by Ryan Martin
El Grande O brings class and experience to a seven-horse field assembled for Sunday’s 30th running of the $125,000 Bertram F. Bongard for New York-bred juveniles going seven furlongs at Belmont at the Big A.
El Grande O, a Barry Schwartz homebred, boasts a 5-1-3-1 record for trainer Linda Rice and arrives from a pair of runner-up efforts at stakes level. After stalking the pace from third and in an off-the turf Skidmore on August 18, he spun back off nine days’ rest for the state-bred Funny Cide presented by Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital, where he set the pace and battled with The Wine Steward through the final furlong to be defeated by a head. The latter effort garnered an 86 Beyer Speed Figure.
El Grande O finished third to The Wine Steward on debut in May over the main track at Belmont Park and broke his maiden at third asking on July 7 over Belmont’s Widener turf course over next out winner Jimmythetooth and returning rival Skyler’s Starship, who finished fourth.
El Grande O is out of the turf stakes-placed Unbridled’s Song mare Rainbow’s Song, who also produced dual turf stakes-placed Meal Ticket. Rainbow’s Song is a half-sister to dual dirt stakes-winner Class Above.
“It certainly helps to have some seasoning with these young horses,” said Rice. “His natural ability is the biggest factor but seasoning does help a lot. At the time, I ran him on the turf because his mother and siblings had done well on the grass. When the race was rained off at Saratoga, he ran really well so I brought him right back for the New York-bred stake. Right now, the best opportunities for him are against New York-breds on the dirt.”
El Grande O will break from post 3 in rein to Jose Ortiz.
Aggelos the Great [post 2, Manny Franco] will spin back off 10 days' rest following a victory going six furlongs over the local going for trainer George Weaver. Owned by NCAA basketball head coach Rick Pitino’s RAP Racing, the chestnut son of second-crop sire City of Light stalked the pace from second and was third beaten one length in his July 28 debut at Saratoga. He made amends last out, displaying similar tactics and breaking his maiden by a neck, producing a 73 Beyer.
Bred by Chester and Mary Broman, Aggelos the Great is out of the multiple stakes-winning and graded stakes-placed Touch Gold mare Spritely who produced graded stakes-placed New York-bred Pauseforthecause.
Trainer John Terranova will saddle SJB Stable’s homebred Skyler’s Starship [post 4, Javier Castellano] following a second-out graduation on August 23 going seven furlongs over Saratoga’s main track.
After racing a distant fifth down the backstretch and finishing 9 1/2 lengths behind El Grande O on debut, the Mendelssohn chestnut was more prominent when sporting blinkers for his dirt debut. He stalked the early pace from second before assuming command from the tiring frontrunner and being confronted around the far turn by odds-on favorite Mischief Joke. Skyler’s Starship raced evenly to the inside of a green Mischief Joke in the stretch and powered home a 1 3/4-length winner. Mischief Joke exited that effort to capture Thursday’s first race at Belmont at the Big A.
Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen will send out first-out winner Detective Tom [post 6, Kendrick Carmouche], who makes his first start over the main track.
The son of The Factor won on debut going 5 1/2 furlongs over the Saratoga Mellon turf, where he dueled on the front end with Instamatic through a grueling 21.78-seconds opening quarter mile before losing the lead to his foe at the stretch call and re-rallying gamely to win by a head. Detective Tom, owned by Blue Lion Thoroughbreds, was bred by Twin Farms, Thomas N. Mina, and Walter S. Borisenok.
Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Repole Stable’s Trust Fund [post 5, Irad Ortiz, Jr.] will seek to make amends after a distant sixth in the Funny Cide for Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher. The bay son of third-crop sire Practical Joke won by 2 1/4 lengths at first asking on August 11 against New York-breds going six furlongs at Saratoga.
Bred by Windylea Farm, Trust Fund is out of the Uncle Mo mare Mo Savings – a full-sister to graded stakes-placed Clipthecouponannie. Trust Fund is cross-entered in Monday's Aspirant at Finger Lakes Racetrack.
Completing the field are Bonne Chance [post 7, Jose Lezcano], a five-length debut maiden winner on September 4 at the Spa for trainer Bruce Levine; and the Mark Tasso-trained Ranger Blue [post 1, Dean Frates], who was a second-out winner on September 4 at Presque Isle Downs.
The Bertram F. Bongard is carded as Race 7 on Sunday’s nine-race program, which co-features the $125,000 Joseph A. Gimma in Race 2. First post is 1:05 p.m. Eastern.
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