03/02/2012 2:47PM

Aqueduct: Joe Vann, Rush Now return from layoffs in optional claimer

Barbara D. Livingston
Joe Vann will make his first start since September on Sunday at Aqueduct.

The richest race run on Sunday’s nine-race program at Aqueduct is the first, featuring a match-up between Joe Vann and Rush Now, a pair of stakes-winning 3-year-olds from 2011 making their 4-year-old debuts in a $71,000 third-level allowance race.

Joe Vann, trained by Todd Pletcher, is 3 for 12, having recorded all three wins in a 55-day span last winter/spring capped by a front-running victory in the Grade 3 Illinois Derby at Hawthorne.

He finished the year with losses in the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational at Monmouth in August and the $300,000 Smarty Jones at Parx Racing on Labor Day, before going to the sidelines.

“He was a tired horse, he needed a break, we stopped and gave him a little freshening,” said Todd Pletcher, who trains Joe Vann for Ahmed Zayat. “He’s training well. He might not be at this peak.”

Joe Vann likes to be forwardly placed in his races, and breaking from the rail under Ramon Dominguez on Sunday, he figures to once again be involved early.

However, Rush Now is another who enjoyed the bulk of his success racing on the front end. At 2, he won the Dover Stakes in front-running fashion. At 3, he won a $40,000 claimer on the front end and finished second to Prayer for Relief in the Grade 2 West Virginia Derby after leading virtually the entire way.

He is making his first start since finishing seventh in the Pennsylvania Derby, a race in which he led early before being swallowed up by To Honor and Serve.

“He was in front where he likes to be, but he had To Honor and Serve right beside him,” Tony Dutrow, trainer of Rush Now said. “When [Jose] Lezcano asked him to go, he ran right by us, and that was too much for Rush Now to take, so he collapsed like they do sometimes. Totally outclassed describes his performance in the Pennsylvania Derby.”

Like Joe Vann, Rush Now spent the winter training at the Palm Meadows training center in south Florida.

“He had a well-deserved freshening,” Dutrow said. “We got him ready at Palm Meadows, shipped him up here. The horse couldn’t be any better.”

Cornelio Velasquez rides Rush Now from post 2.

Well Positioned, trained by Richard Dutrow Jr., is another who figures to be close to the pace. Well Positioned came off a 14-month layoff to win an optional claimer when allowed to dictate the early pace. He is in for the optional claiming price of $75,000.

Uncle T Seven, winless since the 2010 Ashley T Cole, and Midnight Billy, whose lone win on dirt came sprinting over the inner track two years ago, will attempt to close from off the pace.