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Updated on 11/29/2011 1:06PM
Aqueduct: Live Oak Plantation looks poised for big 2012
OZONE PARK, N.Y. – As the 2011 racing season comes to a close, it became abundantly clear Saturday that owner Charlotte Weber has a lot to look forward to in 2012.
Weber is the head of Live Oak Plantation, which on Saturday at Aqueduct sent out To Honor and Serve to victory in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile and Souper Speedy to a runner-up finish in the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes, in just the 2-year-old colt’s second race.
Mix in a respectable fourth-place finish by Wee Party in Saturday’s Grade 2 Demoiselle and a solid third-place finish by Brilliant Speed – the older brother of Souper Speedy – in the Breeders’ Cup Turf three weeks ago at Churchill Downs, and Live Oak’s prospects for next year are promising.
“I think we’re going to have a fun year, looking forward to it,” Weber said Monday by phone from her farm in Ocala, Fla.
Weber will get to spend some quality time with To Honor and Serve, Souper Speedy, and Wee Party, all of whom will be spending a few weeks at Live Oak before heading back to their respective trainers in early 2012.
As far as To Honor and Serve is concerned, Weber will be in no rush to get him back to the races as she does not intend to run the colt at Gulfstream Park in 2012. To Honor and Serve ran disappointing thirds in both the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby at Gulfstream and emerged from the Florida Derby with a suspensory injury that knocked him off the Triple Crown trail.
Weber and trainer Bill Mott both mentioned the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park on May 28 as the first major objective of the year for To Honor and Serve. Races like the Grade 1 Carter, a seven-furlong race at Aqueduct on April 7 or the Westchester, a one-turn mile race at Belmont likely to be run April 27, could be the seasonal debut for To Honor and Serve, who earned a 104 Beyer Speed Figure for his Cigar Mile win.
“We had to have that Grade 1 to be considered serious,” Weber said.
Weber hopes that Souper Speedy can develop into a serious Kentucky Derby contender in 2012. After winning his debut going seven furlongs at Belmont in October, Souper Speedy was game while racing on the lead in the Remsen, giving way grudgingly late to O’Prado Again. Souper Speedy was beaten three-quarters of a length, but held second by a head.
“Do I think I have a nice horse?” Weber said. “I think I have a very nice horse.”
Weber said she would talk with trainer Tom Albertrani this week to map out a 3-year-old campaign for Souper Speedy who is a son of Indian Charlie.
Weber has already spoken to Albertrani about sending Brilliant Speed to Dubai for either the $10 million World Cup on the Tapeta surface or the $5 million Sheema Classic on turf. Both races are March 31.
Brilliant Speed won the Grade 1 Blue Grass over Keeneland’s Polytrack last April, and he is a two-time winner on turf.
Weber wasn’t terribly disappointed about Wee Party’s fourth-place finish in the Demoiselle. Though beaten 5 1/2 lengths, Wee Party was running back just 16 days after winning a maiden race. Lady Cohiba, another Live Oak runner, finished sixth in the Demoiselle. She was running back just 10 days after winning an overnight stakes.
Englehart loading up for winter
Trainer Chris Englehart finished fifth in last year’s inner track standings with 23 wins from 98 starters. That was with a stable of about 35 horses and included Englehart’s being unable to run horses at the beginning of the meet due to a quarantine of his stable and at the end of the meet due to a suspension.
Englehart could be an even bigger factor here this winter as he is expected to have 50 to 60 horses here by the first of the year. Englehart, one of just 22 trainers with at least 3,000 career victories, had a solid Aqueduct main track meet, with six winners from 18 starters.
Englehart said he will put his primary focus on New York this winter as opposed to last year when he also kept a string at Mountaineer Park.
“I’ve gotten rid of some of my cheaper horses and gotten some better horses,” said Englehart, who credited his assistant, Manny Gonzalez, as a reason he was so successful here last winter. “I want to have a bigger presence in New York, if I can.”
Englehart has five horse entered in four races on Wednesday’s card, though three are main-track-only entrants in races scheduled for the turf.
Englehart has two of the five horses entered in a first-level allowance race run over the inner track at a mile – Miss Tequila and E Z Passer. Miss Tequila has won three consecutive races, including a second-level New York-bred allowance going a mile over main track in the slop. She is 3 for 4 over wet surfaces, and there was rain in the forecast Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.
E Z Passer, a three-time winner over the inner track, has earned Englehart and Island Wind Racing $100,000 since they claimed the horse for $15,000 here back in February. Three starts back, she was second to the subsequent stakes winner R Gypsy Gold in a first-level allowance race at Belmont.
More money for 3-year-olds
The New York Racing Association will bring the Grade 3 Withers back to the stakes schedule after a one-year hiatus and run it in February, giving 3-year-olds an additional opportunity to earn graded stakes money in hopes of qualifying for the Kentucky Derby. Earnings in graded stakes are used to determine the field for the Kentucky Derby when more than the maximum 20 horses enter the race, which is often the case.
The Withers, run as a one-turn mile in the past on the main track, will be run at 1 1/16 miles around two turns on the inner track on Feb. 4, four weeks after the ungraded Count Fleet is run Jan. 7. The Count Fleet, a two-turn race run at a mile and 70 yards, will have its purse increased to $150,000 from $65,000, according to P.J. Campo, NYRA’s vice president/racing secretary.
The Withers will be a stepping-stone to the March 3 Gotham Stakes, which will have its purse increased to $400,000 from $250,000, according to Campo.
Those races lead to the Grade 1 Wood Memorial, which will be run April 7 at 1 1/8 miles over the main track. The Wood will retain its $1 million purse. Genting, the company that operates Aqueduct’s casino, supplemented the purse with $250,000 in 2011 and will do so again in 2012, according to Campo.
NYRA will release its entire stakes schedule for Aqueduct’s winter/spring meeting following an early December board of trustees meeting, Campo said.
◗ Kevin Cox, agent for jockey Simon Husbands, also has started booking mounts for Maylan Studart.