Horse racing: Starlight’s sprinter is the real deal

Starlight Partners prefers to acquire its runners at the selected yearling sales. Hilda’s Passion is

Starlight Partners prefers to acquire its runners at the selected yearling sales.

Hilda’s Passion is an exception, and it’s not a stretch to say that she’s currently carrying the banner for the owners and co-managing partners Don Lucarelli and Jack Wolf.

She’ll carry their recognizable blue-and-yellow silks as the 9-5 morning-line favorite against six rivals in the Grade II Inside Information at Gulfstream Park today, and if all goes well, Starlight wants to send her to Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day for the Grade I Humana Distaff.

The sprinter Hilda’s Passion has banked $342,000 in her last four starts, all stakes, beginning with the listed Bennington at Saratoga last August. She’s 2-1-0 in graded stakes since last October, missing by a neck in the Grade III Sugar Swirl in January.

“Right now, she’s our No. 1 horse,” said Lucarelli, a Schenec­tady native. “She could stamp herself at or near the top of the div­ision. She’s right there. At six and 61⁄2 [furlongs], I don’t care who the hell we go against in the country.”

The 4-year-old bay filly by Can­adian Frontier will go seven furlongs in the Inside Information, the same distance as the Humana Distaff, and one at which she has won, in the Grade II Raven Run at Keeneland on Oct. 23.

A pure sprinter who does her best work on the lead right from the start, Hilda’s Passion made a breakthrough in the Bennington on Aug. 23, winning by 83⁄4 lengths under regular rider Javier Castellano.

Lucarelli said that it took some time for trainer Todd Pletcher to find the best approach to her races, since she tends to disapprove of a strong hold.

That was particularly evident in an allowance at Monmouth Park last July, when Hilda’s Passion, under Garrett Gomez, steadied out of the gate and into the first turn. She finished fourth.

“She has such a shallow mouth that you can’t get into her with the bit,” Lucarelli said. “All three races she lost, she was rank. Gomez tried to pull her back, but she didn’t want any part of that. She should’ve won going away. But that’s how we found out, so it’s been a little bit of trial and error. But she’s lightly raced, and should have a good 4-year-old campaign.”

Hilda’s Passion is 4-1-0 from eight starts since Starlight bought her off the track following her six-length maiden win at Turfway Park just over 14 months ago.

On the advice of Clint Glasscock, Lucarelli and Wolf, of Saratoga Springs, bought Hilda’s Passion privately from Greenback RS Corp.

Starlight owns half, and Glasscock, a Kentucky-based attorney who does Starlight’s insurance work, owns the other half.

“She got a good [Ragozin] number, and did it easy,” Lucarelli said. “Clint Glasscock got a hold of us, and Jack and I thought it would be a good opportunity. We paid $400,000, so we bought a half and spread it around to the partners.”

The Inside Information, Gulfstream’s feature on a weekend that is relatively light on Kentucky Derby preps (Grade II Rebel at Oaklawn Park) has drawn an interesting mix of sprinters and routers, including Beautician and the very fast Amen Hallelujah, both of whom who ran in the mile-and-an-eighth Kentucky Oaks last year, but have been chasing shorter distances since then.

Also in the field is Milwaukee Apeal, who was second to Careless Jewel in the 2009 Alabama at Sar­atoga and is making her first start since an eighth in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic.

Hilda’s Passion will break from post No. 5, and, at 121 pounds, will be giving four pounds to all except Amen Hallelujah (119).

Lucarelli believes that Amen Hallelujah, trained by Rock Dutrow Jr., is the key to the race, because if she doesn’t go with Hilda’s Passion right out of the gate, Hilda’s Passion could run away with it.

“Seven furlongs is probably reaching her outer limits,” Lucarelli said. “It depends on how much she gets pushed in the beginning. Six-and-a-half, she’s handled. The two times she ran at that distance, she was one tick off the track record.

“We don’t know what Dutrow is going to do. It depends on Amen Hallelujah. And a lot of them are getting four pounds from us. When you stretch out, everything comes into play. Off her last race, she’s never really been in better shape, and she’s working well, so we’re cautiously optimistic.”

The Factor in Rebel

The Rebel, the traditional Arkansas Derby prep, has drawn a deep field of 13, including speedster The Factor out of the barn of Hall of Famer Bob Baffert and the top four and sixth-place finishers from the Southwest at Oaklawn.

The mile-and-a-sixteenth Rebel will be a big test for The Factor, as his first attempt beyond seven furlongs. He’s the 2-1 program


His short but sparkling resume includes a win over Premier Peg­asus, perhaps the West Coast’s leading Derby contender now off his 73⁄4-length win in the San Felipe, in the seven-furlong San Vicente. Runner-up in the San Vicente was Sway Away, who is 5-2.

Also entered out of the southwest are Archarcharch, J P’s Gusto, Elite Alex, Picko’s Pride and Caleb’s Posse.

Elite Alex is drawing interest, as the son of 2005 Preakness and Belmont Stakes winner Afleet Alex, who won the Arkansas Derby that year.

wood purse boost

The Resorts World New York casino being built at Aqueduct has become a title sponsor of New York’s primary Derby prep, the Wood Memorial, and Genting New York, which is building the casino, has boosted the Grade I Wood purse from $750,000 to $1 million.

That should draw a larger field to take on undefeated Uncle Mo, who is pointed for the Wood off his easy win in the $100,000 Timely Writer at Gulfstream last weekend.

In other developments on the Derby trail, long shot Watch Me Go has been nominated to the Triple Crown off his 43-1 win in the Tampa Bay Derby, and Sweet Ducky, second to Dialed In in the Holy Bull, is likely off the trail after being purchased by controversial Chechnyan president Ramzan Kadyrov and reportedly will run in the UAE Derby.

rebel undercard

Oaklawn Park will also be the site of another rematch in the intrig­uing rivalry between Blind Luck and Havre de Grace, who were separated by a neck after a stirring stretch duel in the Alabama last year.

After that victory, Blind Luck was beaten a neck by Havre de Grace in the Fitz Dixon Cotillion at Parx, then Blind Luck and Havre de Grace were 2-3, respectively, behind Unrivaled Belle in the BC Ladies Classic.

This year, Blind Luck has been second twice, in the El Encino and the La Canada, to Always a Princess, who had emerged as the leading older filly or mare in the country until she tumbled to the track in deep stretch during the Santa Margarita.

She sustained two cracked ses­amoids, and is expected to recover well from surgery.

other stakes

Aqueduct will put 3-year-old fillies in the spotlight in what appears to be a competitive Grade III Cicada, with four of the seven fillies listed between 3-1 and 4-1, including favorite In Step, coming off a half-length maiden win at Gulfstream.

At 4-1 is Coax Liberty, who, unlike the lightly raced In Step, has eight career starts, five of which came in stakes. She was third to Starlight’s Position Limit in the Adirondack and fourth to R Heat Lightning in the Spinaway at Sar­atoga last year.

Grade I Beverly D winner Eclair de Lune is the 5-2 favorite in the Grade II Santa Ana at Santa Anita.

She dead-heated with Forever Together for sixth in the BC Filly and Mare Turf.

praetereo wins

Starlight’s Praetereo, the best 3-year-old among Starlight’s racing stock, finally broke his maiden in his sixth attempt.

His career debut came at Sar­atoga, where he was ninth in a race that showed current Derby prospects Astrology, To Honor and Serve and Anthony’s Cross in the top three spots, respectively.

Praetereo, Uncle Mo’s regular workmate at Saratoga last summer, won by three-quarters of a length at Gulfstream last weekend, and may finally be finding his stride. Lucarelli said that Pletcher may put Praetereo in one of the Derby preps, but he isn’t considered a Derby prospect.

“He’s a lazy son of a gun, although, according to [jockey] Johnny [Velazquez], once he figures things out, he’s going to be pretty good,” Lucarelli said. “He’s by Giant’s Causeway. He’ll go all day. Now, we have to see how he’s training, and Todd will put him in either one of the preps or look for an allowance somewhere. We’re just not sure yet. Maybe we’ll look at the Peter Pan or the Jerome, but it’s got to be a minimum of a mile and an eighth, because it takes him awhile to get going.

“It’s just a question of him realizing what he needs to do. He’s learning with every race. We took the blinkers off last time so he’d be more alert. He was tardy, oddly enough, with the blinkers.”

around the tracks

Darley Stable’s 3-year-old colt Fort Hughes broke his cannon bone on Sunday morning during a breeze on the Belmont Park training track, and had to be euthanized.

“He was a very talented horse who reminded me a lot of his sire,” trainer Kiaran McLaughlin told NYRA. “This is an extremely tough part of this game. There are a lot of highs, but also a lot of lows.”

The son of Henny Hughes won the Jimmy Winkfield on Jan. 17 at Aqueduct, posting a 104 Beyer speed figure, which still stands as the third-best among all 3-year-olds this year.

He had been training for the Grade III Bay Shore on the Wood Memorial undercard.

Marsha Barrs, the exercise rider who was on Fort Hughes when he broke down, was uninjured in the incident. . . .

Inherit the Gold, who pushed his winning streak to four in the Kings Point at Aqueduct last Saturday, will likely point toward the Grade III Excelsior or the Grade III Charles Town Classic.

He was two lengths better than favored Yawanna Twist, as Spa City Fever, a homebred of Adam Madkour of Saratoga Springs, was third.

here and there

The National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame will be hosting a Kentucky Derby party from 4-8 p.m. on the day of the race, May 7, to benefit Old Friends at Cabin Creek: The Bobby Frankel Division.

Tickets are $60 and all proceeds will benefit Old Friends, a non-profit thoroughbred retirement facility in Greenfield Center. The ticket price includes dinner, appetizers and dessert. There will be a cash bar and mint julep bar. The event will be catered by Panza’s Restaurant.

The Derby card will be shown on the museum’s Hall of Fame Theater on a giant projection screen, as well as in various locations throughout the museum on high-definition flat screens.

The museum will be open free of charge throughout the day. . . .

The New York Racing Assoc­iation has hired Capital District Regional Off-Track Betting Corp­oration marketing director Andrew DiNovo to fill a new position, director of account wagering.

An Albany native, the 46-year-old DiNovo will develop and oversee all aspects of NYRA’s account wagering programs, including its telephone, online, mobile and on-track platforms, along with customer acquisition, development and analysis for NYRA Rewards.

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