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PREP WINNERS AT FINGER LAKES UNIMPRESSIVE

Word travels fast in horse racing, even if the horses don't.

By the time Saturday's two stakes races at Finger Lakes Race Track were finished, you could almost hear the good news going out to Saratoga and Belmont Park.

If you've got a New York-bred 2-year-old who can run a little and is nominated to the $100,000-plus Breeders' Futurity on Sept. 12, get the van ready. There's nothing to fear there this year.

Saturday's winners of the $56,725 Aspirant Stakes and the $70,838 Lady Finger Stakes -- the major preps for Finger Lakes' oldest stakes (which last year paid a purse of $147,163) -- were both unimpressive, even though they were the betting favorites of the crowd of 1,956.

Both 6-furlong dashes were clocked in 1:13 3/5 , well off the records (1:10 1/5 for males in the Aspirant and 1:10 2/5 for females in the Lady Finger) for the events. Natural ($3) crawled home to win the Aspirant in a 28-second final quarter-mile despite urging by jockey Robert Messina. Financial Lady ($4.80) negotiated her final 2 furlongs in 28 4/5 while lugging out near the wire under Filberto Leon.

Natural, a 3 1/2 -length winner from the barn of New York trainer Michael Hushion, broke a step slowly, but quickly rushed up and wrestled the lead from Classic Runner (Parker Buckley up).

Although he pulled away on the turn and was never seriously threatened in the stretch, Natural did not stride out or look comfortable throughout the race.

"He was just floundering around all over the place," said Messina, who said Natural had trouble handling the track "from the word go."

"I had to keep after him every step of the way," Messina said. "He didn't get a hold of the race track. He didn't run his race. He should have beat these horses by many (lengths). . . . I was riding him every step of the way."

Leon, who came from Saratoga to ride Financial Lady for trainer H. James Bond, said he and his mount, who won by three-quarters of a length, also struggled.

"The Finger Lakes track is kind of funny. I've been here a couple times and I was trying ride 'New York style,' and it never works," said Leon, who defined "New York style" as "You kind of set a little bit and try to make a run at the end.

"Here you've just got to kind of keep going until your horse (stops). Everybody uses his horse until the horse that's the best keeps going," he said.

Financial Lady chased Happy Princes (Jose Gutierrez up) through a wicked 21 2/5 first quarter-mile before taking command on the turn and passing the half-mile marker in 44 4/5 .

As they straightened for home, Long Distance -- a first-time starter from Saratoga trained by Gary Contessa -- loomed boldly on the outside under Messina.

But both horses tired badly in the stretch as Financial Lady drifted out and Long Distance lugged in.

"Down the stretch, she just wanted to pull up," Leon said. "I really don't know if it was because of the fractions or because she wasn't handling the surface."

Messina, who appeared to check his horse slightly, claimed foul after the stewards posted the "inquiry" sign.

According to Messina, the judges "said my horse was lugging in. That horse (Financial Lady) was lugging out as much as my horse was coming in."

The victories improved Natural's bankroll to $58,885 from two wins and a third in three starts. Financial Lady has won both her starts and earned $63,503.

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