ELMONT, N.Y.— Tell an American Thoroughbred trainer to run his horse in stakes races six days apart and he'll run you out of his shed. Tell the same guy to do just that, and ship across the Atlantic in between, and he'll call for a psychiatrist.
But, don't tell Irish champion trainer Aiden O'Brien any stories like that.
He put his son Donnacha on Smith, Magnier and Tabor's Athena last weekend at The Curragh for the Grade 1 Juddmonte Pretty Polly Stakes at 1-1/4 miles and she came back third beaten less than half a dozen lengths.
After an air trip to the States, assistant trainer T.J. Comerford put champion jockey Ryan Moore aboard Athena and sent them out for the $1 million, Grade 1 Belmont Oaks Invitational at 1-1/4 miles over the Belmont Inner Turf Course.
One minute and 58.71 seconds later, the 3-year filly was home a 2-1/2 length winner.
Two races later, two 3-year-old colts who had been awaiting a re-match since June 2 locked horns again with Robert LaPenta, Madaket Stables, Sienna Farm and Twin Creeks Racing's Catholic Boy winning again over arch rival Analyze It in the $1.2 million, Grade 1 Belmont Invitational Derby.
Athena, an Irish-bred daughter of Camelot from Cherry Hinton took up a position in eighth place in the field of 10 and stayed there for the first six furlongs. Moore asked her to accelerate at that point and she answered his call. She worked her way through the field and took the lead a furlong out.
With Moore keeping her to her task, she got home a 2-1/2 length winner over Thewayiam and Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez. Long shot Chipolata took third money.
After the race, Comerford was a very confident winner saying, “She's won over a mile and a quarter and she does it impressively. She didn't look like she was stopping. The pace started off quick but it got moderate. She was in a good enough position. [Jockey] Ryan [Moore] knew he had enough horse under him to do what he wanted. He just had to the press the button on her, and whenever he wanted her to go, she went. Aidan was very happy. It's grand to get a Group 1."
Moore was also pleased with the filly's performance saying, "There was no real plan, to be honest. She's a very straightforward filly. She's taken her racing very well. I rode her before the start of the year and all she's done is improve tremendously. In her first out, I wasn't sure what she could do. The second time I rode her. She really impressed me. This was the third time I've rode her and I thought she was very impressive.”
In the Invitational Derby, a race designed to attract both American and European colts to race on the Belmont Turf, Catholic Boy and William H. Lawrence's Analyze It staged an encore performance of the June 9 Pennine Ridge Stakes.
Despite Catholic Boy's neck win in the prep, the bettors sent Analyze It to the post as the 2 to 1 favorite with Catholic Boy a few cents over 5 to 1.
Hall of Fame rider Javier Castellano saw no reason to change things so he sent Catholic Boy to the lead as soon as the gate opened for the mile and a quarter race on the Inner Turf Course. And, again, there they stayed with Jose Ortiz and Analyze It sitting in second.
They ran that way with Catholic Boy down on the rail and Analyze It on his right hip. In the ding-dong battle down the lane, Analyze It got his head in front before Catholic Boy reclaimed the lead to win by a head. Analyze It was 1-3/4 lengths to the good of Tabor, Magnier and Smith's Hunting Horn, who was trying for a Belmont double for team O'Brien.
Catholic Boy was clocked in 1:59. 28 for the 10 furlongs over a firm inner turf course.
“What a stretch drive. My hat's off the Analyze It. He ran super,” said Catholic Boy's trainer Jonathan Thomas who was scoring his first Grade 1 win since he launched his career as a head trainer in 2015. “You never know how they'll respond in that scenario because we never put them in that situation in the mornings. Between his heart and Javier's ride, what can you say?” he asked.
The win for Catholic Boy improved his record to five for eight lifetime. He has now banked $1.17 million for his owners.
When asked about his future plans for Catholic Boy, Thomas admitted,”I don't know what's next. Definitely a bath and dinner.”
Suburban Stakes — Gate to wire for Diversify
Ralph and Laura Evans' New York-bred Diversify made every stride a winning one when he defeated nine rivals in the $700,000, Grade 2 Suburban Stakes for older horses at the classic distance of a mile and a quarter. With regular rider Irad Ortiz, Jr. in the saddle for trainer Richard Violette, the 5-year-old gelding raised his lifetime record to nine wins from 14 starts.
The NYRA's check for $375,000 raised his earnings over the $1.25 million mark to more than compensate his owners for the $210,000 they plunked down to take him out of the Keeneland November 2016 sale.
When the race was concluded, the Longines timer showed 1:59.84 seconds for the contest over a fast track.
In his post race remarks, Violette, a past president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, said he was considering both the $1.2 million, Grade 1 Whitney at Saratoga on Aug. 4 and/or the $750,000, Grade 1 Woodward a month later. Both races are at a mile and furlong.
After mentioning those options, Violette also said, “We'll think about the fall as well. We would love to do the Whitney, but we'll see how he comes back from this effort.”
Firenze Fire Wins Dwyer Stakes
After showing brilliance as a 2-year-old with wins in Saratoga's Grade 3 Sanford and Belmont's Grade 1 Champagne, Mr. Amore Stable's Firenze Fire looked like a possible live shot in the 2018 Triple Crown races.
But, when he got to Louisville for the Kentucky Derby, he ran into a colt named Justify and a bunch of others. The best he and jockey Paco Lopez could do that day was an 11th place finish in the mile and a quarter classic.
After skipping the Preakness and Belmont, the colt who, races for owner Ron Lombardi of Mountain Lakes, N.J. and trainer Jason Servis, got back on the winning track in Belmont's $300,000, Grade 3 Dwyer Stakes on the Stars and Stripes Day card on July 7.
The Florida-bred son of Poseidon's Warrior from the Langfuhr mare My Every Wish took on six rivals in the century-old Dwyer that is now run at a one-turn mile on Belmont's main track, a distance that surely suited trainer Servis.
“I've been dying to cut him back, just dying. We thought he'd run good. We got on the [Kentucky] Derby trail, like you're supposed to do.
“Do we think he's a mile and a quarter horse? Probably not. But, now we're getting him where he needs to be, a mile, seven eighths, where he might even be a tad sharper. I mean, it all worked out. We're all real happy,” the trainer said beaming.
Most of Servis' elation was brought about by his colt's finish in the Dwyer in which he broke away from his pursuers and then showed a strong finish to defeat long-shot Seven Trumpets by nine lengths getting the mile in 1:33.74, 1.5 seconds off the track record that has stood for 15 years. With only minor urging from jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr., Firenze Fire ran the last quarter in 23.92 seconds carrying co-highweight of 123 pounds.
The Dwyer win was Firenze Fire's fifth from 11 starts. The winner's check for $165,000 raised his lifetime purse earnings over $800,000.
Now comes the discussion between owner Lombardi, a fitness center operator, and Servis regarding the colt's next race.
The Dwyer win may have started Lombardi looking South to the Jersey Shore and Monmouth's $1 million, Grade 1 Betfair Haskell Invitational at a mile and a furlong on July 29. His post race comment was "There's a lot of thinking to do now. I haven't been thinking about the Haskell, I think the horse needs a little more time than three weeks, but I'm not taking anything off the table right now. I have to talk to Jason and most likely he'll be up in Saratoga for the Jim Dandy."
Servis, according to his post-race comments, may prefer a little Adirondack air for Firenze Fire's next start. "The Allen Jerkens [Grade 1, $500,000 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial on Aug. 25], which used to be the King's Bishop, at seven eighths, is something we'll keep an eye on. I'll talk to Ron [Lombardi]," the trainer said.
Limousine Gets a Ride Back to Louisville
Katherine Ball's Limousine Liberal earned his first lifetime win outside of the State of Kentucky when he came from last place to win the $350,000, Grade 2 Belmont Sprint Championship over five rivals.
With Jose Ortiz in the saddle for trainer Ben Colebrook, the six year-old gelding won by a neck as the 9 to 10 favorite earned him an expense paid trip back to Louisville and starting spot in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Sprint to be run at Churchill Downs, his home track, on Nov. 3.
After a whole lot of bumping among Limousine Liberal, Shaft of Light and Lewisfield at the head of the stretch, Limousine Liberal and his rider were bounced around again by the eventual runner-up, Whitmore and Ricardo Santana, Jr. in deep stretch before Limousine Liberal got his neck in front at the wire.
A celebrating Colebrook confirmed his plans for the summer and fall saying, “I thought we were in the right place. I thought maybe we'd be ahead of Whitmore, maybe not so far back, but they went so fast. Jose knew where to have him. It's taken me so long to find the winner's circle in New York; I'm just happy for this. We'd have to think about the Forego (at Saratoga) next but we were going to go to the Breeders' Cup even if we had to pay our own way in."
The rough trip for Limousine Liberal resulted in his ninth win from 23 starts. He banked $192,000 to move over the $1.5 million mark.
Stars and Stripes Handle
Saturday's Stars and Stripes Racing Festival set a record of $24.6 million for the 11-race card that featured Catholic Boy's thrilling win over Analyze It in the $1.2 million Belmont Invitational Derby. That total surpassed 2016's $22.9 million for the event that was first offered in 2014.
16,763 patrons bet $3.1 million on track to establish a new record for the festival.
Ladies shine at Delaware Park
Sandra Sexton and Brandi Nicholson's Red Ruby, fresh from a win in Pimlico's Grade 2 Black Eyed Susan, took the lead around the far turn and went on to a 13-length win in Delaware Park's $300,000, Grade 3 Delaware Oaks with New Jersey-based jockey Paco Lopez in the saddle. The 1-1/16 mile Oaks, that is run on the main track, attracted a field of eight fillies.
The Black Eyed Susan win attracted the bettors who sent the daughter of Tiznow from the Rubiano mare Caroni postward as the 3 to 5 favorite.
After she stopped the timer in 1:42.41, Red Ruby was four for six lifetime with earnings of $438,000.
According to trainer Kellyn Gorder, the filly's next start will be Saratoga's Grade 1 Alabama at a mile and a quarter on Aug. 18. When asked about the added distance, Gorder replied, “The Alabama has been our target and the farther she goes, the better.”
A trip up the Adirondack Northway may also be on the schedule for Tricky Escape, the winner of DelPark's $208,100, Grade 3 Robert G. Dick Memorial.
The Jon A. Marshall color bearer took the measure of eight rivals in the filly contest at 1-3/8 miles that she won by a length and a half in 2:12.82 over a firm turf course with the veteran Chris deCarlo in the saddle.
The Lynn Ashby trainee is now five for 17 lifetime with earnings approaching a half million dollars. The trainer reported, “We are not exactly sure where we'll go with her. But, we are considering Saratoga.”
Navy Commander Sails in Long Branch Stakes at Monmouth Park
Oceanport, N.J.--Racing for Charles McGrath's Swilcan Stables, Navy Commander launched himself out of the starting gate first and set a steady pace to win Monmouth Park's $100,000 Long Branch Stakes Saturday afternoon.
The mile and a 1/16 contest on the main track serves as a major prep for the $1 million, Grade 1 Betfair Haskell Invitational that will be run this year on July 29.
Immediately after the race, trainer Butch Reid said he expected to be added to the invitation list saying, “It’s a great compliment to be invited to the Haskell Invitational off this. We have to see if we think we’ll be competitive. We don’t enter races just for the sake of running in races. But it’s always a prestigious race and something you have to think about long and hard if you’re invited to it.”
The homebred son of Poseidon's Warrior from the Fairbanks mare Glenmary Lane set a leisurely pace for most of the trip getting a half mile in 51.57 seconds and a mile in 1 minute, 40.49 seconds while keeping his pursuers American Lincoln, Show Me the Bucks and Supreme Aura at bay.
Once the field of five entered the home stretch, jockey Angel Arroyo asked for run and got it. At the wire it was Navy Commander winning his first stakes from 11 starts. He did it in 1:46.66 seconds over a track rated 'fast.'
The winner's check for $60,000 raised the chestnut gelding's racing bankroll to $186,665.
American Lincoln took second place, 3-1/4 lengths astern of Navy Commander. Show Me the Bucks was another 4-3/4 lengths back in third.
Sounding like a jockey looking for a return ride in a million dollar stake, Arroyo said, “My horse broke really good. He went to the front easily and I knew down the backside that we weren’t going that fast and that I had a lot of horse. I just had to be patient with him and keep him relaxed. He had a lot left in the stretch when I needed it from him. Those slow fractions helped but he was very strong at the end, too.”
Reid was also sounding like someone looking for an invite to a big bash saying, “You only get so many shots in a horse’s career and a 3-year-old horse’s career and sometimes you have to step out of your comfort zone and take a chance.”
Vision Perfect Wins $200,000, Grade 3 Parx Dash
BENSALEM, Pa.— Ron Lombardi's Mr. Amore Stable and trainer Jason Servis scored a stake racing double Saturday afternoon when Vision Perfect won the battle to the wire in Parx Racing's $200,000, Grade 3 Parx Dash, one of the two Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred Championship Series races offered for turf sprinters.
Earlier in the afternoon, Team Lombardi and Servis scored with Firenze Fire in the Dwyer at Belmont Park.
Vision Perfect, an $80,000 claim in June 2017 for Mr. Amore Stable of Mountain Lakes, N.J., stalked the pace-setting Pool Winner through the first 4-1/2 furlongs of the five furlong turf dash. Jockey Frankie Pennington got him to the front passing the 16th pole.
At the wire, it was the Vision Perfect, a 6-year-old son of Pollard's Vision from the Speightstown mare Steamy, by a nose over Pool Winner and Edwin Rivera. Pure Sensation, the 9 to 10 favorite, took third money.
Vision Perfect stopped the timer in :57.18 over a turf course labeled 'good' to record his sixth win from 29 lifetime starts. The Parx Dash score added $120,000 to the Amore racing account.
Two races earlier, Audley Farm Stable's Smiling Causeway lead the entire way to record a 3-length win in the $100,000 Turf Amazon Stakes, also at five furlongs. With Daniel Centeno in the saddle for trainer Arnaud Delacour, the 4-year-old daughter of Giant's Causeway from Shandra Smiles defeated six rivals getting the five panels in :56.92.
Blue Bahia, racing for Red Bank, N.J. attorney Dennis Drazin and Servis, was second under Paco Lopez as the 3 to 5 favorite.
Spa Purses Increase
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y.— When Saratoga 2018 opens Friday, July 20, horsemen will be enjoying a $2,000 across the board increase in all maiden and allowance races as well as some claiming events.
Maiden races will now be worth $85,000 in purse money. First level allowance-optional claiming races will offer $95,000.
Opening Day will also mark a permanent redistribution of purse money in all races except where distribution is specified in the conditions for some stakes races.
The current breakdown of purses is 60-20-10-5 and 3 percent to the first six finishers with remaining 2% divided among the remaining finishers.
The new breakdown will be 55-20-12-6-4 with 3% divided among the remaining finishers.
The July 23 to September 3 meeting (with dark Tuesdays) will offer 69 stake races worth $18.8 million.
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