01/02/2012 5:59PM

Aqueduct: Sheikh has two good ones for winter campaign

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Barbara D. Livingston
Captivating Lass has responded well to the addition of blinkers in training for the Busanda

OZONE PARK, N.Y. – As evidenced by the fact that three of his Grade 1 winners spent part of their campaign running over Aqueduct’s inner track, Sheikh Mohammed isn’t bashful about leaving a good horse in New York for the winter.

Among the prospects Sheikh Mohammed and trainer Kiaran McLaughlin left to run in New York this winter are Alpha and Captivating Lass, who will attempt to kick off their respective 3-year-old campaigns with stakes victories this weekend at Aqueduct.

Alpha, the runner-up in the Grade 1 Champagne, heads a field of seven entered in the $150,000 Count Fleet Stakes for 3-year-old males while Captivating Lass, a disappointing seventh in the Grade 2 Demoiselle, will run in the $100,000 Busanda Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. Both races are run at a mile and 70 yards over the inner track.

Alpha, who will run under Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin Stable banner, won his debut by six lengths at Saratoga. He got squeezed back at the start of the Champagne and rallied wide to be second to Union Rags.

In the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Alpha acted up in the starting gate to the point where jockey Garrett Gomez had to dismount. He was in contention for about five furlongs before backing up to 11th, beaten 19 1/4 lengths by Hansen.

Talking about the Champagne, assistant trainer Art Magnuson said, “great run – finished second to a horse that might be 2-year-old champion. He was still a little green in that race but no excuse, second best.”

Magnuson said aside from Alpha’s antics in the starting gate, the horse might not have cared for the track surface that day.

“The Churchill strip sometimes can be a question mark,” Magnuson said. “We’re going to kind of hope it was the surface change.”

Alpha shipped to Palm Meadows following the Breeders’ Cup and trained there for a month before shipping to New York last Wednesday. On Monday, Alpha breezed four furlongs in 47.86 seconds in company with Captivating Lass. The two finished on even terms, getting a final quarter in 23.61 seconds and galloping out five furlongs in 1:01.47.

“He looked like he did all last summer,” Magnuson said. “Very professional, in hand. Just a nice, nice horse.”

Alpha, a son of Bernardini, will run on Lasix for the first time in the Count Fleet. He will break from post 5 in the seven-horse field under Ramon Dominguez.

The Count Fleet field, from the rail out, is: Il Villano (Jose Flores), How Do I Win (Cornelio Velasquez), Whistleblower (Ariel Smith), Stephanoatsee (Junior Alvarado), Alpha (Dominguez), Speightscity (David Cohen), and Shkspeare Shaliyah (Jose Valdivia Jr.).

Captivating Lass gets makeover

Since the winter of 2007-08, Darley has had a trio of fillies – Little Belle, Seventh Street, and It’s Tricky – launch their Grade 1-winning seasons over the inner track. They hope for the same success with Captivating Lass, who starts in the Busanda.

Captivating Lass won her debut at Parx by two lengths before running seventh with trouble in the Demoiselle. A daughter of A.P. Indy, Captivating Lass will be getting blinkers and Lasix for the first time in the Busanda.

“We’re not quick to go to blinkers, but we experimented in the morning a little bit and she’s definitely training better so we’re going to put them on,” Magnuson said. “She’s a big, laid-back, beautiful-to-be-around classy filly. Usually, we give them a chance with racing experience, but she’s really taken a hold of the bit with the blinkers.”

Mike Luzzi will ride Captivating Lass from post 5 in the seven-horse field.

The Busanda field, from the rail out, is Sweet Seventeen (Dominguez), The Winged Venus (Carlos Montalvo), Bourbonstreetgirl (Cohen), Lady Clara (Velasquez), Captivating Lass (Luzzi), Almost a Valentine (Elias Peltroche), and Terralba (Alvarado).

Lopez to miss a few weeks

Jockey C.C. Lopez, who has not ridden since racing resumed here after the holiday break, will miss the next two-to-three weeks because of a case of gout, according to his agent, Jim Riccio Jr.

Lopez, who has ridden 4,037 career winners, was off to an 8-for-52 start to this meet. He was scheduled to ride Spa City Fever, the upset winner of last Saturday’s Alex M. Robb Stakes.