“Aaahh . . . I don’t have my notes in front of me.”
Don Lucarelli wasn’t getting ready to make a speech, he was pausing during a recitation of all the racing action Starlight Partners will be involved in over the next two weekends, much of it in stakes.
It starts today with Grade III winner Ailalea as the 8-5 program favorite in the Grade III Dogwood at Churchill Downs, and really cranks up next weekend at Belmont Park, when Starlight will send out its three 4-year-olds — Tiger’s Rock in the Grade II Brooklyn Handicap on Friday, followed on Saturday, Belmont Stakes Day, with two-time Grade I winner Take the Points in the Grade I Manhattan and the promising speedster Checklist in the Grade II True North.
“Hopefully, we’ll be paying some bills,” Lucarelli said with a chuckle.
Take the Points, who will be making his first start off his Dubai trip, is the current star of the stable, co-managed by the Schenectady native Lucarelli and Jack Wolf of Saratoga Springs, but he’s getting some nice support, especially after Checklist just missed a Gulfstream Park track record in an 11 1⁄4-length romp in an allowance sprint last month.
The bay Gone West colt missed the Saratoga Race Course meet last year and ended up taking eight months off. He started 2010 with a second in March, then posted a 1:14.55 for 61⁄2 furlongs at Gulfstream, less than two-tenths of a second off the track record set by Forest Danger in 2005.
Lucarelli said that trainer Todd Pletcher also expects to send 2009 Met Mile winner Bribon to the six-furlong True North, creating what could be some interesting dynamics between stablemates.
“Bribon, he’s a closer, and it’s almost like we’ll be the rabbit for Bribon, because we’re definitely going to be on the engine,” Lucarelli said. “There’s no doubt he’s going to be on or in the lead. You should see 21 and 43 [seconds for the opening quarter- and half-mile].”
Checklist, who will be stepping up to Grade II competition for the first time, was third in three straight stakes last year, and has finished out of the money just once in eight starts, a fifth as the 3-5 favorite in his second career start.
“It doesn’t say it in the trip notes, but he threw a shoe in that race, it was twisted half on and half off, and I don’t know how he didn’t injure himself,” Lucarelli said. “He definitely puts the effort in.”
Take the Points could meet dual 2009 champion Gio Ponti in the Manhattan despite some recent minor training setbacks. Trainer Christophe Clement told the Daily Racing Form on Monday that Gio Ponti was still pointing toward the Manhattan.
Whoever shows up will face a colt who hasn’t been showing any ill effects from having traveled to the Middle East two months ago, where Take the Points was a good fifth, 51⁄4 lengths behind winner Al Shemali in the Duty Free.
“You wouldn’t know he went over there, the way he’s been training and eating,” Lucarelli said. “He seems to be in shape. When he came back, he was a little light, but Todd didn’t want to take him all the way down, because once you do that, it’s so hard to get them back up to that peak level.”
After two poor showings on the synthetic in the Santa Anita Handicap and on the turf in the Elkhorn at Keeneland, the long-distance specialist Tiger’s Rock will try Belmont for the first time on Friday in the Brooklyn.
He won back-to-back listed stakes at a mile and five-eighths at Aqueduct this winter, and it has taken some creativity to find spots on the schedule at distances that suit him. The mile-and-a-half Brooklyn fits right in.
“It’s what we’ve had on our radar, and it gets him back on dirt,” Lucarelli said.
Also on that card, Starlight will send out first-time starter Holy Place, a 3-year-old Pulpit filly who missed a start at Saratoga last year, and appears to have recovered from bone chips and shin problems, and will try the turf.
Today, Ailalea will face seven rivals in the Dogwood, having stayed behind in Kentucky after finishing fifth at odds of 22-1 behind 3-year-old filly division leader Blind Luck in the Grade I Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs on April 30.
Although Churchill Downs is a one-mile oval, they’ll use a chute for the one-mile Dogwood, making it a one-turn race. Ailalea has finished out of the money in three straight starts, and drops back to Grade III company since her win in the Tempted at Aqueduct last November.
“I was surprised Todd chose this race, but it’ll be interesting to see if she’s more of a sprinter,” Lucarelli said.
Calvin Borel, Pletcher’s new go-to rider at Churchill after Super Saver’s Kentucky Derby victory, will get the ride on Ailalea for the first time.
“We wanted Borel to work the horse, but he had a sinus infection, and was out the day she worked,” Lucarelli said. “She doesn’t like the rail, so it’ll be very interesting to see what happens.
“I thought her Kentucky Oaks was very good, considering the post draw and what she had to do in that first turn. She settled really well and hung on gamely for fifth.”
Kentucky Derby runner-up Ice Box drilled four furlongs in 46.65 for Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito on Saratoga’s Oklahoma Training Track on Thursday.
“He finished with good energy, and he looked good doing it,” Zito told the New York Racing Association. “That’s the main thing. This is the exact workout he had coming into the Kentucky Derby.”
The rest of the field will likely be gutty Preakness runner-up First Dude, Drosselmeyer, Fly Down, Game On Dude, Make Music for Me, Spangled Star, Stately Victor, Stay Put and Uptowncharlybrown.
Around the tracks
The Memorial Day holiday on Monday will feature a crowded stakes schedule led by the Grade I Met Mile at Belmont, where Quality Road will make his first start since romping in the Donn at Gulfstream on Feb. 6. At 124 pounds, he’ll be giving at least six to each of seven opponents, who include Warrior’s Reward, Musket Man, Kensei, You and I Forever, Le Grand Cru, Tizway and Convocation. . . .
Tar Heel Mom, a winner at Saratoga last year before finishing fifth to Music Note in the Ballerina, is the 5-2 program favorite in today’s Grade II Vagrancy at Belmont. . . .
Hot meets cold in the Grade I Gamely at nine furlongs on the Hollywood Park turf today when Tuscan Evening (9-5) faces 2008 female turf champion Forever Together (2-1).
Forever Together has not won in four starts since the Grade I Diana at Saratoga last year, while Tuscan Evening has won five of six since November, including four Grade II’s. Her only loss during that stretch was a second to Ventura in the Grade I Matriarch. . . .
Afleet Express has emerged as a potential star in the 3-year-old ranks despite the fact that he will have missed the Triple Crown series.
He was an impressive seven-furlong allowance winner in the third race at Belmont last Saturday, earning a 107 Beyer speed figure. His final time, despite being geared down by Javier Castellano in the final 100 yards, was 1:21.72.
The 3-year-old son of 2005 Preakness and Belmont winner Afleet Alex is trained by Jimmy Jerkens, and owned by Gainesway Farm and Martin Cherry.
Jerkens told the Daily Racing Form on Tuesday that Afleet Express might point to the Grade III Pegasus at Monmouth Park on June 19 as a prep for a start at Saratoga. . . .
Two-time Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Goldikova made her first start since November a winning one last Sunday with an authoritative victory in the Group 1 Prix d’Ispahan at Longchamp. She set a course record for nine furlongs, in 1:49.40 on a turf course listed “good.” It was only the third time that she has raced longer than one mile. . . .
Mine That Bird breezed three furlongs in 35.20 seconds early Wednesday over a fast track at Churchill Downs in his first work for Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas.
With exercise rider Dominic Terry aboard, Mine That Bird went in fractions of :12 and :23.40 seconds, and galloped out a half-mile in 49.60 seconds.
Mine That Bird could get his first start off the layoff in an allowance early in the Saratoga meet.
An hour after Mine That Bird was on the track, Churchill had to close for training for over an hour when a sinkhole about a foot in diameter was discovered on the main track approaching the half-mile pole, and had to be repaired. . . .
Hollywood Park cancelled live racing on Wednesday because of a lack of entries, and folded Wednesday’s entries into Thursday’s card.
Here and there
David Grening of Daily Racing Form and Bob Fortus of The Times-Picayune in New Orleans earned top honors as the New York Racing Association announced the winners of the inaugural Joe Hirsch Memorial Writing Contest on Thursday, recognizing the best in print and Internet coverage of the 2009 Belmont Stakes, won by Summer Bird.
Grening won in the feature/advance category for a story on Summer Bird’s trainer, Tim Ice, and Fortus earned top honors in the wrap-up division for his story that appeared in the June 7 edition of The Times-Picayune. . . .
The National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame will begin conducting Saturday tours of the Oklahoma training track next month through October. The price is $5 for members and $10 for non-members, and reservations are required, by calling 584-0400, ext. 120, and leaving a message for a callback. During the Saturday meet, the tours will be held six days a week (no Tuesdays), except for Aug. 13 and Travers weekend. . . .
Tickets for the Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs will go on sale at noon (ET) next Saturday. Fans may register through Friday at www.breederscup.com/ticket to be eligible for the “Ticket Pre-Sale” and “VIP Sweepstakes.” A variety of seat choices exist, with ticket prices on Championship Friday for Reserved Grandstand and Clubhouse ranging from $20-$75 and on Championship Saturday from $40-$150. There are also bundled two-day packages available for reserved grandstand, clubhouse box seating and premium dining areas. General admission tickets will go on sale beginning Oct. 5 for online purchase only. The online price will be $10 ($15 at the gate) for Championship Friday and $20 ($25) for Championship Saturday is $20. Patrons will be able to print their tickets at home and bring them to the track for admission.
Fans can go to www.breederscup.com/ticket to access the online ticket system by Seat Advisor Box Office (SABO), which allows purchasers to view seat locations. Tickets can also be purchased by phone by calling toll-free at (877) 849-4287. . . .
After a review, the finish time and fractions for the April 24 Withers at Aqueduct, won by long shot Afleet Again, were officially adjusted from 1:34.04, with fractions of 21.60, 43.82 and 1:07.45, to 1:35.87, with fractions of 23.42, 45.64, and 1:09.27.
Afleet Again followed up his Withers with a third to Ibboyee last Sunday in the Spend a Buck at Monmouth. . . .
Trainer Al Stall won his 1,000th career race on Sunday, when he sent out Toll to victory in the second race at Arlington Park.