If Aspidistra Hanover and Upfrontluckycarol finish side by side in Thursday's third of three International Stallion Stakes divisions for 2-year-old filly trotters at Lexington's Red Mile, no one should be surprised.
Last week, Aspidistra Hanover and Upfrontluckycarol finished in a dead heat for win in 1:56.2 in their division of the Bluegrass Stakes at The Red Mile. In their previous meeting, on Sept. 7 in the Pennsylvania Sires Stakes championship at The Meadows, Aspidistra Hanover nosed out Upfrontluckycarol for second place.
"I'd say they're pretty even in ability,” Aspidistra Hanover's trainer Paul Kelley said. "(Last week) it was a great stretch finish.”
Aspidistra Hanover was slowed by a foot injury in July, but over her last four starts dating back to Aug. 24 has won three times and finished second once. For the year, she has won three of seven races and earned $165,370 for the Kelley Racing Stable, Joe Sbrocco and William Weaver III.
Last week's start at The Red Mile was Aspidistra Hanover's first race on a mile oval. Most of her previous starts came on five-eighths-mile tracks, including three at The Meadows, where she had a fourth-place finish and two second-place efforts.
"I was really happy with that race (in the Bluegrass),” Kelley said. "She was coming off a two-week layoff, as were a lot of the fillies. Even though she's not a big filly, The Meadows isn't really her type of track. For whatever reason, I don't know if it's the turns are just a little flat or something at The Meadows, she just struggles over that track a little bit.
"Coming to Lexington, I thought she would be a little handier and a little more comfortable. Even though she's not a big filly, you get them on a big track and they can kind of find themselves a lot more comfortable. I'm hoping that's the case this week.”
Aspidistra Hanover is a daughter of Donato Hanover out of the mare Angel Fire Hanover. She was purchased for $50,000 at the Standardbred Horse Sale and is a half-sister to multiple-stakes-winner Spicy Wings. Her family also includes stakes-winners Michelle's Angel (the dam of Yonkers Trot winner Archangel), Al Dente Hanover, Almost An Angel, and Fluttering Wings.
"That's one of the things that attracted me to her,” Kelley said. "If she was bigger I'm sure she would have sold for more and could have ended up in somebody else's barn. She's just kind of a medium-sized filly, but she's got a great pedigree, a great filly family. It's kind of a hot family right now, too.
"She seemed pretty confident when I saw her; she just kind of had that certain appeal.”
Aspidistra Hanover will face seven rivals in her International Stallion Stakes division on Thursday. In addition to Upfrontluckycarol, the race includes Pennsylvania Sires Stakes champion and Bluegrass division winner Frau Blucher and Standardbred Stakes winner Mistery Woman.
The first International Stallion Stakes division features Bluegrass division winner Time To Kill while the second split includes Merrie Annabelle Stakes and Bluegrass division winner To Dream On.
"(To Dream On) is still THE filly,” Kelley said. "You've got to respect her. My filly is a nice filly, but there are a few out there that are just a little bit better than the rest of them. (Aspidistra Hanover) is a battler and has got a really good attitude. She's tough. It's just a matter of seeing how it all shakes out trip wise and who is better that day, but my filly is definitely going to have to step up.”
Following the Grand Circuit meet at The Red Mile, Aspidistra Hanover has the Breeders Crown at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto on her schedule.
"I'm not looking at anything past this week,” Kelley said. "With 2-year-old fillies, you just have to look at it one week at a time. We'll see how it goes.
"But at this point, we couldn't be happier with her.” (HRC)