09/24/2011 12:38PM

Finger Lakes home sweet home for Nicole’s Miss El


Nicole’s Miss El, who came close to scoring her first stakes victory when she sprinted against older horses at Saratoga last month, returns to her home track, where she is 5 for 6, for Monday’s featured eighth race at Finger Lakes.

The 3-year-old Nicole’s Miss El looks like a standout in a field of six New York-bred fillies and mares going six furlongs in a third-level optional $15,000 claimer.

After a 3-for-4 start this season, Nicole’s Miss El shipped to Saratoga for the Union Avenue on Aug. 22. Sent off at 8-1, Nicole’s Miss El raced close to the lead through a half-mile in 45.12 seconds, made a three-wide move into the stretch, stuck her head in front at the eighth pole, then weakened slightly to finish second, 1 3/4 lengths behind the winner but 2 3/4 lengths clear of the third-place finisher.

Although she is back on familiar grounds with trainer Dan Conway, Nicole’s Miss El will be ridden for the first time by J.M. Rohena.

Among Nicole’s Miss El’s five opponents, four have between five and eight victories to their credit. The most dangerous might be Sweet Hot Toddy, a 4-year-old filly who comes back 13 days after finishing a close second against similar competition. Sweet Hot Toddy is 2 for 3 returning within 14 days of a good race, including a win on May 12.

Although she has been first or second in 10 of 19 starts locally, nearly all of Sweet Hot Toddy’s good races have come at either five or 5 1/2 furlongs. She is 0 for 5 at six furlongs, including a last-place finish in her most recent attempt at the distance in late August.

Judge Margaret switches from turf to dirt and cuts back to a sprint in her second start off the claim for trainer Karl Grusmark. Racing at this same level last season, Judge Margaret led after the first six furlongs and went on to win by three lengths going a mile and 70 yards. A six-time winner at Finger Lakes, Judge Margaret is one of two horses in for the optional $15,000 tag.

Sweet Hot Toddy’s uncoupled stablemate, Gatto Nero, has won 2 of her last 3 starts, the defeat coming when she shipped to Saratoga on Aug. 31. Like Sweet Hot Toddy, Gatto Nero’s best form has been in races shorter than six furlongs.