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Thebigapple in big leagues
ELMONT, N.Y. - Thebigapple has the perfect name to win Saturday's $250,000 Empire Classic, one of seven New York-bred stakes on New York Showcase Day at Belmont Park. More importantly, the 3-year-old has the looks of a horse with stakes potential.
Thebigapple will make his stakes debut in the 1 1/8-mile Empire Classic after winning 3 of 7 lifetime starts for the white-hot Bruce Levine. Through Monday, Levine had saddled 11 winners from 36 starters at the meet and was third in the trainer standings.
Thebigapple accounted for two of Levine's wins at the Belmont fall meet.
An Abel Prospect colt, Thebigapple followed up an easy win in a preliminary allowance by winning a second-level allowance race against statebreds on Oct. 3. He stalked the early pace in the 1 1/16-mile race before drawing off in the stretch for a 3 1/4-length win. The final time was a quick 1:42.90 and Thebigapple earned a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 103.
"I knew the number had to be big, because that was a fast race," said Levine, who trains Thebigapple for his father, Robert. "I thought it was a huge race. We thought he was a stakes horse from the beginning. Outside of that one fiasco, all his races have been good."
That one fiasco was at Saratoga when Thebigapple was eased in the stretch as the favorite in a restricted allowance race.
Levine said jockey John Velazquez told him the colt "held his breath and wouldn't let it go."
"I've heard of 2-year-olds doing that, but I never had it happen before," Levine said. "After the race, we scoped him and listened to his heart, and he was fine."
In the Empire Classic, Thebigapple will face Gander, the likely favorite and 126-pound highweight. Levine's colt, who will be ridden by Aaron Gryder, receives a big break in the weights, getting 13 pounds from Gander.
Other expected starters are Compelling World, J's Wild Slew, Mount Intrepid, Mr. Determined, Running Today, Sherpa Guide, and Toddler. No Parole will run in the Empire Classic or the $100,000-added Discovery on Wednesday, opening day at Aqueduct. Lord Ofthe Thunder could run in the Empire Classic or the Hudson on the undercard.
Entries for the Empire Classic and the rest of the New York Showcase races will be taken on Thursday.
The $150,000 Mohawk is shaping up to be an extremely competitive race. A full field is expected in the 1 1/8-mile grass race, including graded stakes winners Finality and Whitmore's Conn. The race's defending champion, I'm All Yours, is another probable.
Todd Pletcher, who trains Finality and I'm All Yours, said he will not run Finality if the turf is soft. Heavy rains have soaked the area for the last week and Finality was scratched from last Saturday's Grade 3 Lawrence Realization when the race came off the turf. If Finality doesn't start here Saturday, he could run at Arlington Park in the $100,000 John Henry Handicap, the day before the Breeders' Cup on Oct. 25.
The other Mohawk probables are Celtic Sky, Chasin' Wimmin, Haggs Castle, Reluctant Groom, Robbie's Rockin, Statement, and World of Wonder.
Shopping for Love, Critical Eye, and Rhum are the headline names for the $150,000 Ticonderoga, a filly and mare grass race.
Shopping for Love, who won the Ticonderoga in 2000, is scheduled to make her final career start in the 1 1/8-mile race before entering the sale's ring next month at Keeneland.
Critical Eye was entered in a Friday allowance race on the dirt, but is still under consideration for this spot.
Others likely for the Ticonderoga are Brandala, Eventail, Lady D'Jour, Longingtobeme, Perfect Energy, Run Alexis Run, Some Irish Legend, Sparkling Ava, and You'll Be Happy.
Say Florida Sandy, the richest New York-bred off all time, will try to get back into the winner's circle in the $150,000 Hudson, a six-furlong dirt race. A loser of his last three starts, Say Florida Sandy has been assigned highweight of 123 pounds.
A solid field is lining up to face Say Florida Sandy, including, Impeachthepro, who beat Say Florida Sandy in last year's Hudson; Well Fancied; and Vodka.
Maddie May seeks back-to-back wins in the $125,000 Iroquois, a seven-furlong dirt race for fillies and mares.
Maddie May, entered to be sold in Keeneland's November breeding stock sale, will face, among others, Dat You Miz Blue, a winner of $666,801.
Maddie May and Dat You Miz Blue are the co-highweights at 123 pounds in what is shaping up to be a full field.
The other probables are Belongs to Mony, Carson City Girl, Fromheretoheaven, Little Lori Lu, Seeyouinmydreams, Textbook Method, and We'll Sea Yea. Trainer Jim Bond is expected to start Pretty Brassy or Princess Dixie.
The undefeated Funny Cide will be an overwhelming favorite in the $100,000 Sleepy Hollow for 2-year-olds at a mile.
Funny Cide won his maiden in a romp and then came back to score a nine-length victory in the Bertram F. Bongard Stakes.
Not surprisingly, a small field is likely, including Gallant Soldier, Go Rockin' Robin, J.B. Hood, and Spite the Devil. Unbridled Drive is listed as possible.
Maid of the Mist
Beautiful America, the winner of the Joseph A. Gimma Stakes, is among the expected starters for the $100,000 Maid of the Mist for 2-year-old fillies.
Others pointing to the mile race include, Combanchera, a daughter of Seattle Slew who was an easy winner of an allowance race here last month, and Doc's Doll, the Gimma runner-up.
Critical Eye tough in feature
Graded stakes winners Critical Eye and Shine Again are the main contenders among a field of six older fillies and mares in Friday's feature, a $58,000 classified allowance.
The race will be run at 1 1/16 miles on the dirt.
Critical Eye is likely to be entered in Saturday's $150,000 Ticonderoga, but trainer Scott Schwartz said if the turf course is soft he would be hesitant to run.
Critical Eye, who has won three allowances races on the dirt this year, including two at Belmont, looks tougher in this spot.
Schwartz's goal with the 5-year-old is to reach $1 million in career earnings before she retires at the end of this season. Going into Friday's race, Critical Eye has won $944,911.
"She's doing phenomenal; she's sitting on good," Schwartz said.
Mike Luzzi rides Critical Eye, who drew post 6.
Shine Again hasn't won since her upset in the Grade 2 Shuvee in the spring at Belmont. In Shine Again's last start, the Grade 3 Floral Park, she got away from the gate a step slowly and finished third in the four-horse field, beaten 4 1/2 lengths by the winner, Carson Hollow, who will run in the Breeders' Cup Sprint.
Trainer Allen Jerkens has named Javier Castellano on Shine Again, who drew the rail.