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Junior Alvarado aboard 2016 Fall Highweight Handicap winner Heaven's Runway
Thanksgiving is the biggest weekend of racing after the Breeders' Cup, with horses "on the bubble" for championship considerations able to get in one final stakes race to try to persuade the voters. The traditional Thanksgiving Day feature at Aqueduct is the $200,000 Fall Highweight Handicap (G3), contested at 6 furlongs on the main track. Conditions were typical for late November, 50 degrees with overcast skies, intermittent showers, and a light breeze. A throwback to the old days, the race involves horses carrying much higher weights than they normally would. As expected, 134 pound highweight Stallwalkin' Dude was sent off as the 9-10 favorite in the field of 8 off his win in the Bold Ruler Handicap (G3) after finishing second in the Vosburgh (G1) both at Belmont. In to challenge him included 4-1 second choice Ready for Rye, assigned 130 pounds off his 5th place finish in the Belmont Turf Sprint and winless since last September, and 11-2 third choice All Star Red, toting 126 pounds off a third place finish in an allowance but was 5th in the Vanderbilt (G1) at Aqueduct 4 starts back.
Heaven's Runway (outside) and Stallwalkin's Dude battle down the stretch
Jockey John Velazquez sent 12-1 The Great War to the front down the backstretch through fractions of 22.60 and 45.45 while pressed by 11-1 Green Gratto and stalked by Stallwalkin' Dude. Entering the stretch, Stallwalkin' Dude took over through 5/8 in 57.58, but 32-1 longest shot Heaven's Runway, 5th early under Junior Alvarado, came out 4 wide for room and rallied to get up by a neck in 1:10.19 over the fast main track. It was another 1 3/4 lengths back to Ready for Rye third.
# Horse Jockey Win Place Show 2 Heaven's Runway Alvarado 66.50 16.20 9.30 9 Stallwalkin's Dude Ortiz Jr. 2.80 2.20 3 Ready for Rye Saez 3.50 Winning Time 1:10:19 $2 Exacta 2-9 204.50 $2 Trifecta 2-9-3 1,014.00 $2 Superfecta 2-9-3-8 4,794.00Results Chart
Left: Heaven's Runway in the winner's circle. Winning trainer Rudy Rodriguez said, "When I claimed this horse, believe it or not, I claimed him for this race. I knew he was going to be OK for this race and he didn't prove me wrong. It made the owners happy today. They don't believe in me, I guess, because they didn't show up, but I believe in myself. We gave him one chance on the grass, and he ran good, and then we just pointed to this race."
Right: Heaven's Runway returns to the barn. Rodriguez added, "(Owner Mike Dubb) sends me numbers, racing forms, every day to have me look at horses, but when I say, 'Mike, I like this horse,' he says, 'Claim him.' That's what's good about him. He doesn't tell you no, he doesn't worry about what horse we should claim, what horse we don't claim. Everything worked out good today. He looked like a nice horse, plus the weight helped us a little bit. It all worked out."
Left: Heaven's Runway in the paddock before the race. Winning jockey Junior Alvarado said, "I just followed instructions. Rudy was very, very confident with this horse. In the paddock he told me he claimed this horse exactly for this race. I took his word because he's a very good trainer. He only told me 'save ground, stay on the rail as long as you can. If you find a way inside then go for it if not tip out'. I just made sure to do exactly what he told me to do and it worked out. We got the trip and we got the win."
Right: Heaven's Runway in the post parade. Alvarado added, "They were moving along pretty good up front. I felt my horse moving pretty fast for that reason I knew they were moving pretty fast in front. I knew they were going to comeback I just had to guage if I would have enough kick in the end. There were some very nice horses in the race. I couldn't really get excited until we passed the wire."
Left: Second place finisher and beaten favorite Stallwalkin' Dude returns after the race. The David Jacobson trainee improved his record to 16 wins, 6 seconds, and 7 thirds in 47 starts, earning $1,128,352 for owners Head of Plains Partners and David Jacobson.
Right: Third place finisher Ready for Rye heads out for the post parade. The Tom Albertrani trainee improved his record to 5 wins, 4 seconds, and 6 thirds in 18 starts, earning $659,260 for owner Chalk Racing.
Catapult winning the Gio Ponti Stakes
Kicking off the stakes trio on Thursday was the inaugural running of the $125,000 Gio Ponti Stakes for 3-year-olds going 1 1/16 miles on the turf. Catapult was the 3-2 favorite in the field of 6 over 9-5 second choice Strike Midnight and 5-1 Italian Charm. 8-1 Pirellone was sent to the lead through fractions of 24.59, 50.69, and 1:14.99 while pressed by Catapult and stalked by Italian Charm Entering the stretch, Pirellone tired allowing Catapult and Javier Castellano to inherit the lead through 1 mile in 1:38.74. Strike Midnight put in a late rally from 5th but Catapult cruised to a 1 1/4 length win in 1:44.75 over the good turf course. It was a length back to 10-1 Hunter O'Riley third.
Winning jockey Javier Castellano said, "He likes to run and is happy the way he goes. I didn't see much speed in the race, so I wanted to fall in position like he did today. I'm very proud. He's a pro; everything he does, he does the right way. He never gets tired, he always keeps going and carries speed well."
Yorkiepoo Princess winning the Furlough Stakes
The $100,000 Furlough Stakes featured a field of 5 two-year-old fillies sprinting 6 furlongs on the main track. Eloquent Riddle was the 3-10 favorite over 7-2 Yorkiepoo Princess and 11-2 Star Studded. Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. sent Yorkiepoo Princess to the lead and she set fractions of 23.53 and 46.90 while as many as 4 1/2 lengths ahead of Eloquent Riddle stalking her second. Entering the stretch, Yorkiepoo Princess continued to lead through 5/8 in 58.88, and cruised to a 2 3/4 length win over Eloquent Riddle in 1:11.62. It was a long 17 1/4 lengths back to 28-1 Alice B Winkle third.
Winning trainer Ed Barker said, "She's just a really nice filly. We didn't pay much money for her, but she's got so much talent. There's more to her too, I can tell you. She's just got so much talent and we hope we can go on to bigger and better things later on in the spring. For now, we're going to play it by ear. I'm elated that she won this race."