07/02/2013 1:44PM

Finger Lakes: Chris Englehart could have Niagara sleeper in Alpha J


Despite an ugly-looking last running line, in which she went from first to last within a half-mile and did not finish the course, Alpha J may be an intriguing contender in the July 4 feature at Finger Lakes.

Alpha J will be making her second start off the claim for perennial leading trainer Chris Englehart in the $50,000 Niagara Stakes, a six-furlong sprint for New York-bred 3-year-old fillies.

Englehart claimed Alpha J for $35,000 out of a third-place finish in a seven-furlong turf sprint at Belmont Park a month ago. He ran her back two weeks later in a higher class seven-furlong turf race. Alpha J was in front after a quarter-mile, but stopped badly and was eased after falling 19 lengths behind through six furlongs.

Two weeks after that flop, Alpha J is moving back to dirt, where she is 2 for 6, and returning to statebred company. Englehart-trained horses making their second start off the claim returning in 14 days or less are 18 for 46 (39 percent) with a $3.54 return on investment the past five years.

In addition, there is the threat of thunderstorms in the forecast, and a wet track would work in Alpha J’s favor. Her best race on dirt came when she won over a sloppy track at Aqueduct in April.

Shades of Sugar and Neptune Road, both showing sharp recent form at Finger Lakes, are logical win candidates.

Shades of Sugar has been less than even money in all three of her career starts, winning by 8 1/2 lengths in her first two races and finishing second over a sloppy track last time out June 13. She will be facing New York-breds for the first time in the Niagara. Her trainer, Jonathan Buckley, won back-to-back runnings of the Niagara in 1999-2000.

Neptune Road improved her Beyer Speed Figure from a 40 in a winning performance sprinting against maidens to a 71 going two turns against open allowance company, making her 2 for 2 since coming to Finger Lakes from Turf Paradise. It’s difficult to predict how she will react to that huge performance while cutting back to six furlongs. From a limited sampling, trainer Troy Smith is a combined 1 for 9 with last-out winners going from routes to sprints and horses switching from route to sprints following a break of 31 to 60 days.