Nothing Better Tops Strong Field in Elusive Quality

May 2, 2024

Nothing Better the best in the Aqueduct Turf Sprint Championship (Chelsea Durand)

By Christian Abdo – NYRA Press Office

OZONE PARK, N.Y.— Colts Neck Stables’ multiple stakes-winner Nothing Better headlines a strong field of nine veterans in Saturday’s Listed $150,000 Elusive Quality, a six-furlong outer turf sprint for older horses, at Belmont at the Big A.

Trained by Jorge Duarte, Jr., the 7-year-old Munnings gelding returns from a near six-month layoff dating to an impressive victory in the six-furlong Aqueduct Turf Sprint Championship in November. There, he broke sharply under returning rider Dylan Davis to lead by one length at each call through swift splits of 21.90 seconds, 44.38, and 55.70 with enough in the tank to finish a 1 3/4-length winner in 1:07.27 over the firm outer turf.

Last year, Nothing Better’s seasonal debut came in a local optional claimer where he set the six-furlong outer turf course record finishing in 1:06.80 over firm going on April 13. He has breezed extensively at Colts Neck Stables in New Jersey for his return, including a bullet half-mile over turf in 52.50 Friday

“Nothing Better is like they say, ‘a horse for course.’ He loves Aqueduct and he loves a firm turf, and I think we might get that with the weather coming up,” said Duarte, Jr. “It’s an hour from the farm and our training center and he runs well there, why change it?”

Nothing Better exited his record-setting effort with a neck defeat to dual Grade 3-winner Beer Can Man in the five-furlong Jim McKay Turf Sprint on May 20 Preakness Day at Pimlico Race Course. He next set the pace in the six-furlong Grade 1 Jaipur on June 10 Belmont Stakes Day at Belmont Park, where he faded to fifth late, beaten 2 1/4 lengths by the multiple Grade 1-winning mare Caravel.

With a strong performance Saturday, Duarte, Jr. said that he hopes to return to this year’s Grade 1, $500,000 Jaipur presented by Resolute Racing, set for 5 1/2 furlongs on June 8 Belmont Stakes Day at Saratoga Race Course. The Jaipur offers a ‘Win and You’re In’ berth to the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint which will be contested at five furlongs in November at Del Mar.

“He’s getting a little older now but seems well. If he’s good, he could set us up to probably go to the Jaipur,” said Duarte, Jr. “This year is attractive, it is at Saratoga and a half-furlong less. It comes down to him and if he comes back to form, but I think he’s doing well.”

Nothing Better’s other stakes scores came in 2022 with a frontrunning effort in the Aqueduct Turf Sprint Championship after a prominent score in the 5 1/2-furlong Rainbow Heir in August at Monmouth Park.

“When he gets loose on the lead, he is tough to get by,” Duarte, Jr. said. “He runs well fresh. My barn doesn’t always run great off the layoff, but as an individual, he runs well.”

Nothing Better has surpassed the half-million mark in career earnings with $566,217 through a 25-9-5-3 record.

Bred in Kentucky by Don Alberto Corporation, Nothing Better is out of the Irish-bred Duke of Marmalade mare One True Love – a half-sister to Grade 1-winner Folk Opera. He was a $230,000 purchase at the 2019 OBS April Sale.

Davis will be aboard from post 4.

Trainer David Donk will send out a pair of half-brothers in dual graded stakes-placed Thin White Duke [post 9, Trevor McCarthy] and graded stakes-placed Yes and Yes [post 1, Jose Gomez] – both are out of the Distorted Humor mare Aberdeen Alley.

Thin White Duke victorious in the Harvey Pack Sep. 2 at Saratoga (Chelsea Durand)

The New York-bred Thin White Duke, owned by breeder and former trainer Phil Gleaves, in partnership with Steven Crist, Ken deRegt and Bryan Hilliard, was last seen finishing eighth in the aforementioned Aqueduct Turf Sprint Championship won by Nothing Better.

The 6-year-old Dominus gelding previously ran twice over the Aqueduct main track in October finishing third in the 6 1/2-furlong state-bred Hudson after runner-up honors in the off-the-turf six-furlong Belmont Turf Sprint. The highlights of Thin White Duke’s past campaign came over the summer at Saratoga, finishing third in the Grade 3 Troy for the second consecutive year and winning the Harvey Pack over multiple graded stakes-winner Big Invasion, both at 5 1/2 furlongs.

Last year, Thin White Duke finished fourth in the Elusive Quality before running tenth in the Jaipur.

The Kentucky-bred Yes and Yes, bred and owned by Gleaves with Joseph R. Straus, Jr. and the Estate of Hugh Fitzsimons, Jr., ran a close second in last year’s Elusive Quality, beaten a nose by Anaconda after taking the lead with a sixteenth remaining. The 8-year-old Sidney’s Candy gelding then finished ninth in the Jaipur after traveling in last-of-14 following a bump at the break.

The seasoned turf sprinter Yes and Yes seeks his first stakes score after finishing a close second in August’s Select at Monmouth and July’s Van Clief at Colonial Downs, before an off-the-board finish in the Belmont Turf Sprint.

Diamond M Stables and breeder J and N Stables Grade 3-winning New York-bred Dancing Buck [post 5, Manny Franco] looks to improve upon close second-place finishes beaten a half-length in both December’s Grade 2 Joe Hernandez and March’s Grade 3 San Simeon, sprinting 6 1/2 furlongs at Santa Anita Park.

The 6-year-old War Dancer gelding returns to the care of trainer Michelle Nevin after making his West Coast outings for conditioner Rick Dutrow, Jr. His previous 18 starts came on the NYRA-circuit for Nevin and included a win in the 2022 Grade 3 Belmont Turf Sprint that October at Belmont at the Big A after a nose defeat to Thin White Duke in the Lucky Coin at Saratoga.

“He’s doing well. He’s a hard-knocking horse. A trier,” said Nevin.

Out of the multiple stakes-placed Catienus mare Frivolous Buck, Dancing Buck is a full-brother to Mz Big Bucks, who won the 2023 Cupecoy’s Joy division of the New York Stallion Stakes Series last June at Belmont Park.

Gatsas Stables, Steven Schoenfeld, and trainer John Terranova’s graded stakes-placed Our Shot [post 2, Romero Maragh] was a last out fourth in the 5 1/2-furlong Grade 2 Shakertown on April 6 at Keeneland and is cross-entered in Grade 2 Twin Spires Turf Sprint on Saturday at Churchill Downs.

In the Shakertown, the 5-year-old Kantharos gelding found himself 6 1/4-lengths back in ninth-of-12 early before climbing to fourth in the stretch, missing place-honors by less than one length as he closed between Grade 1-winner Mischief Magic and stakes-winner Eamonn in the event won by multiple graded stakes-winner Arzak.

Rounding out the field are Durante [post 8, Isaac Castillo], a Grade 3-winner on the main track for owner/trainer David Jacobson; Charles Matses’ stakes-winner Alogon [post 7, Kendrick Carmouche] for trainer Edward Allard; and a pair of stakes-placed runners in Mike Rutherford’s American Monarch [post 6, Jose Lezcano] for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott and Charles Hallas’ Bring Me a Check [post 3, Eric Cancel] for conditioner Patrick Reynolds.

The Elusive Quality is slated for Race 9 on Saturday’s 11-race card that also features the Grade 2, $200,000 Fort Marcy [Race 8] at nine furlongs on the turf for older horses and the Grade 2, $200,000 Ruffian at a one-turn mile for older fillies and mares [Race 10]. First post is 1:05 p.m. Eastern with the facility open to the public from 10 a.m. – 8:45 p.m. to accommodate a 10:30 a.m. first post at Churchill Downs for their 14-race card that features the Grade 1, $5 million Kentucky Derby in Race 12 at 6:57 p.m. The Big A will host a Kentucky Derby watch party Saturday featuring free bourbon tasting, a premium cigar stand, live music and food trucks.

@jonathanstettin such a great read! In my car reading this on my lunch break with a huge smile.

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