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NTRA Thoroughbred Notebook

News and notes from around the Thoroughbred racing world, compiled by NTRA Communications.

Breezing for the first time following disappointing efforts in the Breeders’ Cup, Girolamo and Vineyard Haven put in their final workouts in separate five-furlong drills over the Belmont Park training track Sunday as the two Godolphin Racing charges gear up for this Saturday’s Grade I, $250,000 Hill ‘n’ Dale Cigar Mile Handicap, one of four graded stakes to be offered that day at Aqueduct Racetrack in Ozone Park, N.Y.

Girolamo covered the five-furlong distance in :59.67, while Vineyard Haven covered the same ground in :59.40.

Rick Mettee, assistant to Godolphin Racing’s trainer Saeed bin Suroor, is hopeful both horses will have better fortune in the Hill ‘n’ Dale Cigar Mile than in the Breeders’ Cup, where Girolamo was 11th in the Sprint and Vineyard Haven was sixth in the Dirt Mile.

“Girolamo got an inside draw in a big field, and I don’t think he is the kind of horse who is sharp enough to stalk a 44-and-change pace,” said Mettee. “I think he has 45-and-change speed. Hopefully the mile will suit him a little better.

“Vineyard Haven was drawn outside and stalked a very fast pace. It looked like for a brief second he’d be there turning for home, but then he faded a little bit. Zito’s horse [Morning Line] was able to hang in there and finish second, but everybody else faltered in the last furlong. It looks like, on paper, that there isn’t a tremendous amount of speed going in the Cigar Mile, and he’s another one who should pull a better trip.”

Multiple graded-stakes winner Bribon breezed a half-mile on Sunday morning over Belmont Park’s training track in :49.06 for his anticipated start in the Cigar Mile, which will be the 37th start of his career and third in the Cigar Mile. Now seven years old, the Mark of Esteem gelding heads into Saturday’s affair off a late-running victory in the Bold Ruler on October 30 at Belmont Park.

“He’s an interesting horse,” said Todd Pletcher, who this year took over Bribon’s training for owner Derrick Smith. “He’s bred to be a turf route horse, but is at his best sprinting on the dirt. He’s a really cool horse to be around, with a great personality. He’s got a big heart, loves the game, tries hard, and is talented to go along with it.”

Bribon was second by a head in last year’s Hill ‘n’ Dale Cigar Mile and third in the 2008 edition.
An important race on the Cigar Mile undercard is one of the final major juvenile graded stakes remaining on the calendar, the Grade II, $200,000 Remsen Stakes. To Honor and Serve, an easy winner of the Grade II Nashua around one turn at Aqueduct on November 6, will almost certainly go off as the favorite in the Remsen, whose winner will ascend the rankings of 2011 Kentucky Derby contenders.

“We can’t complain about his win in the Nashua, and we hope two turns won’t be an issue in the Remsen. We have to experiment with it and see how he does,” said Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, who conditions To Honor and Serve.

Prince Khalid Abdullah’s Juddmonte Farms, which has won The Matriarch Stakes a record six times, will try for another such tally on Friday when the Grade I grass event for older fillies and mares is run for the 29th time at Hollywood Park in Inglewood, Calif.

Juddmonte, which won a year ago with favored Ventura, will be represented this year by homebred Special Duty in the $250,000, one-mile race.

Trained by Criquette Head-Maarek, Special Duty is a 3-year-old set to make her U.S. debut in the Matriarch. While competing in Group I or Group II races in all but one of her nine starts, Special Duty has won four times with her most significant win coming 11 months ago in the Group I Electrolux Cheveley Park Stakes at Newmarket in England.

Besides Ventura, Juddmonte’s other Matriarch wins have come with Wandesta (1996), Ryafan (1997), Heat Haze (2003), Intercontinental (2004) and Price Tag (2006). All except Ventura were trained by the late Bobby Frankel, who has a record eight victories in a race first run in 1981.

A South African bred, Gypsy’s Warning will shorten up a bit for her second start in California. Third as the favorite in the Yellow Ribbon Stakes at 1 ¼ miles Oct. 2 during the Oak Tree/Hollywood Park meet, Gypsy’s Warning will be seeking her third win in five tries at the Matriarch distance for trainer Graham Motion.

Wasted Tears, a winner of 11 out of 17 career starts, had a seven-race win streak snapped when she was fifth in the Abu Dhabi First Lady October 9 at Keeneland. She is hoping to get back on track in the Matriarch.

The complete Matriarch field, in post position order, is: Gypsy’s Warning (jockey: Joel Rosario, weight: 123 lbs.); Lilly Fa Pootz (Joe Talamo, 123); Camille C (Victor Espinoza, 120); Westwood Pride (Patrick Valenzuela, 120); Go Forth North (David Flores, 120); Special Duty, (Rafael Bejarano, 120) and Wasted Tears (Rajiv Maragh, 123).

The Matriarch commences Hollywood Park’s three-day Autumn Turf Festival. The Festival also includes the Grade III, $100,000 Generous Stakes and the Grade II, $250,000 Citation Handicap on Saturday, November 27. On Sunday, November 28, the Festival concludes with the Grade III, $100,000 Miesque Stakes and the Grade I, $250,000 Hollywood Derby for three-year-olds.

Uncle Mo, winner of the recent Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, is “donating” a portion of his earnings from that $2 million race to support his fellow equine athletes.

The highly-acclaimed two-year old colt, who is owned by Mike Repole and conditioned by Todd Pletcher, will donate a total of $50,000 to five Thoroughbred retirement organizations. The charities benefiting from the donations are Old Friends, Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, Turning For Home, Akindale Thoroughbred Rescue, and The Exceller Fund.

“There are several charities that are dedicated to the retirement of racehorses,” said Uncle Mo through spokesperson Repole. “I’ve always been taught to respect my elders and help others less fortunate than me and am very grateful that I’ve been afforded the opportunity to give back to our equine friends and family.”

“We cannot thank Uncle Mo and Repole Stable enough for supporting the more than 1,200 retired thoroughbred racehorses in our care,” said Diana Pikulski, Executive Director of Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation. “Mike Repole is one of those conscientious, outgoing, compassionate owners who always puts what is in the best interest of the horse first and foremost.”

“This money will be used for continued care of more than 100 Thoroughbreds we have retired in three states,” said Old Friends President and Founder Michael Blowen. “Uncle Mo’s generosity is helping to assure the safe retirement of runners less fortunate than himself.”
“There are so many wonderful charities throughout our industry and so many dedicated volunteers who work tirelessly for the welfare of our equine friends and I commend them all,” Repole said. “It is my hope that other Breeders’ Cup winners and top stakes winners follow suit and continue to donate to their favorite horse charities.”

Prior to defeating a stellar field in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on November 6, Uncle Mo captured the Grade I, $300,000 Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park last month. That victory was preceded by a resounding 14-length maiden win at Saratoga Race Course in August.

Nine sprinters will be among those packing a few extra pounds on Thanksgiving Day when they go postward for tomorrow’s 97th renewal of the Grade III, $100,000 Fall Highweight Handicap at Aqueduct Racetrack in Ozone Park, N.Y.

Sharing top weight for the six-furlong race is a trio of faces familiar to New York racing fans – Wall Street Wonder, Go Go Shoot, and Endless Circle, all of whom will tote 129 pounds for the traditional Thanksgiving Day feature.

Wall Street Wonder, a 4-year-old son of City Place, last visited the winner’s circle in the spring, when he capped a three-race win streak over the Big A’s inner track with a victory in the Toboggan. Given the summer off, he returned to action in September in the Icecapade at Monmouth Park, finishing fourth, and then was eighth after vying for the early lead in the Vosburgh at Belmont Park on October 2.

“He struggled with the heat this summer, and it took him a while to round back into form,” said John Terranova, who trains Wall Street Wonder for Stetson Stables. “He’s been doing well since his last race, and I can’t wait to get him back over to Aqueduct. Last year it was like flipping a switch, and I hope he responds the same way.”

Go Go Shoot, seventh in last year’s Fall Highweight, comes into the race off a front-running optional claimer victory at Belmont Park, his first in four starts this year. Third in the West Virginia Legislature Chairman’s Cup at Mountaineer and third in the Decathlon at Monmouth Park, the 5-year-old’s only poor performance of 2010 came when 11th in the Smile Sprint Handicap at Calder Race Course in July.

“For whatever reason, few of the shippers did well that day,” said Jonathan Thomas, assistant to trainer Todd Pletcher, of the Repole Stable color-bearer. “His last race was a nice effort and a reflection of the horse’s true ability.”

Endless Circle has fashioned a solid record as a 6-year-old, winning seven of his 12 starts including three of his last four appearances at the Big A. Trained by Rudy Rodriguez will be making his first graded stakes appearance in the Fall Highweight.

The complete field for the Fall Highweight Handicap, in post position order, is: Wildcat Frankie (jockey: Javier Castellano, weight: 126 lbs., morning line odds: 4-1); Mesa Sunrise (Ramon Dominguez, 127, 3-1); Mitigation (Alex Solis, 125, 10-1); Endless Circle (Edgar Prado, 129, 4-1); Wall Street Wonder (Channing Hill, 129, 8-1); Jack On the Rocks (Eddie Castro, 126, 10-1); Go Go Shoot (John Velazquez, 129, 7-2); Emma’s Posse (Cornelio Velasquez, 126, 8-1); and Todd Got Even (Jose Lezcano, 128, 15-1).