by NYRA Press Ofiice
Each year, National Hispanic Heritage Month is recognized from September 15 through October 15. As the 31-day celebration continues, Puerto Rico native Manny Franco, the current leading rider on the NYRA circuit for the year, is soon to reach a major milestone as he closes in on his 2,000th career victory, boasting 1,973 wins [including 21 in Puerto Rico per Equibase stats] heading into Friday’s card at Belmont at the Big A.
Franco, a 28-year-old native of Carolina, Puerto Rico, has enjoyed success on some of racing’s biggest stages, including Grade 1 triumphs in the Belmont Stakes and Travers in 2020 aboard New York-bred fan favorite Tiz the Law, and a win at the 2019 Breeders’ Cup with Sharing in the Grade 1 Juvenile Fillies Turf. Additionally, Franco has won eight riding titles at NYRA racetrack meets, and was the year-end leading rider on the circuit in 2018-19. Franco is on track for another year-end title with 175 wins on the NYRA circuit as of Friday – a 46-win lead over Irad Ortiz, Jr.
“I feel so blessed that God gave me the help to do what I love, and for all the help that I have had from all the people who have given me the horses to make this possible,” said Franco. “I can’t ask for more, and I want to thank my agent John Panagot. I knew I was going to work hard for this, and that’s what I’m here for. I’m just happy to have the support.”
Before Franco became a top rider on one of the nation’s most competitive racing circuits, he honed his skills at the Agustín Mercado Reverón Escuela Vocacional Hípica – the Equestrian Vocational School based at Camarero Racetrack, where students learn an array of skills within the sport of horse racing, from riding to grooming to blacksmithing.
Along with learning to ride thoroughbreds, Franco and his fellow classmates were well versed in general horse husbandry, skills that Franco said have stuck with him throughout the past decade since he graduated.
“It’s a big advantage to have been in the school two years and they show you how to take care of horses, from bathing them to cleaning their stall,” said Franco. “You have to take care of their legs and all of that, and knowing all that gives you confidence.”
Franco is one of many esteemed graduates of the program, his name amongst a list the school is proud to have watched move their tack to the mainland to become some of the sport’s top riders. Other graduates of the program include Hall of Famer John Velazquez and Eclipse Award-winners Jose Ortiz and Irad Ortiz, Jr.
Jose Ortiz, who studied at the school one year before Franco, was one of the young rider’s biggest supporters both in Puerto Rico and in New York, sharing an apartment with Franco when he first moved to the mainland and mentoring him through his early years. Ortiz ranks third in wins at NYRA this year , and said it has been a special experience to ride alongside Franco as both have found immense success since their graduation.
“We used to spend a lot of time together and lived together for the first few years of our careers. He’s a very good friend of mine and I love him,” said Ortiz. “I’m very proud of him. He’s very sharp, and he puts in a lot of hard work in the mornings as well as in the afternoons. He’s grown not only as a jockey, but as a person. He’s like a little brother to me and I wish him nothing but the best.”
Willie Lozano, Jr., a retired multiple graded stakes-placed jockey who became an instructor at the school in 2019, was still riding at the time Franco entered the program, and said it’s no surprise to him that Franco has become the rider he is.
“Manny was a good kid and he was always talented. I watched him develop from a bug boy to become the rider he is now,” said Lozano, Jr. “In the school, we always pay attention to the kids and all the milestones they get, and we are very happy for Manny.”
Lozano, Jr. said Franco is among the most successful riders to have attended the school in recent years, and serves as a role model for each class of new students, exemplary of what a young rider can accomplish with hard work and dedication.
“The students learn discipline both on the ground and on the horse,” said Lozano, Jr. “The work ethic is so important. We share the success of our graduates with all of our new students, and they look up to them. When we start class, I always ask them, ‘Why are you here and who do you want to be?’ A lot of the kids, the first thing they say is, ‘I want to be like Franco.’ They’ve got heroes to watch.”
After Franco graduated in 2013, he remained in Puerto Rico for the first two months of the year, posting 21 wins at Camarero and polishing his approach to riding before moving to New York in March to take on the tall task of competing in New York. It did not take long for Franco to find the winner’s circle, guiding Roaring Seasons to a 10-length score on March 22, 2013, just 13 days into his Empire State endeavors. Just five years later, Franco would earn his first riding title when posting 61 wins at the Aqueduct winter meet.
In addition to Tiz the Law and Sharing, Franco went on to pilot a bevy of Grade 1 winners, including Joking, Yellow Agate, Discreet Lover, World Approval, World of Trouble, Channel Maker, Althiqa, and Tribhuvan. In all, Franco has earned 195 stakes wins, 58 of them graded, with nearly $135 million in total purse earnings.
Franco currently leads the Belmont at the Big A standings [8 wins] by one win over Irad Ortiz, Jr. heading into Friday’s card. He said it is an honor to not only be one of the nation’s top riders, but to be a jockey that all aspiring riders can look to.
“When I came here, I felt like they do and I wanted to be like the top guys,” Franco recalled. “To be a role model for them is a dream come true for me. To have been looking up to those guys and now someone is looking at me – it’s so amazing.”
Arcangelo breezes in preparation for G1 Breeders’ Cup Classic
Blue Rose Farm’s dual Grade 1-winner Arcangelo breezed five-eighths Friday over the Oklahoma training track at Saratoga Race Course in preparation for the Grade 1, $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic on November 4 at Santa Anita Park.
Trained by Jena Antonucci and piloted through the breeze by Hall of Famer Javier Castellano, the Arrogate grey worked solo at 7:30 a.m. Eastern.
“Lovely 5/8 maintenance breeze today for #Arcangelo on the Oklahoma track in Saratoga. 103.25 with a gallop out in a smooth 117.13,” noted Antonucci on X [the website formerly known as Twitter].
A maiden winner at third asking in March at Gulfstream Park, Arcangelo won his stakes debut in the nine-furlong Grade 3 Peter Pan in May at Belmont before taking the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets on June 10 as Antonucci became the first female trainer to win a Triple Crown race. The 1 1/2-length score over the reigning Champion 2-Year-Old Colt Forte provided Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano with a first win in the “Test of the Champion.”
Arcangelo trained up to Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers on August 26 at Saratoga Race Course and 11 weeks after his Belmont coup he cemented his place atop the 3-year-old division with a one-length score over Disarm. The victory marked a record-extending seventh Travers score for Castellano following victories with Bernardini , Afleet Express , Stay Thirsty , V.E. Day , Keen Ice  and Catholic Boy .
Antonucci, who is currently in Florida where she has a number of horses entered at Gulfstream Park, watched video of the breeze which was the second for Arcangelo following his Travers score having worked a half-mile in 47.62 seconds on September 12 over the Spa main track under exercise rider Robert Mallari.
"Everything was good. It was what we were looking for - it was just a maintenance work today. It's too soon for serious stuff,” Antonucci said. “He had one previous breeze after the race and this one is just maintaining bottom line fitness for him."
Antonucci said she was pleased that Castellano made the trip to Saratoga for the breeze as Arcangelo is slated to ship to California on Wednesday.
"I think it was important for Javier as well knowing our next move is out to California and that will make it harder for him,” Antonucci said. “He and Robert have a very good relationship and can communicate very well about how the horse is doing and feeling. I think it was good for everybody to let Javier get a good feel of him after the Travers and make sure he was happy with where everything is."
Arcangelo, a $35,000 purchase at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale, has banked in excess of $1.7 million through a record of 6-4-1-0.
Antonucci said the sizable ridgling has exited his Travers score in good order.
"He does continue to mature and take his work very seriously,” Antonucci said. “I think he's enjoying it and having a lot of fun with everything. Our focus is that he maintains that mindset and is thriving in what we're asking of him.
"He's a tall drink of water and you can physically see he continues to put more body on and hasn't lost weight with the races,” Antonucci added. “So, he'll just continue to mature out as he's supposed to do."
Bred in Kentucky by Don Alberto Corporation, Arcangelo is out of the Tapit mare Modeling, whose second dam, Better Than Honour, produced Belmont Stakes winners Jazil  and Rags to Riches .
Tyson works at Woodbine for possible G2 Woodward endeavor
Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup third-place finisher Tyson breezed five furlongs in 1:00.40 over the Tapeta surface at Woodbine Racetrack on Friday in preparation for a possible start in next Saturday’s Grade 2, $400,000 Woodward for 3-year-olds and upward going nine furlongs at Belmont at the Big A.
Trained by Josie Carroll, Tyson made his dirt debut last out in the 10-furlong Jockey Club Gold Cup on September 2 at Saratoga Race Course, racing an even third down the backstretch and maintaining his position to finish 2 1/4 lengths behind the victorious Bright Future and late-closing runner-up Proxy. The gray son of Tapit earned a 100 Beyer Speed Figure for the effort.
“He worked great this morning,” Carroll said. “He’s a pretty uncomplicated horse when he breezes. He did everything we wanted. He finished up strong and he galloped out well, so I’m pretty happy with what he did.”
Prior to the Jockey Club Gold Cup, Tyson raced exclusively on synthetic, earning a career-high 101 Beyer when capturing the nine-furlong Grade 3 Dominion Day on July 1 at Woodbine before delivering a knockout performance to win the Grade 2 Seagram Cup four weeks later. Tyson boasts a consistent 6-4-0-2 record and earnings of $345,205.
“We gave him a try on the dirt in a pretty tough spot, and he rose to the occasion so we’re certainly exploring coming back again,” Carroll said. “It was his first time on that surface and first time going that distance. He ran with some nice horses and held his own.”
Tyson, a Kentucky homebred for Hill ‘n’ Dale Equine Holdings and Stretch Run Ventures, is out of the Smart Strike mare Honouring, whose dam Teeming was conditioned by Carroll. The Canadian conditioner also trained Honouring’s stakes-winning full-sibling Treasuring as well as a pair of half-siblings in stakes-winner Cascading and stakes-placed Distracting. All hail from the prominent bloodlines of Better Than Honour and Reine de Course mare Best in Show.
“I’ve had probably three generations of that family and they’ve all been really talented horses,” Carroll said. “That whole line has been horses with a lot of ability. They’re horses that stretch out and like the two turns.”
Carroll also spoke of MyRacehorse’s Duke of Love, who ran fifth beaten three lengths in the Jocky Club Gold Cup while earning a career-high 99 Beyer. The 4-year-old Cupid bay entered that effort unbeaten in two starts over conventional dirt, including the Grade 3 West Virginia Governor’s Cup on August 6 at Mountaineer Race Course as well as last year’s Prince of Wales at Fort Erie – the second leg of the Canadian Triple Crown.
Duke of Love also worked five furlongs on Friday, completing his move in 1:01.40, but will get some more time before making his next start, according to Carroll.
“Duke of Love, I thought, really moved up a step in his last race,” Carroll said. “He ran really well in the West Virginia race and I think he moved up another step at Saratoga. He’s another one that I think is on an upward curve. He probably needs some more time in between, so we’ll probably wait a little bit with him to run him back.”
Bred in Ontario by Caldara Farm Inc., Patrick Costello, David Whitford, and Tom Zwiesler, Duke of Love was an $85,000 purchase of the 2021 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic 2-Year-Olds in Training Sale. He is out of the unraced Smart Strike mare Tell the Duchess and comes from the same family as 1994 English Oaks and Irish Derby winner Balanchine as well as Group 1 winner West Wind.
Belmont at the Big A Week 3 stakes probables
Saturday, September 30
G1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic
Probable: Astronaut (Tom Albertani), Grand Sonata (Todd Pletcher), Pioneering Spirit (Linda Rice), Rebel’s Romance (Charlie Appleby), Soldier Rising (Christophe Clement), Therapist (Mike Maker)
Possible: Cellist (Rusty Arnold)
Probable: Algiers (Simon Crisford), Charge It (Todd Pletcher), Law Professor (Rob Atras), O’Connor (Saffie Joseph, Jr.), Zandon (Chad Brown)
Possible: Tyson (Josie Carroll)
G2 Vosburgh – BC WAYI
Probable: Cody’s Wish (Bill Mott), Great Navigator (Eddie Owens, Jr.)
G2 Gallant Bloom
Probable: Beguine (Edward Allard), Caramel Swirl (Mott), Sterling Silver (Albertrani)
Sunday, October 1
G2 Pilgrim – BC WAYI
Probable: Agate Road (Pletcher), Liam’s Journey (Maker), Spirit Prince (Clement), Tifareeh (Brendan Walsh), Tropandhagen (Dimitrios Synnefias)
G2 Miss Grillo – BC WAYI
Probable: Appellate (Pletcher), Camila T (Juan Carlos Avila), Dancing Spirit (Adam Rice), Dea Matrona (Brown), Gala Brand (Mott), Later Darling (Pletcher), Magic Cross (Mott), Memorialize (Graham Motion), Sierra Sky (Mark Casse)