By Nicholas Godfrey
Aqueduct: Cigar Mile G1 (hcap) $250,000, 1m, dirt, 3yo+
True Timber (Jack Sisterson/Kendrick Carmouche)
A case of third time lucky at a sloppy Aqueduct for True Timber, aboard whom jockey Kendrick Carmouche landed first G1 victory in 20,000-plus rides and 3,300 winners during a 20-year career dating back to 2000.
Carrying the silks of Brad Kelley’s Calumet operation, the six-year-old stalked the leaders before taking over three wide on the far turn and then striding clear to score by 5½ lengths over Snapper Sinclair.
True Timber had finished second and third in the two most recent runnings for former trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. On both previous occasions, he went on to finish midfield in the Pegasus World Cup.
Kendrick Carmouche (jockey): “It’s my first G1 – this means so much to me. This is the biggest win of my career and I hope I have many more blessed ones. I had perfect position leaving the gate and all the way around there. Right before we got to the quarter pole, I pulled the trigger and I knew they were going to have to run me down from here.”
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Aqueduct: Remsen Stakes G2 $150,000, 1m1f, dirt, 2yo
Brooklyn Strong (Danny Velazquez/Joel Rosario)
New York-bred gelding Brooklyn Strong, bought for just $5,000, recorded a hard-fought triumph in this ‘Road to the Kentucky Derby’ contest, scoring by a neck over 5-4 favourite Ten For Ten.
Danny Velazquez (trainer): “This is a big prep for the Derby moving forward – now we’re definitely Derby dreaming. I knew the distance was key and I was confident about the off track. Today was a big showcase for him against tougher competition but I knew he had the heart to grind it out.”
Aqueduct: Demoiselle Stakes G2 $150,000, 1m1f, dirt, 2yo fillies
Malathaat (Todd Pletcher/John Velazquez)
It wasn’t looking too good for well-bred Malathaat as they entered the stretch but the odds-on favourite stayed on strongly to peg back Millefeuille close home. A $1.05m Shadwell purchase at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale, the daughter of Curlin was completing an unbeaten hat-trick.
Todd Pletcher (trainer): “She wasn’t comfortable inside; I think she was unsure of the footing early on. In the final eighth of a mile, she was able to get into her comfort zone and rhythm and that’s when she showed what she’s all about. Some lesser quality horses might have thrown in the towel at some stage, but when she got rolling, she was impressive.”
Los Alamitos: Starlet Stakes G1 $300,000, 1m½f, dirt, 2yo fillies
Varda (Bob Baffert/Drayden van Dyke)
A dramatic race revolved around Bob Baffert, for whom Varda was a shock 18-1 winner after a powerful last-to-first rally in the stretch to run down stablemate Kalypso.
However, the race changed shape dramatically at the head of the stretch as Baffert’s odds-on favourite Princess Moor went wrong and was pulled up – just as the $1.35m filly had taken charge and looked set to power away.
It emerged on Sunday that Princess Noor had suffered a soft-tissue injury and she has been retired.
Gulfstream Park: Claiming Crown Jewel (ungraded) $150,000 1m1f, dirt, 3yo+
Jesus’ Team (Jose d’Angelo/Luis Saez)
Third in both the Preakness Stakes and Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, Jesus’ Team prepped for the Pegasus World Cup on January 23 with a hard-fought course-and-distance victory at odds of 2-5 in the headline event at the 22nd edition of the Claiming Crown.
Representing former Venezuelan champion Jose d’Angelo, he wore down front-running Storm Runner to win by three-quarters of a length. His jockey Luis Saez had six winners on the 11-race card.
Jose d’Angelo (trainer): “I know the speed might be hard to beat, so I’m very happy with his race. I am very sure he’s going to improve because this race worked out very good for him. I can give him some days off and prepare him for the Pegasus World Cup.”