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Spared the brunt of a huge winter storm, the track managed to get the entire week in. David Cohen took advantage of a day when leading rider Ramon Dominguez came up empty, posting a triple Wednesday. Carlos Lopez also posted a triple, including a $36.60 upset on Huge Party for Linda Rice in the day's sixth race. Anna Napravnik had two winners.
Thursday was Dominguez's day to reaffirm himself - three winners did the trick. He wasn't done, either, winning three more Friday. Jorge Chavez won three of his own Friday, and interestingly, two of the wins came aboard mounts picked up late on the card for Gary Contessa.
The wealth was spread Saturday, but Dominguez was at it again Sunday with another triple. By week's end, Dominguez had nine wins, pushing his total to 63 for the meet. Cohen's five wins for the week gave him 45.
Among trainers, Todd Pletcher's two wins kept him clear with 25 wins. Contessa added four wins (21), followed by Steve Asmussen, who added two wins (14); Richard Dutrow Jr., who added one (12); and Bruce Levine, who added two (12).
Came East broke onto the scene like a real comer for Pletcher last fall. A son of multiple Grade 1 stakes winner Came Home, he romped by 10 lengths in his Keeneland debut Oct. 16, earning a 97 Beyer. He came back and beat winners by a length on the big track here Nov. 20, earning an 87 Beyer. But things have gone south since.
He tried an allowance route in the mud here Dec. 26, stalking the pace before giving way badly and finishing last of nine, beaten 18 lengths. You could point to mud or routing for the first time as an excuse. Well, those don't hold water for what happened when he came back in Friday's opener. Moved back to a sprint and on fast going, Came East stalked the pace but never really made a move, finishing fourth, beaten over three lengths at 2-1. Maybe he needs a return to synthetic footing.
The track got off to quite a fair start Wednesday. Winners came from everywhere - two wire to wire, three pressing, three stalking, and one from well back.
The trend continued Thursday and Friday. A fair track saw winners and prime contenders coming from all points. Tactical speed, as always, was effective, but you could still win from off the pace.
Some snow fell Saturday, but the track was spared of taking the full force of a major winter storm. The track favored runners well off the rail, and closers had a better time of it.
The track continued to play fair through Sunday.
UPS AND DOWNS
As reported last week by DRF's David Grening, trainer Mike Hushion has had a rough go of it lately. His crack sprinter Saratoga Russell suffered a career-ending injury while training. Then his best horse, Rodman, was forced to miss last Saturday's here Dec. 12, Rodman suffered a bruised foot and is out of training for a month or so.
But Thursday, Hushion's 3-year-old New York-bred filly Shine Upon gave him reason to smile, winning a first-level allowance race by 6 1/2 lengths. It was her second straight win, and her first since being moved to Hushion's barn. In Friday's opener, Dubai Rainbow pressed the pace and prevailed in an allowance sprint. The win followed her 7 3/4-length score over maidens at Penn on Jan. 14. Hushion made it to the winner's circle again in last Saturday's nightcap with Ironman John.
Tidal Dance, winner of the Affectionately by 2 1/2 lengths Jan. 12, is resting after such a big effort. Hushion has not announced plans for Tidal Dance's next start but said she would not run in the Barbara Fritchie at Laurel or the Rare Treat at Aqueduct, tempting as they might be.
Hushion's Rereadthefootnotes is targeting the Feb. 15 Hollie Hughes. A 4-year-old New York-bred gelded son of Read the Footnotes, Rereadthefootnotes looked super when he won an open first-level allowance race by six lengths Jan. 20. Hushion said he remains high on Rereadthefootnotes's prospects.
A LOOK AT PROSPECTS
Eightyfiveinafifty's distance test in Saturday's was a disaster that nearly became a tragedy.
Sent off as the 3-10 favorite, Eightyfiveinafifty was routing for the first time after posting a 17 1/4-length maiden win Jan. 9, when he earned a 105 Beyer. His bit snapped soon after he left the gate, leaving jockey Jorge Chavez without a way to control the horse. Eightyfiveinafifty bolted on the clubhouse turn and crashed through the rail separating the two main tracks, dropping Chavez. He then hurdled the main-track rail and ran loose in the barn area before being caught.
The horse reportedly suffered a cut on his right hind but was otherwise unhurt. Contessa said Eightyfiveinafifty may miss a week of training. Chavez was taken to the hospital to be examined after complaining of a sore back. He took off Sunday.
Peppi Knows went on to win the Whirlaway in a race that proved nothing. Peppi Knows may target the Grade 3 Gotham on March 6.
Tiger's Rock's win in the $60,000 Coyote Lakes Jan. 31 was his second in as many starts here; he also easily won the Gallant Fox on Dec. 31. Both wins came over stablemate Nite Light. While Tiger's Rock is nominated to the Dubai World Cup, that may be too much, too soon. His trainer, Todd Pletcher, instead indicated he's more likely to keep Tiger's Rock home, and the 1 5/8-mile Sharp Gary Feb. 28 may be next. Should all go well there, a step up could happen in a race such as the Grade 3 Excelsior Handicap at 1 1/8 miles on the big track here April 3.
PERFORMANCE OF THE WEEK
The most telling factor in Thursday's eighth race may have been Dominguez following the nation's Eclipse Award-winning trainer, Steve Asmussen. Dominguez had ridden Imthequeenofqueens in several races for trainer John Parisella, including a New York-bred N1X route Jan. 15, when the pair finished second by a neck. Imthequeenofqueens was the 2-1 morning-line favorite Thursday. But Parisella had said earlier in the week he was going to scratch after Imthequeenofqueens colicked over the weekend. However, a good gallop by her Wednesday prompted him to change his mind.
Dominguez, though, showed up on Asmussen's Bearursa, who was coming off a third in a sprint at this same level Jan. 9. A 5-year-old mare, Bearursa was making her first start for Asmussen and lured Dominguez. Moving to a trip she has handled, she was bet like she couldn't lose, being hammered down to 3-5. Bearursa bided her time midpack while saving ground, eased out into the lane, was asked for some run, and responded the way backers expected. She moved easily to the lead and drew off and was never really under a drive. She looks ready for deeper waters, judging by this performance.
Imthequeenofqueens, meanwhile, broke last in the field of eight and never made any sort of run, finishing sixth, beaten about 15 lengths.
HORSES TO WATCH
Trainer: Cleveland Johnson
Last race: Feb. 3, 3rd
Finish: 2nd by 1/2
Made an auspicious debut. The daughter of Roaring Fever hadn't shown a ton of speed in her works, but she sure showed it when the gates opened. She went right out to duel with 9-5 favorite Musicsetsmefree in the six-furlong maiden race, put that rival away, and looked like she might post the big upset at 35-1, but couldn't quite fend off Quitters Never Win, who went on by for the score. Still, she ended up 4 1/2 lengths clear of third and surely stamped herself a player in a similar race in the near future.
Trainer: David Donk
Last race: Feb. 4, 2nd
Finish: 2nd by 3/4
Considering it was his first start in nearly seven months and got into a duel, this 3-year-old gelding ran a superb race. After a dull debut at Belmont last July versus straight maidens, he was gone for some time. He came back here for a $50,000 tag with blinkers added, and under Pablo Fragoso went right out to contest the pace in the six-furlong race. Trouble is, that was the same strategy employed by It's the Big Cat. The two dueled, and while Spicy Steve got the better of It's the Big Cat, they set things up perfectly for stalking favorite Dixie Nite Out, who took full advantage and went past late.
Trainer: Edward Lotruglio
Last race: Feb. 5, 5th
Finish: 2nd by a head
Appears to be a nice claim. The 6-year-old mare did plenty of good work in New Jersey last summer but had seemed to hit hard times since coming here. She was sixth for $12,500 on Dec. 30, then a badly beaten eighth (25-plus lengths) here Jan. 17 for $7,500. Lotruglio saw fit to claim her that day and move her up to the $10,000 level for this spot, and she responded. She was slow into stride but once pitched out into the lane by promising young rider Joe Musarro she found her best stride and finished full of run to just miss posting the 21-1 upset. Looks like she may be coming back into form.