If you’ve been a regular reader of this column, you may remember several months ago how I touted a maiden winner at Aqueduct by the name of Afleet Express. Now, I’m not a follower of maiden winners, but there was something about that colt and his effortless win against the odds that made me leap onto his bandwagon after only his first time out. And though the Express train never made it to the Triple Crown races, and in fact, hit a few snags on the tracks along the way, Afleet Express is finally ready for his first big test. And what a test it shall be. This Saturday in the Grade III Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth Park, the 3-year-old colt will take on the likes of the hard-knocking Jackson Bend, Afleet Again, and Schoolyard Dreams in his stakes debut.
Afleet Express has no experience going over 7 furlongs. He has no stakes starts under his belt. He’s never faced this sort of competition before (Though he did run twice versus General Maximus, a horse who went on to coast to victory in the $100,000 Time Square Division Stakes at Belmont). But he appears to want the added distance, and his sire, Afleet Alex, won the 1 ½-mile test of champions in the Belmont Stakes. The Pegasus Stakes, run at 1 1/16-miles, should be right in the colt’s wheelhouse, but whether or not he will be able to measure up to the three stakes winners in the field is another matter.
“Mighty Mouse,” the nickname for the small but valiant Nick Zito-trainee Jackson Bend, will likely be the favorite of this 6-horse field. Last time out, the little bay horse was less than a length away from winning the Preakness Stakes, charging late to finish third to Lookin at Lucky and First Dude. Though he has yet to win as a 3-year-old, Jackson Bend was running second to Eskendereya in two of his major prep races before the Kentucky Derby, and was only out of the money in that crapshoot race, where he finished 12th place. Measuring him against what he’s already faced, Jackson Bend towers over the competition in resume, though he may be dwarfed in stature.
Afleet Again will be the high weight at 123 pounds, thanks to his victory in the Grade III Withers at Aqueduct back in April. A winner of 3 in 10 starts, Afleet Again upset D’Funnybone in the 1-mile Withers at a price of 24-1. His trainer, Robert Reid, Jr., said of the big gray, “I believe he’s a legitimate mile and an eighth, mile and a quarter horse.” His past performances make a head-scratcher of this colt; in his last start, the Grade III Spend a Buck Stakes at Monmouth May 23, he finished third behind Ibboyee. Before his break out performance in the Withers, Afleet Again finished last in a field of 10 in the Gotham Stakes, but was runner-up in his start before that, the Whirlaway Stakes. If you throw out his Gotham flop, Afleet Again seems to be a good up-and-comer, but he’ll have to run his best to defeat Jackson Bend.
Schoolyard Dreams’s last win was in an optional claimer at Tampa Bay Downs in January. Last time out, he finished 9th in the Preakness Stakes, and was 4th before that in the Wood Memorial. His closest stakes victory was in the Grade III Tampa Bay Derby, which he lost in a photo finish to the game Odysseus. Though it doesn’t seem like the horse has been on the improve since his near-win in that stakes race, this field may be small enough and the distance short enough for him to make a comeback.
The Pegasus Stakes will serve as a prep race for the Grade I Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park on August 1st. Other probably contenders shooting for the Haskell are Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver, Preakness winner Lookin at Lucky, Belmont Stakes winner Drosselmeyer, and Florida Derby winner, Ice Box.
The Grade III $200,000 Pegasus Stakes will air live on TVG. Post time is scheduled for approximately 5:23 p.m. EST.