OZONE PARK, N.Y.— Blue Lion Thoroughbreds, Craig Taylor and Diamond T Racing’s Morello returns to the site of his lone graded stakes victory in Saturday’s Grade 2, $300,000 Kelso for 3-year-olds and upward going a one-turn mile at Belmont at the Big A.
The Kelso offers the top-four finishers a free nomination and starting fee in the Grade 1, $750,000 Cigar Mile slated for December 3 at the Big A. Also featured on the stacked program are the Grade 3, $200,000 Bold Ruler, a six-furlong sprint for 3-year-olds and upward, the $120,000 Awad at 1 1/16-miles on turf for juveniles and the $120,000 Pumpkin Pie at seven furlongs on the main track for fillies and mares 3-years-old and up.
Morello, trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, put himself on the map over the winter by registering two stakes victories at the Big A. The son of Classic Empire made both his sophomore and stakes debut with a win in the Jimmy Winkfield on February 6 before making a victorious return to the Big A in the Grade 3 Gotham one month later.
Two distant sixth-place finishes in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial presented by Resorts World Casino on April 9 and the Grade 1 Woody Stephens presented by Mohegan Sun on June 11 at Belmont Park prompted Morello’s connections to give him a freshening. He returned to action in style by besting allowance company on October 8 Laurel Park.
Morello has since trained forwardly under the watchful eye of Asmussen’s Belmont-based assistant Toby Sheets, recording a half-mile breeze in 50.22 seconds over the training track.
“The plan was to give him some time off, let him be a horse, and let him get back into training with Toby. He did an outstanding job with him over the winter and right around this time,” Dave Lyon of Blue Lion Thoroughbreds said. “We feel like we’ve got ourselves a fresh horse and we have to remind ourselves that he’s still only 3-years-old, so we’re hoping the best is in front of him.”
Dylan Davis will pick up the mount from post 3.
Trainer Robert Falcone, Jr. will saddle John Grossi’s Racing Corp.’s Empty Tomb, who enters off a 1 3/4-length allowance optional claiming triumph on October 7 at Delaware Park. The win was the 6-year-old Speightstown chestnut’s first start since finishing a distant ninth in the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup on January 29 at Gulfstream Park, which was won by last year’s Kelso winner Life Is Good.
Empty Tomb was claimed by Falcone, Jr. for $80,000 in August 2021 and made his third start for his current trainer a winning one, defeating stakes-winner First Constitution by three-quarters of a length in a November 28 allowance optional claimer going one mile at the Big A. He then finished second in the Queens County here on December 19, which prompted his connections to try the heavy hitters in the Pegasus World Cup.
“I left it up to the owners, so we decided to take a shot in the Pegasus,” Falcone, Jr. “He came out of there with a little bone bruising, and he was moving a little bit uncomfortably. After that, we decided to give him time off to get him back on track and that helped him out a lot.”
Irad Ortiz, Jr., a two-time Kelso winner, will pilot Empty Tomb from post 2.
Pocket 3’s Racing’s Shackqueenking appears to be heating up as he ships by way of the Mid-Atlantic region to attempt his fourth straight triumph for trainer Gary Capuano. The 4-year-old Shackleford gelding earned a career-best 99 Beyer Speed Figure in the last out DTHA Governor’s Day Handicap on October 1 at Delaware Park following two allowance optional claiming triumphs at the Wilmington oval.
Shackqueenking, who brags a 16-7-2-4 record, will race at Aqueduct for the first time since finishing a distant eighth in the Grade 3 Withers last February.
Angel Suarez, who is unbeaten in five starts aboard Shackqueenking, retains the mount from post 1.
Trainer Bill Mott will saddle Pantofel Stable, Wachtel Stable, Gary Barber and Jerold Zaro’s Baby Yoda following a 10 3/4 length triumph on October 7 at Belmont at the Big A.
The gelded son of Prospective has earned four trips to the winner’s circle this year, all at different racetracks. In the spring, Baby Yoda conveyed the force against starter allowance company at Keeneland and Churchill Downs, respectfully, before defeating allowance optional claiming company at Saratoga in the summer.
Hall of Famer Javier Castellano, a three-time Kelso winner, will ride Baby Yoda from post 6.
Graded stakes winner Title Ready boasts field best earnings of $779,443 through a record of 34-5-6-6 for trainer Dallas Stewart.
Title Ready, by More Than Ready, will attempt to provide owner Charles Fipke with his second Kelso win after the British Colombia native won in 2012 with the Barclay Tagg-trained Jersey Town. He will seek to regain winning form, having gone 0-for-9 since capturing the Grade 3 Louisiana last January at Fair Grounds Race Course and Slots.
A Kentucky homebred, Title Ready is out of the Monarchos mare Title Seeker, making him a half-brother to graded stakes winner and millionaire producer Seeking the Title. His second dam is undefeated Hall of Famer and 1988 Horse of the Year Personal Ensign.
Emma-Jayne Wilson will ride Title Ready from post 4.
Completing the field is the Norman Cash-trained Double Crown [post 5, J.D. Acosta] who enters off one week’s rest, having finished fourth in the Maryland Millions Classic last Saturday. The son of Bourbon Courage is cross-entered in a 5 1/2-furlong allowance on Saturday at Delaware Park.
The Kelso honors Allaire duPont’s five-time Horse of the Year [1960-64] who is considered to be one of the greatest thoroughbreds in racing history. Trained by Carl Hanford, the durable Kelso raced from age 2 and retired at age 9, having won five straight editions of the Jockey Club Gold Cup as well as three runnings of both the Woodward and Whitney Handicaps.
The Kelso is carded as Race 5 on Saturday’s 10-race program. First post is 12:35 p.m. Eastern.
America’s Day at the Races will present live coverage and analysis of every day of Belmont at the Big A on the networks of FOX Sports. For the broadcast schedule and channel finder, visit https://www.nyra.com/aqueduct/racing/tv-schedule.
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By Ryan Martin – NYRA Press Office
Main photo: Morello wins the G3 Gotham (Chelsea Durand)
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