10/19/2013 2:12PM

Belmont Park: Cluster of Stars cruises in Iroquois

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Barbara D. Livingston
Cluster of Stars remains unbeaten by winning the Iroquois under Javier Castellano on Saturday.

ELMONT, N.Y. - In the paddock, Harvey Weinstein, the owner of Cluster of Stars, said the moments before Saturday’s $150,000 Iroquois Stakes were “more nerve-wracking” than if he was running the filly in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint.

“This one,” he said, “you got to win.”

Win, Cluster of Stars of did, making the lead easily out of the gate under Javier Castellano, turning back a mid-race challenge from Vicki’s Dancer, and drawing off to a 3 1/4-length victory in the Iroquois. Willet, who won this race last year, finished second with Miss Valentine in third.

The win kept Cluster of Stars undefeated in seven starts for Weinstein’s Turtle Bird Stable and trainer Steve Asmussen, whose Belmont stable is overseen by assistant Toby Sheets.

The win came four weeks after Cluster of Stars romped to a five-length victory in the Grade 2 Gallant Bloom Handicap here off a five-month layoff. It was a performance that had many thinking Cluster of Stars could be a serious player in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint at Santa Anita.

The combination of having to pay a $100,000 supplemental fee and shipping cross-country to run over a totally different surface than the ones in New York swayed Weinstein to skip it.

“No regrets,” Weinstein said afterward, “because it’s the health of the horse that’s the most important thing. I think that’s a winnable race for her, I think every race she’s in is winnable, but I want to keep her going. When you go back there who knows how she comes back.”

Cluster of Stars opened up a 1 1/2-length lead over Vicki’s Dancer after running fractions of 22.46 seconds and 45.54. Vicki’s Dancer, under Rajiv Maragh, made a run at Cluster of Stars at the three-eighths pole. Castellano let Cluster of Stars out a notch and she cruised home in the stretch.

Cluster of Stars, a 4-year-old daughter of Greeley’s Galaxy, covered seven furlongs in 1:21.87 and returned $2.30 to win. There was $555,270 wagered on her to show; she paid $2.10 in that pool.

“When the other horse came at the three-eighths pole I felt a little pressure and I asked my filly, and she’s a special horse," Castellano said. "She got quick acceleration, and she opened up really quick. I don’t need to hit her or anything like that. Every time you ask her, she gives you everything she has. She’s just a special filly. I just enjoy the ride.”

Willet, who won this race last year by 9 1/4 lengths, finished second by 9 3/4 lengths. Her trainer, James Iselin, said, “It’s almost like a win.”

Iselin said he would point Willet to the Grade 2, $250,000 Go for Wand Handicap at Aqueduct on Nov. 29 with the understanding that we “might see [Cluster of Stars] again. That’s the problem.”