The Forty Niner Handicap (Grade 2)- $300.000 Purse
AQU- For Three Year Olds and Upward
One Mile on the Dirt
October 28, 2023
Formerly known as the Kelso Handicap, a field of eleven comes together on Saturday to contest the 20th running of the rebranded Forty Niner Handicap at AQU. It’ll be the second time that race is run here, having been at BEL through 2021 until moving to the Big A in 2022. It’s a mile on the main track, but that has not always been the case as it ran as a turf stake from 2004 through 2009. We will not have our reigning race winner, Higher Drift in the event, but we will have the horse that won in 2021, Need 4 Speed and he could become the first two-time Forty Niner Handicap winner. As for higher drift, he is still active but in reality, may be done having not run since July in a poor performance. Interestingly, he ran in the BC Dirt Mile a week later and ran second, but it may be that those two races took too much out of him. Regardless, it is probably unlikely that our winner will run at SA next week. Here’s a look at those taking part!
#1- Fighting Dragon (Night Rider Stables, ridden by A Beschizza)- Won a fair amount of money in 2021, but since then he would change trainer hands a few times in claimers before arriving with Night Rider Stables for $14.000 in August of last year. And the trainer has turned him around! Or wait, maybe not. I’ll be a little blunter than I normally am to say that really all I see are entries into higher races since then with little to actually speak of in the race. The good news for Night Rider is when I usually make that kind of comment, the horse ends up winning.
#2- Pompano Beach (Threshold, ridden by M E Smith)- Another horse that has been passed around in claimers, and he did a good job in those races. Threshold wants more, much like Night Rider Stables does, but at least with Pompano Beach we can see this is his first opportunity in this type of race. It does get my attention, in a positive way, the Threshold has taken his time with this one since picking him up, so there may be a lot going on behind the scenes to justify this placement. Only one public work since the end of June.
#3- Need 4 Speed (The Sidley Stud, ridden by I Castillo)- From a couple of longer shots, to the 2021 winner of the then-Kelso Handicap. He also ran in the BC Dirt Mile after the win but had two weeks of rest unlike the one that Higher Drift had. Since then, he’s also moved around in claimers, and will be racing for The Sidley Stud for the first time here. He spent $18.000 to pick him up after a turf race in July at MTH and hopes to win this stake again. His works in September suggest that he hasn’t lost anything, but it’s time to step up here.
#4- Surprise Authority (Spankys Barn, ridden by I Ortiz Jr)- He’s not a stranger to running long, but he has not done so since August of last year. Since then, he was generally consistent with getting a portion of the purse for his trainer, even if not the top prize for a while, but after running sixth in the Grade 2 Phoenix, Surprise Authority is going to get some more distance to run. His effort was not poor in the Phoenix, nor was it when he was seventh in the Crosby, but you don’t earn anything when you finish there. He’s been good running long when he’s done it.
#5- Tango Mango (Axeman, ridden by F Geroux)- Making the 30th start of his career and is just a little shy of $300.000 in career earnings. Mostly this has been a horse that has run in overnights, but Axeman had bigger aspirations when he claimed him for just $6.250 in May. He’s gone on to win three of four since then, and that includes taking the $100.000 Jones Stakes at ELP in Mid-August. That led to a start at the Grade 3 Greenwood Cup, and it’s mile and a half distance, where he was third. He’s back at a mile here, and that should be a good thing for him.
#6- Lokoya Road (Mb Stables, ridden by Ru Silvera)- Mb Stables added this one to his barn in August for $375.000 about six weeks after the gelding finished third in the Grade 2 Nerud. He gave him quite a test in their first run together in the Grade 1 JC Gold Cup and it’s $1,000.000 purse. He ran in the middle of the field there before running for 10% of that races purse in the Grade 3 Tokyo City Cup. Lokoya Road was better there with a second-place effort and will be another horse cutting his distance from a mile and a half here.
#7- State Dream (Spb Racing, ridden by W Martinez)- In this handicap, all of the horses, with one exception are carrying 118 or 119 pounds. State Dream is the high weight at 121, so that’s something to keep in the back of your head. This is another horse that bounced around between trainers for a while but seems to have found a nice home where with Spb Racing. He’s won three of four, highlighted by his last start, the $125.000 PID Mile, where he was also a two-pound high weight. This is a very consistent horse who may have just been waiting to have that one trainer like he has now that was ready to bring him forward.
#8- Mohegan Smoke (Asgar, ridden by L J Luzzi)- It’s been a bit of a theme thus far, but here’s another horse that claimed very cheaply at the start of the year. Asgar needed only $3.000 to pick him up in March and moving him to the main track seems to have what has put him over the top. Since the claim, Mohegan Sun won a couple of starter allowances before ultimately taking on a good crowd at the Grade 2 SD Handicap at DMR, where he was third of seven. He was a less of a factor in his last race, but I’m always willing to forgive one race like that. That said, bouncing back from the Lukas Classic would be nice.
#9- Gigabyte (Smokey Stover, ridden by D E Centeno)- We’ve done a lot of talk about the many of the previous horses being claimed for cheap prices, that it almost doesn’t seem like Gigabyte belongs in the same conversation. If you add up all of the earnings of all of the other horses in this field, then added $800.000, you still will not reach Gigabyte’s total earnings. Obviously, that’s because of last year, and Gigabyte has not been as good as a four-year-old. He’s been very good in the optional claimers he has run in this year, but stakes have been a different story. Did score a 103 SRF at the Metropolitan Handicap in June and will need to show that side of him again.
#10- Xavier Breath (Maxmillion Farm, ridden by A Cedillo)- Returns to the dirt for the first time since May 2022, when he ran fourth in the Grade 3 Westchester for his previous connections. For Maxmillion Farm, the results have been hit and miss on the turf, predominantly in optional claimers. At the start of this month, he won that type of race by a comfortable length at SA, though the decision to run here may have been made on the 21st, with an eye-popping work up at WO. If he can bring that kind of speed to the Forty Niner Handicap, then this race is his. Still may need to prove himself at this level to some as those turf works were very good too, but I must say I am excited to see how this race turns out for him.
#11- First Fleet (High Voltage, ridden by D Davis)- This would be a perfect race for a horse that’s by Niner Forty Niner to win, especially since it’s the first running of the race with the rebranding. High Voltage claimed this one cheaply early last year, but it was in April of this year where something seemed to click for this horse, and his efforts improved. Ultimately, that led him into stakes company, and a win at the $225.000 Kellys Landing. Finished tenth in the Crosby, but only missed by a length, so one of those finishes that are always frustrating to decipher for a virtual horse owner. First Fleet is used to starting out here, as it will be his third race in four starts with a double-digit number on his saddle cloth.