Saddle Up Jessie moseys home a winner in $150K Heavenly Prize Inv.
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Feb 10, 2024
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Saddle Up Jessie moseys home a winner in $150K Heavenly Prize Inv.

by Mary Eddy

Michael J. Ryan’s Saddle Up Jessie proved superior to her seven rivals with a 2 1/2-length score in Saturday’s Listed $150,000 Heavenly Prize Invitational, a one-turn mile for older fillies and mares, at Aqueduct Racetrack.

Trained by Brittany Russell, the 5-year-old More Than Ready dark bay returned to the scene of a narrow loss in the nine-furlong Ladies on January 6 where she was edged out of victory by a neck behind Comparative, who exited that race to win the Grade 3 Bayakoa at Oaklawn Park. This time around, Saddle Up Jessie took charge down the backstretch and drew clear of her challengers with ease in the stretch to score her second career stakes victory, adding to a dominant win in Laurel Park’s Carousel two starts back on December 23.

Emma Wolfe, assistant to Russell, said she was pleased with the mare’s first effort since failing to sell at the Keeneland January Horses of All Ages Sale shortly after the Ladies.

“She got second here and went right to the sale,” said Wolfe. “She handled everything fine. When she came back from the sale, she slept for an entire day and we took it easy on her. But when we brought her back to work, she was at the top of her game. She likes what she does.”

In the Heavenly Prize, Saddle Up Jessie emerged in good order from post 7 and was at the helm of an early three-way battle for command with Portage on the inside and Movie Moxy racing between the two. Saddle Up Jessie took a short advantage exiting the chute to mark an opening quarter-mile in 23.96 seconds over the fast main track.

A patient Franco allowed Portage to keep close watch from second down the backstretch before asking his charge put daylight between her and her rivals while marking the half-mile in 47.71. Spiked, with Jose Gomez up, made her move from fourth position on the far outside in the turn and came well within striking distance, but Franco remained motionless on a loaded Saddle Up Jessie as Spiked reached her best stride under a strong ride from Gomez at the top of the lane.

“She [Russell] didn’t really give me much instruction,” Franco explained. “She said the filly is very straightforward. I just take it by the break. I break good, running, and trying to make somebody go, but at the same time, she’s taking me so easy and nobody can get away from me. So, I said, ‘I might have to go and put the pace.’ I know I was on the best filly in the race, so I was comfortable about that.”

Saddle Up Jessie marked three quarters in 1:12.57 and had a 4 1/2-length advantage heading into the stretch. She kept on strongly with just a few right-handed taps from Franco down the lane and maintained her lead over a game Spiked and the rail-skimming Movie Moxy to cross the wire first in a final time of 1:38.23.

Movie Moxy got up to land place honors by a half-length over a determined Spiked, who made her first start in nearly 10 months. Lady Brew rallied from seventh to complete the superfecta with Cairo Sugar, Into Happiness, Portage and Pretti Xtreme rounding out the order of finish.

Franco, who picked up the mount aboard Saddle Up Jessie after riding Comparative last out in the Ladies, said Saddle Up Jessie appreciated a turnback in distance.

“Two-turn races are a lot different than a mile race. Today, I wanted to break sharp, running, because I know it’s a one-turn mile,” said Franco. “So, she jumped out of there running and I was able to control the race the whole way around, so I was happy about that.

“She ran great,” Franco added. “Brittany bring her ready and I just want to say thanks to her for the opportunity.”

Bred in Kentucky by Ryan’s Kinnickinnic Stables, Saddle Up Jessie was originally sold for $270,000 as a yearling at the 2020 Fasig-Tipton October Yearling Sale and began her career on the turf in California. She was haltered for $20,000 out of a fourth-place finish last January ahead of her first start for Russell in June, a 17 1/2-length graduation in a maiden claiming tilt at Delaware Park. The talented mare has won or finished second in 7-of-8 starts since moving to the Russell barn.

Saddle Up Jessie banked $82,500 in victory, and improved her lifetime record to 14-5-2-0. She returned $4.10 on a $2 win ticket as the even-money post time favorite.

Live racing resumes Sunday at the Big A with a nine-race card. First post is 11:50 a.m. Eastern.

America’s Day at the Races will present daily coverage and analysis of the winter meet at Aqueduct Racetrack on the networks of FOX Sports. For the complete broadcast schedule, visit

NYRA Bets is the official wagering platform of Aqueduct Racetrack, and the best way to bet every race of the winter meet. Available to horseplayers nationwide, the NYRA Bets app is available for download today on iOS and Android at

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