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Nicole H goes for Interborough three-peat; Arena Elvira tops Ladies

Nicole H is unbeaten over Aqueduct's inner track (Melissa Wirth/Horsephotos.com)
Nicole H looks to make history on New Year's Day at Aqueduct, where she will attempt to become the first-ever three-time winner of the $75,000 Interborough Stakes.

The Michael Hushion mare is a perfect four-for-four over the inner track, all in six-furlong stakes, and she enters in sparkling form. A close second to champion Musical Romance in the Grade 1 Princess Rooney Handicap over the summer, Nicole H has captured the October 13 Endine at Delaware and the November 21 Daylily at Penn National in her last pair.

"I don't think Nicole H has lost a step at all," Hushion of the daughter of Mr. Greeley. "She's got sturdy legs and the mind to go with it. Her last two races, she was just cruising."

Since 1921, only five other horses have won back-to-back runnings of the Interborough, including champions Ta Wee (1969-70) and Affectionately (1963-64).

Nicole H, the 123-pound highweight, has been installed as the 4-5 morning-line favorite in her historic quest for a three-peat.

Seven opponents stand in Nicole H's way, including fellow Aqueduct aficionado Singlet, who comes off a victory in the December 1 Garland of Roses on the main oval; Mildly Offensive, runner-up in the November 15 Pentelis over 6 1/2 furlongs last out; and Ms. Cruisen', a front-running winner of the November 20 Cornucopia at Parx.

Singlet is poised for a big effort, according to trainer Tony Dutrow.

"She did so well last winter at Aqueduct we left her up there after the Garland of Roses," Dutrow said. "She's doing tremendous, and I couldn't be happier with her. She's got a steep hill to climb in that she'll be facing older horses for the first time, so she's got a lot to prove. But she is at the top of her game and she is ready to run her very best race."

Mildly Offensive, who won a stakes for trainer Carla Gaines at Santa Anita earlier in her career, was purchased by WinStar Farm this summer and was transferred to trainer Todd Pletcher. In her first start for her new connections, she won the restricted Big Bambu in August at Saratoga.

"She's always trained well, and we're looking to knock down a couple of stakes with her this winter," said Michael McCarthy, assistant to Pletcher.

Also at Aqueduct on Tuesday, Arena Elvira and R Gypsy Gold take a class drop from graded company for the $75,000 Ladies Handicap.

Arena Elvira hopes to regain her old luster (Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer Photography)
The Bill Mott-trained Arena Elvira has been disappointing in her last three. After finishing third, beaten 11 lengths, in the Grade 3 Sixty Sails Handicap in April at Hawthorne, Arena Elvira went to the sidelines for six months. She was sixth in her return, the Grade 3 Turnback the Alarm in October at Belmont, and most recently checked in fourth as the defending champion in the Grade 2 Falls City Handicap on Thanksgiving Day.

"In that first race back off the long layoff, I imagine she needed it," assistant trainer Neil Poznansky said of the Ladies' 7-5 morning-line favorite. "Judging off the way she has been training going into this one, I'm looking forward to a big effort. I get on her myself and I've been getting on her for a long time, and she's as good as I've ever seen her. I'd be surprised if she doesn't run well."

R Gypsy Gold has likewise failed to factor over the second half of the season, and the Todd Pletcher trainee exits an even fourth in the Grade 2 Go for Wand Handicap here on November 23.

The 1 1/8-mile distance is likely to favor Arena Elvira, however, even though she concedes weight all around as the 120-pound highweight.

Among those making their stakes debuts are a trio of recent allowance winners -- Darley Stable's homebred Villanesca, a daughter of Grade 1 queen Balletto; Laurel invader Smart Cash and entrymate Dial Direct; and the New York-bred Silver Prize..

Villanesca's connections are looking forward to her performance.

"We think she is this kind of filly," said Art Magnuson, assistant to trainer Kiaran McLaughlin.

"The timing is not what we envisioned (from her December 5 allowance romp), but we're going to play what's dealt to us. She's training very well, so we're going to run.

"To go from 6 1/2 (furlongs) to a mile and an eighth isn't ideal, but we're not going to worry too much about it. She ran a mile one time before, and she was a little speedy, ran into a good one, the timing wasn't all that great, and she didn't run as well as we hoped, but we think longer will be better for her."

Also on New Year's Day, the New York Racing Association (NYRA) will hold its annual calendar promotion, in which racing fans can purchase and redeem $2 coupons for the calendar, which features photos of many of the best horses who competed at NYRA's tracks in 2012.

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