Constitutionlawyer Could Provide Uplifting Weekend For Ray Handal Barn - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report
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Constitutionlawyer Could Provide Uplifting Weekend For Ray Handal Barn

Trainer Raymond Handal

Trainer Ray Handal will be in search of his first graded stakes win when he saddles Perrine Time Thoroughbreds and West Paces Racing's Constitutionlawyer in Saturday's Grade 3, $250,000 Withers at Aqueduct Racetrack.

The Constitution colt enters the nine-furlong test for sophomores, which offers 10-4-2-1 Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the top-four finishers, from an impressive gate-to-wire maiden score under Dylan Davis in a race contested at the Withers distance over a muddy and sealed main track on Jan. 2 at the Big A.

The $170,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sale purchase kept good company in his first two outings, overcoming slow starts to finish fourth on debut traveling 1 1/16-miles at Belmont Park in a race won by eventual G2 Remsen winner Mo Donegal. He followed with a third-place effort on Dec. 2 at the Big A, finishing within 3 1/2-lengths of Jerome-winner and Withers rival Courvoisier.

Handal said he schooled Constitutionlawyer at the gate multiple times to prepare for his recent front-running triumph from post 1 and has followed that method into Saturday's test where the colt will again exit the inside post under new rider Jose Lezcano.

“I had really been schooling him. He missed the break in his first start and I thought it was just a young horse thing because he broke and then was a little hesitant,” Handal said. “In his second start, he did the same thing and was hesitant and got himself shuffled back. So, I did a lot of schooling with him and three days out from the race, I popped him out of the gate and broke him out and went one furlong with him as a refresher and he really sharpened up.

“Since the last race he's matured a lot mentally. He might have just been doing it on talent at the beginning, but after winning I think he's realized what his job is and the proverbial light has come on,” Handal added. “He's a little more aggressive in the morning and is willing to do whatever we ask him to. We're excited about Saturday but we drew the one post again, so I took him back to the gate yesterday and popped him out again to make sure he had his mind on racing and he came out real good.”

Handal said he expects a forward trip for Constitutionlawyer in an 11-horse Withers field that includes potential speed threats in the Chad Brown-trained Early Voting as well as Courvoisier.

“We need to come out of there running because I don't want to be getting caught in traffic from the one-hole in a big field going two turns. We'll use a little gas up early and see where the dust settles and go from there,” Handal said.

Although focused on preparing his Derby hopeful for Saturday's test, Handal noted his thoughts are with his longtime assistant Jose Mejia, who incurred multiple injuries during a training accident Sunday at Turfway Park.

Handal's traveling assistant was unseated from his mount who stumbled and landed on top of him, causing the 33-year-old Mejia to incur 10 broken ribs and four broken vertebrae.

Handal said Mejia has undergone surgery but currently has no feeling below his ribcage.

“He's a great guy and has given us so much. He's like a brother to me,” Handal said. “He's been with me since I started training about six years ago. He's the first rider I hired when I started. He's a tough guy and no matter what he's always going to be a part of the Handal racing team.”

In addition to assistance from The Jockey Club's Safety Net Foundation, a GoFundMe campaign has been launched to assist with Mejia's recovery. The GoFundMe page can be found at https://gofund.me/e7043f0a.

Handal said he is also forming plans with some of his owners for an online auction to raise further funds for Mejia.

“Jose has been so important to the barn and has put so much into the horses that race for us. It's good to see people coming together to help,” Handal said.

Handal will also be represented in Saturday's opening race – a seven-furlong sprint for state-bred sophomore fillies – by first-time starter Menily, who will exit post 3 under Jalon Samuel.

A dark bay daughter of Malibu Moon out of the Empire Maker mare Comme Chez Moi, Menily breezed in company with maiden winner Mischievous Diane on January 13, covering a half-mile over the Belmont dirt training track in 48.50 seconds.

“She's a big, rangy type of filly and she's shown a bit of talent in the morning,” Handal said. “I gave her a real strong one with Mischievous Diane, who broke her maiden pretty impressively. Mischievous Diane outworked her that day but she was only just outworking her, so it gives me confidence this filly will run pretty well.”

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