Eclipse Award for Channel Maker caps dream season for owner Randy Hill
by NYRA Press Office
Randy Hill’s perseverance over two decades of owning thoroughbreds was rewarded this week when his multiple Grade 1-winner Channel Maker was crowned 2020 Champion Turf Male at Thursday’s Eclipse Awards.
Owned by Hill’s R.A. Hill Stable in partnership with Reeves Thoroughbred Racing, Gary Barber and Wachtel Stable, Channel Maker posted two gate-to-wire Grade 1 victories on the NYRA circuit in 2020 with triumphs in the Sword Dancer Invitational at Saratoga and the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at Belmont Park, the latter of which he also won in 2018.
Trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, the Ontario-bred son of 2007 Champion Turf Male English Channel capped off his Eclipse Award-winning season with a third-place finish in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf at Keeneland, where he replicated his career-best 108 Beyer Speed Figure earned in his previous two races.
“When I first got in the game, I just wanted to win a Grade 1 or two, but I never imagined getting a champion,” Hill said.
The racing bug bit Hill at a young age when attending the races at Monmouth Park with his mother. But it wasn’t until 2000 that the mutual fund owner and financial services executive ventured into buying racehorses. Among the first horses he purchased was a Broad Brush colt by the name of Maybry’s Boy, with the hope of eventually having a horse good enough to run at Saratoga.
“I named him after my mother. Her name was Maybry and I was her boy,” Hill said.
Maybry’s Boy went on to win the Grade 3 Spectacular Bid in 2002 at Gulfstream Park in the first start of his 3-year-old campaign, and it didn’t take long for Hill to get hooked.
“Maybry’s Boy was the favorite in the Kentucky Derby futures book after the Spectacular Bid. I thought, ‘Oh this game isn’t that hard,’” Hill recalled with a laugh.
Although Maybry’s Boy never did see graded stakes success after the Spectacular Bid, Hill stayed in the ownership game enjoying success with graded stakes winner Devil’s Preacher and dual stakes winner and graded stakes placed turf sprinter Fiddlers Patriot, who gave Hill his first stakes winner on the NYRA circuit when taking the 2012 Willard Straight at Saratoga.
Even then, Hill said owning a multiple Grade 1-winning champion seemed far-fetched.
“I had about a year and a half where I had maybe one winner and I kept on getting all these bills,” Hill recalled.
The past few years have certainly been more prosperous for Hill, who began partnering with several other owners in campaigning top-class horses. In addition to Channel Maker, he owned last year’s Grade 1 Runhappy Carter and Grade 1 Runhappy Met Mile winner Vekoma in partnership with Mike Gatsas’ Gatsas Stables.
The son of Candy Ride was a finalist for Champion Sprinter, which was won by Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Whitmore. Vekoma is currently standing his first year at stud at B. Wayne Hughes’ Spendthrift Farm.
Hill is also a part owner of multiple graded stakes winner Tax and New York-bred stakes winner Funny Guy.
“This year, to get an Eclipse champion, and a horse like Vekoma to become a stallion prospect and win multiple Grade 1 races has just been incredible,” Hill said.
Hill credits jockey Manny Franco for helping Channel Maker improve last season. Following his pair of front-running Grade 1 wins, Channel Maker was again forwardly placed in the Breeders Cup Turf and held a 2 1/2-length lead at the stretch call only giving way in the shadow of the wire when a length back of the victorious Tarnawa and edged a nose for second by Magical.
“Manny really fit him like a glove and turned him around by putting him on the front end,” Hill said. “Also, English Channel horses get better with age. That said, I was expecting him to get better. I always believed that he would get better. I really thought in the Breeders Cup that we were home. He got beat for second by a whisker against two of the best turf horses in the world.”
Hill said he is hoping Channel Maker can pick up where he left off in his 2021 bow, which could take place in either the $2.5 million Long Distance Turf Handicap or the $1 million Middle Distance Turf Cup at King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Saudi Arabia on February 20. Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez will pilot Channel Maker in his first venture outside of North America.
“That’s no step down,” Hill said of Velazquez taking the irons. “He’s one of the smartest riders I’ve been around, and no one studies the form like him. I have all the confidence in the world in Johnny. We have a Hall of Fame jockey and a Hall of Fame trainer going to Saudi running for millions.”
Hill said he was over the moon to hear the news of Channel Maker’s Eclipse Award and celebrated exactly how one expects an avid wine collector would.
“I couldn’t imagine Channel Maker wouldn’t get it,” Hill said. “But we were thrilled. When I found out he won, I opened a big bottle of Chambertin.”
The thrill of victory is something that Hill relishes and he said it’s even more special to experience such euphoria alongside partners that he calls friends.
“I’m not a huge owner so that many Grade 1 wins is a lot,” Hill said. “I’ve been having fun again and I love the game. I love being in it and I love the people around it. I’m very fortunate to have good partners in Dean Reeves, Mike Gatsas and of course Gary Barber and Adam Wachtel. We’ve all gotten a long very well.”
G3 Withers in the cards for Shackqueenking
Pocket 3's Racing's Shackqueenking will make his first start away from Laurel Park in Saturday's Grade 3, $250,000 Withers at Aqueduct Racetrack.
Trainer Gary Capuano said the Shackleford chestnut, who is undefeated around two turns at Laurel Park, will relish the added distance in the nine-furlong test offering 10-4-2-1 Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the top-four finishers.
"The two turns is why I wanted to give him a shot up there. Plus, he's training real good," said Capuano. "There's a race at Laurel on the 13th [Miracle Wood] going a one-turn mile, but I like the two turns."
Boasting a perfect in-the-money record of 5-2-2-1, Shackqueenking was a maiden winner at second asking in a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight on November 27 in his first trip around two turns. He followed with a good second in an optional-claiming mile on December 13 before wheeling back two weeks later to secure a nose win in the Howard County at 1 1/16-miles on December 26.
Last out, Shackqueenking finished an even third when cut back to seven furlongs for the Spectacular Bid on January 16.
"I ran him short here a couple weeks ago going seven-eighths and it's not really his game," said Capuano. "He's pretty versatile but I think the two turns is better. I didn't run him down here on Lasix last time, but I could have. We didn't have any issues."
Purchased for $20,000 at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale, Capuano said Shackqueenking demonstrated a good physical presence.
"I like the Shackleford type," said Capuano. "Most of them are big, rangy kind of horses which I like. He just fit the bill and the price was where we were looking."
Capuano traveled the Derby trail previously at the Big A, when he saddled Captain Bodgit to a two-length score in the 1997 Grade 2 Wood Memorial ahead of a narrow head defeat to Silver Charm on the first Saturday in May. The veteran conditioner said he is cautiously optimistic of another Derby run heading into Saturday's test.
“He is nominated for it and if he can take us there that would be great. If he does well there we will keep moving forward, but this will be the test,” said Capuano. “He's a big, strapping horse. I don't think he'll have any problem with the mile and an eighth. It's a good test for him and we'll see if he's capable and where we can go from there. He's done everything we've asked of him so far."
Capuano said Trevor McCarthy will pick up the mount.
"We should get a good, honest ride and get a good idea of where we're at," said Capuano. "He can sure fit him, he's not a real hard horse to ride."
American Power earns career best BSF for G3 Toboggan win
Sanford Goldfarb, Irwin Goldfarb, and the Estate of Ira Davis’ American Power came out of his half-length victory in Saturday’s Grade 3 Toboggan in good order, trainer Rob Atras said Sunday morning.
The veteran 6-year-old son of Power Broker improved to 10-6-2 in 29 career starts and set a personal best with a 97 Beyer for besting Pete’s Play Call. The win marked American Power’s first stakes appearance in 16 months dating to a fourth-place effort in the Grade 1 Vosburgh in September 2019 at Belmont.
Overall, American Power has won three in a row, posting a victory over a sloppy and sealed Belmont main track in a one-turn mile on October 12 before consecutive seven-furlong triumphs at the Big A.
Atras said after finding success going longer, it’s unlikely he would cut him back to six-furlong sprints. His next target has not been selected. An ambitious potential start could be the Grade 1, $300,000 Carter Handicap at seven furlongs on Wood Memorial Day on April 3, though Atras said it’s too far out to say definitively.
“I think right now, since he’s run a mile and seven-eighths twice, we’d probably not want to cut him back to six [furlongs],” Atras said. “We’re thinking seven-eighths next, but right now, we’re not sure what the next step is.”
American Power is 3-for-3 since Atras removed the blinkers.
“I’ve had success with some horses taking blinkers off, and I’ve found even when they’ve had some success with them, they don’t necessarily need them,” Atras said. “As they get older and more mature and figure the game out, they don’t need them.”
Saturday marked a milestone for Atras, who earned his first career graded stakes win in his 914th career start. Atras, who saddled his first winner in 2009, entered Sunday with a career record of 196-171-140.
“Most of the people who work with me now started with me, so I’m happy for them,” Atras said.
Trombetta considering Royal Number for G3 Withers
After passing the two-turn test with flying colors last out, dual winner Royal Number could try stakes company in Saturday’s Grade 3 Withers going nine furlongs.
Owned by R. Larry Johnson and R.D.M Racing, the chestnut son of Palace Malice defeated winners in a January 9 allowance optional claiming event at Laurel Park going 1 1/16 miles over the main track. Royal Number raced inside and off the pace in fourth into the first turn and inched his way to the front under no urging around the far turn before drawing off a 7 ¾-length winner for trainer Mike Trombetta.
“The Withers is under consideration. He ran a great race last time,” Trombetta said. “We just have to see what we can do this week in terms of training with the weather.”
The Withers is a 10-4-2-1 qualifier for the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby on May 1 at Churchill Downs. Trombetta has saddled two horses for the Run for the Roses with his best finish taking place with Sweetnorthernsaint in 2006, who entered the gate as the post-time favorite and finished seventh.
Royal Number made his debut a winning one going five furlongs on September 23 at Delaware Park before finishing behind accomplished Maryland-based runners such as Jaxon Traveler, Hello Hot Rod and fellow Withers aspirant Shackqueenking.
Bred in the Old Line State by Fitzhugh, Royal Number is out of the Include mare Hartigan, who won four stakes on the Maryland circuit.
Trombetta is no stranger to shipping to New York for stakes prosperity at a price, and did so earlier this month with Bella Aurora, who upset the seven-furlong Interborough at 37-1 odds on January 18 at the Big A. Trombetta said the chestnut daughter of Carpe Diem has been retired from racing to be bred to 2020 Horse of the Year Authentic.
“The owners made a commitment to breed her to Authentic so she’s in Kentucky now. She went out a winner,” Trombetta said.
Little Huntress under strong consideration for $100K Ruthless
Trainer Brittany Russell said she might ship impressive second out maiden winner Little Huntress to New York for next Sunday’s $100,000 Ruthless at Aqueduct Racetrack going seven furlongs.
The daughter of second crop sire Frosted displayed a shining example of a paid workout in her December 27 maiden special weight triumph at Laurel Park going the Ruthless distance, where she broke sharply and commanded the race by open lengths throughout, crossing the wire a 14-length winner. The victory garnered a 75 Beyer.
Little Huntress worked a sharp half-mile in 48 seconds flat on Friday morning at Laurel Park, which was the fastest of 25 recorded works at the distance.
“We’re strongly considering it. She worked really well the other day,” Russell said. “We try and give all of our young horses every option in the morning and her best works are just ‘go’. We’ve tried rating her, but she just wants to go. The way she won last month was really cool to see.”
Owned by Madaket Stable, Wonder Stable and Robert V. LaPenta and bred in Kentucky by Ashview Farm and Colts Neck Stables, Little Huntress is out of the Medaglia d’Oro mare Judy Legend. She was a $100,000 purchase from the 2019 Keeneland September Yearling Sale.
Russell expressed no concern with stretching her filly out at some point in the future.
“Ideally, you want a horse that can keep going in distance,” Russell said. “She always trains well and has a smart gallop out. A one turn mile would be something that we would eventually look at.”
Russell said impressive maiden winner Lambeau Lady, who was a troubled third against winners going 5 ½ furlongs last out in an optional claiming tilt on December 27 at Laurel Park, will likely ship to Florida.
In her last effort, the Twirling Candy bay filly did not find her footing the way she did in her November 21 maiden triumph and was shuffled to the back of the compact field but managed to finish third, missing second by a slim margin.
“She had a tough trip that day,” Russell said. “I think we’ll end up shipping her south and let her get a feel for the turf. We like her a lot and the winter tracks can be tough on horses. We’ve always thought she would do well on grass.”
Bred in Kentucky by John Eaton and Steve Layman and owned by Madaket Stables and Paul Farr, Lambeau Lady is out of the Johannesburg mare Margarita Friday, who also produced turf stakes winner Hangover Saturday.
She was purchased for $100,000 from last year’s Fasig-Tipton MidAtlantic Sale in May.
Hold the Salsa to skip G3 Withers, targets Damon Runyon for state breds
Owner, breeder, and trainer Richard Lugovich said Hold the Salsa, who ran third in the Jerome on New Year’s Day at Aqueduct, will skip the Grade 3, $250,000 Withers and instead target the $100,000 Damon Runyon for New York breds.
Hold the Salsa has been at Lugovich’s stables in Fair Hill, Maryland, but the weather conditions have made it difficult to get the Hold Me Back colt out on the track.
Lugovich said he will turn his attention to the seven-furlong Damon Runyon for sophomores on Sunday, March 14 at Aqueduct, giving the two-time stakes winner a chance to build on his blacktype in the Jerome, which netted him two qualifying points to the “Run for the Roses” in the first stakes of the year on the NYRA circuit.
“I’ve lost too many days down here because of the frozen track,” Lugovich said. “They don’t put salt on the track here, so we can only train on the Tapeta and that track has been too slow lately.”
Hold the Salsa posted a 3-0-1 record in six starts as a juvenile, winning his debut in July at Belmont. Since that effort, he has made six consecutive stakes appearances, including a pair of wins in seven-furlong sprints in the Bertram F. Bongard on October 2 at Belmont and the New York Stallion Stakes Series Great White Way on December 6 at Aqueduct.
In the Jerome, Hold the Salsa stretched out to a mile for the first time and rallied from last-of-five to finish third behind Eagle Orb and winner Capo Kane, tallying a 69 Beyer.
“He’s just getting stronger,” Lugovich said. “If he didn’t go inside in the Jerome, he would have done a little better. The track was awful slow inside that day.”
Cross Country Pick 5 pays $62,515; handles $73,552
Saturday’s Cross Country Pick 5 encompassing live racing action from Aqueduct Racetrack, Oaklawn Park and Tampa Bay Downs paid $62,515 for selecting all five winners for the 50-cent wager. The sequence's total pool was $73,552.
Aqueduct kicked off the wager with a big-price score when Seven Lilies defeated fellow New York breds in a six-furlong allowance contest in Race 8. Trained by Robert Klesaris and ridden by Luis Cardenas, Seven Lilies returned $40.20 on a $2 win wager for besting a six-horse field as the 19-1 selection.
The sequence’s lone stakes race saw Will’s Secret win the $200,000 Martha Washington, a 10-4-2-1 Kentucky Oaks qualifier for 3-year-old fillies going one mile in Oaklawn’s Race 5. Will’s Secret, conditioned by Dallas Stewart and ridden by Jon Court, earned those 10 points for her connections, drawing away by 5 1/4 lengths.
Tampa Bay hosted the third leg when Captivance won by a nose against Rastafara in a maiden special weight for 3-year-old fillies in Race 8. Off at 7-1, Captivance, trained by Christophe Clement with Hector Diaz, Jr. in the irons, returned $17.60.
The penultimate leg saw Manny Franco pick up his fourth win on the card when he piloted 5-2 selection Mystic Night to a 2 3/4-length victory in Aqueduct’s ninth-race finale: a one-turn mile for maidens. The Chad Brown trainee returned $7.30. Franco, who won the first three races on the card, notched one more aboard the 4-year-old Into Mischief gelding.
Oaklawn concluded the sequence with favorite The Mary Rose posting a 1 1/2-length allowance win in Race 6. Off at 2-1, The Mary Rose, trained by Brad Cox and ridden by Martin Garcia, paid $6.40.
The minimum bet for the multi-track, multi-race wager is 50 cents. Wagering on the Cross Country Pick 5 is also available on track, on ADW platforms, and at simulcast facilities across the country. Every week will feature a mandatory payout of the net pool.
The Cross Country Pick 5 will continue each Saturday throughout the year. For more information, visit NYRABets.com.
Aqueduct winter meet Week 8 stakes probables
Saturday, February 6
Grade 3, $250,000 Withers
Probable: Capo Kane (Harold Wyner), Donegal Bay (Todd Pletcher), Eagle Orb (Rudy Rodriguez), Overtook (Pletcher), Risk Taking (Chad Brown),Royal Number (Michael Trombetta), Shackqueenking (Gary Capuano)
Sunday, February 7
Probable: Dealing Justice (Ray Handal), Gulf Coast (Rodolphe Brisset), Little Huntress (Brittany Russell), Miss Brazil (Anthony Dutrow)
Possible: Charge Through (Michael Pino), Hybrid Eclipse (Linda Rice)