The results aren't quite there yet to support his belief but trainer Raymond Handal is convinced he has a special horse in The Big S. He's confident the 3-year-old colt will validate that faith in Sunday's $75,000 Lookin at Lucky Stakes at Monmouth Park, too.
"He is one of the most talented horses I have been around since my days with (Richard) Dutrow when we were winning Grade 1s," said Handal.
The Big S will make his fourth career start and first in a stakes race in the Sunday feature for 3-year-olds, facing a field that includes Grade 2 winner Sir Truebador, trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, and Grade 3 winner Sombeyay from trainer Todd Pletcher's powerhouse stable.
||The Big S
||Fix Me a Sandwich
Handal, 30, in his fifth full year on his own, remains unfazed by it all. That's how strong his conviction is in The Big S, a $225,000 yearling purchase.
As a 2-year-old, the son of Jimmy Creed-Promise To Peg by Mineshaft was sixth in his only start on July 21 at Saratoga. Handal brought The Big S back on March 16 at Tampa Downs, where the horse won a Maiden Special Weight race by three lengths. A late-running fourth, after a troubled trip on a muddy track, at Keeneland followed.
"I wanted to get off the duck at Keeneland so I sent him there," said Handal. "I didn't think it was a case where he'd get beat, even with the group of talented horses in that race. But he came out of the gate a little funky and didn't like the kick back. There was a lot of rain and moisture and the kick back gets a little clumpy and hard.
"I'd put him behind horses before but he never experienced anything like that, with nine horses spraying him."
Handal, who has five horses stabled at Monmouth Park and 30 in New York, will fit The Big S for blinkers for this start. The inaugural Lookin at Lucky Stakes will be contested at six furlongs and goes as the ninth race on a 12-race card.
"I think he's ready for it," said Handal, who has two wins, a second and a third from his five starters so far at the Monmouth Park meet. "I think he is super talented. If he runs his race I don't think he will get beat. I'm not worried about it because the talent is there.
"I know we've only had two races this winter but I think he is a special and he is going to show everyone that on Sunday."
However it turns out, Handal said he will continue to make Monmouth Park a base in the future.
"I love the facility. I love the people. The surface is great," he said. "And we've had a good meet.
"Next year we'll have even more horses at Monmouth Park."