Sharing his name with flagship route of the now defunct Great Northern Railway, Luis Duco Stables, Inc.’s Empire Builder, winner of Saturday’s off-the-turf running of the $55,000 Mambo Meister Stakes at Calder Casino & Race Course, is scheduled to make a mid-summer voyage to Virginia for the $600,000 Virginia Derby at Colonial Downs on July 21.
“That’s the race we’re going to try and make, the one at Colonial in July;” Duco said. “I would love to run him down here one more time before then, but we’ll have to see if a race for him comes up.”
A two-time winner on turf, the Mambo Meister marked Empire Builder’s first career triumph on dirt. But despite having a main-track stakes win on his résumé, Duco sees a grassy future for his son of Kitten’s Joy.
“I think he’s twice as good on turf,” Duco stated. “He won both of his grass races here last year, and then he ran in those tough stakes at Gulfstream (Dania Beach and Kitten’s Joy) where he ran well and was close in both.”
In the Dania Beach, Empire Builder crossed the wire sixth when beaten 2 ½ lengths for everything in a race that included Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf runner-up Excaper, Juvenile Turf favorite Finale, and eventual Grade 2 Lexington Stakes runner-up Summer Front.
In the Kitten’s Joy, the colt would finish third behind eventual Grade 3 Palm Beach Stakes winner Howe Great.
“He’s really matured a lot, and you can see the way he has changed,” Duco said. “You can see it when he breezes on the dirt in the morning. Each work seems to get better. With some horses, you have to let time take its course, and I only think he’ll get better.”
And Duco believes that apprentice jockey Jonathan Gonzales, who has ridden Empire Builder in each of his last two starts and won his first stake aboard the colt on Saturday, is only going to improve as well.
“That kid is going to be some rider,” Duco said of Gonzales. “He comes from a good family, he has the right work ethic, and he just has a way with some horses. Horses just respond to him.”
NOMINATIONS FOR PREVIEW DAY STAKES RELEASED
Nominations for the four Summit Preview Day stakes to be run at Calder on June 9 were released Monday with the $75,000 U Can Do It Handicap for fillies and mares and the $75,000 Ponche Handicap for 3-year-olds and up both attracting 21 nominees. The $75,000 Leave Me Alone Stakes for 3-year-old fillies drew 18 nominations, while the $75,000 Unbridled Stakes received nine.
Leading the overall list of nominees is 2011 Eclipse Award winner Musical Romance, who was nominated to the U Can Do It by trainer Bill Kaplan, although the mare is viewed as doubtful for the race. Pica Slew, winner of the Grade 3 Azalea Stakes in 2010 was also nominated to the U Can Do It by trainer Dale Romans, along with the David Fawkes trainee Tamarind Hall, a participant in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint.
Nominations for the Ponche Handicap include last year’s winner Giant Ryan. The son of Freud used his triumph in the 2011 Ponche as a launching point for victories in the Grade 2 Smile Sprint and Grade 1 Vosburgh Invitational.
Recent French Village heroine Redbud Road leads the list of nominations for the Leave Me Alone, while the Unbridled includes an exciting trio of nominees in Fort Loudon, Bahamian Squall, and Hello Prince.
SILVERA RETURNING TO CALDER
Jockey Ruben Silvera, a top-10 rider at the 2011 Calder Meet, will return to south Florida Thursday after an early season sojourn at Aqueduct where he placed 11th in the jockey standings with 19 wins from 204 starters.
Silvera will be represented by agent Jay Rushing and is scheduled to ride Highland Sara in the co-featured fifth race on Thursday for trainer Kirk Ziadie.