New York-bred stars shine on Empire Showcase Day presented by the Fund
By NYRA Press Office | 10/15/2013 02:58 PM ET
Dozens of the fastest New York-breds will convene on Saturday for seven stakes worth $1.25 million on Empire Showcase Day presented by the Fund, Belmont Park's annual fall celebration of the best of New York.
The centerpiece of the card, which offers 11 races restricted to horses bred in New York, is the 37th running of the $250,000 Empire Classic. Hoping to avenge his defeat in last year's edition is Saratoga Snacks, who will face seven others, including the streaking Readtheprospectus, in the 1 1/8-mile race.
Other state-bred standouts on the day include the undefeated filly sensation Cluster of Stars, who heads the field for the $150,000 Iroquois, multiple graded stakes winner Notacatbutallama, taking on 11 others in the $200,000 Mohawk on the turf, and Grade 2 Sanford winner Wired Bryan, looking to replicate his eye-catching 7 ¼-length debut at Belmont in June in the $150,000 Bertram F. Bongard for 2-year-olds.
In addition to spectacular racing, the day features a Fall Festival, complete with hay rides, pumpkin carving, and face painting for the kids along with live music on the backyard stage and a number of "Best of New York" vendors.
First race post time is 12:20 p.m.A $300,000 Guaranteed All-Stakes Late Pick 4 will begin with race 8.
Owned by former NFL coach and Hall of Famer Bill Parcells' August Dawn Stable, Saratoga Snacks will be making his third start of the year in the Empire Classic, in which he finished second by 1 ¼ lengths to Lunar Victory in 2012. The Tale of the Cat colt returned to close out his 3-year-old campaign with a front-running victory in the Alex M. Robb in December at Aqueduct Racetrack, and this year came off a five-month layoff to earn a career-best 105 Beyer Speed Figure in winning the Shy Groom on June 30, followed a month later by a third-place finish as the favorite in the John Morrissey at Saratoga Race Course.
Sciacca also had the six-furlong Hudson under consideration for Saratoga Snacks, but in the end opted for the Classic, in which he is the 5-2 second choice on the morning line.
"I was talking with Bill, and he asked me, 'Is he training just as good, worse, better than he was last year as a 3-year-old heading into the race?'" said Sciacca. "I said, 'Bill, he's probably training better.'"
Saratoga Snacks will tote 122 pounds, including jockey Joel Rosario, when he leaves from post position 7.
"I like the post," said Sciacca. "He can just sit right off of them and go at his own pace. I hope it works out great."
Readtheprospectus, the 2-1 morning-line favorite, has not set a foot wrong for trainer Chad Brown since breaking his maiden over a yielding turf course on Showcase Day last year. He has since reeled off six more victories, including the Commentator Handicap in June and the Spite the Devil overnight stakes on September 19, both at Belmont.
"He's put a nice streak together for us and we hope he's got another one in him," said Brown, who trains the Read the Footnotes gelding for Klaravich Stables and William Lawrence. "By the looks of it, he's training well. I think he'll be fine at 1 1/8 miles, plus he has the prep race [on September 19] under his belt."
In contrast to his earlier victories, which were on or close to the pace, Readtheprospectus displayed a new dimension in the Spite the Devil, coming from sixth and last to take the lead in deep stretch and win by a half-length.
"He can adjust to the pace very, very well," said Brown. "We'll just do more of the same with him, telling the jockey to put the horse wherever he is comfortable."
The high weight under 124 pounds, Readtheprospectus drew post position 8 and will be ridden by Junior Alvarado.
The race also drew 2013 Evan Shipman winner Bigger is Bettor, most recently fifth in the Spite the Devil; Spa City Fever, second in the Spite the Devil; mid-Atlantic shipper WarrioroftheRoses; Awesome Vision, winner of the Saratoga Sunrise overnight stakes in August; Zetterholm, who came off a 10-month layoff to finish fifth in the Saratoga Sunrise, and Finger Lakes invader Moneyinyourpocket, making his stakes debut.
The $200,000 Mohawk, a 1 1/16-mile turf race for 3-year-olds and up, attracted the top three finishers from the Ashley T. Cole - Kharafa, Lubash, and Hear the Footsteps - as well as King Kreesa, who will be making his first start against New York-breds since winning the Kingston in June at Belmont, and Notacatbutallama, whose connections won't make a final decision on whether he'll run until closer to Saturday.
In the Ashley T. Cole on September 15 at Belmont, Kharafa set the pace and dug in to hold off 2013 Grade 3 Fort Marcy winner Lubash by a head and post his first stakes victory. It was a half-length back to Hear the Footsteps in third.
"He's at his best stalking," said trainer Timothy Hills, who trains Kharafa for the estate of Lawrence Durocher, Jr. "In New York the stretches are so long, and it seems like almost every pacesetter gets passed in the stretch. In the Ashley T. Cole, you couldn't find any other speed in the race even if you used your imagination, so he ended up on the lead and was given a brilliant ride by [Javier] Castellano. King Kreesa is in this field, so this time we'll definitely have a target to follow."
Kharafa, 7-2, will leave from post 10 with Castellano in the irons.
After capturing the Kingston, King Kreesa became a graded stakes winner when he took the Grade 3 Poker in July at Belmont. He followed that performance with a second to reigning Horse of the Year Wise Dan in the Grade 2 Fourstardave Handicap in August at Saratoga and will be cutting back in distance on Saturday after finishing a distant seventh in the Grade 1, 1 ½-mile Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational on September 28 at Belmont.
Irad Ortiz, Jr. will guide King Kreesa, the 5-2 morning-line favorite, from post 8.
Another horse who brings graded stakes form into the race is Notacatbutallama, whose five stakes wins include triumphs in the Grade 3 Hill Prince at Belmont and the Grade 3 National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame in August. In his two most recent starts, he was second in Saratoga's Grade 3 Saranac in September and fourth in Belmont's Grade 1 Jamaica Handicap on October 5.
Because there are only two weeks between the Jamaica and the Mohawk, trainer Todd Pletcher said he and owner Mike Repole will assess how Notacatbutallama trains during the next few days before making a final decision about whether the 3-year-old will compete on Saturday.
"It's back on short rest, but we have a five-day entry so we can watch him train a few days," said Pletcher of Notacatbutallama, 6-1 on the morning line. "We like what we are seeing so far. He's a pretty hardy horse and he bounces back pretty quickly, so if he continues to show us good energy then we'll probably run."
Hall of Famer John Velazquez has the call aboard Notacatbutallama from post 11.
Patsy C. Symons Effie Trinket, a 3-year-old, will attempt to win her second stakes against her elders when she competes in the $200,000 Ticonderoga, a 1 1/16-mile turf race for fillies and mares.
In July, Effie Trinket took the Diamondrella overnight stakes at Belmont, then was second in the restricted Auntie Mame in August at Saratoga. Both races were open to all 3-year-old fillies. She took on New York-bred fillies and mares in her most recent start, surging late to win the John Hettinger by a neck on September 15 at Belmont.
After the Hettinger, trainer Rick Violette decided to run Effie Trinket in the Ticonderoga instead of the listed Pebbles for 3-year-old fillies on October 14.
"The Pebbles was an intriguing spot," said Violette. "There are a lot of stakes winners in it. There was a Grade 1 winner (Discreet Marq) in it. In the Ticonderoga I actually have to give older horses weight, which I wasn't really happy about. We're spotting most of them three points. It was kind of 'pick your poison.' She has already beaten most of those fillies [entered in the Ticonderoga]. She's doing terrific, and I hope it's the same result as last time. You can do anything with her. She can be on the lead if there is no pace. She can be covered up. She can press. There is nothing she can't do."
Luis Saez will ride Effie Trinket, 3-1, from the rail.
Cluster of Stars
Unbeaten Cluster of Stars is the formidable 2-5 favorite for the $150,000 Iroquois, a seven-furlong dash for fillies and mares that also drew Willet, who won last year's edition.
Cluster of Stars, a speedy frontrunner trained by Steve Asmussen for Turtle Bird Stable, soundly defeated Grade 1 winner Dance to Bristol by five lengths in the Grade 2 Gallant Bloom Handicap on September 21 at Belmont. It was Cluster of Stars' first start since her triumph in the Grade 2 Distaff Handicap in April at Aqueduct Racetrack. Cluster of Stars, who has six wins in as many starts, has never raced beyond the Gallant Bloom's 6 ½-furlong distance.
Javier Castellano has the riding assignment aboard Cluster of Stars from post 5.
Willet, who annexed the 2012 Iroquois by 9 ¼ lengths, also brings stakes-winning form into the Hudson, having taken the Union Avenue presented by Northeastern Fine Jewelry and BALL Watch Company by 1 ¾ lengths in August at Saratoga Race Course and the Princess Dixie overnight stakes by a half-length on September 27 at Belmont. Trainer Jimmy Iselin, however, knows Willet has a tall task ahead of her on Saturday.
"[Beating Cluster of Stars is] improbable," said Iselin, who owns Willet in partnership with Charlotte Assoulin. "We'll just have to try our best and make a run at the end. Willet is a wonderful horse, but now we're running in a 'Grade 1' edition of the Iroquois. There's one thing we can say: we are the defending Iroquois winner."
Willet, 7-2, will depart from post 6 with Joel Rosario aboard.
Male sprinters will travel six furlongs in the $150,000 Hudson, in which last year's winner Mine Over Matter will face his stablemate B Shanny and Chowder's First overnight stakes victor Palace.
Mine Over Matter
Late-running Mine Over Matter has posted a record of 1-3-2 in eight starts since last year's Hudson, with his victory coming in the Corma Ray overnight stakes in May at Belmont. Following the Corma Ray, the Chester and Mary Broman homebred was third in the Affirmed Success Handicap and second in the Shy Groom overnight stakes in June at Belmont, then was runner-up in the John Morrissey on August 1 at Saratoga.
"He runs great every time he goes over there," said trainer Mike Hushion of Mine Over Matter. "He just needs to be in the right place at the right time. He's certainly not a lot better than his competition, but he's as good as them, so if he gets the perfect trip and the good set up, why not? I've been looking to give him a break along the way, but he just continues to look great and train great. Big and round and shiny - just how we like them."
Mine Over Matter, 2-1, drew post 3 and will be ridden by Jose Lezcano.
In his most recent start, B Shanny captured the Leon Reed Memorial Handicap by 4 ½ lengths on August 17 at Finger Lakes Racetrack.
"We were hoping [the Leon Reed would] be a soft spot and that he'd handle the track and the shipping, and he took care of business," said Hushion.
B Shanny, 5-1, will have the services of Irad Ortiz, Jr. from post 5.
Palace, trained by Linda Rice for Antonino Miuccio, defeated another Hushion runner, Grade 1 winner The Lumber Guy, when he won the Chowder's First by three lengths on August 23 at Saratoga. It was the second win in five starts on the year for the 4-year-old son of City Zip.
"He had been so good last winter, and then he bled through Lasix and I turned him out for a few months," said Rice. "He's still a stallion and he kind of gained a lot of weight. I left him as a colt, but I was questioning my judgment because he had become a little heavy and I wasn't getting him back to his best form as quickly as I thought I would. We finally got him going the right direction recently. We put him in a few turf races just because I didn't have a better option, but I think he's slightly better on the dirt. He also seems to sit off horses and make a run at the end of it, and in the [Chowder's First] at Saratoga it obviously set up that way."
Cornelio Velasquez will ride Palace, 3-1, form the rail.
Rice also will have a pair of runners in the afternoon's first stakes event, the $150,000 Joseph A. Gimma for fillies, which will be run as race 2 with Court Dancer the even-money favorite off a fourth-place finish in the Grade 2 Matron on September 29.
Miss Narcissist, 4-1, enters the seven-furlong race off a front-running, 2 ½-length maiden score on August 28 at Saratoga, while Champagne Ruby, formerly trained by Rice's brother Wayne, took the Shesastonecoldfox Stakes on September 28 at Finger Lakes in her first start on dirt.
"It's not ideal to go from 5 ½ to seven eighths with a horse who is a little rank and unratable, but we have been giving her nice, slow workouts, and I think she's going to put in a good race," said Rice of Miss Narcissist, who acted up behind the gate in her debut on August 8 and finished fifth.
She drew post 7 with Junior Alvarado in the irons.
Champagne Ruby, owned by Rice's father, Clyde, broke her maiden at Presque Isle Downs in May and returned three months later to finish sixth in a second-level allowance at the same venue. In the Shesastonecoldfox, the Utopia filly sat off the early pace and then came wide to win by a length.
Cornelio Velasquez rides Champagne Ruby, 5-1 on the morning line, from post position 4.
Immediately following the Joseph A. Gimma is the Bertram F. Bongard, also at seven furlongs.
Topping the field of eight as the 6-5 morning-line favorite is Wired Bryan, who in three appearances at Saratoga won the Grade 2 Sanford by 5 ¼ lengths, was nosed out by Corfu at the wire in the Grade 2 Saratoga Special and then finished fifth over a muddy, sealed track in the Grade 1 Hopeful.
Most recently, the Stormy Atlantic colt was a wire-to-wire victor in the New York Breeders' Futurity at Finger Lakes, winning by seven lengths and earning a career-best 93 Beyer Speed Figure.
"It was a fairly emphatic victory," said Michael Dilger, who trains Wired Bryan for Anstu Stables. "I don't think we ever lost faith in him; in the Hopeful, I think he came up against a drying-out track he didn't like. Of those who showed early speed, he was the only one who hung around at the end. He's doing great and we're excited to run him on Saturday."
Hall of Famer John Velazquez will ride Wired Bryan from post position 8.
Click to view entries for Saturday, October 19