Levine looking for Clear Pasaj in Union Avenue presented by Northeastern Fine Jewelry and Ball Watch
By Phil Janack | 08/16/2013 04:24 PM ET
Though her record shows six wins and five seconds from 14 lifetime starts, Clear Pasaj continues to be a pleasant surprise for trainer Bruce Levine.
The AnJes Farm homebred looks to extend her win streak to three on Monday in the 10th renewal of the $100,000 Union Avenue presented by Northeastern Fine Jewelry and Ball Watch for New York-bred female sprinters at Saratoga Race Course.
Six fillies and mares were entered in the six-furlong Union Avenue, including the top four finishers from the Lottsa Talc overnight stakes at Saratoga on July 25, a seven-furlong race Clear Pasaj won in gate-to-wire fashion by a nose over favored Willet.
"She's doing real good," Levine said. "She came out of the race good. She's very gritty. She's really a tough competitor, very feisty. I think it helps her, because she's a real fighter; she really is."
A 4-year-old daughter of champion sprinter Smoke Glacken, Clear Pasaj preceded the Lottsa Talc with a head victory in the seven-furlong Dancing Renee on June 1 at Belmont Park.
She shows four wins and four seconds in nine lifetime tries at the Union Avenue distance, and is 2-for-3 at Saratoga, having broken her maiden here in July 2012.
"She basically has just gotten better and better and better. She's been a complete surprise," Levine said. "It's not that she got better in leaps and bounds and had a breakthrough race. She broke her maiden up here and then she didn't run good, then went to Belmont and won [an entry-level allowance] and a [second-level allowance]. I put her in open company and she was second, and she just kept climbing one step at a time."
Clear Pasaj tuned up for the Union Avenue with a bullet half-mile work in 49.00 seconds on August 10, the fastest of 40 horses at the distance. She had a similarly sharp work four days before winning the Lottsa Talc.
"She never really trained fast until about six weeks ago," Levine said. "It's really a tribute to her, because she just keeps getting a little better every time. She's really an overachiever."
Jose Ortiz will ride Clear Pasaj, co-highweight at 124 pounds and second choice on the morning line at 5-2, from post 4.
Owned and trained by James Iselin, Willet did not make her 5-year-old debut until June 15, running last of five in the Grade 3 Bed o' Roses Handicap at Belmont Park. It was the second straight attempt in open company for the Jump Start mare, who was second, beaten a neck, in the Grade 2 Go for Wand Handicap last November at Aqueduct to end her 2012 campaign.
A 9 ¼-length winner of the $150,000 Iroquois Stakes at Belmont last October, Willet has run second in three career starts at Saratoga, including last year's Union Avenue, in which she was beaten 3 ½ lengths by Risky Rachel.
Leaving from post 3, Joel Rosario will ride Willet, the program favorite at 8-5.
The Union Avenue would be the 23rd career start for Miss Valentine, third by a head in the Lottsa Talc for trainer Christophe Clement. Winner of the one-mile Princess Dixie on July 3 at Belmont, the 5-year-old Afleet Alex mare was 6 ¼ lengths behind Clear Pasaj in the Dancing Renee.
"She's a great filly; she always tries," Clement said. "She has overcome me for the last three years, so she is good. She ran great last time. The track was a bit dead that day, but she ran a very good race. She's a fun horse to be around."
Miss Valentine, 7-2, will carry Irad Ortiz, Jr. and co-highweight of 124 pounds from post 6.
Cape Cod Carol was fourth, beaten 2 ½ lengths, in the Lottsa Talc, her stakes debut. The Union Avenue will be her ninth start this year, including optional claiming wins in July at Belmont in March at Aqueduct.
"You've got to test the waters," Ryerson said. "We were hoping to get stakes-placed with the filly. She ran real well, running fourth. We'll give her another chance at a shorter distance. She seems like she's improved a little bit this year during the course of the year. Of course, we need that to compete in here."
Cape Cod Carol made five of her first six career starts on grass, including a pair of maiden events last summer at Saratoga, and had another turf try in May at Belmont, but Ryerson plans to keep her on the dirt.
"She didn't get many chances to run here on the dirt in the past," he said. "She's had a good year. Since we got her off the turf, she seems like she's gotten more confident and kind of improved a little bit each time. We're hoping to get a little bit of a setup for her with some speed, and she can get a decent piece of it."
Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez gets a return call on Cape Cod Carol, 10-1, from post 1.
Beautiful But Blue was a supplemental nominee to the Union Avenue for Tom Bush after being pulled up before the wire and walked from the track after the Lottsa Talc. Last year, the 4-year-old El Corredor filly won the Fleet Indian Stakes and was third, beaten 2 ½ lengths by Contested, in the Grade 1 Test.
Rounding out the Union Avenue field is Galiana, who won two 6 ½-furlong optional claimers at Saratoga this summer for trainer Rodolfo Romero.
The field for the $100,000 Union Avenue (NYB):