Empire Classic highlights annual Empire Showcase Day
by NYRA Press Office
A total of 96 New York-breds are entered for a special 11-race card on Saturday at Belmont Park to celebrate the best of New York for the annual Empire Showcase Day, featuring eight stakes races worth $1.75 million, topped by the $300,000 Empire Classic at 1 1/8 miles.
Defending champion Pat On the Back leads a field of five in the 44th running of the Empire Classic, looking to become the first back-to-back winner since Spite the Devil in 2004-05.
Trained by Jeremiah Englehart for owners Harold Lerner, AWC Stables and Nehoc Stables, the 5-year-old Congrats chestnut, bred by Sugar Maple Farm, gained millionaire and graded stakes-winner status last out with a half-length score in the Grade 2 Kelso Handicap.
Pat On the Back, who boasts a record of 6-3-2 from 11 starts on Big Sandy, had won seven stakes against fellow New York-breds heading into the Kelso, where he prevailed to make the grade in his 26th career start.
Dylan Davis retains the mount from post 3.
Standing in the way of a repeat victory in the Empire Classic is the formidable presence of Chester and Mary Broman's Mr. Buff. Trained by John Kimmel, the Friend Or Foe chestnut stands at 17.2 hands and has utilized his leggy frame to a record of 10-6-4 from 31 starts.
Mr. Buff breezed in company with Sleepy Hollow contender Harris Bay on Saturday, covering four furlongs in 47.83 seconds on the Belmont main track.
"I thought it was a really nice work. I work Mr. Buff by himself most of the time but I know we have a big battle on our hands to try and beat Pat on the Back so I want to have him pretty sharp," said Kimmel. "They worked really nice. I had them in 48 and 1:01 and out in 1:15. In company, he [Mr. Buff] gets pretty strong. It was a good breeze."
A four-time stakes winner, Mr. Buff muscled his way to victory in the 2018 Alex M. Robb at Aqueduct Racetrack, in addition to scores this season on all three NYRA tracks including the Jazil at the Big A, the Saginaw at Belmont and the Evan Shipman at Saratoga Race Course. Last out, Mr. Buff was off-the-board in the Grade 1 Woodward presented by NYRA Bets.
Junior Alvarado has the call from post 4.
Rounding out the Empire Classic field, set for Race 5 on the 11-race card, are Blugrascat's Smile [Rajiv Maragh, post 1], Dynamix Prime [Manny Franco, post 2] and Not That Brady [Luis Saez, post 5].
Five-time stakes winner Bonita Bianca will look to repeat in the $250,000 Empire Distaff for fillies and mares 3-years-old and up in Race 10. Owned by Michael Dubb, Bethlehem Stables and Michael Imperio, Bonita Bianca will seek her first victory in seven starts. The Jason Servis trainee last earned a trip to the winner's circle with a six-length romp in last year's Empire Distaff, which was contested at 1 1/16 miles.
Now a one-mile race, the Empire Distaff will also feature two contenders from Linda Rice, including Midnight Disguise, 1-2-1 in six starts this year, all against stakes company; and Newly Minted, who routed a six-horse Fleet Indian field by nine lengths last out on August 23 at Saratoga.
"She's coming off a layoff, she loves the distance, she loves Belmont," Rice said of Midnight Disguise. "We're excited to have her back."
Rounding out the field is Out of Orbit and Held Accountable for trainer Phil Serpe; No Hayne No Gayne for Hall of Fame conditioner Steve Asmussen; the Bruce Levine-trained Take Charge Aubrey and Might Be; Our Super Nova; Ratajowski; Unbridledadventure; and Might Be.
The $250,000 Maid of the Mist in Race 2 kicks off the day's stakes action as Tee N Jay Stable and Headless Horseman Racing's Naked Avenger will look to keep an unbeaten record in tact when headlining a field of six 2-year-old fillies going one mile over the main track.
Trained by Tim Hills, the daughter of Congrats won first out at Saratoga by 1 3/4 lengths before pulling an upset win in the Joseph A. Gimma on September 18 at Belmont Park by two lengths, registering a 75 Beyer Speed Figure.
Jockey Luis Saez will guide Naked Avenger from post 1.
Mr. Amore Stable's Firenze Freedom, a half-sister to Grade 1 winner Firenze Fire, breaks from post 1 for trainer Jason Servis. The bay daughter of Istan was a second-out winner on September 22 at Belmont going seven furlongs as the favorite.
Completing the field are Critical Value [post 3, Junior Alvarado], Good Credence [post 4, Manny Franco], Knight Train [post 5, Pablo Fragoso] and Saratoga Beauty [post 6, Kendrick Carmouche].
Trainer Christophe Clement will saddle a pair of familiar grass contestants as part of an accomplished eight-horse field in the $200,000 Mohawk for 3-year-olds and up going 1 1/16 miles on the Widener turf course in Race 4. Gucci Factor, the winner of the Grade 3 Poker on June 16 at one mile at Belmont, ran sixth in the Ashley T. Cole on September 22 off a three-month layoff. His stablemate, Therapist, has registered Beyer Speed Figures in excess of 90 in his last five starts.
The Mohawk will feature a rematch of the top-four finishers of the 1 1/8-mile Ashley T. Cole, which Dot Matrix won by a half-length. Trained by Brad Cox, the 6-year-old Freud gelding enters with a 2-1-1 record in his last four starts.
Voodoo Song, the runner-up in that contest, returned off a nine-month break to run eighth in the Grade 3 Forbidden Apple in July at Saratoga. After a seventh-place effort in the Faisg-Tipton Lure on firmer Saratoga turf on August 3, Voodoo Song, owned by Barry Schwartz, rebounded to earn blacktype for the first time in her 5-year-old campaign.
"We've kind of struggled to pull him together this year but he seems to be coming in the right direction for us," said Rice, his trainer. "The New York-bred race definitely helped."
Offering Plan, who finished third in Ashley T. Cole for trainer Chad Brown, won the West Point against state company on August 23 at Saratoga. Cross Border, who earned a 100 Beyer for his fifth-place finish in the Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational, has won three of his last four starts for trainer Mike Maker. The field also includes Hoboe, trained by David Donk, and Rapt, conditioned by Robert Ribaudo.
In Race 6, the 42nd running of the $150,000 Hudson Handicap going 6 ½ furlongs for 3-year-olds and up features a field of nine led by Celtic Chaos for owner Zilla Racing Stables and conditioner Brad Cox. The 6-year-old son of Dublin enters the Hudson off back-to-back victories at Belmont, including a victory in the John Morrissey on August 4 at Saratoga at the Hudson distance.
Set to make his 12th start at Belmont, where he has four wins and a pair of third-place finishes, Celtic Chaos will leave from post 3 with Dylan Davis aboard.
Kazmania, trained by Eduardo Jones for Peter Kazmanis, will turnback significantly in distance following his seventh-place effort in the 1 1/8 miles Albany on August 23 at the Spa. Kazmania will depart from post 9 with Kendrick Carmouche in the irons.
Also entered is T Loves a Fight (Luis Saez, Post 1); Morning Breez (Jose Lezcano, Post 5); Sicilia Mike (Jose Ortiz, Post 6); Eye Luv Lulu (Irad Ortiz, Jr., Post 4); Winston's Chance (Nazario Alvarado, Post 7); Gold for the King (Joel Rosario, Cpost 8).
The $150,000 Iroquois for fillies and mares, set for Race 7, will see the return of Carrera Cat for Stone Bridge Farm and Very Un Stable following her fourth in the Grade 2 Gallant Bloom.
The 4-year-old Courageous Cat filly has four wins from six starts this year including a 2 ¼ length victory in the Union Avenue on August 15 at the Spa in her stakes debut. With regular rider Rajiv Marah aboard, the pair will depart from post 9.
Leading the challenge after finishing second to Carrera Cat in the Union Avenue is 5-year-old Holiday Disguise. Owned by Lady Sheila Stable and in the care of conditioner Linda Rice, the Harlan's Holiday mare has two wins from five starts this year, taking the Broadway in February at Aqueduct and the Dancin Renee on June 15 on Big Sandy. With regular rider Jose Lezcano aboard, Holiday Disguise will leave form the rail.
Rounding out the field are Fair Regis (Irad Ortiz, Jr., Post 2); Filibustin (Kendrick Carmouche, Post 6); Pauseforthecause (Jose Ortiz, Post 3); Jc's Shooting Star (Manny Franco, Post 4); Wadadli Princess (Dylan Davis, Post 5); Satisfy (Junior Alvarado, Post 7); and More Mischief (Javier Castellano, Post 8).
Jeremiah Englehart will saddle Cleon Jones and Captain Bombastic in the 23rd edition of the $250,000 Sleepy Hollow, a one-turn mile for 2-year-olds in Race 8.
A $325,000 purchase at the March OBS, Cleon Jones, bred by Empire Equines, graduated at second asking in a six-furlong maiden sprint at Saratoga on July 28 ahead of a runner-up effort to City Man in the Funny Cide. Last out, with Irad Ortiz, Jr. up for the first time, Cleon Jones rallied to a head score in the Bertram F. Bongard over Sleepy Hollow rivals Three Jokers and City Man.
Team Hanley's Captain Bombastic, a chestnut son of Forty Tales bred by Chester and Mary Broman, made a winning debut on September 28 at Belmont in a 6 ½-furlong maiden event under Ortiz, Jr. who retains the mount on Cleon Jones from post 5. Jose Ortiz picks up the call on Critical Value from post 4.
Nedlaw Stable's Harris Bay will make his stakes debut in the Sleepy Hollow following an impressive September 15 debut score at Belmont that garnered a 78 Beyer Speed Figure. The Carpe Diem chestnut, bred by WinStar Farm, prevailed by three-quarters of a length over Dream Bigger, who next out won the New York Breeders' Futurity by 10 3/4-lengths at Finger Lakes.
Dylan Davis has the call from post 3.
Rounding out the Sleepy Hollow field are City Man [Joel Rosario, post 1], Three Jokers [Luis Saez, post 2] and Mission Wrapitup [Junior Alvarado, post 6].
In Race 9, Peter Brant's Fifty Five will target a third straight victory in the $200,000 Ticonderoga over the Widener turf course for fillies and mares 3-years-old and upward going 1 1/16 miles.
Trained by Chad Brown, the daughter of Get Stormy began her career for former conditioner Tom Bush, for whom she won the Grade 3 Florida Oaks as a 3-year-old. A six-time stakes winner, Fifty Five won the past two editions of the Ticonderoga by one length as the favorite.
Last out, she won notched a second straight win in the John Hettinger on August 23 at Belmont.
Hall of Famer Javier Castellano has piloted Fifty Five to six of her 10 career victories and will be back aboard for Saturday's race where she will break from post 4.
Drawing Away Stable's War Canoe was second to Fifty Five in the John Hettinger last time out and will be taking another crack at the talented mare.
"She was second to Fifty Five in [the John Hettinger] and I thought that she ran a really great race. We were excited about her performance that day," Rice said.
Jose Lezcano will pilot War Canoe from post 3.
Completing the field are Wish Upon [post 1, Luis Saez], Broken Border [post 2, Dylan Davis], Dream Passage [post 5, Joel Rosario], Kid Is Frosty [post 6, Irad Ortiz, Jr.], Munchkin Money [post 7, Junior Alvarado], Wegetsdamunnys [post 8, Joel Rosario] and English Soul [post 9, Manny Franco].
Saturday's card will also feature an on-track only Low Roller Challenge with a $40 buy-in of which $30 will go to live bankroll with $10 assigned to the prize pool. Registration starts at 11 a.m. at the Low Roller Challenge table on the 1st floor grandstand. In addition to prize money, the winner of the Low Roller Challenge will be awarded an entry into the Aqueduct Challenge on November 16 at the Big A.