Howgreatisnate, Simoff go to Plan B

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Raise Cain (left) passes the loose Howgreatisnate
near the finish of Saturday’s Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct.
Chelsea Durand/NYRA Photo

So you want to be a horse trainer?

Andy Simoff spent three months aiming Howgreatisnate for Saturday’s Grade 3 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct Racetrack. The off-season plan made perfect sense after an undefeated, four-start campaign as a 2-year-old at Delaware Park and Parx Racing in 2022.

  • Give his horse a break with some paddock time. Check.
  • Prep at Fair Hill Training Center, while hoping for good weather and access to the dirt track. Check.
  • Head to New York for a tough, but not too tough, 3-year-old debut in the Gotham. Check.
  • Get an answer to whether Howgreatisnate belongs in the upper reaches of this year’s 3-year-old division or not. Ehhhh, uncheck.

Even though Imaginary Stable’s son of Speightster made it to the Gotham starting gate, Simoff still doesn’t know.

Howgreatisnate stumbled just after the doors opened, deposited jockey J.D. Acosta on the dirt, and ran the full 1 1/16 miles riderless.

“That race was a wide-open race, but we were going to find something out about him,” said Simoff. “It’s just too bad. The whole thing was a mess. But that’s what makes winning so great, right? The losing.”

At least Simoff could laugh about it, thanks in large part to Howgreatisnate showing no ill effects from the adventure. The gelding spent Monday morning in his paddock outside the barn, probably wondering what happened. He emerged with a minor scrape on a pastern after falling on his face one stride beyond the gate.

“He was so anxious to run I guess,” Simoff said. “I’ve seen it before with really fresh horses. They outbreak themselves and just go down.”

Simoff will regroup and aim for the $100,000 Private Terms Stakes at Laurel Park March 18. The two-week turnaround wouldn’t be ideal – off an actual race – but, again, Simoff needs to find out more about his horse. Some post-Gotham chatter lauded Howgreatisnate for his effort as he spotted the field several lengths at the start, rallied wide around everybody on the backstretch to take the lead, moved over to the rail coming off the turn and led in the stretch. He crossed the finish line second, about a length behind winner Raise Can who was 7 1/2 lengths clear of the rest.

“He started pulling up around the sixteenth pole and then he saw that horse, dug in and starting running again,” Simoff said. “You can’t take anything from that, anything at all from that. I still don’t know. That race was to find out what he was all about and it didn’t work out.”

The Private Terms, also at 1 1/16 miles, drew 24 nominations including recent Miracle Wood Stakes winner Coffeewithchris.

Three-Year-Old Report
While things didn’t go quite according to plan for Howgreatisnate, Forte’s 3-year-old debut went about as well as possible as last year’s 2-year-old male champion dusted eight foes in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park Saturday.

 Trained by Todd Pletcher for Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable, Forte rated inside and behind the early leaders, angled four wide off the turn and took over in the stretch. He won by 4 1/2 lengths over Rocket Can with Cyclone Mischief third to make a clear case for early favoritism for the Kentucky Derby. Pletcher, who won his fourth Fountain of Youth, was impressed with the son of Violence.

“We kind of carefully laid it out and put him in a program that would put him in the condition to be ready to run and still having room for improvement and room to continue to develop,” he said. “I think we were able to accomplish that.”

The winner, out of the Virginia-bred Blame mare Queen Caroline, was bred in Kentucky but raised in Virginia by breeder Amy Moore. A $110,000 yearling purchase by Repole and St. Elias at Keeneland September, Forte won for the fifth time in six lifetime starts while pushing his earnings to $1,833,230.

At Santa Anita in California, trainer Tim Yakteen won the Grade 2 San Felipe with Practical Move. The Practical Joke colt took over in the stretch and scored by 2 1/2 lengths over favorite Geaux Rocket Ride and Skinner. In addition to the winner, Yakteen sent out three other San Felipe starters who were recent transfers from trainer Bob Baffert. Due to a suspension by Kentucky Derby host Churchill Downs, Baffert-trained horses cannot earn Derby qualify points. The former Baffert horses Hejazi, Fort Bragg and Mr Fisk finished fourth, fifth and sixth.

Bred by trainer Chad Brown and Head of Plains Partners, Practical Move joined Yakteen after selling for $230,000 as a 2-year-old last spring. The son of Practical Joke placed in his first two starts, at Del Mar, won a maiden race at Santa Anita in October and has won his last two starts – the Grade 2 Los Alamitos Futurity in December and now the San Felipe. Practical Move’s dam Ack Naughty was bred in New York by Waterville Lake Stable. She won four times and placed in three stakes. Back to the Gotham, Raise Cain rallied from 11th early to pass just about everybody and even outrun the loose Howgreatisnate while winning by 7 1/2 lengths over Slip Mahoney. Ben Colebrook trains the winner, a son of Violence, for Andrew and Rania Warren. Raise Cain became a stakes winner after finishing fifth at Turfway Park in his 3-year-old debut. The bay colt won a Keeneland maiden race last fall, and placed in two stakes to cap his 2-year-old season. Jose Lezcano rode the winner, who navigated the one-turn mile in 1:38.09.