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Sky's the limit if 'Flag' minds her manners
OZONE PARK, N.Y. - With the birth of his son, jockey John Velazquez has had a lot of sleepless nights the last two weeks. He has also had a lot of time to think.
Velazquez can't help but think how good Storm Flag Flying can be if she puts her mind on business. Last year, Velazquez guided an immature Storm Flag Flying through an undefeated, championship campaign that ended with a thrilling half-length victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies at Arlington Park.
"She can be anything,'' Velazquez said Wednesday morning at Belmont Park. "I think she's a champion anyway but I think she can be much better than she was last year if she just puts it all together and goes on business-wise.''
Friday, Velazquez will see how much Storm Flag Flying has matured over the last six months when last year's 2-year-old champion filly makes her 3-year-old debut in the Grade 3, $100,000 Comely Stakes at Aqueduct against five rivals.
Storm Flag Flying went undefeated in four starts last year, but she certainly had some anxious moments. In her debut at Saratoga, Storm Flag Flying was fractious in the paddock, unseating Velazquez. Despite racing erratically in the stretch, Storm Flag Flying still won by one length.
In the Grade 1 Matron, Storm Flag Flying was sent directly to the track after Velazquez was mounted and, though she shied away from the whip, Storm Flag Flying romped by 12 3/4 lengths. She may have been at her best when she ran down Santa Catarina to win the Grade 1 Frizette by two lengths.
In the Breeders' Cup, Storm Flag Flying again raced greenly, putting her ears up and seemingly slowing down at the most inopportune times. In the stretch, she relinquished the lead to Composure, but battled back along the rail to win.
Velazquez said he had to hit Storm Flag Flying a couple of times down the backside to keep her attention. He knew he was going to make the lead too early when he sent Storm Flag Flying after Santa Catarina at the quarter pole.
"When she went a half a length in front of [Santa Catarina] she began to slow down,'' Velazquez said. "And here comes Mike [Smith aboard Composure] and it looked like he was going to go past me. So I hit her a couple of times right-handed and as soon as Mike took a half-length in front of me I went back and hit her left-handed to get her attention. When she opened up a half-length you could see her ears go up and she wanted to pull up again. She was just being green.''
Trainer Shug McGaughey blamed himself a little bit for Storm Flag Flying's greenness in the Breeders' Cup because he took her to the track the day before the race in the dark, not letting her see the temporary seating around the far turn.
McGaughey believes Storm Flag Flying has matured greatly mentally from 2 to 3. If so, Velazquez believes she could be in for a monster year.
Smok'n Frolic stays home
After seriously considering shipping to Chicago for next week's $250,000 Sixty Sails Handicap at Hawthorne, owner Cot Campbell and trainer Todd Pletcher elected to keep Smok'n Frolic home and run in Saturday's $150,000 Bed o' Roses Breeders' Cup Handicap at Aqueduct.
Smok'n Frolic, who has won three of her last four starts, including the Grade 3 Next Move Handicap over this track in her last start, will be the starting highweight at 120 pounds. She will spot one pound to Raging Fever and three to Nonsuch Bay, both Grade 1 winners.
"We don't like giving a pound away to Raging Fever, but it's not the end of the world,'' Campbell said. "It's not worth the struggle to go to Chicago. We worried at first that she was a bad shipper and she was, but she shipped to Philadelphia and she shipped to California and that worked out fine so we're not afraid of that. The opportunity in New York is fine. She's run well at Aqueduct and won two stakes there. We get [Velazquez], which is nice, and it seems like the logical thing to do.''
Also pointing to the Bed o' Roses are Zonk, Alchemilla, and Bonefide Reason.
Fund of Funds works toward Derby
Fund of Funds, the runner-up to Ten Most Wanted in the Illinois Derby, worked four furlongs in 48.12 seconds over a fast Aqueduct main track Wednesday as he prepares for the Kentucky Derby. It was the second fastest of 14 moves at the distance.
Nancy Hickling, the assistant to trainer Rick Violette, was aboard for the move, the first for Fund of Funds since the Illinois Derby.
"It was just to let him blow off some steam,'' Hickling said. "He went out there and did it all himself. He's actually very strong and doing very well. He came out of the race great.''
Fund of Funds is expected to have two more breezes at Aqueduct before shipping to Louisville the week of the Derby.
Turf racing returns?
Despite an ominous forecast, the first turf race of the year has been carded for Friday. The sixth race, a 1 1/16-mile maiden race for fillies and mares, drew an overflow field of 13.
If the race stays on the turf, the horses to consider, Queens Carousel and Montefiore, will be breaking from the outside posts.
Queens Carousel is a half-sister to stakes winners Irving's Baby and Deeliteful Irving. She finished fifth as the 7-5 favorite in her turf debut at Saratoga last August, and has been out since.
Montefiore comes out of a third-place finish in a maiden race at Gulfstream in February in which she ducked in badly in the stretch, a faux pas that definitely cost her second.
If the race comes off the turf, Arctic Rose, a half-sister to two minor stakes winners, could be the right one for trainer Joe Orseno.
* Jockey Jose Espinoza returned to New York on Wednesday after spending the last several months riding in Saudi Arabia. He will begin riding in New York on Friday and will be represented by agent Ralph Theroux Jr., formerly the agent for Jean-Luc Samyn.
* Eibar Coa made a successful seasonal debut in New York on Wednesday, guiding Marquet Rent ($21.20) to victory in the seventh, an entry-level allowance race. Coa, who has moved his tack to New York from south Florida, went 1 for 4 on the card.
* Aaron Gryder took off his mounts Wednesday, complaining of shoulder pain suffered in a fall at his home. Gryder was aboard Rich Celebration for the opener, but that horse was a vet scratch at the gate.