Hard Love all heart in $100K Woodhaven
by Keith McCalmont
Robert V. LaPenta and Augustin Stable’s Hard Love outdueled a stubborn Original before staving off It’s a Gamble late charge to capture Saturday’s $100,000 Woodhaven, a 1 1/16-mile inner turf test for sophomores, at Aqueduct Racetrack.
Trained by Jonathan Thomas and expertly piloted by Hall of Famer Javier Castellano, the Kitten’s Joy ridgling was making his seasonal debut from a strong second in the Central Park at 1 1/16-miles on the Big A turf in November.
Hard Love broke alertly from the inside post and established an early lead before acquiescing to Original into the first turn through an opening quarter mile in 23.83 seconds on the firm course.
Original, with Jose Ortiz up, dictated terms down the backstretch through a half-mile in 49.68 as Castellano took Hard Love back and angled outside of the frontrunner in a perfect stalking position with Extrasexybigdaddee and It’s a Gamble tracking their early foot in front of trailers Shawdyshawdyshawdy, Minuteman and Sifting Sands.
Castellano and Hard Love ratcheted up the pressure into the final turn and engaged a game Original with the duo battling to the eighth pole before Hard Love took command with enough in reserve to hold off the late run of It’s a Gamble for a 1 1/4-length win in a final time of 1:44.34.
It’s a Gamble completed the exacta by 2 1/2-lengths over Original. Rounding out the order of finish were Extrasexybigdaddee, Minuteman, Shawdyshawdyshawdy and Sifting Sands.
Thomas was full of praise for the heady steer by Castellano.
“I thought Javier did a great job of letting Jose go and then getting to the outside of that horse and giving him a chance of getting a breather,” said Thomas. “I was just super proud of the horse, because we have had less than an ideal preparation over the last six weeks.”
Castellano said he followed his trainer’s instructions to the letter.
“I knew the 5-horse [Original] had plenty of speed, but Jonathan told me to break out of the gate and use enough to get in position and if I ended up in the lead, that’s OK. I let him dictate the pace and kept following,” said Castellano.
The Hall of Fame rider said Hard Love finished up well on an inner turf softened by rain in recent days.
“We had soft ground and sometimes horses get tired in the end coming off a layoff, but he did a really great job,” said Castellano. “I love the way he finished; galloping out strong. I enjoyed the ride because he [Thomas] brought him in 100 percent.”
A $200,000 purchase at the 2020 OBS Spring Sale of 2-Year-Olds in Training, Hard Love graduated on debut in October at Belmont Park ahead of his runner-up effort in the Central Park.
Thomas said Hard Love will now target the nine-furlong Grade 2, $200,000 Pennine Ridge on May 29 at Belmont Park, one of the key prep races for the first leg of NYRA’s Turf Triple series, which begins on July 10 with the 10-furlong Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Derby Invitational.
“We’d have to circle the Pennine Ridge and go that route,” said Thomas. “I think the big track at Belmont and another eighth of a mile is right in his wheelhouse.”
Bred in Kentucky by Kenneth L. Ramsey and Sarah K. Ramsey, Hard Love banked $55,000 in victory while improving his record to 3-2-1-0. He returned $2.80 for a $2 win ticket.
Live racing resumes Sunday with a nine-race card to close out the boutique 11-day Big A spring meet, highlighted by the $200,000 NYSSS Park Avenue in Race 7 and the $100,000 Memories of Silver in Race 8. First post is 1:20 p.m.