Twisted Tom heads good field for Empire Classic Handicap

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Alastair Bull

October 19th, 2017

The big day of the year for New York-bred horses has arrived, with nearly 100 competing in eight stakes races worth a total of $1.75 million on Empire Showcase day Oct. 21.

It’s a valuable day for the New York Thoroughbred industry, and it has featured some top-class horses over the years. Previous winners of the richest race of the day, the $300,000 Empire Classic Handicap, include grade one winners Effinex, Haynesfield, and Fourstardave.

Three horses have won the race twice – Haynesfield, Spite the Devil, and Gander. Seeking to become the fourth is last year’s winner Royal Posse. His form hasn’t been as strong as last year, but he should enjoy a return to state-bred class.

However, he’s got a tough task against the high-quality 3-year-old Twisted Tom, who’s likely to start favorite. He’s won five of his last six starts, four of them in stakes company. The sole defeat was a sixth-place finish in the Belmont Stakes. Governor Malibu, Control Group, and Papa Shot – the latter just returned from a third-place finish in the Korea Cup in Seoul, South Korea – are among the other chances.

The field for the $250,000 Empire Distaff Handicap doesn’t have the same strength in terms of graded stakes horses, but it should still be highly competitive. Literata, Jcs American Dream and Jc’s Shooting Star, the first three in the Saratoga Dew Stakes Aug. 14, clash again in the Distaff. Their opponents include Five Star Rampage, winner of the Jack Betta be Rite Stakes, and the improving Verdant Pastures.

The stakes races begin with the Maid of the Mist Stakes for 2-year-old fillies. As the only graded stakes winner in the field, Pure Silver will be a warm favorite. But she has yet to win past 6 ½ furlongs and the step up to a mile might improve the chances of her rivals, the best of whom appear to be Held Accountable, Berning Rose, and California-trained raider Cause We Are Loyal.

The field for the one-mile Sleepy Hollow Stakes for 2-year-olds doesn’t have the same depth as the Maid of the Mist, but it could be an intriguing betting race. Battle Station comes into the race after a 9 ¼-length victory in the Bertram F. Bongard Stakes for New York-breds, but there is also a lot of respect for Stoney Bennett and We Should Talk, both winners of their only start. Big Gemmy, fifth in the Iroquois Stakes (G3) at Churchill Downs behind The Tabulator, is also worth a look.

Quezon, the winner of the 6 ½-furlong Iroquois Stakes for fillies and mares last year, will be favored again after her third-place finish to Highway Star and Carina Mia in the Gallant Bloom Handicap (G2). She was beaten 2 ½ lengths by race rival Picco Uno in the Union Avenue Stakes earlier this season but is 11 pounds better off at the weights in the Iroquois.

Fifty Five, winner of the Florida Oaks (G3) and placed multiple times in graded stakes company since, is the likely favorite in the Ticonderoga Stakes, run over 1 1/16 miles on turf. Tizzelle could be her toughest opponent, while Ancient Secret and Flipcup will attempt to find the form which won them both graded stakes races last year.

Celtic Chaos and Weekend Hideaway, fourth and fifth, respectively, in the Vosburgh Stakes (G1), face a competitive field for the 6 ½-furlong Hudson Handicap, while Offering Plan, seventh in the Shadwell Turf Mile (G1), should appreciate the drop in company in the Mohawk Stakes over 1 1/16 miles on turf.