OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Grade 1 winner Condo Commando will look for her third consecutive stakes win, and third straight at Aqueduct Racetrack, on Saturday when she takes on six other talented 3-year-old fillies in the 120th running of the Grade 2, $300,000 Gazelle Stakes.
The Gazelle is also a significant stop on the road to the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks with qualifying points (100 for first, 40 for second, 20 for third and 10 for fourth) at stake, and Condo Commando, currently sitting in third place on the leader board with 61 points, has the opportunity to solidify one of 14 spots in the Oaks starting gate.
"This race is important and earning more [Kentucky Oaks] points at the same time are very, very important for us, and for her, too. I believe she is coming up to the race as good as she can be and she has all the talent, but in a race like this the other horses are going to be tough," said Rudy Rodriguez, who trains the filly for Michael Dubb and Bethlehem Stables LLC.
Condo Commando, the 8-5 morning line favorite who has four wins in five outings, is undefeated at the Big A, where she finished her juvenile campaign with a score in the Grade 2 Demoiselle under Joel Rosario on Nov. 29 and then began her sophomore season with a win in the $100,000 Busher Stakes last time out on Feb. 15.
Those gate-to-wire victories were by a combined 16 Â¼ lengths, and her Demoiselle win was at 1 1/8 miles, which is the distance of the Gazelle. Condo Commando is the only filly in the field who has raced at nine furlongs and she is co-highweighted at 122 pounds with the Todd Pletcher-trained Jacaranda.
Condo Commando will be reunited with Rosario when they break from post 5 in a race that should see a lively early pace.
"The jockey is very good and he knows her, so I'm going to let him decide what to do. When the horses come out of the gate different things can happen. You don't know if they're going to break good, but we definitely want to be on the lead," said Rodriguez.
Jacaranda, who broke her maiden at first asking in the Belmont Park mud last September and followed that effort with a win in the Grade 3 Tempted Stakes at one mile at Aqueduct in November, will be making her first start since a dismal 11th place outing in the Grade 2 Davona Dale Stakes at Gulfsteam Park on Feb. 15. Afterward, owner Barry K. Schwartz transferred the daughter of Congrats to Pletcher, who won the 2014 edition of the Gazelle with My Miss Sophia.
Jacaranda, who has yet to earn any Kentucky Oaks points and is 12-1 in the morning line, will break from post 6 under new rider Luis Saez and be just outside of Condo Commando.
"She came to me a week and a half ago from Palm Beach Downs in Florida and she acclimated well to the weather and her new surroundings. She's been training great. It's a little tough with some nice fillies in there, but she's a nice filly herself. It's a step up, but we think she can compete," said Byron Hughes, the assistant to Pletcher. "From her past performances she seems like she's got quite a bit of speed but there's a lot of other speed in there with Condo Commando and some others. We're not looking for a speed duel, that's for sure. Hopefully we can get her to relax and take it from there. Those are very valuable points at stake and this is definitely the time for her to step up."
Treadway Racing Stables' Wonder Gal will be making her first start for trainer Leah Gyarmati since closing strongly in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies on November 1 to finish third, beaten only one length in total. The 7-2 second choice, who has never finished out of the money in four starts, will be asked to shoulder six pounds fewer than the co-highweights and is being partnered with Irad Ortiz, Jr. for the first time. She comes into the race ranked 29th in the Kentucky Oaks standings with six points.
Cicada stakes winner Noble and A Beauty, who has never traveled beyond 6 Â½ furlongs, Hut Hut Stakes winner Money'soncharlotte, Puca, and Sweet Corine complete the field. Puca has earned five Kentucky Oaks points and sits in 31st place.
The lightly-raced Sweet Corine, the 4-1 third choice, is stepping all the way up from a maiden score and is trained by Shug McGaughey, who has a record five victories in the Gazelle but hasn't captured the trophy since Pine Island took her connections to the winner's circle in 2006.
The Gazelle is carded as the eighth race on a 12-race program at the Big A that also features the Grade 1, $1 million Twinspires Wood Memorial, the Grade 1, $400,000 Carter Handicap, and the Grade 3, $300,000 Bay Shore Stakes.
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