Saturday’s $150,000 Excelsior Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct is the final stakes before action moves to the main track there on March 21. The race has attracted a competitive cast of inner track specialists, we well as some new faces on the scene.
Returning for his 11th start over the track is New York-bred stalwart Inherit the Gold, winner of last year’s 1 1/8-mile Excelsior. Now 6, the gelding is returning to open company for the first time since a second-place finish to eventual Santa Anita Handicap winner Ron the Greek in the Queens County in December. Most recently, Inherit the Gold finished second as the favorite in the Mr. G. J. C. on Feb. 12.
“I don’t see a lot of difference between him this year and last year,” said Jim Hooper, who trains “Harry” for his wife, Susanne, and Glas-Tipp Stable. “He still seems to enjoy what he’s doing, and I’m sure on Saturday he’ll come with his game face on.”
Last spring, Inherit the Gold capped a five-race win streak with a 6 ¼-length score in the Excelsior.
“I don’t know if it’s so much a matter of him liking the inner track as he’s coming around at the right time,” said Hooper of Inherit the Gold, who drew post position 3 at 6-1 on the morning line with Eddie Castro aboard. “I think he’s run well elsewhere, too. The important thing Saturday is it looks like there will be plenty of speed for him to run at.”
Among the speed horses signed on is Redding Colliery. The 6-year-old son of Mineshaft is perfect in two starts on the inner track.
“He’s acting a little speedy this year,” said Art Magnuson, assistant to trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. “We gave him a little blowout [Wednesday] morning, three furlongs in :35 and change, just to stretch his legs. We expect he’ll be forwardly placed; we’ll leave it up to Alan [Garcia].”
Carrying the colors or Mrs. Fitriani Hay, Redding Colliery will leave from the rail and was listed as the 5-2 second choice on the morning line.
Favored at 2-1 on the morning line is San Pablo, who came a nose short of being a perfect 3-for-3 on the inner track when a game second to fellow Excelsior starter Marilyn’s Guy in the As Indicated overnight stakes on Feb. 18. Prior to that, the 4-year-old Jump Start colt notched back-to-back wins in a pair of overnight stakes with jockey Cornelio Velasquez.
“He’s going to go to the lead, obviously,” said Whit Beckman, assistant to trainer Todd Pletcher. “If he doesn’t have to put up with too much on the lead, he’s perfectly capable of running a big race. Hopefully, he’ll get the kind of scenario he likes.”
Carrying high weight of 123 pounds is an inner-track newcomer, Florida-bred Birdrun. Trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, the 6-year-old son of Birdstone is making his 2012 debut in the Excelsior, having finished second to Afleet Again in the Breeders’ Cup Marathon last time out.
“He looks fantastic,” said Leana Willaford, Mott’s assistant. “He came in Monday morning [from Florida] and I’ve had him on the track for two days. This race is a good place for him to start off the year.”
Junior Alvarado is slated to ride the Preston Stables colorbearer.
–NYRA Press contributed to this report.