by Brian Bohl
One day after notching his 1,000th career victory, trainer Rudy Rodriguez added another milestone in capturing the training title for the Aqueduct winter meet that concluded on Saturday with three wins in the Claiming Championship Series, while jockey Manny Franco won two en route to earning his first career New York riding crown, and Michael Dubb again finishing as the top owner.
Rodriguez, who earned career win No. 1,000 with Woundwithhereyes on Friday at the Big A, won leading trainer honors for the 11th time at an individual NYRA meet. Rodriguez, who will turn 46 May 1, won his seventh meet at Aqueduct, adding to his three fall meet titles and three for inner-track meets.
Rodriguez secured the training title on Saturday, saddling three winners in the fourth annual Claiming Championship that offered 10 starter stakes races worth $695,000, including My Won Love ($7.40) in the Videogenic, Control Group ($2.90) in the Mr. Sinatra and Frostie Anne ($5.20) in the Sis City.
Rodriguez, a former jockey who took out his trainer's license in 2010, recorded 38 total wins from 154 runners in the meet for earnings of more than $1.6 million.
"I just thank everyone who has supported me," Rodriguez said. "My wife and my three beautiful children, we're just very blessed to be here.To be at Aqueduct; this is where I started galloping horses. This is where everything started for me. This is my home."
Linda Rice closed out the winter meet with 33 winners from 132 runners for earnings of $1,721,568. Jeremiah Englehart was third, amassing 19 winners from 81 starters.
Franco had clinched the riding title heading into Saturday's Claiming Championship Series at the Big and bolstered his final total to 61 victories from 255 mounts with wins aboard My Won Love in Race 2 and J S Bach ($5.20) in the Stud Muffin in Race 4.
The 23-year-old Carolina, Puerto Rico native has already amassed 62 wins this year (60 wins entering Saturday), following a 2017 campaign in which he won six graded stakes, including World Approval's win in the Grade 1 Fourstardave. His earnings for the Aqueduct winter were more than $2.8 million.
"It means a lot to me and I'd like to thank all the trainers and owners who have given me the opportunity to race good horses, and my agent, who has done a great job," Franco said. "I feel like I've gotten better and I've been riding better horses now, too, so that helps.
"I never thought I'd be in this position, to win a title in New York. It's always a goal for a rider. I'm blessed. It helps for [confidence], but I won't change anything."
Davis was second in the standings with 47 winners from 263 mounts while Junior Alvarado rounded out the top three with 45 wins in 167 starts.
Dubb lead all owners with 14 wins and earnings of $648,114, starting the 2018 campaign in strong fashion after leading NYRA's year-end leaderboard for the sixth time in eight years with 72 victories in 2017. Dubb's win total at Aqueduct was six more than Ben Mondello and James Riccio, who tied for second with eight wins apiece.
Bettors were well served selecting the No. 5 horse on the day's card, with Christmas Sky ($2.80) starting the action in the Karakorum Elektra, My Won Love in Race 2, Morning Buzz ($6.50) in Race 6, the Peeping Tom, and Helooksthepart ($34.60) in the Caixa Eletronica in Race 7.
The No. 5 horse finished second in three other races, with Angel At War the runner-up in Race 3 to Short Kakes ($4.50) in the Xtra Heat, Polar Jet finishing second to J S Bach in Race 4 and Mills coming in second to Control Group in Race 5. Rounding out the day's action was a pair of high-priced winners with Chilly Bon Bon, off at 67-1 and paying $136 in the More To Tell; and Holding Aces ($43.40) in the Kelly Kip in the day's final race.