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Thanksgiving Day at Aqueduct Racetrack will find horses and humans packing on a few extra pounds when a field of 10 gathers ’round for the 101st running of the Grade 3, $300,000 Fall Highweight Handicap, the traditional holiday feature at the Big A.
First race post time on Thursday will be 11:25 a.m., with the nine-race card set to conclude at approximately 3:10 p.m.
As the 2-1 pick on the morning line, trainer David Jacobson’s entry of Salutos Amigos and Strapping Groom will be the starting highweights in the six-furlong dash, carrying 133 and 134 pounds, respectively.
Salutos Amigos, a 4-gelded year-old son of Salute the Sarge, enters the Fall Highweight off a seventh-place finish in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint, in which he rallied five-wide to finish three lengths behind longshot winner Work All Week. Prior to that, the Southern Equine Stable color-bearer captured his first graded stakes with a 3 ¼-length triumph in the Grade 3 Bold Ruler Handicap at Belmont Park.
“Salutos Amigos shipped great back from California, and also to California, both ways,” said Jacobson. “I think his performance was spectacular; getting beat just three lengths in any Breeeders’ Cup race is awesome.”
Cornelio Velasquez will ride from post position 6.
The 7-year-old Strapping Groom, who was second in last year’s edition of the Fall Highweight, will be making his first start since finishing fifth in the Grade 1 Carter last April at Aqueduct. Winner of the Grade 1 Forego in 2013, Strapping Groom is 2-2-0 from five starts at the Big A, including wins in the Grade 3 Tom Fool and Gravesend.
“Strapping Groom is doing well,” said Jacobson. “We’ve had some trouble with his feet, quarter cracks, but we’ve got him good now and we think he’s going to run a bang-up race. Both he and Salutos Amigos are spectacular horses that we’ve done very well with, and I expect both of them to bring their “A” game.”
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Javier Castellano will ride Strapping Groom from post position 8.
Second choice on the morning line at 5-2 is Bakken, who like Salutos Amigos enters the Fall Highweight off a solid performance in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, in which he was eighth, beaten 3 ½ lengths.
“He wasn’t beaten that far,” said Chad Brown, who trains Bakken for Mr. and Mrs. William K. Warren. Jr. “It was probably a little too ambitious at the time but we gave it a shot. This again looks like a tough field, with a lot of speed in the race. We’ll have to see how it shakes out. But, he’s been training well. We’re probably not going to make the lead but we’ll be right behind the leaders.”
Bakken will leave from post position 4 under 130 pounds, including Joel Rosario.
Trainer Linda Rice, who won last year’s Fall Highweight with Palace, has entered the popular New York-bred filly La Verdad, winner of the Iroquois on Empire Showcase Day at Belmont Park last time out. The 4-year-old daughter of Yes It’s True has won six of her seven starts at Aqueduct, including her lone graded stakes win in the Grade 2 Distaff earlier this year.
“It’s a tough spot – there’s a lot of speed in the race – but she’s done very well since the Iroquois and it was a choice between that and the Garland of Roses [on December 6],” said Rice. “I’d say right now, we’re pointing towards the Fall Highweight for her.”
Manny Franco is named to ride La Verdad, 6-1 on the morning line. The filly is slated to carry 126 pounds from post position 7.
Rounding out the field are River Rocks, fourth in the Bold Ruler behind Salutos Amigos; Tightend Touchdown, sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint; Crafty Dreamer, most recently seventh in the Hudson Handicap; Mewannarose, coming off a three-month layoff; Bama Bound, making his stakes debut, and New York-bred stalwarts Captain Serious and Weekend Hideaway.
The field for the Grade 3 Fall Highweight Handicap:
P M. Serpe
J L. Ortiz
M E. Hushion
C C. Brown
J H. Iselin
I Ortiz, Jr.