2012, the reigning two-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey Ramon Dominguez is certainly not resting on his laurels.

Through the first 10 weeks of the year, Dominguez leads all jockeys in wins (88) and purse money won ($4.5 million). Dominguez is well on his way to a fifth consecutive Aqueduct inner track riding title. Entering Wednesday’s card, his 98 wins over the inner were 16 more than Cornelio Velasquez. The meet ends Sunday as NYRA announced Wednesday that it will move to the main track on March 21, two weeks earlier than scheduled.

Dominguez also has made the most of his out-of-town trips, winning three stakes at Gulfstream Park including two aboard the emerging handicap star Mucho Macho Man. Returning from a break last fall following a grueling Triple Crown campaign, Mucho Macho Man has won three straight races, including the Sunshine Millions Classic and last Saturday’s Gulfstream Park Handicap.

Dominguez said that Mucho Macho Man has really filled out and become more professional, something he noticed going back to his return at Aqueduct last November.

“He was an extremely big horse and he needed to fill out and mature,” Dominguez said Wednesday morning at Belmont Park. “He really looked the part in the paddock. He has become so professional. He’s tactical early on, and when it’s time to go, he’s pretty quick as well.”

This weekend, Dominguez will be traveling again, this time to New Orleans, where he will ride reigning Horse of the Year Havre de Grace in the New Orleans Ladies at Fair Grounds.

It will be Havre de Grace’s first start since she finished fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic last November at Churchill Downs.

“She wasn’t herself,” Dominguez said about Havre de Grace in the Classic. “When it was time to go, she didn’t have her usual kick. Turning for home, I thought she wasn’t going to get anything, but she continued battling to get fourth, which I thought was a pretty good effort.”

Dominguez will likely be at Aqueduct on March 24, and his plans for March 31 – Florida Derby Day at Gulfstream Park – could depend on what trainer Kiaran McLaughlin decides to do with Alpha. Dominguez rode Alpha to victories in the Count Fleet and Withers and would ride him in the Florida Derby, should he run there.

If McLaughlin opts to run Alpha in the Wood Memorial, Dominguez is otherwise engaged with the reigning 2-year-old champion Hansen, who was a good-looking winner of the Gotham here March 3.

Coming off a disappointing 3-year-old debut in which he was beaten five lengths by Algorithms, Hansen came back in the Gotham and demonstrated the ability to relax while finishing strong and galloping out well.

“I was very, very excited with him when he ran,’’ Dominguez said. “At Gulfstream, people were skeptical with him getting the distance. He was so eager that day. Mike Maker said he made some changes and was pretty optimistic this horse was going to be different.

“I couldn’t have dreamt he was going to change as much as he did,” Dominguez said. “He couldn’t have been more relaxed. He showed a different dimension that I was very happy to see. Not only did he come back to me, he finished strong, he galloped out strong, which he always does.”