by Dick Powell
Sunday’s Nashua Stakes (G3) for two-year-olds was a good exercise in handicapping young, improving horses and the application of BRIS Speed figures to their form. The field of six went a one-turn mile on the fast Aqueduct main track, and the betting public made Vekoma the narrow favorite at 2-1. How right they were.
Trainer Chad Brown had a pair of runners in the race who both broke their maidens first time out. U S Navy Cross rallied from way back in his well-bet career debut to win going away in good time going seven furlongs. He earned a BRIS Speed rating of only 89 since that was Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) day and the Belmont Park main track was extremely fast. Brown has monster numbers second time out and first time going long and the fact U S Navy Cross was sired by Curlin only added to the attraction. However, the public made him the second choice as he was unlikely to get the same setup he had in his debut.
The other Brown runner was Network Effect, who went off as the fourth choice after breaking his maiden back on August 11 going seven furlongs in slower time while still earning a solid 90 BRIS Speed rating. The 85-day layoff was concerning since a lot of big juvenile races were run in his absence.
The horse with the most credentials was Call Paul from trainer Jason Servis. He broke his maiden first out at Delaware Park going 5 1/2 furlongs, then came back to win the Saratoga Special Stakes (G2) going 6 1/2 furlongs. In the Champagne Stakes (G1) most recently, Call Paul chased the brilliant speed of Complexity and was an even third in a fast time. His BRIS Speed rating dropped down to 91 and he had the look of a horse who might have peaked in his form cycle. He was now re-grouping in the Nashua and the public sent him off as the third betting choice; not biting on his stakes form.
Factor It In had the highest BRIS speed rating of 100 but it was very suspicious. Not that the number wasn’t accurate but he hadn’t shown anywhere near that kind of talent in his two previous career starts. It was first-time blinkers going six furlongs against allowance foes at Parx Racing but he only earned a 72 in his prior start. Hard to imagine that he would go forward.
Vekoma broke his maiden first time out at Belmont Park in blazing-fast time when he earned a BRIS Speed rating of 96. He sat off a strong pace and finished full of run, showing he can go past horses. The number looked legit and if he showed any of the usual improvement that second-time starters usually do, he was the horse to beat in here for trainer George Weaver.
Jockey Frankie Pennington sent Factor It In to the front and set a strong pace, with the first-half-mile run in :45.29. Call Paul pressed the pace while Vekoma recovered from a bobble at the break and was wide in third. Around the far turn, Vekoma raced wide but, when set down in the lane by Manny Franco, he surged to a clear lead at the furlong pole and maintained that margin to the wire. Network Effect, also wide, got up for second over Call Paul, who finished another seven lengths back in third.
Vekoma’s final time for the mile was 1:36.62, with a last quarter-mile in just under :26. Campaigned by R. A. Hill Stable and Gatsas Stables, he had every right to get tired and now the next logical start would be the Remsen Stakes (G2) going 1 1/8 miles around two turns on December 1.
Vekoma is out the Speightstown mare Mona de Momma, who won a Grade 1 going seven furlongs on dirt, so there is plenty of pedigree for him to stretch out even farther.
George Weaver, trainer Vekoma, winner
“The horse ran good. We expected him to run well, it was just a question of if he could get the mile distance. It set up nice. (Jockey) Manny (Franco) gave him a good ride sitting third behind a solid pace. When it came down to it, he made the run.
“We’ll look at the Remsen first. As long as there’s not a solid reason not to run him, we’ll enter him there.”
Manny Franco, jockey Vekoma, winner
“I was trying to make him switch leads because he was on the wrong lead. When he switched, he ran straight. It’s only his second race, so he’ll learn. He’s a nice horse. I like how he settled. He didn’t pull me or get aggressive early on. He settled down and when I asked him, he was there for me.”