Whilst the Wood Memorial will be taking majority of interest on Saturday’s 11-race card at Aqueduct, the best race for me is without doubt the Grade 1 Carter Handicap worth a rather cool $400,000 for older sprinters.
A race with a rich history, including producing the first ever triple dead-heat in a stakes race back in the 1944 renewal, as Bossuet, Wait And Bit and Brownie hit the line as one.
Nine champions have won the Carter Handicap going back to 1953 when Tom Fool became Horse of the Year. 1999 champion Artax set the stake and track record with a time of 1:20.04. Bold Ruler (1954), Star de Naskra (1979), Gulch (1988), Housebuster (1991), and Kodiak Kowboy (2009) also won championship honours.
This year’s renewal see’s an elite field go to post in what is sure to be a tactical conundrum for all horseplayers amongst us.
The Todd Pletcher trained Calibrachoa is virtually unbeatable at Aqueduct, and he bids to extend his dominance at the course and is looking to confirm form with both, Caleb’s Posse and Emcee based on their Tom Fool running extending his unbeaten run on the inner track to 5-from-5. The problem is that the Carter Handicap will be run on the main track, a course where Calibrachoa has been beaten before in the Cigar Mile but still has a very respectable record of 7-from-8 at Aqueduct on the whole, that is some record.
Calibrachoa has also run Beyer figures of 111 and 106 in his last two races on the lead-up to the Carter, and as a perfect (1 for 1) record over the scheduled distance of seven furlongs.
The one thing we can be pretty much sure about is that three unbeaten records over the distance look set to end. Jackson Bend comes into it (3 for 3), Caleb’s Posse (2 for 2), Calibrachoa (1 for 1) and Emcee (1 for 1), which one of those will maintain their unbeaten run though? Or will all of them lose it at the expense of Preakness Stakes winner Shackleford, or even Tahitian Warrior?
The favourite for this race Caleb’s Posse comes into the race off the back of defeat at the hands of Calibrachoa in the Tom Fool (Grade 3), and jockey Rajiv Maragh said after the race he thought the son of Posse would improve for covering more distance.
Rajiv Maragh had the choice of riding either Caleb’s Posse or Currency Swap in the Illinois Derby at Hawthorne.
“He’s probably one of the best horses I’ve ever ridden, his turn of food is great, quick acceleration” – said Maragh.
Caleb’s Posse beat older horses to easily land the Breeders Cup Dirt Mile at the end of his three-year-old career and trainer Donnie Von Kemel believes his horse will improve to be even better at four, and taking into account his last two Beyer’s in graded stakes have been 110 and 111, you have to give him strong consideration – he’ll becoming with a sustained strong run from the rear of the field.
Jackson Bend also puts his unbeaten (3 for 3) over the distance on the line tomorrow, and he’s tuned up for this by winning the Grade 3 Hal’s Hope and finishing third in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap after stumbling at the start.
His trainer and Hall of Famer, Nick Zito believes his horse hampers himself in races by trying to beat the gate at the start of his races, suggesting if the horse would relax he’d come away a lot better in the early stages.
Before his stumble and third-place finish in the Gulfstream Park Handicap back in March, Jackson Bend had run 5 consecutive 100+ Beyer speed figures and will be looking to return to that level under Corey Natakani who returns to ride the son of Hear No Evil, having being dropped in favour of John Velazquez the last twice.
Tahitian Warrior comes into the race off the back of a pace-pressing second on the sloppy at Gulfstream back in February, clocking a 105 Beyer in the process but despite that I struggle to see him being good enough to serve it up to the likes of Caleb’s Posse in all honesty.
The Dale Romans trained Shackleford is on a losing run of six stretching back to the Preakness Stakes, and he drops back to a trip where he is (1 for 2) and he looks set to race prominently in what is sure to be a tactical affair, but I can’t honestly see him being good enough to trouble the judge.
Which leaves me with my idea of the winner, the Kiaran McLaughlin trained Emcee who can lead them a merry dance from the front under John Velazquez. The lightly raced son of Unbridled’s Song has only raced three times but has already chalked up Beyer’s of 108 and 107 which would give him an outstanding chance in this contest, and you can expect further improvement with experience.
His last run when third to Calibrachoa is more respectable that in looks, especially when you take into account he chased the hot pace set by Royal Currier, duelled with both Caleb’s Posse and Calibrachoa before finishing just a length behind at the wire.
Looking at the pace angles in the race I think John Velazquez should be able to get out in-front on the lightly raced Emcee, with Shackleford and Tahitian Warrior likely to sit on his coat-tails in the early stages but won’t necessarily press him to go faster. With both Caleb’s Posse and Jackson Bend being staunch hold-up performers, and Calibrachoa somewhere in-between the two, if Velazquez plays it cute he could steal this massive prize and make a stallion prospect out of this likeable four-year-old.
1pt win Emcee @ 9-2 with Ladbrokes