OZONE PARK, N.Y. — Trainer Linda Rice (45 wins) won her first NYRA meet title since 2017, jockey Manny Franco paced all riders with 98 victories and Michael Dubb led all owners with 15 wins for the winter meet at Aqueduct Racetrack that spanned Dec. 7, 2018 to March 31.
Rice tallied five more wins than second-place trainer Rudy Rodriguez. The native of Racine, Wisconsin earned her sixth career New York training title and her first since the 2017 Aqueduct spring meet, when she tied for first with 12 wins.
Among the highlights were four stakes winners in 2019 for Rice, including Startwithsilver in the Correction on March 16; Bavaro in the Hollie Hughes on Feb. 18, Holiday Disguise in the Broadway on Feb. 16; and Blindwillie McTell in the Rego Park on Jan. 13. With 180 total starts during the meet, Rice-conditioned horses went 45-29-33, finishing on the board 59.44 percent of the time.
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With the Aqueduct winter title secured, Rice has now won leading trainer at all three NYRA tracks, including the 2009 Saratoga meet, the 2011 Belmont spring/summer meet and now at Aqueduct.
"It's always nice to win a training title; Saratoga was my first, and I've finished second at the Aqueduct winter meet a few times, so it's nice to get the win," Rice said.
Franco continued to rack up accomplishments on NYRA tracks, notching his third individual meet title after capturing Aqueduct's 22-day fall meet crown in December. The 2018 year-end leading rider recorded 28 more wins during the winter meet than the second-closest jockey in Junior Alvarado, who rode 70 winners.
Franco finished with a 98-79-52 record in 368 starts, with a 26.63 winning percentage and earnings of more than $4.486 million.
The meet saw Franco pilot four stakes winners since the start of the year, including Divine Miss Grey in the Heavenly Prize Invitational on March 10; Always Shopping in the Busanda on Feb. 3; Honor Up in the Say Florida Sandy on Jan. 12 and Kathryn the Wise in the La Verdad on Jan. 5.
Dubb, NYRA's year-ending leading owner in seven of the last nine years [including 2018], closed the meet with 15 wins, seven second-place finishes and 11 third-place efforts with 52 starters. Drawing Away Stable was second with 10 wins.
"It means a lot," Dubb said. "Everybody who was involved worked hard and made good decisions and good choices and put the horses in the right spots. New York racing is what it's all about. To be No. 1 in New York is what it's all about to me.
"The winter is kind of an under-the-radar meet, but I think it's important to race in New York year-round and support New York racing in the winter, and I'm thrilled to be part of it."
The 63-day winter meet saw plenty of exciting action, including impressive efforts in three races that are part of New York's "Road to the Kentucky Derby" series, starting with Mind Control's win the Jerome on New Year's Day, Tax's win in the Grade 3 Withers on Feb. 2 and Haikal's win the Grade 3 Gotham on March 9.
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