07/23/2009 11:00PM

Vaquero gets softer spot on turf


Every so often, a horse is deemed good enough to jump straight from a maiden victory into stakes company. The heck with those allowance races.

That's been the modus operandi for breeder-owner Roger Braugh Jr. and trainer Michael Leahy with a 3-year-old colt named Vaquero. Since a maiden romp at Turfway Park last September, the colt has raced three times, all in stakes, all resulting in creditable finishes, most notably a loss of just five lengths in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf last fall.

Trouble is, Vaquero didn't win any of those, so when Leahy finally drops him in a $41,480 entry-level turf allowance Sunday at Arlington Park in Arlington Heights, Ill., it will be very interesting to see how his decent stakes form serves him. Vaquero, with Dean Mernagh to ride, is one of 11 3-year-olds and up in the 1 1/16-mile race, the seventh of nine races.

"We've always thought very highly of the colt," said Leahy, a 34-year-old Irishman with a steeplechase background and considerable experience in U.S. racing as a longtime former assistant to James Bond. "He's been somewhat unlucky in those stakes races, and after the Breeders' Cup I was getting him ready for the [Dec. 6] Display at Woodbine when he was slightly injured in a work. He had a hairline saucer fracture to his left shin, which is why he was so long getting back to the races."

Vaquero returned July 11 by finishing just 4 1/4 lengths behind the victorious Reb in the Grade 2 American Derby.

"We want to run next in the [Aug. 6] La Jolla at Del Mar, but I really want the horse to get some confidence and get a win under his belt if we can," Leahy said. "Getting beat two and three lengths are fine, but at some point you need to win."

The Sunday feature figures a legitimate test to determine whether Vaquero should move on to California. His main opposition could come from Classic Cielo, a romping winner of a high-end claiming route on the Churchill Downs turf last out, or Classic Empire, an easy last-out winner of a maiden race over the Arlington Polytrack.

After Sunday, Arlington goes dark until live action resumes Wednesday. The next major event on the calendar is Arlington Million Day, Aug. 8.