Kantarmaci on track for another title in Under 20’s Claiming Challenge
by NYRA Press Office
- Kantarmaci on track for another title in Under 20’s Claiming Challenge
- Secret Love earns 72 BSF in Franklin Square score
- Laobanonaprayer looks towards Maddie May and added distance next start
- Minute Waltz will make next start at Fair Grounds on Monday
- Post time changes set for February slate at the Big A
Trainer Mertkan Kantarmaci has won three consecutive titles in NYRA’s “Under 20s Claiming Challenge” and is on track to continue that success during the current winter meet at Aqueduct Racetrack.
The “Under 20s Claiming Challenge,” launched in 2018, is open to local trainers with 20 or fewer horses nationwide. The current challenge launched on December 10, Opening Day of the 56-day winter meet, and will continue through the end of the 11-day Big A spring meet set to run April 1 to April 18.
In the unique contest, trainers earn points based on their horses' performances in winners' claiming races on the main track. Through January 7, the 29-year-old Kantarmaci leads all trainers with 34 points, with Antonio Arriaga and A.C. Avila tied for second with 14 points.
Kantarmaci tied with Eddie Barker for last year’s contest during the Big A’s winter meet after being the standalone winner of the challenge during the 2018-19 winter meet and the 2019 Belmont Park spring/summer meet.
“Every year we always try to get better horses. We always try to level up,” Kantarmaci said. “We’ll watch race replays before we consider claiming a horse so we know what we’re looking at. The Under 20s is a great program because it encourages trainers at this level to make sure they’re always looking for nice horses.”
The Turkish born conditioner, who has 20 horses in his barn on the Belmont backstretch, boasts a consistent 19-4-2-5 record at the winter meet, finishing on the board at a 58 percent clip.
“These kinds of horses all have their own abilities,” Kantarmaci said. “When they are feeing good and happy, they’ll give one hundred percent. The last couple of days our horses have ran their heart out.”
One of the barn’s top performers is Krakow Racing’s Reed Kan, a 6-year-old Kantharos ridgling who led at every point of call to win for a $40,000 tag on January 15 going six furlongs.
Since being claimed in October 2018, Reed Kan has won five of his 11 starts for the Kantarmaci barn, including three of his last four outings.
“Reed Kan is a good example of that heart,” Kantarmaci said. “He ran [fifth] in March and was ready to go until we had the pandemic and couldn’t race. The time off helped him. He came back in June and won at Belmont and then won again in July. I think he’ll run even better when he runs back next time.”
Krakow Racing and America’s Pastime Racing’s Mi Tres Por Ciento gave Kantarmaci his first triumph of the meet for a $62,500 tag in a December 19 optional claiming event going 6 ½ furlongs in his first start for new connections. The Chilean-bred Ocean Terrace chestnut gelding will race back on Monday at the Big A in a six furlong optional claiming event but will not run for a tag this time.
Kantarmaci noted that paying attention to the little details is important when trying to improve his stock.
“He had some problems when I started training him, but it didn’t take long to figure out what he needed,” Kantarmaci said of Mi Tres Por Ciento. “The biggest thing with him was his training. He’s kind of a nervous horse and a bit aggressive in the mornings, so we changed things up so he wasn’t as stressed.”
On Saturday, Kantarmaci visited the Big A winner’s circle with veteran mare Jump for Joy, who commanded a gate-to-wire victory in a first level allowance event going six furlongs over a muddy and sealed main track. The 8-year-old Jump Start mare, who earned a career-best 85 Beyer Speed Figure, has been a model of consistency having finished in the money in eight of her last nine starts since adding blinkers.
“She looks better than two years ago when I first got her,” Kantarmaci said. “We claimed her for $40,000 and she’s never given us a bad start. We just needed to find out what she likes and what she doesn’t like. Every time we try getting to know her a little bit better she gives us a better effort. We just needed to figure out what training is best suited for her and how to space her races out. It’s all about understanding her language.”
Kantarmaci noted her affinity for the wet track, as she boasts a 13-4-5-1 record when contesting over a sloppy going.
“She’ll run over any track but she’s a little better in the slop,” Kantarmaci said. “I like this mare. She’s up there in age and we’ll let her tell us where her next start will be. I think she would be competitive in the next condition.”
Kantarmaci has two runners entered for Monday’s program. In addition to Mi Tres Por Ciento [Race 6, Benjamin Hernandez, 7-2], he also will saddle Dust Devil [Race 2, Kendrick Carmouche, 2-1], haltered last out for $25,000, in a one-turn claiming mile.
Contest Point Structure:
Dirt Races - All claiming races for winners, including horses in for an optional tag:
1st Place - 6 points
2nd Place - 5 points
3rd Place - 4 points
4th Place - 3 points
5th Place - 2 points
The top-eight trainers in the contest will share in a prize pool of $80,000:
1st Place - $16,000
2nd Place - $14,000
3rd Place - $12,000
4th Place - $11,000
5th Place - $9,000
6th Place - $7,000
7th Place - $6,000
8th Place - $5,000
Secret Love earns 72 BSF in Franklin Square score
Nedlaw Stable and Tobey L. Morton’s Secret Love made her stakes debut a winning one with a convincing 1 ½-length score in Saturday’s $100,000 Franklin Square for state-bred sophomore fillies at the Big A.
Trained by John Kimmel, the chestnut daughter of Not This Time stalked the early pace of Rossa Veloce in the 6 ½-furlong tilt over a muddy and sealed main track before taking command into the stretch run and holding off a late bid from two-time stakes winner Laobanonaprayer.
Kimmel said Secret Love, who earned a career-best 72 Beyer, touted herself by besting stablemate Frost Me in a series of works in advance of her stakes debut.
“She was outworking Frost Me every time they worked together and had pretty much put that filly away,” said Kimmel.
Bred by Sequel Stallions NY and Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings, Secret Love was a $270,000 purchase at the 2020 OBS July 2-year-Old Horses of Racing Age Sale.
Whisper Hill Farm's Frost Me, a $175,000 purchase at the 2019 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Preferred New York-bred Sale, earned a 71 Beyer when besting state-bred optional-claiming company at one-mile on January 8 at the Big A.
Kimmel said the 3-year-old daughter of Frosted could make her stakes debut against stablemate Secret Love in the $100,000 Maddie May for state-breds going one mile on February 20 at Aqueduct.
“She won well the other day and we'll point her to the Maddie May against New York-breds,” said Kimmel. “I’d consider putting both fillies in there.”
Out of the Distorted Humor mare Kirov, Frost Me was bred in New York by Gallagher's Stud.
Tobey L. Morton’s Crystalle, who captured the P.G. Johnson in August 2019 at Saratoga, found her way back to the winner’s circle on January 14 at Gulfstream Park when rallying from off the pace for a half-length score in a mile and seven-sixteenths optional claiming turf test.
A 4-year-old daughter of Palace Malice, Crystalle’s promising 2-year-old campaign included a second in the Grade 2 Miss Grillo at Belmont ahead of an off-the-board effort in the Grade 1 Breeders Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf at Santa Anita.
Winless in three starts last season all at 1 1/16-miles, Kimmel said he was happy to see Crystalle click when stretched out for her seasonal debut.
“Longer is better,” said Kimmel. “She doesn't show any early lick but you give her some ground, she'll put that big final kick in even though I don't think she really liked that softer ground.”
Kimmel said he would love to point Crystalle to longer distances stakes events on the turf when she returns to New York.
“I'd like to keep her fresh so she's ready for the spring,” said Kimmel. “I'm sure the longer the stretch run, the better she'll be. Gulfstream is not an easy course to make that kind of move on, especially when they went three quarters in 1:17 and change.”
Chester and Mary Broman’s popular New York homebred Mr. Buff worked a swift half-mile in 48.42 seconds Sunday morning in preparation for Saturday’s nine-furlong $100,000 Jazil.
The 7-year-old Friend Or Foe chestnut has captured the last two editions of the Jazil.
Laobanonaprayer looks towards Maddie May and added distance next start
Laobanonaprayer could capitalize on greater distance in her next start following her runner-up effort to Secret Love in Saturday’s Franklin Square, owner and trainer Daniel Velazquez said.
Speaking on Sunday morning, Velazquez said the sophomore Laoban filly came out of her effort in the 6 ½-furlong Franklin Square against fellow New York 3-year-old fillies in good order. Now, Laobanonaprayer will look to thrive when stretched back out, which led to success with a maiden-breaking victory at third asking in the one-mile Maid of the Mist on October 24 at Belmont Park by 5 ½ lengths and an eight-length victory in the New York Stallion Stakes Series Fifth Avenue going seven furlongs on December 6 at the Big A to conclude her juvenile year.
Velazquez said the $100,000 Maddie May for New York-breds going a one-turn mile on February 20 at Aqueduct remains a possibility.
“The flat mile would be perfect for her,” Velazquez said. “She’s such a big filly but I thought she can handle the 6 ½ furlongs. She ran short one time at Delaware and finished third and the same thing happened that day; by the time she revved the engine, the race was over, and I think that’s what happened yesterday.”
Bred by Christina Deronda, Laobanonaprayer is 2-2-1 in five career starts, amassing more than a quarter-million dollars in earnings. Since Velazquez put blinkers on for the Franklin Square, she won her first two starts and earned a 69 Beyer for the Franklin Square. Her conditioner said he’ll continue to work towards getting her comfortable to run without the additional equipment.
“She’s matured,” Velazquez said. “She’s a big, big filly. Eventually, with the blinkers, I’d like to peel them off, but until then, she’s running with them because she needs to focus. She shies away a little when she sees too much going on in front of her. The blinkers helped when we made the adjustment initially, but we’ll have to peel them back little by little.”
Mark Schwartz’s Brooklyn Strong was slated to run in the Grade 3, $250,000 Withers as he continues on his road to Kentucky Derby. But Velazquez said he is still recovering from illness that will force him to skip the 1 1/8-mile test on February 6 at the Big. The Withers offers 10-4-2-1 qualifying points to the top-four finishers.
“The original plan was to go to the Withers, but he got sick,” Velazquez said. “He missed a bunch of time. Now, we’re letting him come back to us slow, because he lost a lot of weight. There’s no target races set in stone right now. We’re just trying to get enough points to get to the Derby.”
Brooklyn Strong continues to be stabled at Parx, with Velazquez saying his timeline could lend to a next start in Florida in a race offering 50-20-10-5 points, with the Grade 2, $350,000 Fountain of Youth on February 27 at Gulfstream Park or the Grade 2, $400,000 Tampa Bay Derby on March 6 at Tampa Bay Downs a possibility. The Kentucky Derby is scheduled for May 1.
“We’ll look at races like that with the time frame. I don’t think I’ll have him ready by early February. He’ll possibly be ready by late February or early March if all goes well,” Velazquez said. “This game is full of hiccups and this is one of them. He’s coming back to us and putting the weight back on, but we’re letting him do it slow. Even if he misses late January and early February, it’s no big deal because the weather’s been poor up here and it’s tough to train.”
Brooklyn Strong posted a stellar juvenile campaign in which he won three of his four starts with a runner-up finish, capturing his debut on September 12 at Delaware Park and followed a third-place finish in the Bertram F. Bongard on October 2 at Belmont with his first stakes win in the Sleepy Hollow on October 24 over Big Sandy before winning the Grade 2 Remsen over a sloppy and sealed Aqueduct track going 1 1/8 miles on December 5.
Velazquez said he’s confident the extra rest could prove beneficial for the son of Wicked Strong when he next gets in the starting gate.
“My vets and my team think he’s going to come back better,” Velazquez said. “It’s one of those things where something happens for a reason. This horse is a little freaky good. Everyone thinks he’ll be better than before. Time will tell and we just want to bring him back at his pace and not ours. Everyone wants instant satisfaction, but since he’s a gelding, hopefully we can have him around for a long time.”
By Wicked Strong and out of the Medaglia d’Oro mare Riviera Chic, Brooklyn Strong was bred in the Empire State by Cheryl Prudhomme and Dr. Michael Gallivan.
Minute Waltz will make next start at Fair Grounds on Monday
Trainer Philip Bauer said Rigney Racing’s Minute Waltz, who was under consideration for next Sunday’s nine-furlong $100,000 Busanda at the Big A, is going to make her two-turn debut instead on Monday in an optional-claiming tilt at Fair Grounds Race Course.
"She'll run in an allowance race here on Monday," said Bauer. "We flirted with the idea of heading up there but it didn't align for us, so we're going to skip it even thought I think it would be a good spot for her."
A winner at first asking on October 31 in a six-furlong maiden special weight at Churchill Downs, Minute Waltz overcame a troubled start to finish third to subsequent stakes winner Oliviaofthedesert when stretched out to one mile last out on November 28 at the Louisville, Kentucky oval.
"We thought she was a winner turning for home in her last race and she flatted out, but she had a little excuse as she had to rush into it," said Bauer. "The horse that beat her came back and won a stakes, so she kept good company and is training well going into this so hopefully she'll continue to march forward."
Purchased for $425,000 at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale, Minute Waltz is by Nyquist and out of the Yes It’s True mare Is It Safe, who is a half-sister to Grade 1-winners Justin Phillip and Greenpointcrusader.
The 48th running of the Busanda, a nine-furlong test for sophomore fillies offering 10-4-2-1 Kentucky Oaks qualifying points, is slated for Sunday, January 24.
Post time changes set for February slate at the Big A
The Aqueduct winter meet will see a change in post times for live race days February 1-15, with eight-race cards now featuring a first post of 1:20 p.m. Eastern. Nine-race cards, encompassing weekend slates, will have a 1 p.m. first post. The last race of each day will be 4:55 p.m.
There are a total of eight racing days scheduled for this stretch, starting on Thursday, February 4 and running through Sunday, February 7. Live racing then resumes Friday, February 12 and goes through a special Presidents Day holiday card on Monday, February 15.
Among the stakes during that sequence will be the Grade 3, $250,000 Withers, a Kentucky Derby prep race for sophomores offering 10-4-2-1 qualifying points, on February 6. The $100,000 Ruthless for 3-year-old fillies is the lone stakes on February 7. A pair of stakes for New York-breds is set for February 13-14, as the $100,000 Broadway for older fillies and mares will be run on that Saturday and the $100,000 Gander for sophomores will be the Sunday feature. The Presidents Day card will also see New York breds compete, with 4-year-olds and up going six furlongs in the $100,000 Hollie Hughes.
From February 16-28, Aqueduct’s eight-race cards will also have a 1:20 p.m. first post and a 4:55 p.m. final post. Nine-race cards will also have the same first post, but the concluding race will have a 5:20 p.m. post time. Both weeks in this stretch will offer four days of living racing, Thursday through Sunday.
A pair of stakes will be run during this stretch, including the $100,000 Maddie May for state-bred 4-years-old and up on February 20 and the $125,000 Stymie for 4-year-olds and up in open company on February 27.