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Belmont Park Notes - October 20, 2013

By NYRA Press Office | 10/20/2013 03:16 PM ET
Gary Sciacca
PHOTO/Adam Coglianese

  • Sciacca still on Cloud 9 after Saratoga Snacks' Empire Classic victory; Cigar Mile could be next
  • Cluster of Stars could compete again in 2013, but not in the Breeders' Cup
  • My Miss Aurelia to debut for Pletcher in Thursday's Punkin Pie; Princess of Sylmar confirmed for Breeders' Cup Distaff following Saturday breeze; Palace Malice, Graydar & Havana post Sunday breezes


Trainer Gary Sciacca was still beaming with pride on Sunday morning after having successfully coached Saratoga Snacks from off the bench onto a three-quarter-length victory in the $250,000 Empire Classic at Belmont Park.

"We made the right decision going long," said Sciacca, who along with Saratoga Snacks' owner, NFL Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells, debated whether to run in the 1 1/8-mile Classic or the six-furlong Hudson Handicap on Empire Showcase Day presented by The Fund. "When I spoke with Bill, it was, 'Do we go long? Short?' It was a toss-up. He was dead-fit for the three-quarter race. He's a big horse, the question was, would he get up in time? In his last race [the John Morrissey], he was the best, but with the trouble, he was too big to overcome it. Yesterday, I didn't know they were going to go three quarters in 1:10, and he was engaging at that point. He's a fighter. He's an athlete. Bill says he's like getting a Lawrence Taylor."

Sciacca spoke glowingly of the experience of training for Parcells.

"It was a real team effort getting this horse ready to run, and having a guy like Bill, who was so understanding, was part of it," said Sciacca, who got to know Parcells through New York Giants Hall of Famer Sam Huff, also an owner. "Training for Bill, it's like training for him and the 10,000 people who are watching him. It's a thrill. We talk every day, maybe two or three times. He's in my corner. He showed me that when he took me to the Hall of Fame [induction ceremony]. They had a party for the seven inductees and their families, and I got to sit with them. He's got some following. Some people don't like him, some people love him, but they all respect him. Now with a horse, a different aspect of his life, they're all on top of it. They're all watching it. He said he got text after text after text last night. When they're winning, it's always great."

While Parcells was in Florida and unable to personally share in the victory, the trainer was able to celebrate in Manhattan with another of Saratoga Snacks' fans, celebrity chef Bobby Flay.

"Bobby wanted to watch the race at home before he had to go host the 'Tacos and Tequila' event [at the New York City Wine and Food Festival]," said Sciacca. "In fact, the first text I got after the race was from Bobby: 'Awesome!' But after having such a great day at the races, the traffic coming into the city at 8 p.m. destroyed me. I was going nuts. I left the car by a hydrant by where the ships come in. My wife said, 'They might take it' and I said, 'If they do, we'll get it out of the pound later.' We finally got there at 9 p.m. and had a quick couple of tacos and then Bobby had a limousine take us to this famous Chinese restaurant. At one o'clock, they were still partying and I said, 'The guy with the car, can he take me to my car? I have to get up in the morning.' Luckily, when we got there, the car was still there."

When Sciacca arrived at the barn, he said Saratoga Snacks was bright-eyed and full of energy after his first race in 2 ½ months. By 11 a.m., the ridgling had his head deep in his feed tub.

"Joel [Rosario] said at the eighth pole, when he saw the other horse coming, he could feel him getting ready for the challenge and there was no way another horse was going to get by him," said Sciacca. "We'll see what's happening before we decide what's next for him. We may give him the winter off; maybe run him once or twice more. The Cigar Mile [Grade 1, November 30, Aqueduct Racetrack] is an option. He'll let us know."


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Cluster of Stars, who remained unbeaten in seven starts when she won Saturday's Iroquois by 3 ¼ lengths, could compete again in 2013 but is not being considered for the Breeders' Cup, according to Toby Sheets, who oversees Steve Asmussen's string at Belmont Park.

"She came out of the race in very good shape," reported Sheets on Sunday. "I thought she ran great. [Owner Harvey Weinstein and I] will not make any decisions until next Tuesday. There are a couple of different spots; we just haven't decided what we're doing. I don't exactly know where we are headed."

In the Iroquois, Cluster of Stars took her customary spot at the front and was never challenged by the runner-up, last year's winner Willet. After the race, Willet's trainer Jimmy Iselin hugged Sheets and later offered his congratulations via telephone.

"He's just a gentleman," said Sheets of Iselin. "He called me after the last race and congratulated me and said, 'What a great job you've done with the filly.' He's just a really nice guy."


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Champion My Miss Aurelia will return from a seven-month layoff on Thursday when she competes in the $100,000 Punkin Pie overnight stakes, a seven-furlong race for fillies and mares who haven't won a stakes in 2013.

My Miss Aurelia, the 2011 Champion Two-Year-Old Filly, will be making her first start for trainer Todd Pletcher in the Punkin Pie. She has raced once in 2013, finishing third in the Grade 3 Azeri in March at Oaklawn Park.

"We were just looking for somewhere for her to bring her back off a long layoff," said Pletcher. "We can see where she is in her training. She's indicated to us that she has trained very well and is ready to get started again. We're trying to get back on track and see where she is in terms of future races."

Pletcher said a strong performance on Thursday could propel My Miss Aurelia to the Grade 2, $300,000 Go for Wand Handicap on November 29 at Aqueduct Racetrack.

My Miss Aurelia began her career with Steve Asmussen, winning her first six starts, including Grade 1 scores in the 2011 Frizette, 2011 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, and 2012 Cotillion. She was second to Royal Delta a year ago in the Breeders' Cup Distaff and was third in the Grade 1 La Brea in December at Santa Anita in her two starts prior to the Azeri.

Yesterday, Pletcher and Ed Stanco of King of Prussia Stable confirmed Princess of Sylmar for this year's Distaff after the 3-year-old breezed four furlongs on Belmont's training track in 48.86 seconds. The 2013 Breeders' Cup will be held November 1 and 2 at Santa Anita Park.

"She breezed very well, as we've become accustomed to," said Pletcher. "She came out of it in good order, so all systems are 'go.'"

Princess of Sylmar has won four straight Grade 1 races: the Kentucky Oaks, the TVG Coaching Club American Oaks, the Alabama, and the Beldame Invitational.

"She kept doing so well and running so well," said Pletcher of the decision to send Princess of Sylmar to the Breeders' Cup. "She was able to win the Beldame. I think one of Ed's concerns early in the year was running her as a 3-year-old against older mares in California. When she beat Royal Delta, I think that eased some of his concerns."

On Sunday, Dogwood Stable's Palace Malice (five furlongs in 1:00.09), Twin Creek Racing Stables' Graydar (five furlongs in 1:01.67), and Michael Tabor, John Magnier, and Derrick Smith's Havana (four furlongs in 49.10) turned in their penultimate Breeders' Cup works over the training track. Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice and Kelso Handicap victor Graydar are targeting the Classic, while Champagne hero Havana is on target for the Juvenile.

"Havana was very straightforward with an excellent gallop out," said Pletcher. "I was pleased with what we saw. Palace Malice was his standard, very-good self. He seems to be maintaining his form. Graydar also was good and galloped out well, so he's had two of the three breezes we were looking for to go to the Classic."

Other notable horses on Sunday's worktab were Honor Code (four furlongs in 52.66),Orb (four furlongs in 50.66), Point of Entry (five furlongs in 1:02.02, turf), Big Blue Kitten (five furlongs in 1:02.55, turf), Real Solution (five furlongs in 1:02.55, turf),Kitten Kaboodle (four furlongs in 48.25, turf), and Testa Rossi (four furlongs in 49.25 seconds, turf).

Pletcher added that his horses who are competing in the Friday Breeders' Cup races will fly to California on October 28 and his Saturday horses will depart on October 29.

The trainer also expressed satisfaction with Notacatbutallama's third-place finish in Saturday's Mohawk for New York-bred turf horses. The Mohawk was the first start against older horses for the 3-year-old owned by Mike Repole.

"He was unfortunate to miss the break," said Pletcher. "Our goal was to come away in a stalking position. Unfortunately, he came away last. He tried to save some ground and encountered some traffic, and I thought he did extremely well to get up for third."