by Karen M. Johnson
Moonlight Song, who had not raced since winning last year's edition of the $100,000 John Morrissey for New York-breds, showed no rust in defending his title.
Ridden by Jose Ortiz, who notched his 1,000th career win in the Morrissey, the 9-year-old gelding was a three-quarter-length winner over Ostrolenka.
Owned and bred by Albert Fried Jr., Moonlight Song, a son of Unbridled's Song, is trained by Charlie Baker.
Moonlight Song was sent off at 6-1 in the seven-horse field. He set the pace in the 6 1/2-furlong Morrissey, carving out fractions of 22.05 seconds, 45.73, and 1:09.54 en route to a final time of 1:15.99 over a track labeled fast.
Weekend Hideaway, the 2014 Morrissey winner and 8-5 favorite, pressed Moonlight Song from second down the backstretch. As the field turned for home, Moonlight Song had a comfortable lead, but the field began to bear down on the pacesetter as the wire loomed.
Ostrolenka closed with a rush to finish second, a head in front of Crackerjack Jones in third. It was a nose back to Weekend Hideaway in fourth.
Ortiz was full praise for Moonlight Song's effort.
"He broke well; he broke perfect," the rider said. "We went really easy the first quarter-mile. This horse is a special horse. He doesn't run a lot, but every time he steps on the track, Charlie [Baker] brings him 110 percent."
Throughout his career, myriad physical issues have kept Moonlight Song from competing on a regular basis. His latest issue was a suspensory tear. The gelding has always shown a penchant for running well off the bench, as evidenced by his victory in last year's Morrissey, which came on the heels of a several-month respite.
"He's a great horse and he runs great fresh, so it's a little easier on me," Baker said. "You still have to get him cranked up and ready to go, but he's a nice horse. It's very hard to imagine a 9-year-old coming off a year layoff, but it any horse can do it, he can."
A $2 win bet on Moonlight Song returned $14.80.
Winning the Morrissey for a second time elevated Moonlight Song's career earnings to $534,295. He has now won nine races from 18 starts.
Ortiz, who began riding races in his native Puerto Rico in 2011, gave a shout-out to his older brother and fellow rival, Irad Jr., when discussing his milestone victory.
"This means a lot. It's a big goal in my career," Ortiz said in the winner's circle. "I'm just thankful. I want to thank every single owner and trainer who gave me the opportunity. My family, and my fiancée [Taylor Rice] who support me every day, my brother, who taught me a lot when I first started riding. Saratoga is the place to be in the summer, and I really love it. I'm very blessed I could do it here."