03/14/2011 3:56PM

Aqueduct: Inherit the Gold looks for spot away from inner track


OZONE PARK, N.Y. – If nothing else, James Hooper plans to do his due diligence when deciding where next to run his streaking New York-bred gelding Inherit the Gold.

Hooper said he plans to make a reconnaissance mission of sorts to Charles Town Races and Slots in the next couple of weeks to see if the Grade 3, $1 million Charles Town Classic on April 16 is a realistic spot for Inherit the Gold, who last Saturday won the Kings Point Stakes at Aqueduct for his fourth consecutive victory, all on the inner track. Hooper’s other option for Inherit the Gold is the Grade 3, $100,000 Excelsior Stakes over Aqueduct’s main track on April 2.

“I’ll probably take a trip down there watch some races at night, watch them train in the morning, look at the surface and see if that’s someplace I want to take a nice horse,” Hooper, the trainer and part-owner of Inherit the Gold, said Monday morning from his farm in upstate New York.

Charles Town’s main track is only six furlongs in circumference, meaning a race like the 1 1/8-mile Charles Town Classic would be run around three turns. Moreover, the distance from the final turn to the finish line is 660 feet. Comparatively, Aqueduct’s main track is 1 1/8 miles in circumference and the length of the stretch is 1,156 feet.

“I’ll probably see how the Excelsior comes up,” Hooper said. “It’s in our own backyard. I’ll do a lot of weighing of the plusses and minuses. It’s a great position to be in. I got a big smile on my face.”

Perhaps the biggest minus for Inherit the Gold wherever he runs next is that the race won’t be run over the inner track. Inherit the Gold is 5 for 6 over the inner track and 1 for 7 elsewhere.

That is reminiscent of some previous inner-track specialists who have done little elsewhere. Barrier Reef was 5 for 6 over the inner and 0 for 11 off the inner. In 2009, he won three races over the inner, including two stakes, but finished third as the 6-5 favorite in the Excelsior.

Understatement is 4 for 6 over the inner and 1 for 14 elsewhere. In 2010, he won two stakes over the inner and finished fifth as the 3-1 favorite in the Charles Town Classic.

Hooper said that trainer Pat Kelly asked him what he was going to do with Inherit the Gold once the inner track season was over.

“I told him probably just win races,” Hooper said. “I do think he likes the two turns. I don’t know if I’ll run him at Belmont where they have that long straightaway, I don’t think that’s in his best interest.”

Ironically, Inherit the Gold’s only win away from the inner track came in a one-turn mile race at Belmont.

NYRA preparing for turf season

Aqueduct’s main track will open for racing March 30, and officials hope to be able to open the turf course on or around that date. The process of readying the turf for use has already begun with the placement of tarps over most of the course.

According to Glen Kozak, NYRA’s director of racing surfaces, the purpose of the tarps is to keep the soil warm, which facilitates growth. Kozak said he would have liked to have gotten the tarps on earlier than he was able to, but had to wait for the all the snow to melt first.

Kozak said before the tarps went down, the course underwent a thorough sweeping process “to fan the grass up that had been matted down from the prolonged snow build up.” Kozak said the course has been fertilized and that another product has been put on the course to prevent any potential mold on the course.

Kozak said it is too early to say when the course would be ready. Last year, NYRA made it to the turf on April 3 (Wood Memorial Day) and ran 38 turf races before the meet ended.

Options for Royal Sighting

Royal Sighting’s breeding made her connections believe she would be better suited for the turf. Fox Ridge Farm and trainer Pat Kelly may want to re-evaluate things after the 3-year-old daughter of Rahy won a maiden race over the inner track by 12 3/4 lengths last week.

“We all think she’s better on the turf,” Kelly said. “In the long run, she might be. Some turf horses like the inner track.”

Royal Sighting made her first two starts on turf, finishing seventh and fourth in sprints over Belmont’s turf course last fall. Though it took her three tries on dirt to win a maiden race, she had excuses in her first two dirt starts. On Jan. 9, she got annihilated at the break and still did well to finish second to Vixen’s Roar. On Feb. 12, she had a wide trip and was only beaten a neck by R Holiday Mood, who came back to win Sunday’s $60,000 Out Ruled Stakes.

Kelly said he might consider running Royal Sighting back in the Grade 3 Comely going a one-turn mile here on Wood Day or he may go back to the turf with Royal Sighting and run her at Keeneland. Kelly said that Royal Sighting breezed several times last year with Upper East Sider, a New York-bred turf sprinter who could be earmarked for a race at Keeneland as well.

Upper East Sider and Yield Bogey, her multiple stakes-placed older brother, have recently returned to Kelly’s Belmont barn after wintering in South Carolina.

Dominguez, favorites dominate

Though he will only be riding on four of the last 10 days of the inner track, Ramon Dominguez has virtually locked up his fourth consecutive inner track riding title. With two weeks remaining, Dominguez has a 100-68 lead over David Cohen, who missed the last three-plus days due to an injured calf.

Dominguez will ride here Wednesday through Friday and Sunday. On Saturday, he will be in Arkansas to ride J P’s Gusto in the Rebel. Next Monday, he leaves for Dubai where he will ride Gio Ponti in the $10 million World Cup and I Want Revenge in the $1 million Godolphin Mile on March 26.

Dominguez’s success is one reason favorites are batting a healthy 41.6 percent since the inner track opened Dec. 2. Favorites have won 232 out of the 557 races run since that point – that includes 2 for 8 in grass races run in early December. In the previous six winter meets, favorites won between 34 percent and 39 percent of the time.

◗ Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Haynesfield worked five furlongs in 1:01.88 over the Belmont training track Monday, his second official breeze since resuming training.