A pair of talented contenders for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin will look to earn points towards qualifying for the Kentucky Oaks in Saturday's Busher Invitational.
Offering 50-20-10-5 qualifying points for the “Lilies for the Fillies” on May 3 at Churchill Downs, the 40th running of the Busher is one of four stakes on a packed card that includes the $150,000 Stymie, the Grade 3, $200,000 Tom Fool Handicap and the Grade 3, $300,000 Gotham. FOX Sports Saturday At The Races, airing on FS2, will broadcast live from 4-7 p.m.
Leonard Green's It Justhitthe Wire will make her stakes debut after a maiden-breaking 5 ¾-length win on a sloppy and sealed Gulfstream Park track on January 27 last out. The Bernardini filly comes with high expectations after being purchased for $410,000 at the 2018 Ocala Breeders' Sale and will make her first start at the Big A following a four-furlong breeze in 48.10 seconds on Friday at Belmont Park.
In three career starts, It Justhitthe Wire is 1-0-2, but will now stretch out to the one-turn mile. She ran seventh in a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight on October 25 at Belmont, but her conditioner said she's improved since.
“She's doing very well, the mile is a bit of a question mark,” McLaughlin said. “She didn't run real well at the distance before but she had excuses. We'll work it out.”
With snow in the forecast for Friday, McLaughlin said there's a possibility she could benefit from a track that isn't fast.
“Sloppy might be better, it was like that when she won impressively down in Florida, so we'll see,” McLaughlin said.
Rajiv Maragh will pick up the mount from post 5.
Godolphin Racing's Enliven has more stakes experience than her stablemate, running second behind fellow Busher entrant Oxy Lady in the one-mile Grade 3 Tempted on November 2 at Aqueduct.
McLaughlin gave the Ghostzapper filly a six-week break as she readies for her fourth consecutive stakes appearance. After being boxed inside in the Ruthless, Enliven will be looking for more room when she returns to Aqueduct.
“She's doing well, we felt like the last race wasn't an ideal trip down inside,” McLaughlin said. “So hopefully, we can be outside and be in the clear.”
Dylan Davis will be in the irons from post 4.
Madaket Stables and Heider Family's undefeated Please Flatter Me will bid to start her career 4-for-4 for trainer Mark Reid. The daughter of Munnings has won each race at a successively longer distance, including her first two victories races at Penn National. An 8 ½-length debut score on October 13 and a four-length win in the Blue Mountain Juvenile Fillies on November 21 preceded a 5 ¾-length win in the seven-furlong Gin Talking on December 29 at Laurel Park to cap her juvenile campaign.
Please Flatter Me, who has bested 10-horse fields in each start, will be taking a step up in class and distance, though Reid said she's shown an ease with shipping and that her natural speed can continue to be an asset.
“You never know about two turns, but I'm very confident that a mile around one turn, she'll be murder because she has plenty of natural speed and will dial it down a notch anytime you ask her,” Reid said.
Jockey Alex Cintron, aboard for Please Flatter Me's last two wins, will make the trip to New York to ride, breaking from post 10.
Calumet Farm's stakes-veteran Oxy Lady has already been a memorable horse for trainer Jack Sisterson, giving the 34-year-old his first career graded stakes win as a 36-1 longshot in the Tempted.
A former assistant to Doug O'Neill, including playing a key role during I'll Have Another's 2012 Triple Crown bid that included a victory in that year's Kentucky Derby and Preakness, Sisterson now will see Oxy Lady cutting back in distance after running fourth in the Grade 1 Starlet and sixth in the Grade 2 Rachel Alexandra, both at 1 1/16 miles and contested at Los Alamitos and Fair Grounds, respectively.
Oxy Lady is 2-0-1 in three career starts at the Busher distance.
“She ships really well and runs [hard] wherever she goes, and she's won at Aqueduct before, so the track won't be a concern to us,” Sisterson said.
Hall of Famer Javier Castellano, who will have his first New York mounts of 2019 on Saturday, will exit from post 3.
David Merjan's Excess Capacity, a $300,000 purchase at the 2017 Keeneland Yearling Sale, broke her maiden on January 4 at Aqueduct and will make her first stakes appearance for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, drawing post 6 with Jose Lezcano.
Two Todd Pletcher-trained entrees will look to build on the early success of their respective sophomore years, with Busanda-winner Always Shopping, owned by Repole Stable, making her third straight start at the track. Meet-leading rider Manny Franco will ride from post 11.
StarLadies Racing's Orra Moor, a $180,000 purchase at the same sale as Excess Capacity, is 2-for-2 and will run in her first stakes race, drawing post 12 with Hall of Famer John Velazquez.
Espresso Shot will face open company after besting fellow New York-breds to win the East View by 3 ¼-lengths on December 29 for trainer Jorge Abreu. The Mission Impazible filly, owned by NY Final Furlong Racing Stable and Maspeth Stable, is 2-1-1 in five career starts. Eric Cancel will have the call from post 2.
Rounding out the field is Ujjayi, who won the Ruthless on January 27 for trainer Erin McClellan, from post 1; Dovey Lovey, who finished third in the Ruthless, for trainer Gary Contessa, from post 8; Shelley Ann, for trainer Jimmy Jerkens, breaking from post 9; and the Rudy Rodriguez-trained Filly Joel out of post 7.
First post time for Saturday's 11-race card at Aqueduct is 12:20 p.m.
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