Saddle Up Jessie in fine form for $150K Heavenly Prize Inv.
Stakes Advance
Feb 7, 2024
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Saddle Up Jessie in fine form for $150K Heavenly Prize Inv.

by Mary Eddy

Michael J. Ryan’s stakes-winner Saddle Up Jessie brings consistent recent form to Saturday’s competitive renewal of the Listed $150,000 Heavenly Prize Invitational, a one-turn mile for older fillies and mares, at Aqueduct Racetrack.

Trained by Brittany Russell, the 5-year-old More Than Ready dark bay enters from a game runner-up performance on January 6 in the local nine-furlong Ladies won by Comparative, who exited that effort to win the Grade 3 Bayakoa at Oaklawn Park.

Ridden by Sheldon Russell, Saddle Up Jessie stalked in third through the early stages before pouncing into contention at the three-quarters call to take a head advantage. She stayed on gamely down the lane, but could not stave off the Manny Franco-piloted Comparative, who battled back along the rail to post a neck win in a final time of 1:55.83. Saddle Up Jessie earned a career-high 88 Beyer Speed Figure for the effort.

"When he [Russell] cruised up to Manny at the quarter-pole, he should have gone on and opened up a couple lengths and let Manny try and run you down,” Ryan said. “Manny knew what his filly was capable of doing - she's a tough, consistent never-quit filly - but I truly felt we should have won that race. The way she cruised up there, we should have put the race to bed at the quarter-pole instead of waiting. I was very proud of her effort.”

Saddle Up Jessie has proven a solid claim for her connections, who haltered her for $20,000 out of a fourth-place effort last January at Santa Anita Park. Since then, she has won or finished second in 6-of-7 outings, including a 17 1/2-length romp first time out for her current connections in a 1 1/16-mile off-the-turf waiver maiden claiming route in June at Delaware Park.

“Her PPs were terrible but I believed she was better than what her race record read," said Ryan. "Brittany has done a fantastic job with the filly and she's run some good numbers on the Ragozin. She's a pretty solid filly.”

Ryan added Saddle Up Jessie, who began her career on turf in California, has reached her full potential on dirt after making just one start on turf for Russell when fourth in a September starter optional claimer at Delaware.

“She was entered to run on the grass twice and both of those races came off and she won impressively," said Ryan. "Brittany said the grass race wasn't a bad race but she was stuck down inside. Since then, we've just stayed with the dirt because she's run good races and she's definitely a better dirt filly.”

Saddle Up Jessie passed her first test against winners by a neck in a July allowance at Delaware ahead of a runner-up effort and another win at the optional claiming level this fall at Laurel Park before making her stakes debut in the nine-furlong Carousel on December 23 at the Maryland oval.

In the Carousel, Saddle Up Jessie stalked a half-length off the pace set by Peyton Elizabeth through the first quarter-mile before easing back two lengths down the backstretch. Saddle Up Jessie was given her cue by Jevian Toledo heading into the final turn before kicking clear to a 3 1/2-length advantage at the stretch call, and extended her margin to 4 3/4-lengths at the wire. Lady Brew, who she’ll face again in the Heavenly Prize, finished third nine lengths back.

Saddle Up Jessie is a half-sister to King's Gamble, an Irish-bred sophomore son of Kingman who won on debut and finished third in the Group 2 Gimcrack in August at York. Both horses are out of the Ryan-campaigned Bernardini mare Zondaq, a half-sister to graded stakes-winners Discreet Dancer and Travelin Man, and graded stakes-placed Sweet N Discreet.

Saddle Up Jessie initially sold for $270,000 at the 2020 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky Fall Yearling Sale. She was a $300,000 RNA in January at the Keeneland Horses of All Ages sale. She boasts a lifetime record of 13-4-2-0 with total purse earnings of $181,980.

Manny Franco has the call from post 7.

Joe DeMarinis’ stakes-placed Lady Brew will make her second appearance outside of Woodbine Racetrack on the heels of her third-place effort in the Carousel.

Trained by Steve Chircop, the 5-year-old Point of Entry bay made her dirt debut in the Carousel where she rated 2 1/2 lengths off the pace down the backstretch in rein to returning pilot Julio Hernandez [post 4]. She was shuffled back to fourth after a half-mile in 50.98 and three-quarters in 1:16.08 and kept on evenly through the final stages to settle for third nine lengths back of Saddle Up Jessie.

Chircop said he has been encouraged by Lady Brew’s works on the dirt at Penn National Race Course since the effort, which included a half-mile in 48.90 seconds Friday.

“We tried the race in Maryland and she's an off-the-pace horse and there was absolutely no pace in the race which hurt," Chircop said. "She got impeded with a little bit down the stretch. Now I've had more time with her on the dirt and her last two works have been phenomenal. She's a good work horse, but the dirt works were very, very good."

Lady Brew will look to replicate on dirt the form she showed on synthetic and turf last year at Woodbine. There, she hit the board in 9-of-10 outings at distances ranging from seven furlongs to 1 1/4 miles, the latter the distance of her lone off-the-board effort on the year when finishing 10th after a wide trip from the outermost post 12 in the Grade 3 Maple Leaf in November. Her 4-year-old campaign included back-to-back victories in optional claiming company in a one-mile turf route and a 1 1/16-mile contest over the synthetic in September and October, respectively.

The $22,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sale purchase is a half-sister to stakes-winner Shamans Girl. Her dam, the Milwaukee Brew mare Ginger Brew, was named Canada's Champion 3-Year-Old Filly of 2008. Ginger Brew is a half-sister to multiple graded stakes-winner Bourbon Bay.

Trainer Linda Rice will saddle two contenders in five-time winner Movie Moxy [post 6, Jose Lezcano] and dual winner Portage [post 3, Kendrick Carmouche].

Movie Moxy, co-owned by Rice with Marequest, enters from an even fourth-place effort to multiple stakes-winning stablemate Hot Fudge in a local one-mile optional claimer on December 1 in her first start off a nearly five-month respite. The 7-year-old Street Sense bay makes her third start in stakes company, her first two efforts distant sixth-place finishes in the 2022 Pumpkin Pie and Willa On the Move when in the care of conditioner George Weaver.

Rice claimed Move Moxy for $25,000 out of a runner-up effort last January and has seen strong returns as the mare has hit the board in 5-of-8 starts since, including allowance-level wins in May and June at Belmont Park. The latter victory saw her score by 1 3/4 lengths over graded stakes-winner Gerrymander with multiple graded stakes-placed Venti Valentine finishing third. She earned a field-best 93 Beyer in victory.

Robert Evans’ Kentucky homebred Portage makes her stakes debut off a rallying third-place finish in a local six-furlong sprint on Sunday at the Big A. The 5-year-old daughter of Tonalist brushed the gate at the start and closed from 10 lengths off the pace to steadily make up ground in the stretch and settle for show honors 4 1/2 lengths back of the favored Leeloo.

Portage has shown consistency since moving to the Rice barn this summer and has hit the board in each of her five outings since, including a fourth-out graduation sprinting seven furlongs in July at Saratoga Race Course and a one-mile optional claiming score in October at Belmont at the Big A.

AP Stable’s New York-bred stakes-winner Cairo Sugar [post 1, Isaac Castillo] seeks her first victory since moving to the barn of Jorge Abreu in October. The 4-year-old Cairo Prince dark bay won the state-bred Maddie May one year ago when in the care of conditioner Alan Bedard ahead of an open-company stakes placing with a third in the Beyond the Wire at Laurel Park. Four starts later, she won the first of back-to-back optional claiming victories in July at Parx Racing and in October Delaware before moving to Abreu.

Cairo Sugar was last seen finishing third in the state-bred Bay Ridge on December 28 over muddy and sealed footing, her best finish in three outings for Abreu. Bred by Kaz Hill Farm, she has banked $222,342 through a record of 15-4-2-4.

Completing the field are the stakes-placed Pretti Xtreme [post 2, Madison Olver], who makes her first start off the claim for trainer Oscar Barrera, III; stakes-placed Into Happiness [post 5, Trevor McCarthy] for trainer Mark Hennig; and two-time winner Spiked [post 8, Jose Gomez], who returns off a nearly 10-month layoff for conditioner John Terranova.

The Heavenly Prize is slated as Race 9 on Saturday’s 10-race program. First post is 11:50 a.m. Eastern.

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