by Keith McCalmont
OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Trainer Linda Rice secured her 2,000th career win when Alpha Delta Stables homebred Scilly Cay rolled to victory in Sunday's $100,000 Rego Park at Aqueduct Racetrack.
Rice, who leads all trainers at the Big A Winter meet with 23 wins, joined Kim Hammond (2,280) and Kathleen O'Connell (2,127) as the only female trainers in the 2,000-win club.
Rice said she was thrilled to reach the milestone.
"It's exciting. These milestones are very meaningful," said Rice. "I remember getting my thousandth win at Belmont with a horse that my father owned, so to have one here at Aqueduct for Jon Clay of Alpha Delta, who is one of my great clients, is very exciting and rewarding."
Scilly Cay, piloted by Jose Lezcano, arrived at the 6 ½-furlong test for New York-bred sophomores from a rallying second in the Notebook when 1 ¼-lengths in arrears of Rego Park rival Dream Bigger.
Dream Bigger, the 1-2 mutuel favorite on the back of wins in the New York Breeders' Futurity, Notebook and a nose defeat last out in the $500,000 NYSSS Great White Way, marked the opening quarter-mile in 22.45 on the main track rated fast.
Scilly Cay pressed the early pace from second through a half-mile in 45.94 with Notorious Flirt and Harris Bay, who broke a step slow, chasing their early foot. Scilly Cay accelerated into the lead late in the turn and opened up by 3 ½-lengths at the stretch call as Harris Bay was asked for his best run by Junior Alvarado. Harris Bay rallied stubbornly down the lane to overtake Dream Bigger but there was no reeling in Scilly Cay who scored by 2 ½-lengths in a final time of 1:19 flat.
Harris Bay completed the exacta a half-length the better of Dream Bigger, who was a neck in front of Notorious Flirt. Convict was scratched.
Rice said a more prominent trip was the key to turning the tables on Dream Bigger.
"When it scratched down to four and there was one speed in the race, I knew we were going to be in trouble if we tried the same tactics that we did in the past," said Rice. "Jose and I talked and he said the same thing. Jose did a very beautiful job."
Lezcano said he was impressed by Scilly Cay's hard-fought effort to put away the favorite and secure the milestone victory for Rice.
"I think it was a two-horse race. I broke running and the four [Dream Bigger] also broke running and my horse gave me a very good race," said Lezcano. "He put me in a good position today and was in the bridle the whole way. When I asked him, he really picked it up and put them away."
Scilly Cay, a winner at second asking on October 24 at Belmont Park, banked $55,000 in victory while improving his record to 2-1-1 from four starts. He returned $5.60 for a $2 win ticket.
Lezcano, who guided the Rice-trained Voodoo Song to a famous neck score in the 2018 Grade 1 Fourstardave at Saratoga, was full of praise for the veteran conditioner.
"She's a very good trainer. Being a trainer is not easy and she does a tremendous job," said Lezcano. "Honestly, I don't see anyone else out there doing what she's doing. She has won several meets on the toughest circuit and I'm always grateful of the opportunities she's given me to ride her horses."
Rice took out her trainer's license in 1987 and won her first race that year with Contraboss at the defunct Garden State Park in New Jersey. She has enjoyed great success on the NYRA circuit, including four titles at Aqueduct (2011 Spring, 2012 Spring, 2017 Spring and 2019 Winter) as well as a title during Belmont Park's 2011 spring/summer meet where she tied with Todd Pletcher with 25 triumphs apiece. In 2009, she became the first female trainer to win a training title in New York when leading the Saratoga Race Course meet with 20 wins
A third generation trainer, Rice worked for her late father Clyde before going out on her own. She went on to score her 1,000th career victory with Sextant, a horse owned by her father.
The veteran conditioner voiced her appreciation for the history of the sport and the satisfaction of having won at its highest levels.
"I look at the pictures on the wall and see all the pictures in the archives from 1976 and it doesn't look like things have changed that much. People are still winning, riders are still trying to make weight," said Rice. "I see pictures of the track and I try to imagine 30 years ago, when I was in school, that they were doing the same thing here. It's exciting to have gotten to New York and to have been so successful in this arena."
Rice has found plenty of success at graded stakes caliber having won 44 graded stakes races, including four with 2015 Champion Female Sprinter La Verdad. Additionally, she has campaigned Grade 1 winners Things Change, Tenski, Lucifer's Stone, Palace, Princess Violet, Voodoo Song and eventual champion-producing sire City Zip.
Rice enjoyed her most successful year in terms of earnings in 2019 when she banked $7,258,064 from 145 trips to the winners circle in 660 starts.
Live racing returns on Friday at the Big A with an eight-race card. First post is 12:50 p.m. Eastern.