American Pharoah records first North American winner with Maven
by NYRA Press Office
- Haikal records half-mile breeze for Kentucky Derby
- Maragh looking for Derby triumph with Haikal
- Runhappy Travers winner Catholic Boy breezes over Belmont training track
- Franco searching for first Kentucky Derby win with Spinoff
- Irad Ortiz, Jr. excited to get Kentucky Derby mount on Improbable
- Brisset relishes Wednesday triumph with Abounding Joy
- Morley delighted with new Aqueduct track record holder Psychic Energy
- NYRA Bets offering 'Double Win' bet this Saturday in Charles Town Classic
Triple Crown winner American Pharoah recorded his first winner in North America when Richard Ravin's Maven took the Friday opener at Aqueduct Racetrack.
The Westly Ward trainee, sent to post as the odds-on favorite in the 4 ½-furlong maiden sprint, went straight to the lead under jockey Dylan Davis. The chestnut colt marked the opening quarter-mile in 22.55 seconds and the half-mile 46.10 under pressure from Lebda.
At the top of the stretch, Maven was confronted by Lebda but the chestnut comfortably kept his foe at bay to graduate first out, winning by a half-length in a final running time of 52.82 over a main track labeled fast.
"It's definitely big for breeding in North America," Davis said. "A big thank you to Wesley Ward for continuing to use me. He's had a big impact on my career as a bug boy and continues to do so.
"With the horse being by American Pharoah, everyone expects a lot and he ran really well," continued Davis. "I was jogging and galloping him in the mornings, so I got a good feel for him. A huge thanks to the connections, I'm sure they're looking for bigger and better things."
Ward sent out filly Tesorina, American Pharoah's first starter in North America on Wednesday afternoon at the Big A, to a third-place finish.
Ward was ecstatic following Maven's triumph and said that American Pharoah's first North American winner will target the Group 2 Norfolk at Royal Ascot on June 20.
"I'm getting texts from everyone watching the race," Ward said. "It's fantastic for racing, for Coolmore, for owner Richard Ravin and most importantly, for me. What I see is that he's going to be a good sire. The dam [Richies Party Girl] was a turf sprinter and I think this one is going to be a turf sprinter as well. He's had outstanding works over the Polytrack at Turfway which translates to turf. We'll run him in the Norfolk at Royal Ascot and hopefully we can put American Pharoah on the big scale as a sire."
The 2015 Triple Crown winner's first overall starter was Peter Brant's Monarch of Egypt who graduated at first asking at Naas Racecourse in Ireland for trainer Aidan O'Brien.
Bred in Kentucky by Ward, Maven is the first progeny out of three-time turf stakes winning Any Given Saturday broodmare Richies Party Girl.
* * *
Haikal records half-mile breeze for Kentucky Derby
With weather calling for a good chance of rain in the Elmont area this Easter weekend, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin altered the work pattern for Shadwell Farm's Kentucky Derby hopeful Haikal, breezing the graded stakes winning son of Daaher on Friday morning.
Haikal took to the Belmont Park main track at 9:30 a.m. to record his first serious move since a third-place effort in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial presented by NYRA Bets on April 6, posting a half-mile drill in 47.59 seconds. The four-furlong workout was the fastest of 48 recorded works at the distance.
The sophomore finished tenth on the leaderboard for the Grade 1, $3 million Kentucky Derby with 70 points. In addition to running third in the Wood Memorial, he won the Grade 3 Gotham on March 2 at the Big A.
"We called an audible because a lot of rain is coming [Friday night] and things are closed on Easter. I didn't want him tearing the barn down, so we worked him today," McLaughlin said. "We'll probably work back next week. We were only scheduled to work once but we changed our mind. He worked very well this morning."
McLaughlin has sent a total of eight horses to Churchill Downs for the Run for the Roses, the best result of which came when 71-1 longshot Closing Argument ran second in 2005 behind fellow longshot Giacomo. Two of his previous Derby starters were for Shadwell Farm, including eventual Grade 1 Belmont Stakes winner Jazil  and Mohaymen , both of which ran fourth in their respective Derby efforts.
"It's hard to put in words, we just hope we get there," McLaughlin said of the Kentucky Derby. "It's great just to be there for Shadwell because I've been with them for 25 years. It's great to hopefully get there. We're still two weeks out. A win would be priceless."
* * *
Maragh looking for Derby triumph with Haikal
With his best finish in the Kentucky Derby coming aboard Mucho Macho Man, who ran third in 2011, jockey Rajiv Maragh remains in search of his first Kentucky Derby victory and he hopes to accomplish the feat aboard Haikal in this year's 'Run for the Roses.'
"Obviously, the Derby is a tough race," said Maragh. "With 20 horses, it makes it a bit challenging for everyone, but it's the most fun you can have riding. All year you look forward to having a chance to riding in the Derby and when you make it there it's very exciting. It's very difficult to win, so it makes it more rewarding if you can and thankfully I'll be there this year with Haikal."
Maragh, a native of Kingston, Jamaica with 1,867 career wins through the end of Thursday's card at Aqueduct, is no stranger to winning big races, notching four Breeders' Cup wins. He picked up the mount on Haikal following his debut in which he finished second by a neck on November 10 at Aqueduct.
The tandem of Maragh and Haikal was immediately successful winning their first three starts together including a maiden score, a first stakes win in the Jimmy Winkfield and an impressive rallying effort to win the Grade 3 Gotham.
"When I got the mount he came highly regarded," said Maragh. "He finished second in that first race and he's also a well-bred horse, so I was very excited to ride him. He delivered with a strong late kick [in the maiden win] which was impressive."
The Gotham score, at a mile, provided Haikal his first graded stakes and an important 50 Kentucky Derby qualifying points.
Sent off as the 3-1 second choice last out in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial presented by NYRA Bets, Haikal trailed early but finished with a sustained run to finish third, picking up an additional 20 Derby qualifying points.
"I thought he ran a good race in the Wood," said Maragh. "He lost nothing in defeat. It was actually a very promising run because it was his first start at two turns and he showed that he could still be effective closing. He answered all the questions we had of him to give him a chance to enter the field which I think he deserves."
Maragh said winning the Derby for McLaughlin and Shadwell Stable, who are also each in search of their first Derby triumph, would be extra sweet.
"Kiaran is someone who I've always looked up to as a father figure and has always given me good advice and guidance," said Maragh. "It would be great to be able to win our first Derby together along with Shadwell Stable. With Haikal, I really think we have a good chance to do just that."
* * *
Runhappy Travers winner Catholic Boy breezes over Belmont training track
Following a trio of works at trainer Jonathan Thomas' base at Bridlewood Farm in Ocala, Florida, multiple Grade 1 winner Catholic Boy returned to Belmont Park for his most recent serious work.
Owned by Robert LaPenta, Madaket Stables, Siena Farm and Twin Creeks Racing Stables, Catholic Boy went to the track at 7:45 a.m. on Good Friday with Hall of Fame rider Javier Castellano aboard and worked a half-mile in company with Osare, a stakes winning half-sister to 2016 Eclipse Award winner Arrogate.
Both Thomas trainees completed the four-furlong journey in 50 seconds flat.
The highly versatile son of More Than Ready boasts Grade 1 triumphs in last year's Belmont Derby Invitational over the turf, as well as the Runhappy Travers at Saratoga on the dirt. He has not started since running 13th in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Classic on November 3 at Churchill Downs.
"It was really well executed," Thomas said of the work. "It was our first breeze here at Belmont in quite some time and we were just looking for an easy maintenance breeze. I loved how he moved and he showed good energy. His gallop out, as usual, was above average.
"He shows a lot of enthusiasm and enjoys his work," continued Thomas. "Those are things we look for and we hope he continues to do so."
Catholic Boy's workmate Osare has not raced since taking the Dueling Grounds Oaks on September 12 at Kentucky Downs and will likely make her comeback around the same time.
"She's on the same schedule from a time perspective, so we're just trying to have them breeze together and be on the same trajectory," Thomas said.
Thomas was unsure as to when Catholic Boy's anticipated 2019 debut would take place and is keeping his options open.
"He's about four to eight weeks away," Thomas said. "We'll let him breeze another time or two and we'll huddle up with Javier [Castellano] and John Panagot [Racing Manager for owner Robert LaPenta] and Mr. LaPenta and see where a good starting point is for the year. We're open to the condition book here at Belmont and also some stakes in the mid-Atlantic region. We'll wait and see what feels right."
Bred in Kentucky by Fred Hertrich III and John Fielding, Catholic Boy is out of the Bernanrdini broodmare Song of Bernadette.
Thomas also spoke of a newer addition to his barn, two-time Grade 1-winning multi-millionaire Diversify, who also is on the comeback trail.
"Diversify has settled in great," Thomas said. "He's probably about three weeks away from his first breeze right now. We're happy with him. We hope to have him ready sometime around the end of June to early July."
Previously conditioned by the late Rick Violette, Diversify is a New York-bred son of Bellamy Road and won last year's edition of the Grade 1 Whitney Handicap at Saratoga as well as the 2017 Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park.
He is owned by Ralph and Lauren Evans, who purchased the horse for $210,000 at the 2016 Keeneland November sale.
* * *
Irad Ortiz excited to get Kentucky Derby mount on Improbable
Jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. has enjoyed a highly prosperous start to 2019, leading all North American jockeys in wins  and earnings [$9,066,500], as well as winning the Championship Meet at Gulfstream Park this winter.
The veteran rider will guide Improbable for the first time in the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May.
Owned by WinStar Farm, China Horse Club and Starlight Racing and trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, Improbable was recently second in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby behind Omaha Beach, where he was guided by Ortiz's brother, Jose Ortiz.
Ortiz has ridden in the Kentucky Derby three times having guided Uncle Sigh [2014, 14], My Man Sam [2016, 11] and Hofburg [2018, 7].
"He's a nice horse, he has a good trainer, so we'll see what happens. It's very exciting. I've got a lot of good support from the owners and trainers," Ortiz, Jr. said.
Already a Grade 1 winner when taking the Los Alamitos Futurity in December, Improbable was second in the Grade 2 Rebel at Oaklawn Park behind Long Range Toddy in his sophomore debut.
* * *
Franco searching for first Kentucky Derby win with Spinoff
At the very least, Kentucky Derby time will bolster jockey Manny Franco's airline rewards account. The 24-year-old picked up the mount on the Todd Pletcher-trained Spinoff, who is pointing towards the "Run for the Roses" on May 4 at Churchill Downs.
After riding a full card Thursday at Aqueduct, Franco traveled to the Sunshine State to work Spinoff at his training location in Palm Beach Downs in Del Ray Beach, Florida.
Spinoff breezed five furlongs in 59.99 on Friday morning with Franco up. The veteran rider then flew right back to New York, where he has mounts in six of the day's nine races Friday at the Big A.
"I'm supposed to leave tonight [Thursday] and head down there and work at Palm Meadows Friday," Franco said on Thursday afternoon. "I'm trying to know the horse. You have to do what you have to do. If you want to ride these types of horses and these types of races, you have to do whatever they ask. They called me to work the horse, so I have to go."
Jet lag might be the only thing that can slow Franco, who won the Aqueduct winter meet's riding title with 98 winners. Entering Friday, Franco has 15 wins, one more than second-place rider Jose Lezcano, as he seeks to notch another title for the 12-day Aqueduct spring meet that concludes Saturday.
Wertheimer and Frere's Spinoff has 40 qualifying points to the Derby, ranking 19th on the leaderboard. His point totals are the same as Bodexpress, but Spinoff has the edge in non-restricted stakes earnings with $224,000.
The Hard Spun colt earned a personal-best 95 Beyer Speed Figure following a second-place finish in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby on March 23 at Fair Grounds, finishing three-quarters of a length behind By My Standards in his best career stakes performance.
Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez was aboard for both the Louisiana Derby and the third-place finish in the Grade 2 Saratoga Special in August, but Velazquez is slated to ride Fountain of Youth-winner Code of Honor for Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey.
That allowed Franco to pick up the mount, which would be his second career Kentucky Derby start.
"I've watched the replays of him and saw the way he runs," Franco said. "From the races I've seen, I think he has speed. I don't think he'll be too far out of there, because he puts himself close. We'll see how the race develops."
Franco's previous Derby experience came with Tencendur in 2015, where the 52-1 longshot ran 17th for trainer George Weaver.
"Because I broke the ice and rode in my first Derby before, I think I'll be a little more relaxed," Franco said. "It won't be a surprise. Man, when I came in off the paddock and I saw all the people screaming and the race started, it was unbelievable. It was a dream come true."
The sights of more than 150,000 people jamming Churchill Downs was a special moment, Franco said, and having the chance to win the Triple Crown's first leg remains a goal of almost every rider who sits in the irons.
"It's the goal for all jockeys is to ride in the Derby and try and get the win," Franco said.
* * *
Brisset relishes Wednesday triumph with Abounding Joy
In her second race off a layoff, Abounding Joy returned to the winner's circle in style when notching her third career victory in a one-mile allowance event over the main track on Wednesday at Aqueduct Racetrack.
Owned by WinStar Stablemates Racing, the 4-year-old daughter of Quality Road was making her first start since a fourth-place effort in the Minaret on February 16 at Tampa Bay Downs. In Wednesday's triumph, she tracked just one length off the pace, made her winning move at the eighth pole and drew off to win by three lengths under jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr.
"It's been an eventful past 10 days with her," trainer Rodolphe Brisset said. "We entered her in one spot that didn't go. We entered her back in a race at Keeneland and she drew post twelve, so we scratched. We didn't feel that bringing her back in a race with such a wide post was the right thing to do. We'll see how she comes back. I think she showed up and the race really showed people what she has displayed in the mornings."
Abounding Joy finished second behind stable mate, and eventual graded stakes winner, Talk Veuve To Me in her career debut at Fair Grounds last March. In her follow-up effort at Keeneland, she graduated in style by 2 1/4-lengths and doubled up against winners in her next start at Churchill Downs going seven furlongs.
The Brisset barn will be a busy one this spring with graded stakes winners Positive Spirit and Quip preparing for their next starts.
Positive Spirit, runner-up in the Grade 2 Gazelle on April 6 behind Always Shopping, is 13th on the leaderboard with 50 points for the Grade 1 $1.5 million Kentucky Oaks. The 3-year-old daughter of Pioneerof the Nile and half-sister to 2017 Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming could target the 'Run for the Lillies' on May 3.
"We're going to take a strong look at the Kentucky Oaks," Brisset said. "She's doing very well and could possibly breeze at Keeneland on Saturday or Sunday."
Owned by Michael Ryan, Positive Spirit won the Grade 2 Demoiselle at the Big A last December which is her lone graded stakes triumph to date.
Last Saturday, Brisset sent Quip to Hot Spring, Ark. where he held off a late charge from Lone Sailor to win the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap. The son of Distorted Humor could possibly target the Grade 2 $750,000 Stephen Foster Handicap on June 16 at Churchill Downs.
"I think we have to space his races," Brisset said. "He's back with us at Keeneland and has been training well this week. A race like the Stephen Foster would be a possibility. It's not a Grade 1 anymore but the purse is good and it's a Breeders Cup 'Win And You're In'."
Owned by WinStar Farm, China Horse Club and SF Racing, Quip scored his second graded stakes victory in the Oaklawn Handicap. As a 3-year-old, he won the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby.
* * *
Morley delighted with new Aqueduct track record holder Psychic Energy
Robert Murray's Psychic Energy broke Aqueduct's track record for six furlongs on the outer turf in Wednesday afternoon's seventh race, where he swiftly set the pace and drew off to win by 2 ¾ lengths while stopping the clock in 1:07.69.
Trained by Tom Morley, the son of Freud picked up his fourth career victory in his first start in his native state of New York after wintering at Fair Grounds, where he recorded four starts.
"He was running over 5 1/2 [furlongs] down there and there's a big difference in the dynamics of five and a half and three quarters and seven eighths, so we couldn't wait to get him back to New York and couldn't wait to go three quarters," Morley said. "I thought he had a live shot [Wednesday]. We know he loves the course. He won this time last year going three quarters at Aqueduct.
"He was a sharp horse [on Wednesday afternoon], there were a lot of horses in the race coming off layoffs," added Morley. "We went in there with a sharp horse who had been running a bit short of that. Javier gave him a super ride and the stall position probably helped us as well. He doesn't like to be crowded but with the stall being on the outside of the course going three quarters, it gave him an open space to break into. He had a lot of trouble at Fair Grounds getting clattered into big fields coming out of the gate. It was a lovely ride, I have to say that I was surprised to see him go 44 and change and then draw away from the horses. He had won that race before so he was entitled to come back and win it."
Owned by Robert Murray, Psychic Energy was bred in New York by Thomas/Burleson and is out of the stakes winning Mutakddim broodmare Go Ask Daisy.
NYRA Bets offering 'Double Win' bet this Saturday in Charles Town Classic
On Saturday, April 20, NYRA Bets customers will be able to double their win bet in the Grade 2, $1 million Charles Town Classic.
Any NYRA Bets customer who wagers a minimum $5 win bet on the NYRA Bets App in this Saturday's Charles Town Classic [Race 11] at Charles Town Races will have their winning payout doubled with a bonus capped at $50 dollars per player.
The Grade 2 Charles Town Classic with a post time of 5:37 ET features a field of 10 with one also-eligible entrant. The 1 1/8-mile race will see defending titleholder Something Awesome against talented rivals including Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Discreet Lover, multiple graded stakes winners Imperative, and graded stakes winner War Story.
Only win wagers placed on the NYRA Bets App will qualify for the 'double win' bonus and customer accounts will be credited in player accounts within 72 hours of race day. NYRA Bets Customer accounts must be in good standing to receive the bonus.