There were contrasting stories for winning trainers at Aqueduct Racetrack on Saturday when veteran Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey sent out Celestial City to land the feature 2022 Hill Prince S., and youngster Mertkan Kantarmaci made his stakes breakthrough in the US thanks to the victory of Evvie Jets in the G3 Noble Damsel.
Hill Prince Stakes, G2, $300,000, 1m 1f turf, 3yo
Celestial reaches for the stars
If at first, you don’t succeed, try, try again . . . and the old saying worked for Celestial City, who made his stakes breakthrough at the fourth attempt in the 2022 Hill Prince S., the feature at Aqueduct – Belmont at the Big A – on Saturday.
The 7-2 favorite was kept well away from the leisurely early fractions set by rank outsider Nantasket Beach, but Jose Lezcano lit the fuse around the turn and Celestial City exploded into life, getting a dream run up the fence. The second-choice Mackinnon had the call in mid-stretch but Celestial City ran right by him and powered clear to win by two and a quarter lengths, stopping the clock in 1:50 and one-fifth. Mackinnon held on to the place spot by a head from Grand Sonata in a blanket finish for the board positions.
Hill Prince Stakes Horse Race Video
“He’s been learning all the time, I’m pleased with him,” trainer Shug McGaughey. “He stepped up his game there and there’s plenty of stamina in his pedigree.”
This made it two-for-two for Celestial City at Aqueduct after the colt had hit the board in two Graded stakes at Saratoga Racecourse this summer. His next target could be a long way from his home in New York state, as McGaughey is considering shipping him to Del Mar Racetrack for the mile-eighth G1 Hollywood Derby on December 3.
Noble Damsel Stakes, G3, $150,000, 1m turf, 3yo+ F&M
Evvie turns on the jets
You never forget your first time and young trainer Mertkan Kantarmaci will never forget Evvie Jets or the Noble Damsel, as the filly provided him with his first win in a US Graded stakes in the highlight of Saturday’s undercard.
Ironically, Kantarmaci missed his big day as he was on vacation in England, but he would have enjoyed watching from afar as Evvie Jets produced a career-best. The 7-2 fourth-choice of five pressed the pace before pouncing at the eighth-pole and driving on to win by a length and a quarter from the rallying second-choice Plum Ali, who nosed her barnmate and favorite Messidor into third. The time was 1:35 and three-fifths.
Noble Damsel Stakes Horse Race Video
“She’s a very tactical filly,” said winning jockey Eric Cancel. “She can be on the lead and she can come from right off the pace. She’s been improving with every race and I’m very happy that I got the win, and very happy for the Kantarmacis.”
It was also the first win at this level for Evvie Jets and a huge boost for the career of Kantarmaci, who trained his first winner Stateside in March 2016.
“We have won a lot of stakes races in Turkey and hopefully this can be the first of many in the US,” Kantarmaci’s brother and assistant Ilkay.
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