OZONE PARK, N.Y. - A competitive field of turf marathoners lined up for the Grade 3, $250,000 Red Smith Handicap at 1 3/8 miles on Saturday at Aqueduct Racetrack, led by last year's Belmont Derby winner Mr Speaker.
Trained by Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey for Phipps Stable, Mr Speaker has had ups and downs since taking the inaugural Grade 1 Belmont Derby over European invader Adelaide. The 4-year-old son of Pulpit had not won a race since his breakthrough victory until July 15 at Belmont Park, when he prevailed by 2 ½ lengths in an optional claimer.
Rejoining stakes company on August 16 at Woodbine, Mr Speaker finished an even fourth in the Grade 2 Sky Classic, and then triumphed in the Grade 2 Commonwealth Cup at Laurel Park on September 19. In his most recent start, the dark bay colt sat in mid-pack early in the Grade 3 Knickerbocker at Belmont and closed to be third by a half-length, marking his best finish in a NYRA stakes race since the Belmont Derby.
Mr Speaker, listed as the 5-2 morning-line favorite, will be ridden by Jose Ortiz, who has been aboard the Phipps homebred for his past two starts. The duo will depart from post 7.
Another Hall of Fame trainer, Bill Mott, will be represented by War Dancer, who is also exiting the Knickerbocker, in which he finished seventh after pressing the early pace. The 5-year-old son of War Front sports solid turf marathon form this year, having finished second by a neck in the Grade 1 Man o' War at Belmont on May 9, second in the Grade 2 Bowling Green Handicap on August 1 at Saratoga Race Course, and fourth in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer at the Spa.
Still looking for his first win of 2015, War Dancer will break from post 3 with Jose Lezcano in the irons. He sits at 5-1 on the morning line.
Belmont's leading trainer, Chad Brown, will send out the upstart turfer Mr Maybe, coming off a dominant four-length win in a 1 3/8-mile affair on October 15 at Belmont in his first start for Brown and owners Michael Dubb and Head of Plains Partners. Prior to his local romp, the gelded son of Ghostzapper thrashed a first-level allowance field at Parx Racing on August 31, skipping home to win by 4 ¼ lengths.
Breaking from post 9, Mr Maybe will be ridden by Irad Ortiz, Jr. and is tabbed at 5-1 on the morning line.
After pairing Beyer Speed Figures of 101 in Grade 1 events at his home base of Woodbine, Kaigun will look to keep his string of strong runs going for trainer Mark Casse, who won the Red Smith last year with Dynamic Sky. Kaigun, a chestnut gelding sired by Northern Afleet, finished fourth in each of his past two starts, the Woodbine Mile and Canadian International, two of the most prestigious turf races in Canada. He is the 3-1 second choice on the morning line, and will leave from post 6 with Joel Rosario aboard.
Rounding out the field are Great Dancer, third in the Grade 3 Hill Prince at Belmont last out; St. Albans Boy, who won the Laurel Turf Cup by a nose in his most recent outing; Iron Power, fourth in the Bowling Green three starts ago; Holiday Star, winner of the Grade 3 Sycamore at Keeneland; and Charming Kitten, second in the Sycamore.
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