Aloha West under the radar in G1 Met Mile for bustling BSRF 

June 9, 2022

ELMONT, N.Y. – Trainer Wayne Catalano is bursting in confidence for his Aloha West, winner of the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint in November at Del Mar, who invades for Saturday’s Grade 1, $1 million Hill ‘n’ Dale Metropolitan Handicap for 3-year-olds and up at Belmont Park.

“We are here to win,” said Catalano. “He is going into the race perfectly and you can’t always get horses as perfect as this before a big race, knock-on-wood, but I know we got him as good as he can be.”

The son of Hard Spun, from a Beyer Speed Figure standpoint, must face the fastest horse of 2021, Flightline [118] for West Coast-based conditioner John Sadler, and thus far in 2022, Speaker’s Corner [114] for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. 

Aloha West will also race beyond seven furlongs for the first time his career, but the late runner is bred to handle the ascent and has two victories over seven furlongs, including a Saratoga allowance win in September, earning his best figure of 102. 

He breezed a bullet five furlongs at Churchill Downs on June 3 in 58.60 in his final preparation for Saturday’s test.

“His last work was amazing, and he’s been training really well since – nice and relaxed – and even today, when he jogged a half and galloped a half [at Belmont], he looked great,” Catalano said. “You always question if they can get a mile with a come-from-behind sprinter like him, but there’s only way to find out and that’s to lead them over there. Don’t get me wrong, it’s obviously a tough race, but it will still tell us if he gets the mile. 

“If I had the money, I would buy a rabbit to make sure we could get a strong pace in front of us, but we aren’t in that position,” Catalano said, with a laugh. “But in all seriousness, Billy’s horse has speed, and the California horse is fast inside, so hopefully they go out and we can do what we want from there.”

Aron Wellman (NYRA/Coglianese)

Aron Wellman, the president and founder of Eclipse Thoroughbreds, also believes that Aloha West could be sitting on a big effort. He will be joined by a large contingent of syndicate partners – much like on Kentucky Derby Day when Aloha West was third last out in the Grade 1 Churchill Downs—to amplify that faith. 

“This is the race that we have had in mind since the Breeders’ Cup and it was just a matter of how we were going to get here,” Wellman said. “We’re very pleased to have got a prep race into him at Churchill Downs on Derby Day and he ran a really good race. He deserves a little more credit for the race he ran, I think. He took the worst of it on a dead rail and up against a horse like Jackie’s Warrior. We were probably second-best on the day, not third, but the race was designed as a means to an end for him. 

“The Met Mile, certainly with the presence of Flightline and Speaker’s Corner, is a heavyweight bout and we feel as though we belong,” Wellman continued. “We are sportsmen, will take on the challenge and we feel like Aloha West is deserving of this opportunity. In the best of all worlds, they lock horns and potentially soften themselves up for a horse like Aloha to mow them down. It’s going to take a serious horse to beat either of them and a lifetime-best from our horse, but we are game, and the horse is doing as well as we could possibly imagine. He’s never raced beyond seven furlongs, but we feel like if the pace unfolds the way it looks, a one-turn mile configuration could be perfect for him.” 

Abaan breaking his maiden by 7 1/2 lengths Sept. 6, 2021 at Saratoga under John Velazquez. (NYRA/Coglianese)

Wellman and partners will kick off a big weekend on Friday with morning-line favorite Abaan in the Grade 2, $400,000 Belmont Gold Cup, a two-mile marathon for older horses.

A son of Travers winner Will Take Charge co-owned by Alex Daigneault, Abaan exits a fifth in the Grade 1 Man o’ War on May 14. A proven stayer, he won the two-mile H. Allen Jerkens over the winter and backed that up with graded glory in the Grade 3 W. L. McKnight over 12 furlongs on the same Gulfstream Park turf. He was a good second two starts back in the Grade 2 Pan American to multiple Grade 1-winner Gufo.

“This has been his primary target to start the second half of the season and we called an audible when running him in the Man o’ War,” Wellman explained. “It was a Grade 1 race with only five horses and worth $700,000 and we worried that the nine weeks between the Pan American and Belmont Gold Cup might leave him a little too fresh going into two-mile race. Unfortunately, it didn’t pan out how we hoped it would, but it was a segue to the Gold Cup. 

“You don’t get a lot of opportunities to run for $400,000 with turf marathoners and we believe he will run a big race,” he continued. “It is hard to see a scenario where he’s not laying 1-2-3 and he’s proven he can make or win with a target. The Europeans, Loft and Outbox, will be tough and if there’s any cut in the ground it can help them, but the fact that our horse has won on good and yielding turf definitely helps.”

Divine Huntress in a work at Herringswell Farm at Fair Hill for trainer Graham Motion. (Maggie Kimmit) 

In addition to Aloha West, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners are co-owners of the lone filly in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets, Nest, and have longshot Divine Huntress earlier on the card in the Grade 1 Acorn. 

Already a Grade 1 winner in April’s Ashland at Keeneland, Nest is a daughter of Belmont runner-up Curlin and granddaughter of Belmont winner A. P. Indy. Trained by Abaan’s Hall of Fame conditioner Todd Pletcher, a three-time Belmont winner, the four-time winner from six tries ticks a lot of boxes going into her first battle with the boys. Like Aloha West, she breaks from post three under Jose Ortiz.

“We’re pleased with the draw and I love that We The People is drawn inside,” Wellman said. “I would love to be able to sit right off him. Everyone is going to be scrumming for position and it’s just a matter of whether or not they’re fast enough to get that position. In a perfect world, we’re very much in a spot just behind the pace.” 

Acorn outsider Divine Huntress will also break from post three, but under Abaan’s rider, Luis Saez. Trained by Graham Motion, the daughter of Divining Rod exits a fourth in the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan at Pimlico and was fifth in the Grade 3 Gazelle at the Big A in April. Bred and trained in Maryland, the granddaughter of champion sprinter Housebuster may appreciate the cut back in trip. 

“This is not something we frankly had on our radar after the Black-Eyed Susan, but we are very opportunistic, especially with our fillies and getting blacktype and graded races. It’s a $500,000 race and Grade 1 honors on the line and you, at the very least, have to give yourself a $3,500 [entry fee] option to survey the field,” Wellman said. “You never know when a main player like Matareya or Echo Zulu might stub their toe in a five-horse field. She’s done very well since the Black-Eyed Susan. Her PPs may not show it, but we think she’s very talented and we also think that after a couple two-turn races, that cutting back to a one-turn mile could really suit her. You have to be in the races to have a chance.”

Catalano also gave an update on Susan Moulton’s highly impressive Keeneland maiden-winning 2-year-old, Andthewinneris, whose plan to head to the Windsor Castle Stakes at Royal Ascot was recently abandoned. 

From the first crop of 2017 Belmont Derby Invitational winner Oscar Performance, the bay colt closed with a rush to win first out by two widening lengths with the well-regarded Wesley Ward trainee Wico in third.

“We want to win the Breeders’ Cup with him, it’s as simple as that,” Catalano said. “The owners thought it through and decided not to go to England and the horse is doing great. He is a really talented horse, and I don’t rule out trying the dirt with him once somewhere along the line, but our goal is the Breeders’ Cup and we’ll figure out how to get there. There’s Saratoga, Woodbine and Churchill races in the meantime to look at this summer and fall.”

NYRA Press Office
Photo Aloha West the surprise victor in the Breeders’ Cup Spring at Del Mar under Jose Ortiz Nov. 6, 2021. (Eric Kalet)

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