03/31/2011 1:30PM

Aqueduct: Unfamiliarity with main track clouds Excelsior picture


OZONE PARK, N.Y. – With a purse slashed 50 percent for its 99th running, the $100,000 Excelsior at Aqueduct on Saturday could easily be mistaken by handicappers as just another overnight stakes of winter.

Indeed, four of five older males entered in the Grade 3 Excelsior won stakes on the inner track at the just-concluded meet, and the other, Understatement, won two winter stakes last year, including the Evening Attire with a 115 Beyer.

The key equalizer in the 1 1/8-mile race may be the switch to the main track, a surface over which Understatement, Inherit the Gold, and More Than a Reason are a collective 1 for 15, and Modern Cowboy and Goombada Guska have never run.

The New York-bred gelding Inherit the Gold has been installed as the slight 9-5 favorite over Todd Pletcher’s uncoupled duo of Modern Cowboy and Understatement after sweeping four starts on the inner track, climaxed by a score in the Kings Point against New York-breds three weeks ago. Inherit the Gold is a perfect 5 for 5 in two-turn starts on the inner dating back to 2009, and although he has won just one of eight other starts, only one – a runner-up finish at Saratoga – was around two turns.

“I’ve always said the main issue is two turns,” said trainer Jim Hooper. “I think he’ll run on any track.”

Pletcher’s inner-track training title included 14 stakes wins with 10 different horses, one of them a four-length triumph by Modern Cowboy in the one-mile Bald Eagle on Jan. 29. The 4-year-old Modern Cowboy has not started since then due to a minor foot issue, but has been on a regular training schedule since late February.

“His work Sunday was textbook for him,” said assistant trainer Jonathan Thomas. “He did it really well, and it should set him up nicely.”

Understatement also comes into the Excelsior fresh, having not run since setting the pace to the final yards against the razor-sharp Marilyn’s Guy on Jan. 23. That was the fifth straight time he has given up the lead since winning the Stymie here last March.

After winning this year’s Stymie five weeks ago, Goombada Guska was purchased by Turtle Bird Stable and turned over to Steve Asmussen.

“He’s had three breezes with us, he’s breezed very well and I’m happy with him,” said assistant trainer Toby Sheets.

More Than a Reason posted the group’s lone win on the main track back in November 2008, beating $50,000 claimers in the first of his 50 starts for trainer Randi Persaud.

The lone graded stakes winner in the lineup, the durable More Than a Reason posted a 19-1 upset in the Grade 3 Queens County early at the inner-track meet.