Main track opening a sure sign of spring

Racing on the New York circuit shifts from Aqueduct’s inner track to the main track beginning Thursday, but a shift to a better quality of racing remains at least a few weeks away.

Entries for the first two cards of the 19-day spring meet were light to the point that only eight races were carded for both Thursday (51 horses) and Friday (53 horses). Reinforcements for the horses who have been running here all winter are slow in coming from south Florida.

Reinforcements certainly will be needed as racing here returns to a five-day race week – Wednesdays through Sundays – beginning next week. Track officials are hopeful of carding their first turf race of the year April 6, so that should help with entries.

On Saturday, NYRA will present its second New York Claiming Championships, a 10-race, all-stakes card for claiming horses with purses totaling $700,000. Last year, this day was held during the winter, with the races run over the inner track.

The highlight of the spring meet is the April 9 card, topped by the Grade 1, $1 million Wood Memorial, where 3-year-olds will try to solidify their status for the May 7 Kentucky Derby. Early Wood Memorial probables include Shagaf, the unbeaten winner of the Grade 3 Gotham; Matt King Coal, a sharp allowance winner March 6; Adventist, Cadeyrn, and Cards of Stone. Chad Brown, the trainer of Shagaf, is expected to run either Flexibility or My Man Sam, while Todd Pletcher, the trainer of Cards of Stone, has a few other possibilities, including Tampa Bay Derby runner-up Outwork.

Other stakes run April 9 include the Grade 1 Carter, Grade 2 Gazelle, Grade 3 Bay Shore, and Grade 3 Excelsior.

Brothers Jose and Irad Ortiz dominated the jockey standings during the winter meet, with Jose winning the title. But with riders shuffling in and out of Keeneland most of the spring, the door could be open for others, such as Kendrick Carmouche or Manny Franco, to contend for leading honors. Last spring, apprentice Angel Cruz won the Aqueduct spring title.

Thursday’s eight-race card is topped by a $75,000 allowance race for New York-bred fillies and mares going a mile that only drew a field of five.

Isabelle, a multiple stakes winner sprinting, will try this distance for the first time while making her first start since Dec. 11. Trainer Bill Mott said that Isabelle missed the winter meet due in large part to a quarter crack.

Mott said after Isabelle “got dusted sprinting a couple of times” in her most recent races, he wanted to try her at a slightly longer distance.

“There’s a lot of speed in there, and it looks like there could be a pretty fast pace scenario, which I was trying to avoid,” Mott said.

Junior Alvarado rides Isabelle, who breaks from the rail.

Though Isabelle has not run a mile, she did win the Bouwerie Stakes going seven furlongs in 2014 at Belmont Park. Among those she defeated that day was Storied Lady, who is back in this field.

Also entered in this race are Literata, Perfect Freud, and Carameaway.

Tom Franklin is a senior contributor at US Racing.
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