The Todd Pletcher-trained Aikenite stamped his credentials for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile by finishing third in the Grade 1 Hopeful, followed by a runner-up finish in the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland.
But the past month at Belmont Park, it was clear Pletcher had another colt worthy of a start in the Juvenile. The problem for Eskenderya was that his only win was in a non-graded stakes, leaving him stuck on the also-eligible list of Juvenile pre-entries.
Before boarding a Tuesday flight from New York to California, Pletcher had hoped to learn that Eskenderya drew into the Juvenile - which he did. Ranked second on the also-eligible list of Juvenile pre-entries, Eskenderya drew into the race after the defection of first-ranked also-eligible Dave in Dixie, and the decision to run Gallant Gent in the Juvenile Turf.
That leaves Pletcher with two live shooters in the Juvenile, which is led by undefeated Lookin at Lucky and New York-based D' Funnybone.
"He and Aikenite have been workmates the last two times, and gone head-and-head," Pletcher said.
No surprise. Eskenderya finished second in his debut, and then parked by 7 1/4 lengths in the off-the-turf Pilgrim Stakes, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 90 racing on a Belmont dirt track listed as good.
Eskenderya is "an improving horse, good-sized and strong," Pletcher said. "His gallop-outs have been huge - at a mile and a sixteenth he is just starting to get going."
While both Aikenite and Eskenderya will be racing on Pro-Ride for the first time, Aikenite has established synthetic form.
"It's encouraging not only that he handled Keeneland, but he also had the fastest quarter-mile breeze at OBS in March," Pletcher said. He's shown us twice he can handle synthetics."
Eskenderya is by Giant's Causeway, whose offspring generally run well on synthetics. Alan Garcia rides Aikenite; Javier Castellano rides Eskenderya.